Commentary Magazine


Posts For: May 6, 2010

The Worst Brit PM: Loser of the Colonies or Appeaser of Hitler?

As we await the results of today’s British elections, it’s hard to work up much enthusiasm about the outcome, given the dismal choices facing the voters there. David Cameron, the not-very-conservative Conservative leader who doesn’t appear to be much of a friend to the United States, might be the best of the lot compared with Gordon Brown and Labour, and especially with the hard-left anti-Israel venom emanating from the Liberal Democrats led by Nick Clegg, but that is to damn Cameron with faint praise.

But whoever the next resident of No. 10 Downing Street may be, the Times of London has provided readers with an interesting feature about his predecessors, ranking the top 50 British prime ministers. A panel of political writers and journalists — not historians — composed the list, but it still is enough to spark a lively conversation about the subject.

At the top of the list (no surprise here) is Winston Churchill, though it should be noted that the panel wasn’t unanimous about the choice, with one of the members voting for the overall No. 2 choice: David Lloyd George, who led Britain to victory during World War One. The rest of the top 10 were: William Gladstone, William Pitt the Younger, Margaret Thatcher, Sir Robert Peel, Clement Atlee, Earl Grey (it pays to have a tea named after you), Robert Walpole, and Benjamin Disraeli. (In case his buddy George W. Bush is interested, Tony Blair was ranked number 16, tied with the elder William Pitt.)

More curious than the leaders in the poll, most of whom are obvious choices, were the ones at the bottom. For those of us whose view of 20th century British history was primarily formed by our interest in the battle between Churchill and the “guilty men” who appeased Hitler, it is fascinating to note that while Neville Chamberlain’s name is synonymous with infamy, the Times panel thinks that he wasn’t really all that bad, ranking him at 34th, which is not so good but far from the bottom. Interestingly, fellow appeaser Stanley Baldwin, who preceded Chamberlain, was ranked fairly high at 14th, apparently because of the slick way he handled the abdication of Queen Elizabeth’s uncle the Duke of Windsor.

So who did the panel think were the worst prime ministers? Interestingly, the bottom three of this list of 49 men and one woman were the three Brits who lost the American colonies: Lord George Granville, the Duke of Grafton, and Lord North (1770-1782), who was the last and the least. There’s no question that these three were terrible British leaders, but I’m not exactly sure what it says about the Times of London — or Britain for that matter — that their panel thinks the creation of the United States was a greater disaster for their country than a policy of appeasement that led to a global war and to Auschwitz. I’d have thought that our friends across the pond had gotten over the results of the Battle of Yorktown a long while ago, but perhaps now that President Obama has put an end to the “special relationship” with Britain, the chasm between our two nations — divided, as G.B. Shaw said, by “a common language,” is even greater than we could have imagined.

As we await the results of today’s British elections, it’s hard to work up much enthusiasm about the outcome, given the dismal choices facing the voters there. David Cameron, the not-very-conservative Conservative leader who doesn’t appear to be much of a friend to the United States, might be the best of the lot compared with Gordon Brown and Labour, and especially with the hard-left anti-Israel venom emanating from the Liberal Democrats led by Nick Clegg, but that is to damn Cameron with faint praise.

But whoever the next resident of No. 10 Downing Street may be, the Times of London has provided readers with an interesting feature about his predecessors, ranking the top 50 British prime ministers. A panel of political writers and journalists — not historians — composed the list, but it still is enough to spark a lively conversation about the subject.

At the top of the list (no surprise here) is Winston Churchill, though it should be noted that the panel wasn’t unanimous about the choice, with one of the members voting for the overall No. 2 choice: David Lloyd George, who led Britain to victory during World War One. The rest of the top 10 were: William Gladstone, William Pitt the Younger, Margaret Thatcher, Sir Robert Peel, Clement Atlee, Earl Grey (it pays to have a tea named after you), Robert Walpole, and Benjamin Disraeli. (In case his buddy George W. Bush is interested, Tony Blair was ranked number 16, tied with the elder William Pitt.)

More curious than the leaders in the poll, most of whom are obvious choices, were the ones at the bottom. For those of us whose view of 20th century British history was primarily formed by our interest in the battle between Churchill and the “guilty men” who appeased Hitler, it is fascinating to note that while Neville Chamberlain’s name is synonymous with infamy, the Times panel thinks that he wasn’t really all that bad, ranking him at 34th, which is not so good but far from the bottom. Interestingly, fellow appeaser Stanley Baldwin, who preceded Chamberlain, was ranked fairly high at 14th, apparently because of the slick way he handled the abdication of Queen Elizabeth’s uncle the Duke of Windsor.

So who did the panel think were the worst prime ministers? Interestingly, the bottom three of this list of 49 men and one woman were the three Brits who lost the American colonies: Lord George Granville, the Duke of Grafton, and Lord North (1770-1782), who was the last and the least. There’s no question that these three were terrible British leaders, but I’m not exactly sure what it says about the Times of London — or Britain for that matter — that their panel thinks the creation of the United States was a greater disaster for their country than a policy of appeasement that led to a global war and to Auschwitz. I’d have thought that our friends across the pond had gotten over the results of the Battle of Yorktown a long while ago, but perhaps now that President Obama has put an end to the “special relationship” with Britain, the chasm between our two nations — divided, as G.B. Shaw said, by “a common language,” is even greater than we could have imagined.

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Lieberman Legislation

Sen. Joe Lieberman introduced his legislation today to strip terrorists of citizenship in the same way an existing statute passed in 1940 does for those who take up arms against the U.S. in a foreign army. At a news conference today, he explained:

The bill we are introducing today – the Terrorist Expatriation Act – updates the 1940 law to account for the enemy we are fighting today.

Under the Terrorist Expatriation Act, the State Department will now also be able to revoke the citizenship of an American citizen who affiliates with a Foreign Terrorist Organization or who fights against our country.  Foreign Terrorist Organizations, as you are likely aware, are also designated by the State Department.

The same due process that applies to the existing statute will apply to those whose citizenship is revoked under our proposed amendment to the law.  The State Department will make an administrative determination that a U.S. Citizen has indicated an intent to renounce their citizenship by supporting an FTO.  That individual will then have the right to appeal that determination within the State Department and, then, to a federal district court.

He explains the context in which this would be used:

The facts are now clear.  Over the past several years, the threat from Islamist terrorist organizations like al-Qaeda has changed.  On 9/11, 19 Islamist terrorists who were trained abroad were sent here to carry out those horrific attacks.  Now, with increasing frequency, U.S. Citizens like Nidal Hassan, Abdul Hakim Muhammad, or Faisal Shahzad, who are inspired or recruited by violent Islamist ideology plan and execute attacks right here in the United States.

And with increasing frequency, westerners, including U.S. citizens like Anwar al-Awlaki, Adam Gadahn, and many young Somali-Americans are traveling abroad to join and fight for al-Qaeda or affiliated Islamist terrorist groups.  In fact, it has become a strategy of al-Qaeda and other Islamist terrorist groups over the past couple of years to recruit U.S. citizens who can train overseas and then use their American passports to re-enter the U.S. for the purposes of planning and carrying out attacks against us.  Though we are still learning details, it appears that Shahzad traveled abroad to receive terrorist training that he used to build the bombs in the car he parked in Times Square.

The legislation we are introducing today will help take that ability away from the terrorists.  For example, if a U.S. citizen travels to Somalia to train with and fight for al-Shabaab – as more than 20 young men have done over the past several years – the State Department will now have the authority to revoke their citizenship so that they cannot return here to carry out an attack.   If, in some way, they do, and are then captured, they will not enjoy the rights and privileges of American citizenship in the legal proceedings against them.

Unlike his Democratic colleagues, Lieberman got a favorable reaction from the administration. Hillary Clinton was sounding sensible:

Clinton explained that the State Department already has expatriation authority within U.S. law that permits the State Department to rescind American citizenship if someone shows some kind of allegiance to a foreign state.

U.S. citizenship is “a privilege, not a right,” Clinton said, adding that people who enter into U.S. citizenship through naturalization swear to uphold their oath to the Constitution and that those who serve foreign terrorists “are clearly in violation, in my personal opinion, of that oath which they swore when they became citizens.”

The State Department has exercised the expatriation authority in the past, she said, adding that she understands the desire from the members of Congress, and the State Department will take a hard look at this legislation.

Both Lieberman and Clinton make clear that the critics who decry efforts to strip combatants of citizenship really have a quarrel with existing law. Do those lawmakers want to repeal the 1940 statute? If not, they should explain why we don’t want a framework that has been used effectively against traditional nation-states to be updated and made relevant to the war against Islamic terrorists.

Sen. Joe Lieberman introduced his legislation today to strip terrorists of citizenship in the same way an existing statute passed in 1940 does for those who take up arms against the U.S. in a foreign army. At a news conference today, he explained:

The bill we are introducing today – the Terrorist Expatriation Act – updates the 1940 law to account for the enemy we are fighting today.

