Commentary Magazine


Posts For: April 23, 2010

Obama’s Economic Policy: Crony Capitalism

The so-called financial-reform bills now working their ways through each house of Congress are, like the health-care-reform bill before them, not about reform at all. They do not reform anything. Instead, they make the federal government the major player in a major industry. Just as the health-care-reform bill will transform private insurance companies into the equivalent of public utilities, whose every major decision needs government approval and whose returns on capital are more or less guaranteed, these bills would do the same for big banks and other financial institutions.

President Obama gave a typical speech yesterday in the same room where, a 140 years ago, Abraham Lincoln gave a most untypical speech. Well, perhaps typical for Lincoln: eloquent, tightly reasoned, profound, and consequential in its effect. (As an aside, I have spoken in the Great Hall of Cooper Union myself and had a powerful feeling that I was standing upon holy ground while I did so; Obama, I suspect, felt he was only adding to its sanctity.) Obama’s speech was typical in that it set up straw men, fearlessly knocked them down, assigned blame without evidence, told falsehoods while demanding that others stop lying, and asked for discussion as long as every discussant agrees with him. Everyone else and every other opinion is “illegitimate.”

Wall Street was hardly blameless regarding the financial crisis of 2008 and reforms are necessary to prevent the same things from happening again. Niall Ferguson and Ted Forstmann explain what’s needed in today’s Wall Street Journal. (In a nutshell: moving derivatives trading from back rooms to exchanges and limiting the leverage that banks can use.)  The Senate bill wouldn’t do that. Instead it would move most derivatives trading to exchanges but allow the chairman of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission to decide what derivatives can still be traded over the counter. Does anyone see there a hugely empowered federal official (not to mention a golden lobbying opportunity for banks and members of Congress alike)? Is a back room at the CFTC an improvement over a back room at Goldman Sachs?

And Fannie and Freddie? They were at the heart of the mortgage meltdown and political piggy banks that were so badly (and corruptly) regulated that they are likely to cost the taxpayers $400 billion when all is said and done. But neither of these bills even mentions them. Fannie and Freddie are classic examples of crony capitalism, where government and business are in bed together. Obama wants to expand that disastrous model to the likes of JPMorgan Chase and Goldman Sachs.

It is the business of business to take risk and seek profit. It is the business of government to regulate business to ensure that the public interest is not put at risk. That’s exactly what government failed to do before 2008. As Judge Richard Posner put it in his most recent book, The Crisis of Capitalist Democracy, “Calling bankers greedy for taking advantage of profit opportunities created by unsound government policies is like calling rich people greedy for allowing Medicare to reimburse their medical bills.”

The Obama administration’s ruthless pursuit of ever greater concentration of power in Washington — and calling it reform — just keeps getting scarier.

The so-called financial-reform bills now working their ways through each house of Congress are, like the health-care-reform bill before them, not about reform at all. They do not reform anything. Instead, they make the federal government the major player in a major industry. Just as the health-care-reform bill will transform private insurance companies into the equivalent of public utilities, whose every major decision needs government approval and whose returns on capital are more or less guaranteed, these bills would do the same for big banks and other financial institutions.

President Obama gave a typical speech yesterday in the same room where, a 140 years ago, Abraham Lincoln gave a most untypical speech. Well, perhaps typical for Lincoln: eloquent, tightly reasoned, profound, and consequential in its effect. (As an aside, I have spoken in the Great Hall of Cooper Union myself and had a powerful feeling that I was standing upon holy ground while I did so; Obama, I suspect, felt he was only adding to its sanctity.) Obama’s speech was typical in that it set up straw men, fearlessly knocked them down, assigned blame without evidence, told falsehoods while demanding that others stop lying, and asked for discussion as long as every discussant agrees with him. Everyone else and every other opinion is “illegitimate.”

Wall Street was hardly blameless regarding the financial crisis of 2008 and reforms are necessary to prevent the same things from happening again. Niall Ferguson and Ted Forstmann explain what’s needed in today’s Wall Street Journal. (In a nutshell: moving derivatives trading from back rooms to exchanges and limiting the leverage that banks can use.)  The Senate bill wouldn’t do that. Instead it would move most derivatives trading to exchanges but allow the chairman of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission to decide what derivatives can still be traded over the counter. Does anyone see there a hugely empowered federal official (not to mention a golden lobbying opportunity for banks and members of Congress alike)? Is a back room at the CFTC an improvement over a back room at Goldman Sachs?

And Fannie and Freddie? They were at the heart of the mortgage meltdown and political piggy banks that were so badly (and corruptly) regulated that they are likely to cost the taxpayers $400 billion when all is said and done. But neither of these bills even mentions them. Fannie and Freddie are classic examples of crony capitalism, where government and business are in bed together. Obama wants to expand that disastrous model to the likes of JPMorgan Chase and Goldman Sachs.

It is the business of business to take risk and seek profit. It is the business of government to regulate business to ensure that the public interest is not put at risk. That’s exactly what government failed to do before 2008. As Judge Richard Posner put it in his most recent book, The Crisis of Capitalist Democracy, “Calling bankers greedy for taking advantage of profit opportunities created by unsound government policies is like calling rich people greedy for allowing Medicare to reimburse their medical bills.”

The Obama administration’s ruthless pursuit of ever greater concentration of power in Washington — and calling it reform — just keeps getting scarier.

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RE: Chuck Schumer Breaks with Obama on Israel

So what is the White House response to the blast from the man who may be the next Senate majority (or minority) leader? Not very much:

Asked by the Huffington Post about the remarks during the morning’s gaggle, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs replied: “I don’t think it is a stretch to say we don’t agree with what Senator Schumer said.” …

“We have an unwavering commitment to the security of Israel and the Israeli people,” he said. “You heard General Jones speak about that earlier in the week. We have said that from the beginning of the administration.”

This is fairly typical for the White House. Presented with a list of particulars — their settlement-freeze demand was a mistake, they are encouraging Palestinian rejectionism by demanding more Israeli concessions, they reneged on prior agreements on Jerusalem and blew up a routine incident, etc. — they retreat into platitudes. Their “unwavering commitment” — if they have one — is not reflected in their public pronouncements (e.g., condemning Israel) or their diplomatic conduct. Unfortunately, the Jewish community’s “leaders” have let the administration get by with pablum for too long. If it wants an administration that actually demonstrates an unwavering commitment to Israel, it needs to start calling out the Obami for their rank hypocrisy.

So what is the White House response to the blast from the man who may be the next Senate majority (or minority) leader? Not very much:

Asked by the Huffington Post about the remarks during the morning’s gaggle, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs replied: “I don’t think it is a stretch to say we don’t agree with what Senator Schumer said.” …

“We have an unwavering commitment to the security of Israel and the Israeli people,” he said. “You heard General Jones speak about that earlier in the week. We have said that from the beginning of the administration.”

This is fairly typical for the White House. Presented with a list of particulars — their settlement-freeze demand was a mistake, they are encouraging Palestinian rejectionism by demanding more Israeli concessions, they reneged on prior agreements on Jerusalem and blew up a routine incident, etc. — they retreat into platitudes. Their “unwavering commitment” — if they have one — is not reflected in their public pronouncements (e.g., condemning Israel) or their diplomatic conduct. Unfortunately, the Jewish community’s “leaders” have let the administration get by with pablum for too long. If it wants an administration that actually demonstrates an unwavering commitment to Israel, it needs to start calling out the Obami for their rank hypocrisy.

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What Did Eric Holder Know and When Did He Know It?

From the beginning of the New Black Panther Party scandal, the Obama Justice Department insisted that the decision to dismiss a case of egregious voter intimidation was made by career attorneys. Now we are learning that there was significant involvement by political appointees, including the attorney general himself. In a prepared testimony before the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, which opened its hearing today, Rep. Frank Wolf explained:

“According to the Appellate Division memos first disclosed in the Times article, Appellate Chief Diana K. Flynn said that ‘the appropriate action was to pursue the default judgment’ and that Justice had made a ‘reasonable argument in favor of default relief against all defendants.’

Flynn’s opinion was shared by a second Appellate Division official, Marie K. McElderry, who stated, ‘The government’s predominant interest is preventing intimidation, threats and coercion against voters or persons urging or aiding persons to vote or attempt to vote.’

Given these troubling disclosures, I have repeatedly called on the attorney general to re-file this civil suit and allow a ruling from the judge based on the merits of the case, not political expediency.  The career trial team should be allowed to bring the case again – per the guidance I obtained from the Congressional Research Service’s American Law Division in its July 30 memo – to allow our nation’s justice system to work as it was intended: impartially and without bias.

