Commentary Magazine


Posts For: May 13, 2010

Can Americans Count on the New Brit Coalition?

While one of the hallmarks of Barack Obama’s foreign policy has been the trashing of the formerly “special” relationship between the United States and Britain, it is interesting to speculate what would happen in the event that Washington really needed London’s help. While Gordon Brown’s Labour government could be relied upon as America’s pal in a pinch even if Obama treated the dour Scot like a dog, what would be the reaction from the coalition duo of David Cameron and Nick Clegg to a call for assistance from Obama, especially in the not-altogether-unlikely event of a crisis in the Middle East, involving Iran’s nuclear ambitions?

That’s the question Daniella Peled asks in today’s Guardian. Her answer is that it is far from certain how the new British coalition will respond. The problem lies in the competing agendas of the two parties as well as in their differing attitudes toward the United States.

On the one hand, Prime Minister Cameron has already demonstrated how desperate he is to buddy up with Obama, and the president, who clearly didn’t think much of Brown, isn’t averse to a warmer friendship with the new UK leader. But that doesn’t mean that Cameron is eager to become the junior partner on foreign-policy initiatives to the Americans that Tony Blair was, even if the current resident of the White House is Barack Obama rather than George W. Bush. As for the Conservative Party itself, Peled quotes one party leader as saying “we’re just not that interested” in the Middle East one way or another.

Their Liberal Democrat coalition partners, however, have a very different attitude toward foreign policy in general and the Middle East in particular. The Lib-Dems want to distance the United Kingdom from America even more than Obama wants to distance the United States from Israel. Not only are they unhappy about continuing to fight the war against the Taliban and al-Qaeda in Afghanistan; they are also virulently anti-Israel. All of which means that the Lib-Dems are unlikely to support any measures intended to seriously pressure Iran on the nuclear issue. As Peled states, this means there is a huge potential for conflict within the new government on key foreign-policy issues.

However, the notion that the new UK coalition will crack up over a 3 a.m. request from Obama to assist a strike on Iran is more fantasy than anything else. The Obama administration is more likely to learn to live with a nuclear Iran than to fight to remove the existential threat against Israel and the destabilization of the region. And for all of his desire to cozy up to Obama, Cameron’s desire to hold on to his place at No. 10 Downing Street probably outweighs anything else.

But even if we take such an apocalyptic scenario out of the discussion, there is no question that even a White House as devoted to multilateralism and engagement as that of Obama must understand that the new British government cannot be considered as reliable an ally as its predecessor. Neither the Tories nor the Lib-Dems aren’t interested in being portrayed as Obama’s poodles. Nor do they care much about Iran, Hezbollah, or Hamas. For all of his disdain for Gordon Brown, there may come a day when Barack Obama will wish the special relationship he helped destroy could be brought back to life.

While one of the hallmarks of Barack Obama’s foreign policy has been the trashing of the formerly “special” relationship between the United States and Britain, it is interesting to speculate what would happen in the event that Washington really needed London’s help. While Gordon Brown’s Labour government could be relied upon as America’s pal in a pinch even if Obama treated the dour Scot like a dog, what would be the reaction from the coalition duo of David Cameron and Nick Clegg to a call for assistance from Obama, especially in the not-altogether-unlikely event of a crisis in the Middle East, involving Iran’s nuclear ambitions?

That’s the question Daniella Peled asks in today’s Guardian. Her answer is that it is far from certain how the new British coalition will respond. The problem lies in the competing agendas of the two parties as well as in their differing attitudes toward the United States.

On the one hand, Prime Minister Cameron has already demonstrated how desperate he is to buddy up with Obama, and the president, who clearly didn’t think much of Brown, isn’t averse to a warmer friendship with the new UK leader. But that doesn’t mean that Cameron is eager to become the junior partner on foreign-policy initiatives to the Americans that Tony Blair was, even if the current resident of the White House is Barack Obama rather than George W. Bush. As for the Conservative Party itself, Peled quotes one party leader as saying “we’re just not that interested” in the Middle East one way or another.