Under the Terrorist Expatriation Act, the State Department will now also be able to revoke the citizenship of an American citizen who affiliates with a Foreign Terrorist Organization or who fights against our country.  Foreign Terrorist Organizations, as you are likely aware, are also designated by the State Department.

The same due process that applies to the existing statute will apply to those whose citizenship is revoked under our proposed amendment to the law.  The State Department will make an administrative determination that a U.S. Citizen has indicated an intent to renounce their citizenship by supporting an FTO.  That individual will then have the right to appeal that determination within the State Department and, then, to a federal district court.

He explains the context in which this would be used:

The facts are now clear.  Over the past several years, the threat from Islamist terrorist organizations like al-Qaeda has changed.  On 9/11, 19 Islamist terrorists who were trained abroad were sent here to carry out those horrific attacks.  Now, with increasing frequency, U.S. Citizens like Nidal Hassan, Abdul Hakim Muhammad, or Faisal Shahzad, who are inspired or recruited by violent Islamist ideology plan and execute attacks right here in the United States.

And with increasing frequency, westerners, including U.S. citizens like Anwar al-Awlaki, Adam Gadahn, and many young Somali-Americans are traveling abroad to join and fight for al-Qaeda or affiliated Islamist terrorist groups.  In fact, it has become a strategy of al-Qaeda and other Islamist terrorist groups over the past couple of years to recruit U.S. citizens who can train overseas and then use their American passports to re-enter the U.S. for the purposes of planning and carrying out attacks against us.  Though we are still learning details, it appears that Shahzad traveled abroad to receive terrorist training that he used to build the bombs in the car he parked in Times Square.

The legislation we are introducing today will help take that ability away from the terrorists.  For example, if a U.S. citizen travels to Somalia to train with and fight for al-Shabaab – as more than 20 young men have done over the past several years – the State Department will now have the authority to revoke their citizenship so that they cannot return here to carry out an attack.   If, in some way, they do, and are then captured, they will not enjoy the rights and privileges of American citizenship in the legal proceedings against them.

Unlike his Democratic colleagues, Lieberman got a favorable reaction from the administration. Hillary Clinton was sounding sensible:

Clinton explained that the State Department already has expatriation authority within U.S. law that permits the State Department to rescind American citizenship if someone shows some kind of allegiance to a foreign state.

U.S. citizenship is “a privilege, not a right,” Clinton said, adding that people who enter into U.S. citizenship through naturalization swear to uphold their oath to the Constitution and that those who serve foreign terrorists “are clearly in violation, in my personal opinion, of that oath which they swore when they became citizens.”

The State Department has exercised the expatriation authority in the past, she said, adding that she understands the desire from the members of Congress, and the State Department will take a hard look at this legislation.

Both Lieberman and Clinton make clear that the critics who decry efforts to strip combatants of citizenship really have a quarrel with existing law. Do those lawmakers want to repeal the 1940 statute? If not, they should explain why we don’t want a framework that has been used effectively against traditional nation-states to be updated and made relevant to the war against Islamic terrorists.

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Palin as Power Broker

The chattering class is obsessed with the potential for a Sarah Palin presidential run. She may well take the plunge. But in the meantime and perhaps as an alternative career course, she just might become the most influential king-maker in the GOP. She has the grassroots appeal to stamp outsider candidates as authentic populists. That’s what she did today with Carly Fiorina in the hotly contested California senate primary race, declaring that “Carly is the Commonsense Conservative that California needs and our country could sure use in these trying times. She’s not a career politician. She’s a businesswoman who has run a major corporation. She knows how to really incentivize job creation. Her fiscal conservatism is rooted in real life experience. She knows that when government grows, the private sector shrinks under the burden of debt and deficits.”

This seems significant for at least three reasons. First, Palin is now, as they say in advertising, in the business of “branding” Commonsense Conservatives, a descriptor she introduced in her memoirs. Some might argue it’s not very specific, but neither is “hope” or “change.” It is a shorthand expression for a populist, a Palin-maverick. Not every politician, no matter how skilled or competent, can get the sort of name recognition that Palin has, and she is using it not only to lift the profile of other Republicans, but herself as well. Second, Palin endorsed Rand Paul in Kentucky, who raises concerns with many conservatives on foreign policy and national-security issues (as, of course, does Rand’s father Paul). It is significant and perhaps reassuring to national-security conservatives that Palin is giving the nod to Fiorina in her race against Tom Campbell, who’s taken a drubbing over his Israel record. And finally, as in the Rand Paul endorsement, this suggests a certain riskiness on Palin’s part. Both or either of her senate picks could lose, thereby dimming Palin’s star. But she’s rolling the dice.

We still don’t know whether Palin will run in 2012. But we’re going to find out fairly soon if her star power is transferable to others.

The chattering class is obsessed with the potential for a Sarah Palin presidential run. She may well take the plunge. But in the meantime and perhaps as an alternative career course, she just might become the most influential king-maker in the GOP. She has the grassroots appeal to stamp outsider candidates as authentic populists. That’s what she did today with Carly Fiorina in the hotly contested California senate primary race, declaring that “Carly is the Commonsense Conservative that California needs and our country could sure use in these trying times. She’s not a career politician. She’s a businesswoman who has run a major corporation. She knows how to really incentivize job creation. Her fiscal conservatism is rooted in real life experience. She knows that when government grows, the private sector shrinks under the burden of debt and deficits.”

This seems significant for at least three reasons. First, Palin is now, as they say in advertising, in the business of “branding” Commonsense Conservatives, a descriptor she introduced in her memoirs. Some might argue it’s not very specific, but neither is “hope” or “change.” It is a shorthand expression for a populist, a Palin-maverick. Not every politician, no matter how skilled or competent, can get the sort of name recognition that Palin has, and she is using it not only to lift the profile of other Republicans, but herself as well. Second, Palin endorsed Rand Paul in Kentucky, who raises concerns with many conservatives on foreign policy and national-security issues (as, of course, does Rand’s father Paul). It is significant and perhaps reassuring to national-security conservatives that Palin is giving the nod to Fiorina in her race against Tom Campbell, who’s taken a drubbing over his Israel record. And finally, as in the Rand Paul endorsement, this suggests a certain riskiness on Palin’s part. Both or either of her senate picks could lose, thereby dimming Palin’s star. But she’s rolling the dice.

We still don’t know whether Palin will run in 2012. But we’re going to find out fairly soon if her star power is transferable to others.

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RE: Newsweek Squeak

John, I wanted to follow up on your post on Newsweek by linking to this interview between Jon Meacham and Jon Stewart on The Daily Show [it can be found here and here]. During it, Meacham says this:

I do not believe that Newsweek is the only catcher in the rye between democracy and ignorance, but I think we’re one of them. And I don’t think there are that many on the edge of that cliff.

Ah, no.

For years I had subscribed to Newsweek, though I dropped the subscription last year, when I thought the magazine took a dive for the worst. I found the “new” Newsweek to be horrible in layout and in many (though certainly not all) of the writers it regularly featured. Jacob Weisberg and Jonathan Alter are not vital to the success of the American Republic. Trust me.

Regardless of your views about the quality of Newsweek, though, the notion that it is one of the “few catchers in the rye between democracy and ignorance” is risible. It was a liberal-leaning newsmagazine that mirrored almost perfectly the conventional wisdom of the political class. It was not, and never has been, indispensible, close to indispensible, or marginally indispensible. In fact, American democracy and American public discourse will not be one bit worse off when it disappears from the scene.

My three children will do fine growing up in a world without Newsweek.

Meacham also insisted that Newsweek has been “one of the very few common denominators in a fragmented world.” It actually has not been that.

Newsweek represented a point of view that was philosophically liberal. In some years it did that better than in other years. But it was not a “common denominator” for us, as much as Meacham wishes it were. And I, for one, believe the “fragmented” media world we live in is far superior to the one that came before it. The consensus that existed among journalists when their profession was dominated by Time and Newsweek, by ABC, NBC, and CBS, by the New York Times and the Washington Post, was stupefying. The narratives were virtually all the same because the worldviews of reporters were almost all the same. What we had were a “herd of independent minds” trying to tell us how to think, which stories were worthy of our attention, and how to process those stories.

Today we live in a far more interesting, variegated, and informed world. There are now genuine clashes of ideas — and facts can now be checked in a way they never were in the past. (See Dan Rather’s and CBS’s reliance on bogus documents for a “60 Minutes” report charging that President Bush received favorable treatment in the National Guard, something that two decades ago could have cost Bush the presidency instead of Rather his job.)

It isn’t a perfect world by any means. And I’m not in favor of a world in which there are only commentators, only bloggers, only opinion-makers. We still need newspapers and news organizations that report and break news. For example, the New York Times, whatever its drawbacks, still provides excellent coverage of international affairs. During the Iraq war reporters like John Burns, Dexter Filkins, and Michael Gordon provided outstanding coverage.

We still need journalists reporting on oil wells that explode and leak, British elections being held, wars being fought, genocide unfolding, riots occurring in Greece, and all the rest. The good news is that we live in a world that features both “hard news” and informed commentary, to a degree we have never had before.