Sources within the department stated that Associate Attorney General Thomas Perrelli, a political appointee, in conjunction with the acting assistant attorney general for civil rights, Ms. Loretta King, and her deputy, Mr. Steve Rosenbaum, overruled the career attorneys in the Voting Rights section.  Earlier this week, the department finally acknowledged that the Attorney General was made aware – on multiple occasions – of the steps being taken to dismiss this case.”

Wolf may be referring to the Justice Department’s supplemental response to an interrogation from the Commission, a copy of which I have received. The Department confirms, “The Attorney General was generally made aware by the then-Acting Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights and the Associate’s staff that the Civil Rights Division was considering the appropriate actions to take in the New Black Panther Party litigation case.” The response states that Holder was “likely provided a brief update” but “did not make the decisions regarding any aspect” of the case. Did he weigh in? Did he advocate a position? Did his underlings? We don’t know.

But one thing is certain: if the case was significant enough to brief the attorney general on, you can bet that the decisions were approved if not instigated by political appointees. The veil is beginning to be lifted. Now it is time to put Holder and Perrelli under oath and find out what they knew and when they knew it. And then we can determine whether the Justice Department has been covering up the politicization of the enforcement of civil rights.

From the beginning of the New Black Panther Party scandal, the Obama Justice Department insisted that the decision to dismiss a case of egregious voter intimidation was made by career attorneys. Now we are learning that there was significant involvement by political appointees, including the attorney general himself. In a prepared testimony before the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, which opened its hearing today, Rep. Frank Wolf explained:

“According to the Appellate Division memos first disclosed in the Times article, Appellate Chief Diana K. Flynn said that ‘the appropriate action was to pursue the default judgment’ and that Justice had made a ‘reasonable argument in favor of default relief against all defendants.’

Flynn’s opinion was shared by a second Appellate Division official, Marie K. McElderry, who stated, ‘The government’s predominant interest is preventing intimidation, threats and coercion against voters or persons urging or aiding persons to vote or attempt to vote.’

Given these troubling disclosures, I have repeatedly called on the attorney general to re-file this civil suit and allow a ruling from the judge based on the merits of the case, not political expediency.  The career trial team should be allowed to bring the case again – per the guidance I obtained from the Congressional Research Service’s American Law Division in its July 30 memo – to allow our nation’s justice system to work as it was intended: impartially and without bias.

Sources within the department stated that Associate Attorney General Thomas Perrelli, a political appointee, in conjunction with the acting assistant attorney general for civil rights, Ms. Loretta King, and her deputy, Mr. Steve Rosenbaum, overruled the career attorneys in the Voting Rights section.  Earlier this week, the department finally acknowledged that the Attorney General was made aware – on multiple occasions – of the steps being taken to dismiss this case.”

Wolf may be referring to the Justice Department’s supplemental response to an interrogation from the Commission, a copy of which I have received. The Department confirms, “The Attorney General was generally made aware by the then-Acting Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights and the Associate’s staff that the Civil Rights Division was considering the appropriate actions to take in the New Black Panther Party litigation case.” The response states that Holder was “likely provided a brief update” but “did not make the decisions regarding any aspect” of the case. Did he weigh in? Did he advocate a position? Did his underlings? We don’t know.

But one thing is certain: if the case was significant enough to brief the attorney general on, you can bet that the decisions were approved if not instigated by political appointees. The veil is beginning to be lifted. Now it is time to put Holder and Perrelli under oath and find out what they knew and when they knew it. And then we can determine whether the Justice Department has been covering up the politicization of the enforcement of civil rights.

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Polls: Bad Times Ahead for Democrats

The latest Gallup Poll shows that the party affiliation gap is at the narrowest it has been since 2005, when the GOP was at its high-water mark in terms of political power (holding the presidency, the House, and the Senate). According to Gallup:

The advantage in public support the Democratic Party built up during the latter part of the Bush administration and the early part of the Obama administration has all but disappeared. During the first quarter of 2010, 46% of Americans identified as Democrats or leaned Democratic, while 45% identified as or leaned Republican. The latest results, based on aggregated data from Gallup polls conducted from January to March of this year, show the closest party division since the first quarter of 2005, when the parties were tied at 46%. Democrats enjoyed double-digit advantages in party support in 11 of 12 quarters from the second quarter of 2006 to the first quarter of 2009.

By the end of last year, the Democratic advantage had shrunk to five points (47% to 42%), and it narrowed further in the most recent quarter.

The six-point rise in Republican support since the first quarter of 2009 is due entirely to a growing proportion of independents who lean to the Republican Party, rather than an increase in the percentage of Americans who identify as Republicans outright…  Those who are independent or express no party preference are then asked whether they lean more toward the Democratic or the Republican Party.)

In fact, the 28% of Americans who initially identify as Republicans today is identical to the figure Gallup measured in early 2009, when the Democrats still had a double-digit advantage in support. Since then, there has been a three-point reduction in the proportion of Democratic identifiers, and a three-point decline in the percentage of Democratic-leaning independents.

Democrats maintain an edge in initial party identification over Republicans, 32% to 28%. That advantage has also shrunk over the last year, from a 35% to 28% Democratic edge in the first quarter of 2009.

What this shows is that the Democratic Party is in the process of a meltdown (the 13 point gap Democrats enjoyed at the beginning of last years has virtually vanished), and the GOP, while slowly making progress, still has work to do. The GOP’s “brand” still hasn’t fully recovered. But the loss of confidence in the Democratic Party is clearly the key development of the last 15 months. And in terms of practical outcomes, meaning election results, things could hardly be looking better for the Republican Party. Although many people may not identify themselves as Republicans outright, they certainly appear to be voting that way. It isn’t simply that all the intensity is with voters who call themselves Republican; it is that independents who are highly dissatisfied with government overwhelmingly favor Republican candidates and are much more likely to vote.

According to the most recent Pew poll:

Perhaps more troubling for Democrats, the link between dissatisfaction with government and voting intentions is at least as strong among independent voters. Independents who are highly dissatisfied with government are far more committed to voting this year than are independents who are less frustrated (78% vs. 58%). Overall, independents voters slightly favor the GOP candidate in their district by a 41% to 34% margin, but those who are highly dissatisfied with government favor the Republican candidate by an overwhelming 66% to 13% margin. Independents who are less dissatisfied with government favor the Democratic candidate in their district (by 49% to 24%), but are much less likely to say they are certain to vote.

It appears as if the more people are exposed to Obama and Obamaism, the further and faster the Democratic Party falls. But they ain’t seen nothin’ yet. The first Tuesday in November is when Democrats stop falling and really begin absorbing the damage from the fall. It will be, for them, an immensely painful experience. Comeuppances often are.

The latest Gallup Poll shows that the party affiliation gap is at the narrowest it has been since 2005, when the GOP was at its high-water mark in terms of political power (holding the presidency, the House, and the Senate). According to Gallup:

The advantage in public support the Democratic Party built up during the latter part of the Bush administration and the early part of the Obama administration has all but disappeared. During the first quarter of 2010, 46% of Americans identified as Democrats or leaned Democratic, while 45% identified as or leaned Republican. The latest results, based on aggregated data from Gallup polls conducted from January to March of this year, show the closest party division since the first quarter of 2005, when the parties were tied at 46%. Democrats enjoyed double-digit advantages in party support in 11 of 12 quarters from the second quarter of 2006 to the first quarter of 2009.

By the end of last year, the Democratic advantage had shrunk to five points (47% to 42%), and it narrowed further in the most recent quarter.

The six-point rise in Republican support since the first quarter of 2009 is due entirely to a growing proportion of independents who lean to the Republican Party, rather than an increase in the percentage of Americans who identify as Republicans outright…  Those who are independent or express no party preference are then asked whether they lean more toward the Democratic or the Republican Party.)

In fact, the 28% of Americans who initially identify as Republicans today is identical to the figure Gallup measured in early 2009, when the Democrats still had a double-digit advantage in support. Since then, there has been a three-point reduction in the proportion of Democratic identifiers, and a three-point decline in the percentage of Democratic-leaning independents.

Democrats maintain an edge in initial party identification over Republicans, 32% to 28%. That advantage has also shrunk over the last year, from a 35% to 28% Democratic edge in the first quarter of 2009.

What this shows is that the Democratic Party is in the process of a meltdown (the 13 point gap Democrats enjoyed at the beginning of last years has virtually vanished), and the GOP, while slowly making progress, still has work to do. The GOP’s “brand” still hasn’t fully recovered. But the loss of confidence in the Democratic Party is clearly the key development of the last 15 months. And in terms of practical outcomes, meaning election results, things could hardly be looking better for the Republican Party. Although many people may not identify themselves as Republicans outright, they certainly appear to be voting that way. It isn’t simply that all the intensity is with voters who call themselves Republican; it is that independents who are highly dissatisfied with government overwhelmingly favor Republican candidates and are much more likely to vote.