Their Liberal Democrat coalition partners, however, have a very different attitude toward foreign policy in general and the Middle East in particular. The Lib-Dems want to distance the United Kingdom from America even more than Obama wants to distance the United States from Israel. Not only are they unhappy about continuing to fight the war against the Taliban and al-Qaeda in Afghanistan; they are also virulently anti-Israel. All of which means that the Lib-Dems are unlikely to support any measures intended to seriously pressure Iran on the nuclear issue. As Peled states, this means there is a huge potential for conflict within the new government on key foreign-policy issues.

However, the notion that the new UK coalition will crack up over a 3 a.m. request from Obama to assist a strike on Iran is more fantasy than anything else. The Obama administration is more likely to learn to live with a nuclear Iran than to fight to remove the existential threat against Israel and the destabilization of the region. And for all of his desire to cozy up to Obama, Cameron’s desire to hold on to his place at No. 10 Downing Street probably outweighs anything else.

But even if we take such an apocalyptic scenario out of the discussion, there is no question that even a White House as devoted to multilateralism and engagement as that of Obama must understand that the new British government cannot be considered as reliable an ally as its predecessor. Neither the Tories nor the Lib-Dems aren’t interested in being portrayed as Obama’s poodles. Nor do they care much about Iran, Hezbollah, or Hamas. For all of his disdain for Gordon Brown, there may come a day when Barack Obama will wish the special relationship he helped destroy could be brought back to life.

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No Executive Privilege Invoked by White House in Black Panther Case

The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights resumes its hearings tomorrow. On tap will be civil rights division chief Thomas Perez. Today the commission sent a letter to two Justice Department officials, which reads in part:

[T]his is to confirm your representation that there has been no formal assertion of executive privilege with regard to any of the items sought by the Commission pursuant to its discovery requests. As discussed, this matter needs to be clarified. In its response to the Commission’s discovery requests, the Department claimed deliberative process privilege with regard to the materials sought. As recognized by the courts, the deliberative process privilege is a subset of executive privilege and “does not shield documents that simply state or explain a decision the government has already made or protect the material that is purely factual, unless the material is so inextricably intertwined with the deliberative sections of documents that its disclosure would inevitably reveal the government’s deliberations.” See In re Sealed Case, 326 U.S. App. D.C. 276, 284, 121 F.3d 729, 737 (1997).

In short, the Justice Department can’t have it both ways. If Obama has not invoked executive privilege, there is no legal basis for refusing any requested documents or for declining to answer the commission’s questions completely. In prior correspondence to the Justice Department, the commission cited binding precedent from the Office of Legal Counsel — which presumably has not changed its view since Eric Holder arrived — that unless the president or a top official invokes executive privilege, there is no other statutory or common law basis available to the department that would justify refusing to disclose information. And indeed, there is a federal law requiring the executive branch to co-operate with the commission’s work.

So what will Perez do tomorrow? It remains to be seen whether he will continue to stonewall as the commission presses for a detailed explanation as to why the case was dismissed and who played a role in ordering the dismissal. Will he suggest that the department’s trial team of lawyers was incompetent or derelict in bringing the case against the New Black Panther Party? Surely the professional staff at Justice, including those attorneys in the appellate section that endorsed the trial team’s recommendation, would find that quite shocking. And if those career lawyers were not mistaken in their assessment of the law and the facts, then what was the basis for dismissing the case? Moreover, is this Justice Department committed to enforcing the civil rights laws even when minorities are the perpetrators of voter intimidation? It should be an interesting proceeding tomorrow.