In that respect, what we have today is a vast improvement over the past. It also means that the truth and reality of the world in which we live has a better chance of being apprehended by the American citizenry.

I can understand on a personal and a professional level why Jon Meacham is shattered by what has happened to his magazine. But it is a tragedy for Newsweek, not for America — and not for American journalism.

John, I wanted to follow up on your post on Newsweek by linking to this interview between Jon Meacham and Jon Stewart on The Daily Show [it can be found here and here]. During it, Meacham says this:

I do not believe that Newsweek is the only catcher in the rye between democracy and ignorance, but I think we’re one of them. And I don’t think there are that many on the edge of that cliff.

Ah, no.

For years I had subscribed to Newsweek, though I dropped the subscription last year, when I thought the magazine took a dive for the worst. I found the “new” Newsweek to be horrible in layout and in many (though certainly not all) of the writers it regularly featured. Jacob Weisberg and Jonathan Alter are not vital to the success of the American Republic. Trust me.

Regardless of your views about the quality of Newsweek, though, the notion that it is one of the “few catchers in the rye between democracy and ignorance” is risible. It was a liberal-leaning newsmagazine that mirrored almost perfectly the conventional wisdom of the political class. It was not, and never has been, indispensible, close to indispensible, or marginally indispensible. In fact, American democracy and American public discourse will not be one bit worse off when it disappears from the scene.

My three children will do fine growing up in a world without Newsweek.

Meacham also insisted that Newsweek has been “one of the very few common denominators in a fragmented world.” It actually has not been that.

Newsweek represented a point of view that was philosophically liberal. In some years it did that better than in other years. But it was not a “common denominator” for us, as much as Meacham wishes it were. And I, for one, believe the “fragmented” media world we live in is far superior to the one that came before it. The consensus that existed among journalists when their profession was dominated by Time and Newsweek, by ABC, NBC, and CBS, by the New York Times and the Washington Post, was stupefying. The narratives were virtually all the same because the worldviews of reporters were almost all the same. What we had were a “herd of independent minds” trying to tell us how to think, which stories were worthy of our attention, and how to process those stories.

Today we live in a far more interesting, variegated, and informed world. There are now genuine clashes of ideas — and facts can now be checked in a way they never were in the past. (See Dan Rather’s and CBS’s reliance on bogus documents for a “60 Minutes” report charging that President Bush received favorable treatment in the National Guard, something that two decades ago could have cost Bush the presidency instead of Rather his job.)

It isn’t a perfect world by any means. And I’m not in favor of a world in which there are only commentators, only bloggers, only opinion-makers. We still need newspapers and news organizations that report and break news. For example, the New York Times, whatever its drawbacks, still provides excellent coverage of international affairs. During the Iraq war reporters like John Burns, Dexter Filkins, and Michael Gordon provided outstanding coverage.

We still need journalists reporting on oil wells that explode and leak, British elections being held, wars being fought, genocide unfolding, riots occurring in Greece, and all the rest. The good news is that we live in a world that features both “hard news” and informed commentary, to a degree we have never had before.

In that respect, what we have today is a vast improvement over the past. It also means that the truth and reality of the world in which we live has a better chance of being apprehended by the American citizenry.

I can understand on a personal and a professional level why Jon Meacham is shattered by what has happened to his magazine. But it is a tragedy for Newsweek, not for America — and not for American journalism.

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Olbermann Tries to Pass for Sane

What could be more ludicrous than selling Newsweek as an objective news journal? Selling Keith Olbermann as a serious talk-show analyst. His ratings are tumbling, so he’s out to convince people he’s not a raving lunatic. Tom Bevan tells us that Olbermann’s new promos show Olbermann in a whole new light:

Olbermann tells viewers his show is meant to “illuminate” not to “throw off heat” and that it means to “add to your knowledge” of a given subject. Olbermann also tries to take the edge off his “Worst Persons in the World” feature, saying it’s not meant to be a mean-spirited ad hominem thing, but rather an effort to “blow raspberries” at people in the spirit of an old George Carlin joke.

This might itself be a whole other Saturday Night Live skit. But it does suggest that there is only so much mileage to be gotten out of Bush-hating, conservative-bashing, and unhinged vitriol. Come to think of it, the same might be said of the entire Democratic Party and the liberal chattering class. There is a bit of the “dog caught the bus” syndrome — having inveighed against Bush, beaten John McCain, and captured the White House, what is going to lift their spirits now? Apparently not Keith Olbermann.

What could be more ludicrous than selling Newsweek as an objective news journal? Selling Keith Olbermann as a serious talk-show analyst. His ratings are tumbling, so he’s out to convince people he’s not a raving lunatic. Tom Bevan tells us that Olbermann’s new promos show Olbermann in a whole new light:

Olbermann tells viewers his show is meant to “illuminate” not to “throw off heat” and that it means to “add to your knowledge” of a given subject. Olbermann also tries to take the edge off his “Worst Persons in the World” feature, saying it’s not meant to be a mean-spirited ad hominem thing, but rather an effort to “blow raspberries” at people in the spirit of an old George Carlin joke.

This might itself be a whole other Saturday Night Live skit. But it does suggest that there is only so much mileage to be gotten out of Bush-hating, conservative-bashing, and unhinged vitriol. Come to think of it, the same might be said of the entire Democratic Party and the liberal chattering class. There is a bit of the “dog caught the bus” syndrome — having inveighed against Bush, beaten John McCain, and captured the White House, what is going to lift their spirits now? Apparently not Keith Olbermann.

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Oxymorons

The New York Times yesterday (as Jonathan noted) published an article about disagreements among American Jews about Israel. The article was centered on a synagogue in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. A secular humanist synagogue in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. Ah. So what’s wrong with this picture? Evidently, the author, Paul Vitello, did not realize this, or his assigning editor, or his desk editor, or the assistant managing editor overseeing them, or the managing editor, but a house of worship that characterizes itself as “secular” is … um … not really representative of anything except the bizarre notions of its own members. And you don’t need a degree in theology to understand this. Only a dictionary, in which you can look up the word “secular” and the word “synagogue” and note how maybe they don’t quite align.

The New York Times yesterday (as Jonathan noted) published an article about disagreements among American Jews about Israel. The article was centered on a synagogue in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. A secular humanist synagogue in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. Ah. So what’s wrong with this picture? Evidently, the author, Paul Vitello, did not realize this, or his assigning editor, or his desk editor, or the assistant managing editor overseeing them, or the managing editor, but a house of worship that characterizes itself as “secular” is … um … not really representative of anything except the bizarre notions of its own members. And you don’t need a degree in theology to understand this. Only a dictionary, in which you can look up the word “secular” and the word “synagogue” and note how maybe they don’t quite align.

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Liberals Like Swift-Boat Attack Against Specter’s Foe

With less than two weeks to go until the Pennsylvania Democratic primary that will decide the fate of Senator Arlen Specter, the race between the incumbent party-switcher and the liberal congressman who is hoping to knock him off has gotten tighter and nastier.

After holding a huge lead over Rep. Joe Sestak for most of the past year, Specter is shown by the latest polls to lose his lead. An Allentown Morning Call tracking poll showed Specter with just a five-point lead (45 percent to 40) on May 5, down three points from May 2. Though a Quinnipiac poll from May 2 showed Specter with a larger lead (48 percent to 39), it still showed remarkable gains for Sestak since he had trailed Specter in that survey by as much as 21 points only a month earlier.

And along with the tighter poll numbers have come the inevitable negative ads. Specter had thought he would cruise to victory in the primary because of name recognition, a big edge in campaign contributions, and the overwhelming support he has received from Democratic leaders from President Obama, Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell, and most of the county Democratic committees. But faced with Sestak’s rising numbers, in the last couple of weeks, Specter has now resorted to trying to stress his opponent’s negatives. The senator is now airing a TV ad in which he claims that Sestak, a retired Navy admiral, was relieved of his post as chief of planning for the Navy in 2005 because he created a “poor command climate” — though Sestak has always said that his exit from the Navy was due to policy differences with a new chief of naval operations, Admiral Mike Mullen. Sestak has now responded to Specter’s ad with one of his own, in which he accuses the senator of “swift-boating” him and lying about his record. For good measure, he’s also released another one tying Specter to his Republican past, including his support for figures that are demons to Democratic activists: George W. Bush, former senator Rick Santorum, and Sarah Palin.

Though Specter’s turncoat status has made it hard for him to cozy up to the sort of hardcore liberals who vote in Democratic primaries, it is interesting to note that the chief institutional voice of Pennsylvania liberalism — the Philadelphia Inquirer — has taken its cue from Obama and not only endorsed Specter but also backed his attacks on Sestak’s record and character. In an editorial published today, the Inky follows Specter’s lead and demands that Sestak release his private Navy records if he wants to quiet the discussion related to the issue.