According to the most recent Pew poll:

Perhaps more troubling for Democrats, the link between dissatisfaction with government and voting intentions is at least as strong among independent voters. Independents who are highly dissatisfied with government are far more committed to voting this year than are independents who are less frustrated (78% vs. 58%). Overall, independents voters slightly favor the GOP candidate in their district by a 41% to 34% margin, but those who are highly dissatisfied with government favor the Republican candidate by an overwhelming 66% to 13% margin. Independents who are less dissatisfied with government favor the Democratic candidate in their district (by 49% to 24%), but are much less likely to say they are certain to vote.

It appears as if the more people are exposed to Obama and Obamaism, the further and faster the Democratic Party falls. But they ain’t seen nothin’ yet. The first Tuesday in November is when Democrats stop falling and really begin absorbing the damage from the fall. It will be, for them, an immensely painful experience. Comeuppances often are.

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Speaking Truth to the “Life Lie”

Former Norwegian diplomat Sven Olaf Eid e-mailed a response to my April 20 post about Israel’s Independence Day (“There Could Have Been Two Independence Days”). The post quoted Abba Eban’s 1958 speech to the UN laying responsibility for the Arab refugees on the Arab leaders who had rejected the UN two-state solution in 1947 — and the five Arab countries that sent their armies to destroy the sliver of a Jewish state on the day it declared its independence in 1948.

Mr. Eid wrote that he agreed with the post but wanted to add an important point made in his August 17, 2006, Wall Street Journal letter, which read as follows:

Based on my experience from service with the United Nations in Egypt, the Palestinian territories and Lebanon in the 1950s and ’60s, along with several later visits to the region and lifelong studies of its history, I present the following comments regarding [Lebanon’s] suffering.

The U.N.’s partition of Palestine in 1947 was the only possible, realistic situation. The partition would have come about anyhow due to the situation on the ground. But especially since the U.N. Relief and Works Agency took responsibility for the Arab refugee problem in 1949, the U.N. has represented a hindrance to the peaceful settlement of the partition conflict by taking the responsibility for the refugees from the responsible Arab countries: Egypt, Jordan, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is only one of many in the region, but it has since served as the bouc emissaire for all the religious and political problems in the Islamic world.

Much-greater human problems concerning territories and refugees were solved (without the U.N. of course) after World War II. The Arab states, helped by the U.N., are responsible for keeping the Israeli-Palestinian conflict alive and have used it cleverly to overshadow their lack of religious and political will and/or capacity to civilize their societies. The Egyptian president Anwar Sadat was an outstanding exception, and we know what happened to him. Another was King Hussein of Jordan. But apart from that, the absence of statesmen, intellectuals and journalists is remarkable.

The great dramatist Henrik Ibsen described a human phenomenon: livslognen or, here in Spain, la mentira vital. “The life lie”: this bigoted belief that all one’s problems are the fault of others. In my opinion, that very clearly characterizes the Arab world’s general politics since World War II.

Since the 1948 war they started, the Arab states have kept the resulting refugees (and generation after generation of their children) in squalid camps, lest their resettlement be deemed an acceptance of Israel. The refugees in Lebanon have not been given rights to hold property, obtain higher education, or work in numerous professions, much less the right of citizenship in the country in which they have lived all or most of their lives over six decades. Instead, they are kept in a culture of dependency served by UNRWA — a “temporary” UN agency formed in 1949, now a bloated bureaucracy in its seventh decade and funded primarily by the U.S. and other Western countries.

The refugee problem will not be solved by “negotiations” between Israel and Mahmoud Abbas. The solution will require a fundamental change in perspective — one that might begin if a U.S. president were ever to travel to Cairo and call for an end to UNRWA, in a speech that would term the treatment of Arab refugees by Arab countries an affront to human rights, and that would end by challenging the leaders of the Arab countries to “tear down those camps.”

Former Norwegian diplomat Sven Olaf Eid e-mailed a response to my April 20 post about Israel’s Independence Day (“There Could Have Been Two Independence Days”). The post quoted Abba Eban’s 1958 speech to the UN laying responsibility for the Arab refugees on the Arab leaders who had rejected the UN two-state solution in 1947 — and the five Arab countries that sent their armies to destroy the sliver of a Jewish state on the day it declared its independence in 1948.

Mr. Eid wrote that he agreed with the post but wanted to add an important point made in his August 17, 2006, Wall Street Journal letter, which read as follows:

Based on my experience from service with the United Nations in Egypt, the Palestinian territories and Lebanon in the 1950s and ’60s, along with several later visits to the region and lifelong studies of its history, I present the following comments regarding [Lebanon’s] suffering.

The U.N.’s partition of Palestine in 1947 was the only possible, realistic situation. The partition would have come about anyhow due to the situation on the ground. But especially since the U.N. Relief and Works Agency took responsibility for the Arab refugee problem in 1949, the U.N. has represented a hindrance to the peaceful settlement of the partition conflict by taking the responsibility for the refugees from the responsible Arab countries: Egypt, Jordan, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is only one of many in the region, but it has since served as the bouc emissaire for all the religious and political problems in the Islamic world.

Much-greater human problems concerning territories and refugees were solved (without the U.N. of course) after World War II. The Arab states, helped by the U.N., are responsible for keeping the Israeli-Palestinian conflict alive and have used it cleverly to overshadow their lack of religious and political will and/or capacity to civilize their societies. The Egyptian president Anwar Sadat was an outstanding exception, and we know what happened to him. Another was King Hussein of Jordan. But apart from that, the absence of statesmen, intellectuals and journalists is remarkable.

The great dramatist Henrik Ibsen described a human phenomenon: livslognen or, here in Spain, la mentira vital. “The life lie”: this bigoted belief that all one’s problems are the fault of others. In my opinion, that very clearly characterizes the Arab world’s general politics since World War II.

Since the 1948 war they started, the Arab states have kept the resulting refugees (and generation after generation of their children) in squalid camps, lest their resettlement be deemed an acceptance of Israel. The refugees in Lebanon have not been given rights to hold property, obtain higher education, or work in numerous professions, much less the right of citizenship in the country in which they have lived all or most of their lives over six decades. Instead, they are kept in a culture of dependency served by UNRWA — a “temporary” UN agency formed in 1949, now a bloated bureaucracy in its seventh decade and funded primarily by the U.S. and other Western countries.

The refugee problem will not be solved by “negotiations” between Israel and Mahmoud Abbas. The solution will require a fundamental change in perspective — one that might begin if a U.S. president were ever to travel to Cairo and call for an end to UNRWA, in a speech that would term the treatment of Arab refugees by Arab countries an affront to human rights, and that would end by challenging the leaders of the Arab countries to “tear down those camps.”

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Obama’s Appeal Is Lost on World Leaders

Adding weight to the dominant critique of Obama’s foreign policy — that it helps our enemies and hurts our allies — is the parlous state of the U.S.-Japan alliance, the bedrock of our security in Asia since the 1940s. David Pilling of the Financial Times writes:

When Japan’s prime minister visited Washington this month, Japanese officials lobbied intensely to get him a one-on-one with Barack Obama. In the end, Yukio Hatoyama had to settle for just 10 minutes, and even that during a banquet when the US president was presumably more interested in the appetisers and wine. These things matter in Japan. One senior politician called the put-down — as it was inevitably viewed in Tokyo — “humiliating”. He even noted that the Japanese prime minister was shunted to the edge of a group photo, the diplomatic equivalent of banishment to Siberia.

It would be wrong to read too much into these titbits of protocol (though it is always fun trying). But behind the snub lies something real. The US-Japan alliance, the cornerstone of security in east Asia since 1945, has not looked so rocky in years.

Granted, the increasingly rocky relations between the U.S. and Japan are not all, or even mainly, Obama’s fault. Prime Minister Hatoyama and his left-wing party deserve the majority of the blame, because they are trying to reopen negotiations over the American base on Okinawa and generally adopting a more anti-American posture. But Obama isn’t helping.

I am reminded of this important Jackson Diehl column, which pointed out that Obama hasn’t developed a close relationship with a single foreign leader, even while he has managed to increase American popularity abroad. “In this,” Diehl wrote, “he is the opposite of George W. Bush, who was reviled among the foreign masses but who forged close ties with a host of leaders — Aznar of Spain, Uribe of Colombia, Sharon and Olmert of Israel, Koizumi of Japan.” I would add Blair of Britain to that list; the Bush-Blair chemistry was famously close, while Obama is typically aloof in his dealings with Gordon Brown (himself not exactly the world’s friendliest head of state).