The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights resumes its hearings tomorrow. On tap will be civil rights division chief Thomas Perez. Today the commission sent a letter to two Justice Department officials, which reads in part:

[T]his is to confirm your representation that there has been no formal assertion of executive privilege with regard to any of the items sought by the Commission pursuant to its discovery requests. As discussed, this matter needs to be clarified. In its response to the Commission’s discovery requests, the Department claimed deliberative process privilege with regard to the materials sought. As recognized by the courts, the deliberative process privilege is a subset of executive privilege and “does not shield documents that simply state or explain a decision the government has already made or protect the material that is purely factual, unless the material is so inextricably intertwined with the deliberative sections of documents that its disclosure would inevitably reveal the government’s deliberations.” See In re Sealed Case, 326 U.S. App. D.C. 276, 284, 121 F.3d 729, 737 (1997).

In short, the Justice Department can’t have it both ways. If Obama has not invoked executive privilege, there is no legal basis for refusing any requested documents or for declining to answer the commission’s questions completely. In prior correspondence to the Justice Department, the commission cited binding precedent from the Office of Legal Counsel — which presumably has not changed its view since Eric Holder arrived — that unless the president or a top official invokes executive privilege, there is no other statutory or common law basis available to the department that would justify refusing to disclose information. And indeed, there is a federal law requiring the executive branch to co-operate with the commission’s work.

So what will Perez do tomorrow? It remains to be seen whether he will continue to stonewall as the commission presses for a detailed explanation as to why the case was dismissed and who played a role in ordering the dismissal. Will he suggest that the department’s trial team of lawyers was incompetent or derelict in bringing the case against the New Black Panther Party? Surely the professional staff at Justice, including those attorneys in the appellate section that endorsed the trial team’s recommendation, would find that quite shocking. And if those career lawyers were not mistaken in their assessment of the law and the facts, then what was the basis for dismissing the case? Moreover, is this Justice Department committed to enforcing the civil rights laws even when minorities are the perpetrators of voter intimidation? It should be an interesting proceeding tomorrow.

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RE: The Middle East Vacuum

The Michael Young piece cited by Emanuele Ottolenghi in his insightful post echoes the concerns a number of us have had for some time. Russia’s inroads in the Middle East have been expanding for several years; in 2010, we are seeing an acceleration of moves that Moscow would once have been more tentative and covert in undertaking.

The civil-nuclear deals with Syria and Turkey continue a trend that has been underway since 2006-2007. It’s more efficient today to list which countries in the region do not have civil-nuclear agreements with Russia. Since 2007, the Russians have concluded civil-nuclear cooperation deals with Egypt, Jordan, Libya, and Algeria, along with Syria and Turkey. Russia is training nuclear engineers, bidding on reactor contracts, and mining uranium.

Nuclear cooperation takes a back seat only to oil and gas deals and arms sales. Turkey’s geographic position has long made it an object of Russian gas strategy. As the Wall Street Journal points out today, the deals signed this week represent the culmination of a years-long Russian effort to co-opt Turkey as a pipeline partner, potentially compromising Ankara’s commitment to European pipeline sponsors. Russia’s intensive cultivation of natural gas giants Libya and Algeria gives Moscow leverage over nearly 100 percent of the natural gas supply to much of central and southern Europe. The sale of big-ticket weapon systems to Algeria, Libya, and Syria serves to isolate Israel – and to complicate any U.S. effort to provide military support to Israel if it becomes necessary.

Now Russia is negotiating a huge arms sale – including the S-300 air-defense system, tanks, infantry fighting vehicles, and assault helicopters – with U.S. partner and long-time client Saudi Arabia. This development and others are disquieting harbingers of a Russia unconstrained by worry about either offending or alarming the U.S. Two recent events highlight this loss of diffidence. One is the announcement in March 2010 that Russia and Greece would conduct joint naval exercises in the Aegean Sea this year. Turkey is not the only NATO ally being aggressively courted by Moscow.

The other event is Dmitry Medvedev’s May 12 meeting in Damascus with Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal. There could hardly be a more overt declaration of Russia’s posture and interests in the Middle East. The Russia of Medvedev and Putin intends to join forces with the regional actors who want to disrupt the status quo; their targets are Israel and the U.S. network of partnerships and influence in the region.