Yet 6 years ago, when conservative activists were raising embarrassing questions about the naval record of Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry, the Inquirer took a very different point of view. At that time, the liberal newspaper decried the “Swift-Boat” vets who attacked Kerry and thought their demands for the release of Kerry’s records were not only unreasonable but also an indication of the vicious nature of ultra-partisan GOP politics. But with the possibility of losing a Senate seat for the Democrats (polls also show that Sestak is a weaker general-election candidate than Specter), the Inquirer is no longer so squeamish about messing with former military men.

Ultimately, the race will be decided by voter sentiment about Specter. Much of his campaign material emphasizes his 30 years in the Senate and his ability to bring home the bacon for his state as one of the most expert practitioners of earmark spending. But in a year in which voters are clearly saying that they think politics as usual isn’t the answer, Specter’s old strengths may turn out to be big weaknesses. While this trend is a clear boost to Republicans — not least to former Rep. Pat Toomey, a principled libertarian and the man whom polls show able to beat either Democrat in the November election — these ideas may have an impact on May 17, when Democrats vote as well. Under these circumstances, swift-boating Sestak, even if liberals who once were outraged by such tactics when it they had turned on their own heroes now endorse them, may not be enough to save the slippery Specter.

With less than two weeks to go until the Pennsylvania Democratic primary that will decide the fate of Senator Arlen Specter, the race between the incumbent party-switcher and the liberal congressman who is hoping to knock him off has gotten tighter and nastier.

After holding a huge lead over Rep. Joe Sestak for most of the past year, Specter is shown by the latest polls to lose his lead. An Allentown Morning Call tracking poll showed Specter with just a five-point lead (45 percent to 40) on May 5, down three points from May 2. Though a Quinnipiac poll from May 2 showed Specter with a larger lead (48 percent to 39), it still showed remarkable gains for Sestak since he had trailed Specter in that survey by as much as 21 points only a month earlier.

And along with the tighter poll numbers have come the inevitable negative ads. Specter had thought he would cruise to victory in the primary because of name recognition, a big edge in campaign contributions, and the overwhelming support he has received from Democratic leaders from President Obama, Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell, and most of the county Democratic committees. But faced with Sestak’s rising numbers, in the last couple of weeks, Specter has now resorted to trying to stress his opponent’s negatives. The senator is now airing a TV ad in which he claims that Sestak, a retired Navy admiral, was relieved of his post as chief of planning for the Navy in 2005 because he created a “poor command climate” — though Sestak has always said that his exit from the Navy was due to policy differences with a new chief of naval operations, Admiral Mike Mullen. Sestak has now responded to Specter’s ad with one of his own, in which he accuses the senator of “swift-boating” him and lying about his record. For good measure, he’s also released another one tying Specter to his Republican past, including his support for figures that are demons to Democratic activists: George W. Bush, former senator Rick Santorum, and Sarah Palin.

Though Specter’s turncoat status has made it hard for him to cozy up to the sort of hardcore liberals who vote in Democratic primaries, it is interesting to note that the chief institutional voice of Pennsylvania liberalism — the Philadelphia Inquirer — has taken its cue from Obama and not only endorsed Specter but also backed his attacks on Sestak’s record and character. In an editorial published today, the Inky follows Specter’s lead and demands that Sestak release his private Navy records if he wants to quiet the discussion related to the issue.

Yet 6 years ago, when conservative activists were raising embarrassing questions about the naval record of Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry, the Inquirer took a very different point of view. At that time, the liberal newspaper decried the “Swift-Boat” vets who attacked Kerry and thought their demands for the release of Kerry’s records were not only unreasonable but also an indication of the vicious nature of ultra-partisan GOP politics. But with the possibility of losing a Senate seat for the Democrats (polls also show that Sestak is a weaker general-election candidate than Specter), the Inquirer is no longer so squeamish about messing with former military men.

Ultimately, the race will be decided by voter sentiment about Specter. Much of his campaign material emphasizes his 30 years in the Senate and his ability to bring home the bacon for his state as one of the most expert practitioners of earmark spending. But in a year in which voters are clearly saying that they think politics as usual isn’t the answer, Specter’s old strengths may turn out to be big weaknesses. While this trend is a clear boost to Republicans — not least to former Rep. Pat Toomey, a principled libertarian and the man whom polls show able to beat either Democrat in the November election — these ideas may have an impact on May 17, when Democrats vote as well. Under these circumstances, swift-boating Sestak, even if liberals who once were outraged by such tactics when it they had turned on their own heroes now endorse them, may not be enough to save the slippery Specter.

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WEB EXCLUSIVE: Newsweek Squeak

Last year, Newsweek redesigned itself with an eye toward failure. Literally. The newsmagazine was getting itself out of the newsmagazine business and pursuing a higher-end market through a combination of news analysis and opinion. The idea behind the magazine’s redesign was to hasten its contraction from a circulation over 2 million to one around 1 million, while simultaneously raising the cover price. This was not, in and of itself, a silly idea. What Newsweek and its editor Jon Meacham were acknowledging is that the 2 million circulation was illusory, and that the actual readership of the magazine, with people renewing their subscriptions year after year or buying it on the newsstand week after week, was half the size.

To finish reading this COMMENTARY Web Exclusive, click here.

Last year, Newsweek redesigned itself with an eye toward failure. Literally. The newsmagazine was getting itself out of the newsmagazine business and pursuing a higher-end market through a combination of news analysis and opinion. The idea behind the magazine’s redesign was to hasten its contraction from a circulation over 2 million to one around 1 million, while simultaneously raising the cover price. This was not, in and of itself, a silly idea. What Newsweek and its editor Jon Meacham were acknowledging is that the 2 million circulation was illusory, and that the actual readership of the magazine, with people renewing their subscriptions year after year or buying it on the newsstand week after week, was half the size.

To finish reading this COMMENTARY Web Exclusive, click here.

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Let’s Play Catch-Up

The Obama administration has done . . . something:

A White House official told CBS News that airlines will now have to check the list within two hours of notification of an update with special circumstances, such as happened on Monday. Previously, airlines only were required to check within 24 hours.

This is evidence of small, reactive, and inadequate thinking.  For each exploited hole in the Homeland Security system, we add a new defensive complication that forces the next would-be terrorist to exploit a different hole. Faisal Shahzad managed to purchase a plane ticket and get on board an international flight hours after allegedly attempting to set off a bomb in Times Square. In order to prevent that from ever happening again, we’ve just urged future bombers to buy getaway tickets to flights that leave closer to the times of planned detonations and to buy those tickets in advance of the same.

On Christmas Day 2009, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab tried to blow up a Northwest Airlines flight with explosives-rigged underwear. Three months later, Homeland Security began installing full-body scanners in some American airports. Playing catch-up can be as undignified as it is ineffective.

The Bush administration was guilty of the same approach. After Richard Reid attempted to ignite his shoe explosive on an American Airlines flight in late 2001, Homeland Security responded by adding a shoe-removal step to pre-boarding protocol. Is there any doubt that if the fuse was lodged in his sock we’d now all have to remove every layer of footwear to get on our flights?

In 2006, a group of British men were caught planning to bring down at least seven trans-Atlantic flights using liquid explosives. Thus, the pre-boarding liquid-dumping ritual was born.

This dam has more gum-filled cracks than it can bear. We’re giving terrorists a fantastic blueprint for crippling our day-to-day pursuits. They don’t need to succeed in their attempts to maim and horrify. Each of their failures sets our bureaucracy in motion and leaves us with another burdensome faux-defense. The day after Faisal Shahzad failed allegedly to blow up his SUV, a cable news analyst wondered aloud if it was feasible to allow cars through midtown Manhattan anymore. It can’t be long before some unimaginative lawmaker has the same thought. And after the next Faisal Shahzad?  And the next? Why, automobile bans in ever-larger concentric circles, naturally. And then, what to do about bicycle bombs, and so on?

After it was discovered that the Nigerian underwear bomber was long known to intelligence agencies, President Obama spoke about the “systemic failure” of the way we protect our homeland against those who wish to do us harm. Yet, he’s still tinkering in the margins of that failure instead of summoning the will and imagination to qualitatively reform the way we do things. Any real systemic change means, for starters, rigorous profiling. Considering that this administration is loath to profile terrorists even after their attempted attacks, we’re a long way off.

The Obama administration has done . . . something:

A White House official told CBS News that airlines will now have to check the list within two hours of notification of an update with special circumstances, such as happened on Monday. Previously, airlines only were required to check within 24 hours.

This is evidence of small, reactive, and inadequate thinking.  For each exploited hole in the Homeland Security system, we add a new defensive complication that forces the next would-be terrorist to exploit a different hole. Faisal Shahzad managed to purchase a plane ticket and get on board an international flight hours after allegedly attempting to set off a bomb in Times Square. In order to prevent that from ever happening again, we’ve just urged future bombers to buy getaway tickets to flights that leave closer to the times of planned detonations and to buy those tickets in advance of the same.

On Christmas Day 2009, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab tried to blow up a Northwest Airlines flight with explosives-rigged underwear. Three months later, Homeland Security began installing full-body scanners in some American airports. Playing catch-up can be as undignified as it is ineffective.