Neither the Bush posture (close to foreign leaders, alienated from their publics) nor that of Obama (the darling of foreign publics, alienated from their leaders) is ideal. In theory, you’d like to have the best of both worlds, but that’s perhaps asking far too much of the leader of the world’s superpower. Which is better — the Bush or the Obama position? I’m not sure. But it’s far from clear that Obama’s global popularity is much of a boon for the U.S. insofar as he hasn’t been able to translate his celebrity status into policy results.

Adding weight to the dominant critique of Obama’s foreign policy — that it helps our enemies and hurts our allies — is the parlous state of the U.S.-Japan alliance, the bedrock of our security in Asia since the 1940s. David Pilling of the Financial Times writes:

When Japan’s prime minister visited Washington this month, Japanese officials lobbied intensely to get him a one-on-one with Barack Obama. In the end, Yukio Hatoyama had to settle for just 10 minutes, and even that during a banquet when the US president was presumably more interested in the appetisers and wine. These things matter in Japan. One senior politician called the put-down — as it was inevitably viewed in Tokyo — “humiliating”. He even noted that the Japanese prime minister was shunted to the edge of a group photo, the diplomatic equivalent of banishment to Siberia.

It would be wrong to read too much into these titbits of protocol (though it is always fun trying). But behind the snub lies something real. The US-Japan alliance, the cornerstone of security in east Asia since 1945, has not looked so rocky in years.

Granted, the increasingly rocky relations between the U.S. and Japan are not all, or even mainly, Obama’s fault. Prime Minister Hatoyama and his left-wing party deserve the majority of the blame, because they are trying to reopen negotiations over the American base on Okinawa and generally adopting a more anti-American posture. But Obama isn’t helping.

I am reminded of this important Jackson Diehl column, which pointed out that Obama hasn’t developed a close relationship with a single foreign leader, even while he has managed to increase American popularity abroad. “In this,” Diehl wrote, “he is the opposite of George W. Bush, who was reviled among the foreign masses but who forged close ties with a host of leaders — Aznar of Spain, Uribe of Colombia, Sharon and Olmert of Israel, Koizumi of Japan.” I would add Blair of Britain to that list; the Bush-Blair chemistry was famously close, while Obama is typically aloof in his dealings with Gordon Brown (himself not exactly the world’s friendliest head of state).

Neither the Bush posture (close to foreign leaders, alienated from their publics) nor that of Obama (the darling of foreign publics, alienated from their leaders) is ideal. In theory, you’d like to have the best of both worlds, but that’s perhaps asking far too much of the leader of the world’s superpower. Which is better — the Bush or the Obama position? I’m not sure. But it’s far from clear that Obama’s global popularity is much of a boon for the U.S. insofar as he hasn’t been able to translate his celebrity status into policy results.

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Obama Hides from Giannoulias

Obama isn’t about to waste political capital on Tony Rezko’s banker. That’s the gist of this report:

Sen. Dick Durbin slipped into the West Wing last week to ask Rahm Emanuel for White House help in saving Barack Obama’s old Senate seat. But he didn’t leave with any ironclad commitments. Durbin told Emanuel that Democratic nominee Alexi Giannoulias could use some serious presidential intervention in his uphill race against Republican Rep. Mark Kirk. At the moment, the White House seems open to the idea of losing Obama’s old seat rather than putting the president’s prestige on the line for Giannoulias, the brash and boyish Illinois state treasurer — and onetime Obama basketball buddy — whose campaign has been rocked by the financial meltdown of his family’s bank.

There are good reasons for Obama’s reticence. For starters, Obama has enough sticky connections to the Illinois corruption racket, so he’s wise to stay away from his former hometown. It seems he might, in fact, have had a conversation with the former governor about that Senate seat and another with a union official to relay his preferences to Blago. (If true, this is at odds with what Obama and his “internal review” related to the public when the Blago story first broke.) Blago’s lawyers are now trying to drag the president in to testify in Blago’s case — which will be going to trial this fall. Yikes!

Moreover, Giannoulias is in deep trouble, and it’s far from certain that Obama can help him. After all, he didn’t help Martha Coakley, Creigh Deeds, or Jon Corzine. Coming up short in his own state would prove embarrassing and tend to confirm that he lacks political mojo. Sometimes it’s better to just stay home.

It’s remarkable that a year and a half after Obama celebrated his victory before a throng in Grant Park, he needs to hide from the Democratic candidate seeking to fill his old Senate seat. That’s as much a comment on the shortcomings of Giannoulias as it is on those of Obama.

Obama isn’t about to waste political capital on Tony Rezko’s banker. That’s the gist of this report:

Sen. Dick Durbin slipped into the West Wing last week to ask Rahm Emanuel for White House help in saving Barack Obama’s old Senate seat. But he didn’t leave with any ironclad commitments. Durbin told Emanuel that Democratic nominee Alexi Giannoulias could use some serious presidential intervention in his uphill race against Republican Rep. Mark Kirk. At the moment, the White House seems open to the idea of losing Obama’s old seat rather than putting the president’s prestige on the line for Giannoulias, the brash and boyish Illinois state treasurer — and onetime Obama basketball buddy — whose campaign has been rocked by the financial meltdown of his family’s bank.

There are good reasons for Obama’s reticence. For starters, Obama has enough sticky connections to the Illinois corruption racket, so he’s wise to stay away from his former hometown. It seems he might, in fact, have had a conversation with the former governor about that Senate seat and another with a union official to relay his preferences to Blago. (If true, this is at odds with what Obama and his “internal review” related to the public when the Blago story first broke.) Blago’s lawyers are now trying to drag the president in to testify in Blago’s case — which will be going to trial this fall. Yikes!

Moreover, Giannoulias is in deep trouble, and it’s far from certain that Obama can help him. After all, he didn’t help Martha Coakley, Creigh Deeds, or Jon Corzine. Coming up short in his own state would prove embarrassing and tend to confirm that he lacks political mojo. Sometimes it’s better to just stay home.

It’s remarkable that a year and a half after Obama celebrated his victory before a throng in Grant Park, he needs to hide from the Democratic candidate seeking to fill his old Senate seat. That’s as much a comment on the shortcomings of Giannoulias as it is on those of Obama.

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Brooks Struggles to Figure Out What Went Wrong

David Brooks is on a search to find out how it was that we elected such a “moderate” president and wound up with the worst of big government liberalism and a polarized electorate. He seems stumped as he explores these questions in what can only be described as evasive phrasing:

The country had just elected a man who vowed to move past the old polarities, who valued discussion and who clearly had some sympathy with both the Burkean and Hamiltonian impulses. He staffed his administration with brilliant pragmatists whose views overlapped with mine, who differed only in that they have more faith in technocratic planning.

Yet things have not worked out for those of us in the broad middle. Politics is more polarized than ever. The two parties have drifted further to the extremes. The center is drained and depressed.

What happened?

History happened. The administration came into power at a time of economic crisis. This led it, in the first bloom of self-confidence, to attempt many big projects all at once. Each of these projects may have been defensible in isolation, but in combination they created the impression of a federal onslaught.

History happened? Oh, let’s see if we can’t be more precise than that. “As government grew [by itself? did someone grow it?], the antigovernment right mobilized. This produced the Tea Party Movement — a characteristically raw but authentically American revolt led by members of the yeoman enterprising class.” History happened and government grew. (Like magic!) And now Brooks is disappointed.

Brooks writes that the Democratic party did this and that, that opposition grew, and that we wound up in the big- vs. little-government debate. What’s missing from this autopilot version of politics? Hmm … could it be Obama, the moderate fellow, who did the government-growing?

I have a rule of thumb: when a writer, especially a good one, excessively uses evasive or convoluted rhetoric, he is hiding something. Let’s try this: Obama, a very liberal politician, was smart enough to know he couldn’t win the presidency as a hard leftist. He posed as a moderate. New York Times columnists sung his praises. Pundits assured us that he was beyond ideology, a sort of philosopher-king with very neat pants. He got into office. He governed from the far Left. The president signed bill after bill, spending money we didn’t have and running up the debt. Obama insisted on a mammoth health-care bill the country hated. He egged Congress on to pass it. Meanwhile, the country recoiled. They hired a moderate on advice of pundits and media mavens and got a far-Left liberal, a ton of debt, an expanded federal government, and a slew of new taxes.

How’s that?

The bottom line: history doesn’t just “happen.” Presidents make choices. Pundits make miscalculations. Voters exact revenge. It’s not that complicated — if you are honest about who did what to whom.

David Brooks is on a search to find out how it was that we elected such a “moderate” president and wound up with the worst of big government liberalism and a polarized electorate. He seems stumped as he explores these questions in what can only be described as evasive phrasing:

The country had just elected a man who vowed to move past the old polarities, who valued discussion and who clearly had some sympathy with both the Burkean and Hamiltonian impulses. He staffed his administration with brilliant pragmatists whose views overlapped with mine, who differed only in that they have more faith in technocratic planning.