We will see Russia engaged in more unabashed maneuvering in the coming days. The pace of events is quickening. One thing we must understand is that Russia’s influence over Iran’s nuclear program is no longer being exercised primarily as a dynamic in Russia’s relations with the U.S. The Arab nations that fear a nuclear Iran are Moscow’s audience now. The implication is that Russia is the great power that can keep Iran in check. Obama’s America is sitting on the sidelines.

The Michael Young piece cited by Emanuele Ottolenghi in his insightful post echoes the concerns a number of us have had for some time. Russia’s inroads in the Middle East have been expanding for several years; in 2010, we are seeing an acceleration of moves that Moscow would once have been more tentative and covert in undertaking.

The civil-nuclear deals with Syria and Turkey continue a trend that has been underway since 2006-2007. It’s more efficient today to list which countries in the region do not have civil-nuclear agreements with Russia. Since 2007, the Russians have concluded civil-nuclear cooperation deals with Egypt, Jordan, Libya, and Algeria, along with Syria and Turkey. Russia is training nuclear engineers, bidding on reactor contracts, and mining uranium.

Nuclear cooperation takes a back seat only to oil and gas deals and arms sales. Turkey’s geographic position has long made it an object of Russian gas strategy. As the Wall Street Journal points out today, the deals signed this week represent the culmination of a years-long Russian effort to co-opt Turkey as a pipeline partner, potentially compromising Ankara’s commitment to European pipeline sponsors. Russia’s intensive cultivation of natural gas giants Libya and Algeria gives Moscow leverage over nearly 100 percent of the natural gas supply to much of central and southern Europe. The sale of big-ticket weapon systems to Algeria, Libya, and Syria serves to isolate Israel – and to complicate any U.S. effort to provide military support to Israel if it becomes necessary.

Now Russia is negotiating a huge arms sale – including the S-300 air-defense system, tanks, infantry fighting vehicles, and assault helicopters – with U.S. partner and long-time client Saudi Arabia. This development and others are disquieting harbingers of a Russia unconstrained by worry about either offending or alarming the U.S. Two recent events highlight this loss of diffidence. One is the announcement in March 2010 that Russia and Greece would conduct joint naval exercises in the Aegean Sea this year. Turkey is not the only NATO ally being aggressively courted by Moscow.

The other event is Dmitry Medvedev’s May 12 meeting in Damascus with Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal. There could hardly be a more overt declaration of Russia’s posture and interests in the Middle East. The Russia of Medvedev and Putin intends to join forces with the regional actors who want to disrupt the status quo; their targets are Israel and the U.S. network of partnerships and influence in the region.

We will see Russia engaged in more unabashed maneuvering in the coming days. The pace of events is quickening. One thing we must understand is that Russia’s influence over Iran’s nuclear program is no longer being exercised primarily as a dynamic in Russia’s relations with the U.S. The Arab nations that fear a nuclear Iran are Moscow’s audience now. The implication is that Russia is the great power that can keep Iran in check. Obama’s America is sitting on the sidelines.

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A Most Disturbing Moment of Clarity

Following David Horowitz’s talk earlier this month at the University of California, San Diego, was one of the most chilling brief conversations I’ve heard in a while.

A semi-polite yet coldly hostile student in the audience introduced herself during the question period as Jumanah Imad Albahri of the Muslim Students’ Association, and she refused to condemn either Hamas or Hezbollah when Horowitz asked her to clarify her position. He has faced a number of students just like her before, and he’s well-practiced in the art of drawing them out, so he asked her a point-blank question that couldn’t be easily dodged.

“I am a Jew,” he said. “The head of Hezbollah has said that he hopes that we will gather in Israel so he doesn’t have to hunt us down globally. For or against it?”

“For it,” she said.

No sooner was the video of this exchange posted when one of the student’s teachers rushed to defend her.