The Bush administration was guilty of the same approach. After Richard Reid attempted to ignite his shoe explosive on an American Airlines flight in late 2001, Homeland Security responded by adding a shoe-removal step to pre-boarding protocol. Is there any doubt that if the fuse was lodged in his sock we’d now all have to remove every layer of footwear to get on our flights?

In 2006, a group of British men were caught planning to bring down at least seven trans-Atlantic flights using liquid explosives. Thus, the pre-boarding liquid-dumping ritual was born.

This dam has more gum-filled cracks than it can bear. We’re giving terrorists a fantastic blueprint for crippling our day-to-day pursuits. They don’t need to succeed in their attempts to maim and horrify. Each of their failures sets our bureaucracy in motion and leaves us with another burdensome faux-defense. The day after Faisal Shahzad failed allegedly to blow up his SUV, a cable news analyst wondered aloud if it was feasible to allow cars through midtown Manhattan anymore. It can’t be long before some unimaginative lawmaker has the same thought. And after the next Faisal Shahzad?  And the next? Why, automobile bans in ever-larger concentric circles, naturally. And then, what to do about bicycle bombs, and so on?

After it was discovered that the Nigerian underwear bomber was long known to intelligence agencies, President Obama spoke about the “systemic failure” of the way we protect our homeland against those who wish to do us harm. Yet, he’s still tinkering in the margins of that failure instead of summoning the will and imagination to qualitatively reform the way we do things. Any real systemic change means, for starters, rigorous profiling. Considering that this administration is loath to profile terrorists even after their attempted attacks, we’re a long way off.

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Not a Regional Party

After the 2008 election, there was much pontificating about the future of the Republican Party. It was destined, we were told, to become a rump party of the South, the last refuge of white, religious male voters. But all it took was a year and a half of Obama to convince Americans — both male and female, religious and not, in all regions of the country — that maybe it’s time to give the GOP another shot. Two states that exemplify this are New Hampshire (recall Republicans were thought to be extinct in New England) and Illinois.

Stuart Rothenberg writes, “Right now, I think the Republicans are positioned to win both Senate races.” As for New Hampshire, he comments:

I’ve met three of the four credible Republican candidates in the race — former Attorney General Kelly Ayotte, millionaire businessman Bill Binnie and conservative Ovide Lamontagne, the GOP’s unsuccessful nominee for governor in 1996 — and all three should have considerable appeal in the primary and in the fall.

What about the Democrat Paul Hodes?

Hodes is poised, confident and well-spoken, but he seems to think that he can make former President George W. Bush a major issue this year and that his own accomplishments in the House will demonstrate his independence and draw a favorable contrast with his eventual GOP opponent. In fact, I think Hodes is far too optimistic about his ability to dictate what the 2010 Senate race will be about.

It seems running against Bush isn’t going to work — but it’s apparently better than running on the Democrats’ agenda and calling in Obama to vouch for him:

National political currents (including intensity) are likely to favor Republicans, and as long as the GOP nominee isn’t hemorrhaging support after the primary, Hodes, who voted for the health care bill, cap-and-trade and the stimulus, will be on the defensive when fall arrives. An improvement in the national mood would, of course, improve the congressman’s prospects.

Rothenberg says Democrats in Illinois have a better shot, given their electoral advantage. But here, too, Rothenberg says Rep. Mark Kirk is the Republicans’ “ideal candidate for this seat,” and therefore, together with Alexi Giannoulias’s banking woes, he gives Republicans a pick-up opportunity.

So how did Republicans crawl out of the ditch and reestablish themselves in what were Democratic strongholds less than two years ago? Well, politics isn’t that complicated. Get good candidates. Watch the governing party’s overreach and underperformance. Understand the public antipathy for partisan excess and ideological extremism. And bingo, you have a viable alternative for voters to choose. Republicans will have to close the sale in these and other states, but they’re most of the way home — thanks to Obama and the Democratic congressional leadership.

After the 2008 election, there was much pontificating about the future of the Republican Party. It was destined, we were told, to become a rump party of the South, the last refuge of white, religious male voters. But all it took was a year and a half of Obama to convince Americans — both male and female, religious and not, in all regions of the country — that maybe it’s time to give the GOP another shot. Two states that exemplify this are New Hampshire (recall Republicans were thought to be extinct in New England) and Illinois.

Stuart Rothenberg writes, “Right now, I think the Republicans are positioned to win both Senate races.” As for New Hampshire, he comments:

I’ve met three of the four credible Republican candidates in the race — former Attorney General Kelly Ayotte, millionaire businessman Bill Binnie and conservative Ovide Lamontagne, the GOP’s unsuccessful nominee for governor in 1996 — and all three should have considerable appeal in the primary and in the fall.

What about the Democrat Paul Hodes?

Hodes is poised, confident and well-spoken, but he seems to think that he can make former President George W. Bush a major issue this year and that his own accomplishments in the House will demonstrate his independence and draw a favorable contrast with his eventual GOP opponent. In fact, I think Hodes is far too optimistic about his ability to dictate what the 2010 Senate race will be about.

It seems running against Bush isn’t going to work — but it’s apparently better than running on the Democrats’ agenda and calling in Obama to vouch for him:

National political currents (including intensity) are likely to favor Republicans, and as long as the GOP nominee isn’t hemorrhaging support after the primary, Hodes, who voted for the health care bill, cap-and-trade and the stimulus, will be on the defensive when fall arrives. An improvement in the national mood would, of course, improve the congressman’s prospects.

Rothenberg says Democrats in Illinois have a better shot, given their electoral advantage. But here, too, Rothenberg says Rep. Mark Kirk is the Republicans’ “ideal candidate for this seat,” and therefore, together with Alexi Giannoulias’s banking woes, he gives Republicans a pick-up opportunity.

So how did Republicans crawl out of the ditch and reestablish themselves in what were Democratic strongholds less than two years ago? Well, politics isn’t that complicated. Get good candidates. Watch the governing party’s overreach and underperformance. Understand the public antipathy for partisan excess and ideological extremism. And bingo, you have a viable alternative for voters to choose. Republicans will have to close the sale in these and other states, but they’re most of the way home — thanks to Obama and the Democratic congressional leadership.

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When Will Our Luck Run Out?

We now know that the jihadist Times Square bomber was on the Homeland Security watch list since 1999. The system was triggered because “between 1999 and 2008 because he brought approximately $80,000 cash or cash instruments into the United States. (I guess we shouldn’t weep about his financial situation.) It didn’t, of course, prevent him from flying back and forth to Pakistan and it didn’t prevent him from becoming a naturalized citizen. Not to worry, though — by 2015 we’ll fix the watch lists so that the no-fly list can access the Homeland Security list.

Once again, one comes away with the impression that we have mounds of information and wonderful law-enforcement investigators to probe incidents after they occur. What is less than optimal is our ability to access data and intercept plotters. We therefore must rely on alert citizens and the ineptitude of jihadists. One wonders how long our luck will hold.

We now know that the jihadist Times Square bomber was on the Homeland Security watch list since 1999. The system was triggered because “between 1999 and 2008 because he brought approximately $80,000 cash or cash instruments into the United States. (I guess we shouldn’t weep about his financial situation.) It didn’t, of course, prevent him from flying back and forth to Pakistan and it didn’t prevent him from becoming a naturalized citizen. Not to worry, though — by 2015 we’ll fix the watch lists so that the no-fly list can access the Homeland Security list.

Once again, one comes away with the impression that we have mounds of information and wonderful law-enforcement investigators to probe incidents after they occur. What is less than optimal is our ability to access data and intercept plotters. We therefore must rely on alert citizens and the ineptitude of jihadists. One wonders how long our luck will hold.

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We’re Not to Blame for Pakistani Terrorists

No doubt we will soon be hearing, if we aren’t already, that CIA drone strikes in Pakistan are responsible for the aborted Times Square bombing, which is linked to the Pakistani Taliban. If only we weren’t targeting the terrorists, some will argue, they wouldn’t target us.

This Los Angeles Times article provides good insight into how the operations have been ramped up under the Obama administration, which has given the CIA authority to eliminate suspected terrorists even if their names were not entered into a vetted list:

The new rules have transformed the program from a narrow effort aimed at killing top Al Qaeda and Taliban leaders into a large-scale campaign of airstrikes in which few militants are off-limits, as long as they are deemed to pose a threat to the U.S., the officials said.

Instead of just a few dozen attacks per year, CIA-operated unmanned aircraft now carry out multiple missile strikes each week against safe houses, training camps and other hiding places used by militants in the tribal belt bordering Afghanistan. … Of more than 500 people who U.S. officials say have been killed since the pace of strikes intensified, the vast majority have been individuals whose names were unknown, or about whom the agency had only fragmentary information. ‬

Has this enraged the Pakistani Taliban? No doubt. But it has also hurt them — as similar attacks have hurt other extremist groups. It is fanciful to imagine that we could ever do anything to appease such fanatical groups. The very fact that we support moderate governments in Islamabad and Kabul is enough to earn us their undying enmity. Curtailing the drone strikes won’t earn their gratitude; it would simply signal to them that we can be intimidated. The best response to the Times Square attempted attack is to keep sending our robotic aircraft after the bad guys. This is by far the most effective program we have to address the terrorist threat inside Pakistan.