Yet things have not worked out for those of us in the broad middle. Politics is more polarized than ever. The two parties have drifted further to the extremes. The center is drained and depressed.

What happened?

History happened. The administration came into power at a time of economic crisis. This led it, in the first bloom of self-confidence, to attempt many big projects all at once. Each of these projects may have been defensible in isolation, but in combination they created the impression of a federal onslaught.

History happened? Oh, let’s see if we can’t be more precise than that. “As government grew [by itself? did someone grow it?], the antigovernment right mobilized. This produced the Tea Party Movement — a characteristically raw but authentically American revolt led by members of the yeoman enterprising class.” History happened and government grew. (Like magic!) And now Brooks is disappointed.

Brooks writes that the Democratic party did this and that, that opposition grew, and that we wound up in the big- vs. little-government debate. What’s missing from this autopilot version of politics? Hmm … could it be Obama, the moderate fellow, who did the government-growing?

I have a rule of thumb: when a writer, especially a good one, excessively uses evasive or convoluted rhetoric, he is hiding something. Let’s try this: Obama, a very liberal politician, was smart enough to know he couldn’t win the presidency as a hard leftist. He posed as a moderate. New York Times columnists sung his praises. Pundits assured us that he was beyond ideology, a sort of philosopher-king with very neat pants. He got into office. He governed from the far Left. The president signed bill after bill, spending money we didn’t have and running up the debt. Obama insisted on a mammoth health-care bill the country hated. He egged Congress on to pass it. Meanwhile, the country recoiled. They hired a moderate on advice of pundits and media mavens and got a far-Left liberal, a ton of debt, an expanded federal government, and a slew of new taxes.

How’s that?

The bottom line: history doesn’t just “happen.” Presidents make choices. Pundits make miscalculations. Voters exact revenge. It’s not that complicated — if you are honest about who did what to whom.

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WEB EXCLUSIVE: The Cost of Realism

BISHKEK, KYRGYZSTAN ­  For anyone who has witnessed the slow erosion of democracy in Russia over the past decade, seeing Prime Minister Vladimir Putin win the public relations war over the recent revolution in Kyrgyzstan has been nothing short of maddening. Commenting on the violent ouster of President Kurmanbeck Bakiyev, who fled the country last week after violent riots protesting his corrupt and oppressive rule, Putin said he could “remember that when President Bakiyev came to power, he harshly criticized toppled President [Askar] Akaev for nepotism and giving his relatives or friends top economic and political posts at every corner. I have the impression that Bakiyev has fallen into the same trap.” Coming from the leader who serves as the 21st-century model for budding authoritarians around the world, laments the collapse of the Soviet Union, and routinely orders the police to break up the smallest of peaceful protests, it’s hard to take these sentiments seriously.

To continue reading this COMMENTARY Web Exclusive, click here.

BISHKEK, KYRGYZSTAN ­  For anyone who has witnessed the slow erosion of democracy in Russia over the past decade, seeing Prime Minister Vladimir Putin win the public relations war over the recent revolution in Kyrgyzstan has been nothing short of maddening. Commenting on the violent ouster of President Kurmanbeck Bakiyev, who fled the country last week after violent riots protesting his corrupt and oppressive rule, Putin said he could “remember that when President Bakiyev came to power, he harshly criticized toppled President [Askar] Akaev for nepotism and giving his relatives or friends top economic and political posts at every corner. I have the impression that Bakiyev has fallen into the same trap.” Coming from the leader who serves as the 21st-century model for budding authoritarians around the world, laments the collapse of the Soviet Union, and routinely orders the police to break up the smallest of peaceful protests, it’s hard to take these sentiments seriously.

To continue reading this COMMENTARY Web Exclusive, click here.

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Chuck Schumer Breaks with Obama on Israel

Wow. Yes, Chuck Schumer – who’s angling for Senate majority leader if/when Harry Reid loses in November — has had enough with the president’s Israel-bashing. First on sanctions:

We in the Congress, Senator Lieberman and myself, Senator Bayh, are working up our sanctions bill, which even if the UN sanctions are weak, we could have unilateral sanctions by the United States, for instance, if you cut of gasoline. Iranians do not produce their own gasoline, and by the way the Iranian people are ready to rebel and overthrow this regime, and if we would squeeze them economically that could happen.

But then he goes on a tear when asked why Obama is alienating Israel and American Jews:

[T]his is the question I talked to Rahm Emanuel about, and the President about this week. I told the President, I told Rahm Emanuel and others in the administration that I thought the policy they took to try to bring about negotiations is counter-productive, because when you give the Palestinians hope that the United States will do its negotiating for them, they are not going to sit down and talk. Palestinians don’t really believe in a state of Israel, they, unlike a majority of Israelis, who have come to the conclusion that they can live with a two-state solution to be determined by the parties, the majority of Palestinians are still very reluctant, and they need to be pushed to get there.

If the U.S. says certain things and takes certain stands, the Palestinians say, “Why should we negotiate?” So that’s bad and that should change and we are working on changing it. But the other two are very good, according to both the Israeli government and the Israeli military and the U.S. government. But we should make that known, why don’t they? I asked them to do just that, I said we should make it public because it will, at least, give people who are supportive of Israel, Jew and non-Jew alike, a little bit of solace.

Schumer then suggested that the Syrian engagement gambit had “stopped” (he should check with Hillary on that one) and that we had to apply pressure to Syria. But then he was back to the Palestinian issue:

Let me just finish this dialogue about Israel for a minute. All we have to do is leave things alone, and you might get the Palestinians more willing to sit down and actually discuss peace, because they would see the contrast. When Biden was in Israel and there was this kerfuffle over settlements which is in Israeli Jerusalem 20 minutes from downtown and should never have been an issue to begin with, but they probably shouldn’t have made the announcement when Biden was there. But Israel apologized, and when Biden left, and Biden is the best friend of Israel in the administration, everything was fine.

But then what happened is the next day Hillary Clinton called up Netanyahu and talked very tough to him, and worse they made it pubic through this spokesperson, a guy named Crowley. And Crowley said something I have never heard before, which is, the relationship of Israel and the United States depends on the pace of the negotiations. That is terrible. That is the dagger, because the relationship is much deeper than the disagreements on negotiations, and most Americans—Democrat, Republican, Jew, non-Jew–would feel that. So I called up Rahm Emanuel and I called up the White House and I said, “If you don’t retract that statement you are going to hear me publicly blast you on this.” Of course they did retract it.

Now what’s happened, and many of us are pushing back, some of the Jewish members will be meeting with the President next week or the week after, and we are saying that this has to stop. You have to have, in terms of the negotiations, you have to show Israel that it’s not going to be forced to do things it doesn’t want to do and can’t do. At the same time you have to show the Palestinians that they are not going to get their way by just sitting back and not giving in, and not recognizing that there is a state of Israel. And right now there is a battle going on inside the administration, one side agrees with us, one side doesn’t, and we’re pushing hard to make sure the right side wins, and if not we’ll have to take it to the next step.

That’s simply remarkable, albeit long overdue. It tells me several things. First, Schumer, who is nothing if not politically astute when it comes to New York politics, senses that there is no upside to sticking with the president on this. One wonders how many constituents he’s heard from and who is threatening to cut off the money flow to Democrats.

Second, one suspects that Schumer has gotten nowhere in private and is now forced to unload in public. It seems that while Schumer cares what American Jews think, Obama is unmoved by quiet persuasion.

Third, Schumer and other pro-Israel Democrats now have a dilemma: what do they do when the president refuses to sign on to petroleum sanctions? What do they do when the next round of bullying starts up again? They’ve been painfully mute until now, which has no doubt encouraged the White House. If Schumer is as outraged as he sounded on the radio, this will end.

We can hope this is an important step forward and will be followed by other Democratic lawmakers. Who knows, in a week or so some major Jewish organization might actually pipe up with an equally bracing evaluation of the Obami’s onslaught on the Jewish state.

One aside: Schumer also had this to say about the origin of his name: “It comes from the word shomer, which mean guardian. My ancestors were guardians of the ghetto wall in Chortkov, and I believe Hashem, actually, gave me the name as one of my roles that is very important in the United States Senate to be a shomer, to be a shomer for Israel.” Suffice it to say that if Sarah Palin ever said that God had given a name to her with a mission in mind, the chattering class would go bonkers. But of course, it is perfectly acceptable for liberals to get messages from God without cries of indignation echoing throughout the media. That said, if Schumer takes his name to heart, albeit belatedly, and shows some leadership in gathering other Democrats to his position (that’s what Senate leaders do, after all), there will be reason to celebrate.