“This girl is actually my student,” A. Casavantes wrote in the comments’ section of Horowitz’s NewsReal blog. “I know her to be an intelligent, moral young woman who believes in peace. I do not support any organization that advocates violence against any specific group, nor do I believe that my student would do so. As a peace loving, Catholic teacher, I’m saddened that this speaker — her elder — manipulated the conversation in this fashion to make her look like someone she isn’t, out of an egotistical desire to prove his own point, rather than engaging in a constructive dialogue.”

This teacher of hers is a character straight out of Paul Berman’s important new book The Flight of the Intellectuals, who, when confronted by a person with a clearly and explicitly stated genocidal ideology, prefers to lambaste that person’s rational critics.

It’s a phenomenon as peculiar as it is disturbing, motivated in large part — Berman and I both suspect — by fear. “Too many very intelligent people are running away from looking at some very influential and pernicious doctrines of our own time,” he said to me in an interview I published earlier this week. “They don’t want to look. They prefer to shut their eyes and hope for the best.”

Following David Horowitz’s talk earlier this month at the University of California, San Diego, was one of the most chilling brief conversations I’ve heard in a while.

A semi-polite yet coldly hostile student in the audience introduced herself during the question period as Jumanah Imad Albahri of the Muslim Students’ Association, and she refused to condemn either Hamas or Hezbollah when Horowitz asked her to clarify her position. He has faced a number of students just like her before, and he’s well-practiced in the art of drawing them out, so he asked her a point-blank question that couldn’t be easily dodged.

“I am a Jew,” he said. “The head of Hezbollah has said that he hopes that we will gather in Israel so he doesn’t have to hunt us down globally. For or against it?”

“For it,” she said.

No sooner was the video of this exchange posted when one of the student’s teachers rushed to defend her.

“This girl is actually my student,” A. Casavantes wrote in the comments’ section of Horowitz’s NewsReal blog. “I know her to be an intelligent, moral young woman who believes in peace. I do not support any organization that advocates violence against any specific group, nor do I believe that my student would do so. As a peace loving, Catholic teacher, I’m saddened that this speaker — her elder — manipulated the conversation in this fashion to make her look like someone she isn’t, out of an egotistical desire to prove his own point, rather than engaging in a constructive dialogue.”

This teacher of hers is a character straight out of Paul Berman’s important new book The Flight of the Intellectuals, who, when confronted by a person with a clearly and explicitly stated genocidal ideology, prefers to lambaste that person’s rational critics.

It’s a phenomenon as peculiar as it is disturbing, motivated in large part — Berman and I both suspect — by fear. “Too many very intelligent people are running away from looking at some very influential and pernicious doctrines of our own time,” he said to me in an interview I published earlier this week. “They don’t want to look. They prefer to shut their eyes and hope for the best.”

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Specter’s Lesson: Sharper Than a Serpent’s Tooth Is an Ungrateful Abortion Lobby

Consistency on the issues has never been one of Arlen Specter’s character traits as a politician. Yet for all of his flips and flops on just about everything, not to mention his two changes in party affiliation, there is one issue on which the ultra-cynical senator has been fairly consistent: abortion. Indeed, if there is any one point of contention that defined him in his Senate career as a “liberal” Republican, it was his “pro-choice” beliefs. But despite three decades of such a stance and the fact that he has now joined the party that generally treats the backing for abortion as a litmus test, NARAL Pro-Choice America, the premiere pro-abortion lobby, is throwing Specter under the bus in the midst of his life-and-death struggle to hold on to his Senate seat.

NARAL endorsed Specter’s opponent Rep. Joe Sestak yesterday in a statement that dismissed the senator’s decades of work without so much as a backward glance. Indeed, far from treating the question of which pro-choice Democrat to back in the primary as a dilemma, NARAL Pro-Choice America’s president Nancy Keenan stuck the proverbial knife in the back of her group’s erstwhile loyalist by saying: “Many Pennsylvanians are under the impression that Arlen Specter might be a reliable pro-choice voice, but his record says otherwise. Pennsylvanians deserve a senator who considers being pro-choice a position of conviction, rather than a position of convenience.”