No doubt we will soon be hearing, if we aren’t already, that CIA drone strikes in Pakistan are responsible for the aborted Times Square bombing, which is linked to the Pakistani Taliban. If only we weren’t targeting the terrorists, some will argue, they wouldn’t target us.

This Los Angeles Times article provides good insight into how the operations have been ramped up under the Obama administration, which has given the CIA authority to eliminate suspected terrorists even if their names were not entered into a vetted list:

The new rules have transformed the program from a narrow effort aimed at killing top Al Qaeda and Taliban leaders into a large-scale campaign of airstrikes in which few militants are off-limits, as long as they are deemed to pose a threat to the U.S., the officials said.

Instead of just a few dozen attacks per year, CIA-operated unmanned aircraft now carry out multiple missile strikes each week against safe houses, training camps and other hiding places used by militants in the tribal belt bordering Afghanistan. … Of more than 500 people who U.S. officials say have been killed since the pace of strikes intensified, the vast majority have been individuals whose names were unknown, or about whom the agency had only fragmentary information. ‬

Has this enraged the Pakistani Taliban? No doubt. But it has also hurt them — as similar attacks have hurt other extremist groups. It is fanciful to imagine that we could ever do anything to appease such fanatical groups. The very fact that we support moderate governments in Islamabad and Kabul is enough to earn us their undying enmity. Curtailing the drone strikes won’t earn their gratitude; it would simply signal to them that we can be intimidated. The best response to the Times Square attempted attack is to keep sending our robotic aircraft after the bad guys. This is by far the most effective program we have to address the terrorist threat inside Pakistan.

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RE: Peace Process “Starts”?

Jen, in your perceptive post on the start of the “proximity talks” (which aren’t really talks and haven’t really started), you noted that the initial Mitchell-Netanyahu meeting produced the usual peace-process publicity: an announcement that the atmosphere was “good” and that the meeting was “productive.”

Asst. Secretary of State P.J. Crowley announced the “good and productive meeting” at yesterday’s daily press conference and then was unable to answer even rudimentary questions about it:

QUESTION: [Mitchell] met with Netanyahu today. What did they talk about? Are they any closer to — are you any closer to getting what you want out of the Israelis?

MR. CROWLEY: … I don’t have a particular readout from George Mitchell today, but we’re going to have multiple meetings on the Israeli side and multiple meetings on the Palestinian side. It’s hard to characterize after one of a series of meetings where we are.

QUESTION: Is it your view that the proximity talks have, in fact, now begun?

MR. CROWLEY: It is our view that George Mitchell is in the region. He is meeting with Israeli and Palestinian officials. … So at the end of these string of meetings, we’ll be in a position to characterize where we are. …

QUESTION: Just to go back, I mean, you’re saying you can’t characterize the meetings that Mitchell had with Netanyahu, but you did say that they were good and productive. I’m wondering what – on what basis you label them thus.

MR. CROWLEY: George Mitchell left the meeting and said they were good and productive.

Your post also raised the question of how this process will end, since no one expects it to succeed. Let me point to a straw in the wind — a different unanswered question in a different press conference.

At Tuesday’s White House press conference, Robert Gibbs was asked about last week’s Haaretz report that “senior Israeli officials” said President Obama had informed several European leaders that he will convene an international summit to create a Palestinian state if talks remain stalemated after four or five months:

QUESTION: … It was reported on Friday that President Obama had spoken to European leaders and told them that if talks between Israel and the Palestinians remain stalemated in September or October, he’ll convene an international summit on achieving Mideast peace. Can you confirm if — whether the President is going down that road?

MR. GIBBS: Let me check with NSC. I have not heard that, but I will check with them and see if they have anything on it.

It strains credulity that, four days after the Haaretz report, Gibbs had heard nothing about it and had no answer prepared. It is also obvious that he has access to a source within the White House who could definitively confirm or deny it. The professed lack of knowledge, together with the promise to check with a source not likely to “have anything” on it, seemed like an answer specifically designed to leave the possibility hanging.

Consider the Haaretz report confirmed, and watch the Palestinians adopt a negotiating position intended to create the necessary “stalemate.”

Jen, in your perceptive post on the start of the “proximity talks” (which aren’t really talks and haven’t really started), you noted that the initial Mitchell-Netanyahu meeting produced the usual peace-process publicity: an announcement that the atmosphere was “good” and that the meeting was “productive.”

Asst. Secretary of State P.J. Crowley announced the “good and productive meeting” at yesterday’s daily press conference and then was unable to answer even rudimentary questions about it:

QUESTION: [Mitchell] met with Netanyahu today. What did they talk about? Are they any closer to — are you any closer to getting what you want out of the Israelis?

MR. CROWLEY: … I don’t have a particular readout from George Mitchell today, but we’re going to have multiple meetings on the Israeli side and multiple meetings on the Palestinian side. It’s hard to characterize after one of a series of meetings where we are.

QUESTION: Is it your view that the proximity talks have, in fact, now begun?

MR. CROWLEY: It is our view that George Mitchell is in the region. He is meeting with Israeli and Palestinian officials. … So at the end of these string of meetings, we’ll be in a position to characterize where we are. …

QUESTION: Just to go back, I mean, you’re saying you can’t characterize the meetings that Mitchell had with Netanyahu, but you did say that they were good and productive. I’m wondering what – on what basis you label them thus.

MR. CROWLEY: George Mitchell left the meeting and said they were good and productive.

Your post also raised the question of how this process will end, since no one expects it to succeed. Let me point to a straw in the wind — a different unanswered question in a different press conference.

At Tuesday’s White House press conference, Robert Gibbs was asked about last week’s Haaretz report that “senior Israeli officials” said President Obama had informed several European leaders that he will convene an international summit to create a Palestinian state if talks remain stalemated after four or five months:

QUESTION: … It was reported on Friday that President Obama had spoken to European leaders and told them that if talks between Israel and the Palestinians remain stalemated in September or October, he’ll convene an international summit on achieving Mideast peace. Can you confirm if — whether the President is going down that road?

MR. GIBBS: Let me check with NSC. I have not heard that, but I will check with them and see if they have anything on it.

It strains credulity that, four days after the Haaretz report, Gibbs had heard nothing about it and had no answer prepared. It is also obvious that he has access to a source within the White House who could definitively confirm or deny it. The professed lack of knowledge, together with the promise to check with a source not likely to “have anything” on it, seemed like an answer specifically designed to leave the possibility hanging.

Consider the Haaretz report confirmed, and watch the Palestinians adopt a negotiating position intended to create the necessary “stalemate.”

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Dennis Ross Joins the Obama Cult of Linkage

Prior to this administration, Dennis Ross was an experienced negotiator who tried valiantly to reach a comprehensive peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians at Camp David. Watching the Palestinians reject the offer of their own state and embark on the intifada impressed upon Ross, or so he wrote repeatedly, the need for Palestinians to develop institutions that would support a peace deal and to lay the groundwork with Arab states and the Palestinian public before future negotiations could succeed. He was also regarded as tough-minded on Iran, ready to impose tough sanctions and do what was necessary to prevent the regime from acquiring nuclear weapons.

He also wrote a book with David Makovsky entitled Myths, illusions, and Peace: Finding a New Direction for America in the Middle East, which came out in 2009:

Contrary to the position of the president and other advisers, Ross writes that efforts to advance dialogue with Iran should not be connected to the renewal of talks between Israel and the Palestinians. … In the second chapter, entitled “Linkage: The Mother of All Myths,” Ross writes: “Of all the policy myths that have kept us from making real progress in the Middle East, one stands out for its impact and longevity: the idea that if only the Palestinian conflict were solved, all other Middle East conflicts would melt away. This is the argument of ‘linkage.'”

Well, that’s old hat. He’s thrown in his lot with the Obama crew. Josh Rogin documents Ross’s ingestion of the Obama Kool Aid:

The National Security Council’s Dennis Ross is the latest U.S. official to link the Obama administration’s drive to secure peace between Israelis and Arabs to the overall goal of bringing greater stability to the region and combating the threat from Iran.

“In this region, pursuing peace is instrumental to shaping a new regional context,” Ross said in remarks Monday evening. “Pursuing peace is not a substitute for dealing with the other challenges. … It is also not a panacea. But especially as it relates to resolving the Arab-Israeli conflict, if one could do that, it would deny state and non-state actors a tool they use to exploit anger and grievances.” …

“Clearly one way that Iran is increasing its influence in the region is by exploiting the ongoing conflict between Israelis and Palestinians,” Ross said, echoing statements made by U.S. Centcom commander Gen. David Petraeus in a report submitted to Congress back in March. …

But Ross, who is not often accused of being too hard on Israel, made similar comments Monday. “The continuation of the conflict strengthens Iran’s rejectionist partners and also Hezbollah. Iran deliberately uses the conflict to expose even the moderates in the region by stoking the fears of its populations and playing the worst most anti-Semitic and anti-Zionist prejudices,” he said.