Wow. Yes, Chuck Schumer – who’s angling for Senate majority leader if/when Harry Reid loses in November — has had enough with the president’s Israel-bashing. First on sanctions:

We in the Congress, Senator Lieberman and myself, Senator Bayh, are working up our sanctions bill, which even if the UN sanctions are weak, we could have unilateral sanctions by the United States, for instance, if you cut of gasoline. Iranians do not produce their own gasoline, and by the way the Iranian people are ready to rebel and overthrow this regime, and if we would squeeze them economically that could happen.

But then he goes on a tear when asked why Obama is alienating Israel and American Jews:

[T]his is the question I talked to Rahm Emanuel about, and the President about this week. I told the President, I told Rahm Emanuel and others in the administration that I thought the policy they took to try to bring about negotiations is counter-productive, because when you give the Palestinians hope that the United States will do its negotiating for them, they are not going to sit down and talk. Palestinians don’t really believe in a state of Israel, they, unlike a majority of Israelis, who have come to the conclusion that they can live with a two-state solution to be determined by the parties, the majority of Palestinians are still very reluctant, and they need to be pushed to get there.

If the U.S. says certain things and takes certain stands, the Palestinians say, “Why should we negotiate?” So that’s bad and that should change and we are working on changing it. But the other two are very good, according to both the Israeli government and the Israeli military and the U.S. government. But we should make that known, why don’t they? I asked them to do just that, I said we should make it public because it will, at least, give people who are supportive of Israel, Jew and non-Jew alike, a little bit of solace.

Schumer then suggested that the Syrian engagement gambit had “stopped” (he should check with Hillary on that one) and that we had to apply pressure to Syria. But then he was back to the Palestinian issue:

Let me just finish this dialogue about Israel for a minute. All we have to do is leave things alone, and you might get the Palestinians more willing to sit down and actually discuss peace, because they would see the contrast. When Biden was in Israel and there was this kerfuffle over settlements which is in Israeli Jerusalem 20 minutes from downtown and should never have been an issue to begin with, but they probably shouldn’t have made the announcement when Biden was there. But Israel apologized, and when Biden left, and Biden is the best friend of Israel in the administration, everything was fine.

But then what happened is the next day Hillary Clinton called up Netanyahu and talked very tough to him, and worse they made it pubic through this spokesperson, a guy named Crowley. And Crowley said something I have never heard before, which is, the relationship of Israel and the United States depends on the pace of the negotiations. That is terrible. That is the dagger, because the relationship is much deeper than the disagreements on negotiations, and most Americans—Democrat, Republican, Jew, non-Jew–would feel that. So I called up Rahm Emanuel and I called up the White House and I said, “If you don’t retract that statement you are going to hear me publicly blast you on this.” Of course they did retract it.

Now what’s happened, and many of us are pushing back, some of the Jewish members will be meeting with the President next week or the week after, and we are saying that this has to stop. You have to have, in terms of the negotiations, you have to show Israel that it’s not going to be forced to do things it doesn’t want to do and can’t do. At the same time you have to show the Palestinians that they are not going to get their way by just sitting back and not giving in, and not recognizing that there is a state of Israel. And right now there is a battle going on inside the administration, one side agrees with us, one side doesn’t, and we’re pushing hard to make sure the right side wins, and if not we’ll have to take it to the next step.

That’s simply remarkable, albeit long overdue. It tells me several things. First, Schumer, who is nothing if not politically astute when it comes to New York politics, senses that there is no upside to sticking with the president on this. One wonders how many constituents he’s heard from and who is threatening to cut off the money flow to Democrats.

Second, one suspects that Schumer has gotten nowhere in private and is now forced to unload in public. It seems that while Schumer cares what American Jews think, Obama is unmoved by quiet persuasion.

Third, Schumer and other pro-Israel Democrats now have a dilemma: what do they do when the president refuses to sign on to petroleum sanctions? What do they do when the next round of bullying starts up again? They’ve been painfully mute until now, which has no doubt encouraged the White House. If Schumer is as outraged as he sounded on the radio, this will end.

We can hope this is an important step forward and will be followed by other Democratic lawmakers. Who knows, in a week or so some major Jewish organization might actually pipe up with an equally bracing evaluation of the Obami’s onslaught on the Jewish state.

One aside: Schumer also had this to say about the origin of his name: “It comes from the word shomer, which mean guardian. My ancestors were guardians of the ghetto wall in Chortkov, and I believe Hashem, actually, gave me the name as one of my roles that is very important in the United States Senate to be a shomer, to be a shomer for Israel.” Suffice it to say that if Sarah Palin ever said that God had given a name to her with a mission in mind, the chattering class would go bonkers. But of course, it is perfectly acceptable for liberals to get messages from God without cries of indignation echoing throughout the media. That said, if Schumer takes his name to heart, albeit belatedly, and shows some leadership in gathering other Democrats to his position (that’s what Senate leaders do, after all), there will be reason to celebrate.

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Tensions with U.S. Don’t Preclude Israeli Strike on Iran

In his post yesterday, Max posited that U.S-Israeli tensions make an Israeli strike on Iran unlikely. But in fact, such tensions may well make an Israeli strike more likely.

There are Israelis who believe that what currently looks like the only alternative — containing a nuclear Iran — is possible in principle. But for Israeli policymakers to conclude that containment is possible in practice, they must be convinced that if a nuclear Iran uses its enhanced power to attack Israel, whether directly or via its proxies in Lebanon and Gaza, the U.S. will either take appropriate countermeasures itself or support Israel in any countermeasures it deems necessary, including military ones.

If Israel’s relationship with Washington were close enough to make this conviction plausible, one could imagine Jerusalem reluctantly acquiescing should Washington ultimately decide that containment was the way to go. But given President Barack Obama’s track record, both of failing to take strong measures against thugs and of giving short shrift to Israeli concerns, virtually no one in Israel’s government thinks he can be trusted either to contain Iran himself or to allow Israel to do so.

Thus, for Israel to refrain from bombing Iran under these circumstances, it would have to conclude that an uncontained Iran is worse than the risk of widening the rift with Washington. And there is no historical precedent for Israel putting its relationship with any foreign government above a security threat of that magnitude, however much it agonizes over the decision beforehand.

I’m sure the Wall Street Journal article Max cited was accurate in saying that some Israeli defense officials do oppose bombing Iran without Washington’s consent (though based on experience, even their views could change as the threat of a nuclear Iran looms closer). But as the Journal itself acknowledged, even today, this opinion is far from unanimous. And if you want to gauge its relative strength within Israel’s policymaking establishment, it’s worth noting that the leading opponent of military action against Iran, IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi, has just been handed his walking papers.

Ashkenazi is widely admired in Israel for both his success in rehabilitating the Israel Defense Forces after the Second Lebanon War in 2006 and his conduct of last year’s war in Gaza. So there would be no good reason not to extend his term for a fifth year, which he reportedly wanted — except in order to keep the option of military action against Iran open. As Haaretz military correspondent Amos Harel noted in analyzing the implications of this decision, “An attack on Iran is impossible with a chief of staff who opposes it.” And Ashkenazi did oppose it — so strongly that the Pentagon reportedly viewed him as its most reliably ally in preventing an Israeli strike.

There is no guarantee that Israel will bomb Iran. Much could happen before Ashkenazi’s term ends in another 10 months, and his successor has not yet even been chosen. But to assert that U.S.-Israel tension takes the Israeli military option off the table is to misread both Israeli history and current events.

In his post yesterday, Max posited that U.S-Israeli tensions make an Israeli strike on Iran unlikely. But in fact, such tensions may well make an Israeli strike more likely.

There are Israelis who believe that what currently looks like the only alternative — containing a nuclear Iran — is possible in principle. But for Israeli policymakers to conclude that containment is possible in practice, they must be convinced that if a nuclear Iran uses its enhanced power to attack Israel, whether directly or via its proxies in Lebanon and Gaza, the U.S. will either take appropriate countermeasures itself or support Israel in any countermeasures it deems necessary, including military ones.

If Israel’s relationship with Washington were close enough to make this conviction plausible, one could imagine Jerusalem reluctantly acquiescing should Washington ultimately decide that containment was the way to go. But given President Barack Obama’s track record, both of failing to take strong measures against thugs and of giving short shrift to Israeli concerns, virtually no one in Israel’s government thinks he can be trusted either to contain Iran himself or to allow Israel to do so.

Thus, for Israel to refrain from bombing Iran under these circumstances, it would have to conclude that an uncontained Iran is worse than the risk of widening the rift with Washington. And there is no historical precedent for Israel putting its relationship with any foreign government above a security threat of that magnitude, however much it agonizes over the decision beforehand.