Apparently, Ross has decided to jettison his previous views and join the Obama cult of linkage. What was in 2009 a “myth” is now gospel. You wonder how it is that someone convinces himself to cast off beliefs acquired and refined over a lifetime of government service just for the sake of maintaining a post (and an invisible one at that) in an administration that may go down in history as the most destructive and incompetent Middle East policymakers in history and the gang that allowed Iran to get the bomb.

Prior to this administration, Dennis Ross was an experienced negotiator who tried valiantly to reach a comprehensive peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians at Camp David. Watching the Palestinians reject the offer of their own state and embark on the intifada impressed upon Ross, or so he wrote repeatedly, the need for Palestinians to develop institutions that would support a peace deal and to lay the groundwork with Arab states and the Palestinian public before future negotiations could succeed. He was also regarded as tough-minded on Iran, ready to impose tough sanctions and do what was necessary to prevent the regime from acquiring nuclear weapons.

He also wrote a book with David Makovsky entitled Myths, illusions, and Peace: Finding a New Direction for America in the Middle East, which came out in 2009:

Contrary to the position of the president and other advisers, Ross writes that efforts to advance dialogue with Iran should not be connected to the renewal of talks between Israel and the Palestinians. … In the second chapter, entitled “Linkage: The Mother of All Myths,” Ross writes: “Of all the policy myths that have kept us from making real progress in the Middle East, one stands out for its impact and longevity: the idea that if only the Palestinian conflict were solved, all other Middle East conflicts would melt away. This is the argument of ‘linkage.'”

Well, that’s old hat. He’s thrown in his lot with the Obama crew. Josh Rogin documents Ross’s ingestion of the Obama Kool Aid:

The National Security Council’s Dennis Ross is the latest U.S. official to link the Obama administration’s drive to secure peace between Israelis and Arabs to the overall goal of bringing greater stability to the region and combating the threat from Iran.

“In this region, pursuing peace is instrumental to shaping a new regional context,” Ross said in remarks Monday evening. “Pursuing peace is not a substitute for dealing with the other challenges. … It is also not a panacea. But especially as it relates to resolving the Arab-Israeli conflict, if one could do that, it would deny state and non-state actors a tool they use to exploit anger and grievances.” …

“Clearly one way that Iran is increasing its influence in the region is by exploiting the ongoing conflict between Israelis and Palestinians,” Ross said, echoing statements made by U.S. Centcom commander Gen. David Petraeus in a report submitted to Congress back in March. …

But Ross, who is not often accused of being too hard on Israel, made similar comments Monday. “The continuation of the conflict strengthens Iran’s rejectionist partners and also Hezbollah. Iran deliberately uses the conflict to expose even the moderates in the region by stoking the fears of its populations and playing the worst most anti-Semitic and anti-Zionist prejudices,” he said.

Apparently, Ross has decided to jettison his previous views and join the Obama cult of linkage. What was in 2009 a “myth” is now gospel. You wonder how it is that someone convinces himself to cast off beliefs acquired and refined over a lifetime of government service just for the sake of maintaining a post (and an invisible one at that) in an administration that may go down in history as the most destructive and incompetent Middle East policymakers in history and the gang that allowed Iran to get the bomb.

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The Taliban Times Square Bomber

The New York Times reports:

American officials said Wednesday that it was very likely that a radical group once thought unable to attack the United States had played a role in the bombing attempt in Times Square, elevating concerns about whether other militant groups could deliver at least a glancing blow on American soil.

Officials said that after two days of intense questioning of the bombing suspect, Faisal Shahzad, evidence was mounting that the group, the Pakistani Taliban, had helped inspire and train Mr. Shahzad in the months before he is alleged to have parked an explosives-filled sport utility vehicle in a busy Manhattan intersection on Saturday night. Officials said Mr. Shahzad had discussed his contacts with the group, and investigators had accumulated other evidence that they would not disclose.

This is precisely why it is unwise to rush to the federal courts and invoke criminal-justice procedures before the full extent of the terrorist’s international ties is known. Perhaps, even without the modification of law that Sen. Joe Lieberman suggests, Shahzad might have forfeited his rights of citizenship. But in its rush to make headlines and reflexive assumption that these incidents are “crimes” and not acts of war, the Obama administration didn’t bother to get all the information about Shahzad’s foreign connections before committing to a criminal-justice approach.

For now, we can be assured that it wasn’t a foreclosure or upset over ObamaCare or Tea Party frenzy that drove Shahzad to try to kills scores of people. Perhaps it’s time for the administration to reintroduce “Islamic terrorism” and “Islamic extremism” back into its vocabulary. It might remind the administration that this is about winning a war, not crime-busting. And that in turn might keep it from destructive grandstanding (Andy McCarthy raises the scary prospect that Eric Holder unnecessarily filed a criminal complaint, which could alert Shahzad’s accomplices) and focused on intelligence gathering.

The New York Times reports:

American officials said Wednesday that it was very likely that a radical group once thought unable to attack the United States had played a role in the bombing attempt in Times Square, elevating concerns about whether other militant groups could deliver at least a glancing blow on American soil.

Officials said that after two days of intense questioning of the bombing suspect, Faisal Shahzad, evidence was mounting that the group, the Pakistani Taliban, had helped inspire and train Mr. Shahzad in the months before he is alleged to have parked an explosives-filled sport utility vehicle in a busy Manhattan intersection on Saturday night. Officials said Mr. Shahzad had discussed his contacts with the group, and investigators had accumulated other evidence that they would not disclose.

This is precisely why it is unwise to rush to the federal courts and invoke criminal-justice procedures before the full extent of the terrorist’s international ties is known. Perhaps, even without the modification of law that Sen. Joe Lieberman suggests, Shahzad might have forfeited his rights of citizenship. But in its rush to make headlines and reflexive assumption that these incidents are “crimes” and not acts of war, the Obama administration didn’t bother to get all the information about Shahzad’s foreign connections before committing to a criminal-justice approach.

For now, we can be assured that it wasn’t a foreclosure or upset over ObamaCare or Tea Party frenzy that drove Shahzad to try to kills scores of people. Perhaps it’s time for the administration to reintroduce “Islamic terrorism” and “Islamic extremism” back into its vocabulary. It might remind the administration that this is about winning a war, not crime-busting. And that in turn might keep it from destructive grandstanding (Andy McCarthy raises the scary prospect that Eric Holder unnecessarily filed a criminal complaint, which could alert Shahzad’s accomplices) and focused on intelligence gathering.

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Obey Retirement Puts Another Democratic Seat at Risk

The Cook Political Report tells us (subscription required):

Without Appropriations Chair and 20-term Democratic Rep. Dave Obey on the ballot, GOP Ashland County prosecutor Sean Duffy suddenly has a more realistic shot at a seat in Congress than any other reality TV contestant-turned-candidate before him (which, we know, isn’t saying much). In the current political environment, any heavily working-class seat that falls close to the national partisan average (PVI D+3) isn’t the type of open seat Congressional Democrats want to defend. President Bush came within one percent of carrying this seat in 2004.

As a result, this is no longer a “Likely Democratic Seat.” Instead, “the current enthusiasm gap between the parties and the competitiveness of this district at the national level warrant moving WI-07 from the Likely Democratic column to the Toss Up column.”

And we will soon get a preview from a formerly sure-bet Democratic district: “The most important district to watch over the next month continues to be PA-12, where the May 18th special election will tell us something about voter intensity and attitudes in blue-collar areas Democrats have represented for a long time.” It seems that the Democrats’ problems are snowballing — with each resignation, others are considering heading for the hills, more seats come into play, and more vulnerable members must be defended. This is how wave elections come about.

The Cook Political Report tells us (subscription required):

Without Appropriations Chair and 20-term Democratic Rep. Dave Obey on the ballot, GOP Ashland County prosecutor Sean Duffy suddenly has a more realistic shot at a seat in Congress than any other reality TV contestant-turned-candidate before him (which, we know, isn’t saying much). In the current political environment, any heavily working-class seat that falls close to the national partisan average (PVI D+3) isn’t the type of open seat Congressional Democrats want to defend. President Bush came within one percent of carrying this seat in 2004.

As a result, this is no longer a “Likely Democratic Seat.” Instead, “the current enthusiasm gap between the parties and the competitiveness of this district at the national level warrant moving WI-07 from the Likely Democratic column to the Toss Up column.”

And we will soon get a preview from a formerly sure-bet Democratic district: “The most important district to watch over the next month continues to be PA-12, where the May 18th special election will tell us something about voter intensity and attitudes in blue-collar areas Democrats have represented for a long time.” It seems that the Democrats’ problems are snowballing — with each resignation, others are considering heading for the hills, more seats come into play, and more vulnerable members must be defended. This is how wave elections come about.

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Did Terrorist Detainees’ Lawyers Endanger CIA Agents?

Eli Lake reports:

Covertly taken photos of CIA interrogators that were shown by defense attorneys to al Qaeda inmates at the Guantanamo Bay prison represent a more serious security breach than the 2003 outing of CIA officer Valerie Plame, the agency’s former general counsel said Wednesday.

John Rizzo, who was the agency’s top attorney until December, said in an interview that he initially requested the Justice Department and CIA investigation into the compromise of CIA interrogators’ identities after photographs of the officers were found in the cell of one al Qaeda terrorist in Cuba.

Recall that Guantanamo detainees — some of whom may now have been released back to their home countries (and returned to the battlefield, given the rate of recidivism) — were shown pictures of CIA agents by their attorneys. The danger to these public servants is acute:

“Well I think this is far more serious than Valerie Plame,” Mr. Rizzo said after a breakfast speech. “That was clearly illegal, outing a covert officer. I am not downplaying that. But this is far more serious.”

“This was not leaked to a columnist,” he added. “These were pictures of undercover people who were involved in the interrogations program given for identification purposes to the 9/11 [terrorists].”

U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald is now investigating the matter. At this stage, we know that “the photographs appeared to have been taken by private investigators for the John Adams Project, which is jointly backed by the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.” As Lake notes, serious violations of law may have occurred:

One possible crime would be the “disclosure of classified information, being the faces of these people, to an enemy foreign power,” Mr. Rizzo said.

Mr. Rizzo said the other possible law the pro-bono attorneys may have violated would be the 1982 Intelligence Identities Protection Act (IIPA), the same law Mr. Fitzgerald initially investigated in Mrs. Plame’s case. No one in the Plame case was prosecuted under that statute. A former aide to Vice President Dick Cheney, I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby Jr., was convicted of lying to investigators and later partially pardoned.

We will see what Fitzgerald turns up. But the potential that lawyers illegally disclosed materials to terrorists and thereby endangered CIA agents should remind us of the mentality of those who claimed to be defending our “values” as they litigated against the U.S.

Eli Lake reports:

Covertly taken photos of CIA interrogators that were shown by defense attorneys to al Qaeda inmates at the Guantanamo Bay prison represent a more serious security breach than the 2003 outing of CIA officer Valerie Plame, the agency’s former general counsel said Wednesday.

John Rizzo, who was the agency’s top attorney until December, said in an interview that he initially requested the Justice Department and CIA investigation into the compromise of CIA interrogators’ identities after photographs of the officers were found in the cell of one al Qaeda terrorist in Cuba.

Recall that Guantanamo detainees — some of whom may now have been released back to their home countries (and returned to the battlefield, given the rate of recidivism) — were shown pictures of CIA agents by their attorneys. The danger to these public servants is acute:

“Well I think this is far more serious than Valerie Plame,” Mr. Rizzo said after a breakfast speech. “That was clearly illegal, outing a covert officer. I am not downplaying that. But this is far more serious.”

“This was not leaked to a columnist,” he added. “These were pictures of undercover people who were involved in the interrogations program given for identification purposes to the 9/11 [terrorists].”

U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald is now investigating the matter. At this stage, we know that “the photographs appeared to have been taken by private investigators for the John Adams Project, which is jointly backed by the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.” As Lake notes, serious violations of law may have occurred:

One possible crime would be the “disclosure of classified information, being the faces of these people, to an enemy foreign power,” Mr. Rizzo said.

Mr. Rizzo said the other possible law the pro-bono attorneys may have violated would be the 1982 Intelligence Identities Protection Act (IIPA), the same law Mr. Fitzgerald initially investigated in Mrs. Plame’s case. No one in the Plame case was prosecuted under that statute. A former aide to Vice President Dick Cheney, I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby Jr., was convicted of lying to investigators and later partially pardoned.

We will see what Fitzgerald turns up. But the potential that lawyers illegally disclosed materials to terrorists and thereby endangered CIA agents should remind us of the mentality of those who claimed to be defending our “values” as they litigated against the U.S.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Heck of an ad campaign: “A threatening TV commercial appearing in Pennsylvania has residents of the state spooked by its ‘Orwellian’ overtones, and critics are calling it a government attempt to scare delinquent citizens into paying back taxes. In the 30-second ad, ominous mechanical sounds whir in the background as a satellite camera zooms in through the clouds and locks onto an average Pennsylvania.”

He may be on permanent vacation soon: “Despite White House claims of all hands being on deck to respond to the oil slick crisis in the Gulf, Department of the Interior chief of staff Tom Strickland was in the Grand Canyon with his wife last week participating in activities that included white-water rafting, ABC News has learned. Other leaders of the Interior Department, not to mention other agencies, were focused on coordinating the federal response to the major oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Strickland’s participation in a trip that administration officials insisted was ‘work-focused’ nonetheless raised eyebrows within even his own department, sources told ABC News.”

Chuck Schumer declares there are “better ways” than Joe Lieberman’s proposal (to strip terrorists of citizenship and forgo Miranda warnings) to obtain information from terrorists. True, but this administration already outlawed enhanced interrogation.

Not a “lone wolf” at all, it seems: “U.S. and Pakistani investigators are giving increased credence to possible links between accused Times Square bomb plotter Faisal Shahzad and the Pakistan Taliban, with one senior Pakistani official saying Mr. Faisal received instruction from the Islamist group’s suicide-bomb trainer. If the links are verified, it would mark a stark shift in how the Pakistan Taliban—an affiliate of the Taliban in Afghanistan—and related jihadist groups in Pakistan pursue their goals. Until now, they have focused on attacks within Pakistan and in India, but they appear to be ramping up efforts to attack the U.S.”

The crack reporters at the Washington Post couldn’t figure out that the conservative blogger they hired wasn’t conservative. Well, that’s what they get for listening to Ezra Klein.

You knew this was coming: “Major donors are asking Florida Gov. Charlie Crist to return money contributed to his Senate campaign now that he’s running as an independent candidate. In a letter sent Wednesday, the 20 donors say Crist broke the trust of his supporters by not staying in the Republican primary.”

The new Newsweek is a bust and goes on the auction block: “The Washington Post Co. is putting Newsweek up for sale in hopes that another owner can figure out how to stem losses at the 77-year-old weekly magazine.”

Alas, not including Michael Steele, three more people leaving the RNC, but not to worry: “The official stressed that the departures had nothing to do with the turmoil that has rocked the RNC in recent months. Several top officials were either fired or quit the committee last month in the wake of a spending scandal involving a risqué nightclub.”

Heck of an ad campaign: “A threatening TV commercial appearing in Pennsylvania has residents of the state spooked by its ‘Orwellian’ overtones, and critics are calling it a government attempt to scare delinquent citizens into paying back taxes. In the 30-second ad, ominous mechanical sounds whir in the background as a satellite camera zooms in through the clouds and locks onto an average Pennsylvania.”

He may be on permanent vacation soon: “Despite White House claims of all hands being on deck to respond to the oil slick crisis in the Gulf, Department of the Interior chief of staff Tom Strickland was in the Grand Canyon with his wife last week participating in activities that included white-water rafting, ABC News has learned. Other leaders of the Interior Department, not to mention other agencies, were focused on coordinating the federal response to the major oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Strickland’s participation in a trip that administration officials insisted was ‘work-focused’ nonetheless raised eyebrows within even his own department, sources told ABC News.”

Chuck Schumer declares there are “better ways” than Joe Lieberman’s proposal (to strip terrorists of citizenship and forgo Miranda warnings) to obtain information from terrorists. True, but this administration already outlawed enhanced interrogation.

Not a “lone wolf” at all, it seems: “U.S. and Pakistani investigators are giving increased credence to possible links between accused Times Square bomb plotter Faisal Shahzad and the Pakistan Taliban, with one senior Pakistani official saying Mr. Faisal received instruction from the Islamist group’s suicide-bomb trainer. If the links are verified, it would mark a stark shift in how the Pakistan Taliban—an affiliate of the Taliban in Afghanistan—and related jihadist groups in Pakistan pursue their goals. Until now, they have focused on attacks within Pakistan and in India, but they appear to be ramping up efforts to attack the U.S.”

The crack reporters at the Washington Post couldn’t figure out that the conservative blogger they hired wasn’t conservative. Well, that’s what they get for listening to Ezra Klein.

You knew this was coming: “Major donors are asking Florida Gov. Charlie Crist to return money contributed to his Senate campaign now that he’s running as an independent candidate. In a letter sent Wednesday, the 20 donors say Crist broke the trust of his supporters by not staying in the Republican primary.”

The new Newsweek is a bust and goes on the auction block: “The Washington Post Co. is putting Newsweek up for sale in hopes that another owner can figure out how to stem losses at the 77-year-old weekly magazine.”

Alas, not including Michael Steele, three more people leaving the RNC, but not to worry: “The official stressed that the departures had nothing to do with the turmoil that has rocked the RNC in recent months. Several top officials were either fired or quit the committee last month in the wake of a spending scandal involving a risqué nightclub.”

Read Less




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