I’m sure the Wall Street Journal article Max cited was accurate in saying that some Israeli defense officials do oppose bombing Iran without Washington’s consent (though based on experience, even their views could change as the threat of a nuclear Iran looms closer). But as the Journal itself acknowledged, even today, this opinion is far from unanimous. And if you want to gauge its relative strength within Israel’s policymaking establishment, it’s worth noting that the leading opponent of military action against Iran, IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi, has just been handed his walking papers.

Ashkenazi is widely admired in Israel for both his success in rehabilitating the Israel Defense Forces after the Second Lebanon War in 2006 and his conduct of last year’s war in Gaza. So there would be no good reason not to extend his term for a fifth year, which he reportedly wanted — except in order to keep the option of military action against Iran open. As Haaretz military correspondent Amos Harel noted in analyzing the implications of this decision, “An attack on Iran is impossible with a chief of staff who opposes it.” And Ashkenazi did oppose it — so strongly that the Pentagon reportedly viewed him as its most reliably ally in preventing an Israeli strike.

There is no guarantee that Israel will bomb Iran. Much could happen before Ashkenazi’s term ends in another 10 months, and his successor has not yet even been chosen. But to assert that U.S.-Israel tension takes the Israeli military option off the table is to misread both Israeli history and current events.

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Obami Refuse to Be Shaken from Syrian Slumber

In case you thought the delivery of Scud missiles to Hezbollah had shaken the Obama administration from its trance and dulled its infatuation with Syrian engagement, think again. This report makes clear that it isn’t going to let reality interfere with its plans:

The Obama administration is still committed to improving relations with Syria, despite “deeply disturbing” reports of its moves to aid the Iranian-backed Hezbollah militia in neighboring Lebanon, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Thursday.

Clinton, speaking at a news conference before the opening of a NATO foreign ministers meeting in this Baltic capital, said the administration has concluded that the benefits of sending a U.S. ambassador to Damascus — after a five-year absence — outweigh the costs.

She said the presence of an ambassador gives Washington a better insight into what is happening in Damascus.

Well, it’s true that the Obami don’t seem to have a clue as to what Syria is up to, but of course sending an ambassador to yuk it up in Damascus isn’t going to solve that problem. If Assad’s latest move doesn’t provide insight into his intentions in the region, then nothing will — and certainly not an ambassador whose presence will convey to Assad that there is no affront and no violation of a UN resolution we won’t excuse. What’s worse, Clinton is now back-pedaling on whether Scuds in fact were delivered:

Clinton did not confirm the reports. Without mentioning Scuds or Iran, which many believe is the source of the missiles, she described the situation in a way that strongly suggested that the U.S. does not believe Scuds have been transferred to Hezbollah yet.
Clinton referred to “these stories that do suggest there has been some transfer of weapons technology into Syria with the potential purpose of then later transferring it to Hezbollah inside Syria”. Pressed to say whether she meant that the Scuds in Syria had originated in Iran, she replied, “I just said that we have expressed our concern about that.”

“That,” one supposes, is “Scuds.” But like “Islamic extremism,” it is a term the Obami dare not utter. For if they did, one would expect them to do something about them rather than wish them out of existence.

In case you thought the delivery of Scud missiles to Hezbollah had shaken the Obama administration from its trance and dulled its infatuation with Syrian engagement, think again. This report makes clear that it isn’t going to let reality interfere with its plans:

The Obama administration is still committed to improving relations with Syria, despite “deeply disturbing” reports of its moves to aid the Iranian-backed Hezbollah militia in neighboring Lebanon, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Thursday.

Clinton, speaking at a news conference before the opening of a NATO foreign ministers meeting in this Baltic capital, said the administration has concluded that the benefits of sending a U.S. ambassador to Damascus — after a five-year absence — outweigh the costs.

She said the presence of an ambassador gives Washington a better insight into what is happening in Damascus.

Well, it’s true that the Obami don’t seem to have a clue as to what Syria is up to, but of course sending an ambassador to yuk it up in Damascus isn’t going to solve that problem. If Assad’s latest move doesn’t provide insight into his intentions in the region, then nothing will — and certainly not an ambassador whose presence will convey to Assad that there is no affront and no violation of a UN resolution we won’t excuse. What’s worse, Clinton is now back-pedaling on whether Scuds in fact were delivered:

Clinton did not confirm the reports. Without mentioning Scuds or Iran, which many believe is the source of the missiles, she described the situation in a way that strongly suggested that the U.S. does not believe Scuds have been transferred to Hezbollah yet.
Clinton referred to “these stories that do suggest there has been some transfer of weapons technology into Syria with the potential purpose of then later transferring it to Hezbollah inside Syria”. Pressed to say whether she meant that the Scuds in Syria had originated in Iran, she replied, “I just said that we have expressed our concern about that.”

“That,” one supposes, is “Scuds.” But like “Islamic extremism,” it is a term the Obami dare not utter. For if they did, one would expect them to do something about them rather than wish them out of existence.

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Which Is the Party of Ideas?

Kim Strassel writes:

Marco Rubio appeared on a Sunday talk show this month to say something remarkable. The Republican running for Florida’s Senate seat suggested we reform Social Security by raising the retirement age for younger workers. Florida is home to 2.4 million senior citizens who like to vote. The blogs declared Mr. Rubio politically suicidal.

The response from Mr. Rubio’s primary competitor, Gov. Charlie Crist, was not remarkable. His campaign slammed Mr. Rubio’s idea as “cruel, unusual and unfair to seniors living on a fixed income.” Mr. Crist’s plan for $17.5 trillion in unfunded Social Security liabilities? Easy! He’ll root out “fraud” and “waste.”

Strassel says this is the real GOP “civil war”  — “the real divide is between reformers like Mr. Rubio and Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, who are running on principles and tough issues, and a GOP old guard that still finds it politically expedient to duck or demagogue issues.”

This also confirms that the mainstream media spin that Tea Party protesters are dolts, fools, and rubes is, well, media spin. The darling of the Tea Partiers is the smart-guy reformer, not the party hack. And the Democrats — including the allegedly “intellectual” president — are the ones playing games with the budget scoring on ObamaCare and shoving off on a commission the hard work of entitlement and budget reform.

Before the economy melted down and John McCain’s campaign ground to a halt (and then began to eat its own), McCain was running as a reformer, someone not beholden to the party insiders. He came up with a credible health-care plan that was not too different from many circulating among Republicans in Congress now. McCain was a flawed candidate, running in an impossible election year for a Republican, but the message of reform along with a healthy dose of impatience with White House insiderism is a solid message for conservatives. In fact, it’s more compelling after Obama (who has vividly demonstrated what needs to be reformed) than it was in 2008.

In 2010 and 2012, Republicans will need more competent proponents of that message. They have them in Marco Rubio, Paul Ryan, and others. Suddenly the party of ideas is once again the GOP, while the Democrats — and their infatuation for statism — suddenly seem rather stale.

Kim Strassel writes:

Marco Rubio appeared on a Sunday talk show this month to say something remarkable. The Republican running for Florida’s Senate seat suggested we reform Social Security by raising the retirement age for younger workers. Florida is home to 2.4 million senior citizens who like to vote. The blogs declared Mr. Rubio politically suicidal.

The response from Mr. Rubio’s primary competitor, Gov. Charlie Crist, was not remarkable. His campaign slammed Mr. Rubio’s idea as “cruel, unusual and unfair to seniors living on a fixed income.” Mr. Crist’s plan for $17.5 trillion in unfunded Social Security liabilities? Easy! He’ll root out “fraud” and “waste.”

Strassel says this is the real GOP “civil war”  — “the real divide is between reformers like Mr. Rubio and Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, who are running on principles and tough issues, and a GOP old guard that still finds it politically expedient to duck or demagogue issues.”

This also confirms that the mainstream media spin that Tea Party protesters are dolts, fools, and rubes is, well, media spin. The darling of the Tea Partiers is the smart-guy reformer, not the party hack. And the Democrats — including the allegedly “intellectual” president — are the ones playing games with the budget scoring on ObamaCare and shoving off on a commission the hard work of entitlement and budget reform.

Before the economy melted down and John McCain’s campaign ground to a halt (and then began to eat its own), McCain was running as a reformer, someone not beholden to the party insiders. He came up with a credible health-care plan that was not too different from many circulating among Republicans in Congress now. McCain was a flawed candidate, running in an impossible election year for a Republican, but the message of reform along with a healthy dose of impatience with White House insiderism is a solid message for conservatives. In fact, it’s more compelling after Obama (who has vividly demonstrated what needs to be reformed) than it was in 2008.

In 2010 and 2012, Republicans will need more competent proponents of that message. They have them in Marco Rubio, Paul Ryan, and others. Suddenly the party of ideas is once again the GOP, while the Democrats — and their infatuation for statism — suddenly seem rather stale.

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Time for Jews to Take On the President

Obama wrote a letter to Alan Solow of the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations, which reads in part:

“As for our relations with Israel, let me be very clear: we have a special relationship with Israel and that will not change. Our countries are bound together by shared values, deep and interwoven connections, and mutual interests. Many of the same forces that threaten Israel also threaten the United States and our efforts to secure peace and stability in the Middle East. Our alliance with Israel serves our national security interests.”

“As we continue to strive for lasting peace agreements between Israel, the Palestinians, and Israel’s neighbors, all sides should understand that our commitment to Israel’s security is unshakeable and that no wedge will be driven between us. We will have our differences, but when we do, we will work to resolve them as close allies.”

This is, quite bluntly, nonsense coming from this president and an insult to the intelligence of Jewish voters. The appropriate response to Obama is: “Mr. President, you’re not fostering the special relationship; you are undermining it. You are not confronting the most lethal of those ‘forces that threaten Israel [which] also threaten the United States,’ namely Iran. You have resigned yourself to a nuclear Iran and eliminated the most feasible tactics for preventing a nuclear Iran. When, Mr. President, you ‘condemn’ Israel, you do not demonstrate that our commitment to Israel’s security is unshakable. Instead, you sow doubt about our willingness to defend the Jewish state. And, Mr. President, no American president has ever driven a larger wedge between the U.S. and Israel than you have. You have not treated Israel as a close ally, but rather as a pariah and an impediment to your effort to cozy up to the ‘Muslim World.'”

As for his additional representation to Solow that “he would not impose ‘peace from the outside; it must be negotiated directly by the leaders who are required to make the hard choices and compromises that take on history,'” Solow would be well advised to demand that Obama therefore publicly rebuke his advisers who have suggested otherwise and announce there will be no further consideration of an imposed peace deal.

But, of course, Solow is not likely to say any of those things in public, and certainly not in writing. And this is precisely what is wrong and entirely dysfunctional about American Jewish officialdom these days. Jewish “leaders” privately grouse and express horror over Obama’s Israel attacks, but they are unwilling to declare that the emperor has no clothes when he says the most ludicrously disingenuous things. In doing so they actually harm the Israel-U.S. relationship and only encourage Obama’s anti-Israel gambit. When they politely nod — and worse, tout the letter as an accomplishment — they give cover to the president’s anti-Israel animus. If the Conference and other Jewish organizations won’t call them like they see them and take on this president, they risk becoming irrelevant and counterproductive. Really, isn’t it time to risk losing precious “access” to the White House in order to deliver a full-throated and candid condemnation of the administration’s Israel-bashing?

Obama wrote a letter to Alan Solow of the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations, which reads in part:

“As for our relations with Israel, let me be very clear: we have a special relationship with Israel and that will not change. Our countries are bound together by shared values, deep and interwoven connections, and mutual interests. Many of the same forces that threaten Israel also threaten the United States and our efforts to secure peace and stability in the Middle East. Our alliance with Israel serves our national security interests.”

“As we continue to strive for lasting peace agreements between Israel, the Palestinians, and Israel’s neighbors, all sides should understand that our commitment to Israel’s security is unshakeable and that no wedge will be driven between us. We will have our differences, but when we do, we will work to resolve them as close allies.”

This is, quite bluntly, nonsense coming from this president and an insult to the intelligence of Jewish voters. The appropriate response to Obama is: “Mr. President, you’re not fostering the special relationship; you are undermining it. You are not confronting the most lethal of those ‘forces that threaten Israel [which] also threaten the United States,’ namely Iran. You have resigned yourself to a nuclear Iran and eliminated the most feasible tactics for preventing a nuclear Iran. When, Mr. President, you ‘condemn’ Israel, you do not demonstrate that our commitment to Israel’s security is unshakable. Instead, you sow doubt about our willingness to defend the Jewish state. And, Mr. President, no American president has ever driven a larger wedge between the U.S. and Israel than you have. You have not treated Israel as a close ally, but rather as a pariah and an impediment to your effort to cozy up to the ‘Muslim World.'”

As for his additional representation to Solow that “he would not impose ‘peace from the outside; it must be negotiated directly by the leaders who are required to make the hard choices and compromises that take on history,'” Solow would be well advised to demand that Obama therefore publicly rebuke his advisers who have suggested otherwise and announce there will be no further consideration of an imposed peace deal.

But, of course, Solow is not likely to say any of those things in public, and certainly not in writing. And this is precisely what is wrong and entirely dysfunctional about American Jewish officialdom these days. Jewish “leaders” privately grouse and express horror over Obama’s Israel attacks, but they are unwilling to declare that the emperor has no clothes when he says the most ludicrously disingenuous things. In doing so they actually harm the Israel-U.S. relationship and only encourage Obama’s anti-Israel gambit. When they politely nod — and worse, tout the letter as an accomplishment — they give cover to the president’s anti-Israel animus. If the Conference and other Jewish organizations won’t call them like they see them and take on this president, they risk becoming irrelevant and counterproductive. Really, isn’t it time to risk losing precious “access” to the White House in order to deliver a full-throated and candid condemnation of the administration’s Israel-bashing?

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Flotsam and Jetsam

At last — conferees have been selected for the Iran sanctions legislation.

The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights begins to pull back the curtain on the New Black Panther case. The hearing begins today.

Didn’t we reset our relationship? A “spokesman for the Russian foreign ministry on Thursday criticized US plans to station missiles near Poland’s border with Russia, the Interfax news agency reported.” It seems that U.S. concessions beget only more Russian demands.

Nicholas Kristof learns that Obama’s a no-show on human rights. “Until he reached the White House, Barack Obama repeatedly insisted that the United States apply more pressure on Sudan so as to avoid a humanitarian catastrophe in Darfur and elsewhere. Yet, as president, Mr. Obama and his aides have caved, leaving Sudan gloating at American weakness. Western monitors, Sudanese journalists and local civil society groups have all found this month’s Sudanese elections to be deeply flawed — yet Mr. Obama’s special envoy for Sudan, Maj. Gen. Scott Gration, pre-emptively defended the elections, saying they would be ‘as free and as fair as possible.'”

Michael Steele may have finally overstayed his welcome in the RNC. After all, he says there is “no reason” for African Americans to vote Republican. Well, sometimes it’s hard to figure out which party he’s chairman of.

I think this is the point: “Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) on Thursday said the Senate is not ready to tackle immigration reform and that bringing a bill forward would be ‘CYA politics.’ … Graham also said moving ahead with immigration would scuttle the Senate’s capacity to deal with climate legislation. ‘It destroys the ability to do something like energy and climate,’ he told reporters in the Capitol.” Sounds good!

Enough with the Bush-bashing: “Most American voters think it is time for the Obama administration to start taking responsibility for the way things are going in the country. A Fox News poll released Thursday finds 66 percent of voters think President Obama should start taking responsibility. That’s more than three times as many as the 21 percent who think it’s right to continue to blame the Bush administration for the way things are going today.”

At last — conferees have been selected for the Iran sanctions legislation.

The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights begins to pull back the curtain on the New Black Panther case. The hearing begins today.

Didn’t we reset our relationship? A “spokesman for the Russian foreign ministry on Thursday criticized US plans to station missiles near Poland’s border with Russia, the Interfax news agency reported.” It seems that U.S. concessions beget only more Russian demands.

Nicholas Kristof learns that Obama’s a no-show on human rights. “Until he reached the White House, Barack Obama repeatedly insisted that the United States apply more pressure on Sudan so as to avoid a humanitarian catastrophe in Darfur and elsewhere. Yet, as president, Mr. Obama and his aides have caved, leaving Sudan gloating at American weakness. Western monitors, Sudanese journalists and local civil society groups have all found this month’s Sudanese elections to be deeply flawed — yet Mr. Obama’s special envoy for Sudan, Maj. Gen. Scott Gration, pre-emptively defended the elections, saying they would be ‘as free and as fair as possible.'”

Michael Steele may have finally overstayed his welcome in the RNC. After all, he says there is “no reason” for African Americans to vote Republican. Well, sometimes it’s hard to figure out which party he’s chairman of.

I think this is the point: “Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) on Thursday said the Senate is not ready to tackle immigration reform and that bringing a bill forward would be ‘CYA politics.’ … Graham also said moving ahead with immigration would scuttle the Senate’s capacity to deal with climate legislation. ‘It destroys the ability to do something like energy and climate,’ he told reporters in the Capitol.” Sounds good!

Enough with the Bush-bashing: “Most American voters think it is time for the Obama administration to start taking responsibility for the way things are going in the country. A Fox News poll released Thursday finds 66 percent of voters think President Obama should start taking responsibility. That’s more than three times as many as the 21 percent who think it’s right to continue to blame the Bush administration for the way things are going today.”

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