Ouch! Reading that, you have to sympathize a bit with Snarlin’ Arlen. You might well say that such a swipe at his character would be justified if you were talking about anything else, but it’s hard to argue that his stand on just about the only issue on which he has been consistent was merely a matter of convenience.

What’s NARAL’s motive? Is it belated payback for Specter’s roughing up of Anita Hill? Maybe. But according to its release, it’s the fact that Specter voted for Republican court nominees John Roberts and Samuel Alito and at one point voted, along with many Democrats, in favor of a ban on partial-birth abortion. But Specter’s record on court nominations has been anything but consistent, given his participation in the vicious attacks on Robert Bork in the 1980s, which pleased NARAL, and his vote in favor of the confirmation of Sonia Sotomayor last year.

But the real answer may be elsewhere in the statement, where Keenan claims, “Joe Sestak is the candidate who is best positioned to defeat an anti-choice opponent in the November general election.” Which is to say that she has read the polls, which show that Specter’s lead over his opponent has evaporated and that Sestak may be a tougher opponent for likely Republican nominee Pat Toomey. Now that he really needs them, Specter is finding that NARAL, like every other political entity, prefers backing likely winners to helping out old friends.

But just to show that ingratitude and extremism aren’t confined to the pro-choicers, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports that the long-shot challenge to Toomey in the Republican primary next week is also motivated by abortion. Activist Peg Luksik thinks that the former congressman isn’t sufficiently fanatic on the issue because despite his consistent pro-life record, he believes there should be exceptions to any potential ban on abortion in cases of rape or incest or to save the life of the mother. Luksik’s claim to fame is that 20 years ago, she won 46 percent of the vote in a failed attempt to deny a GOP gubernatorial nomination to Barbara Hafer, a pro-choice Republican. Since then, she twice ran as a third-party candidate for governor against Tom Ridge.

Toomey is a prohibitive favorite and doesn’t have much to worry about in the primary. But looking ahead to November, he does seem to have a firm grasp on the difference between running against Specter and running against Sestak. While claiming that either would energize the Republican base, the Inquirer quotes Toomey as summing up the contrast between the two in this way:

“If Joe Sestak wins the nomination, I do think it will be a much more substantive discussion about policy, whereas if it was Arlen Specter, it would be a series of personal, negative ads trying to smear character. That’s the way he’s always operated.”

Consistency on the issues has never been one of Arlen Specter’s character traits as a politician. Yet for all of his flips and flops on just about everything, not to mention his two changes in party affiliation, there is one issue on which the ultra-cynical senator has been fairly consistent: abortion. Indeed, if there is any one point of contention that defined him in his Senate career as a “liberal” Republican, it was his “pro-choice” beliefs. But despite three decades of such a stance and the fact that he has now joined the party that generally treats the backing for abortion as a litmus test, NARAL Pro-Choice America, the premiere pro-abortion lobby, is throwing Specter under the bus in the midst of his life-and-death struggle to hold on to his Senate seat.

NARAL endorsed Specter’s opponent Rep. Joe Sestak yesterday in a statement that dismissed the senator’s decades of work without so much as a backward glance. Indeed, far from treating the question of which pro-choice Democrat to back in the primary as a dilemma, NARAL Pro-Choice America’s president Nancy Keenan stuck the proverbial knife in the back of her group’s erstwhile loyalist by saying: “Many Pennsylvanians are under the impression that Arlen Specter might be a reliable pro-choice voice, but his record says otherwise. Pennsylvanians deserve a senator who considers being pro-choice a position of conviction, rather than a position of convenience.”

Ouch! Reading that, you have to sympathize a bit with Snarlin’ Arlen. You might well say that such a swipe at his character would be justified if you were talking about anything else, but it’s hard to argue that his stand on just about the only issue on which he has been consistent was merely a matter of convenience.

What’s NARAL’s motive? Is it belated payback for Specter’s roughing up of Anita Hill? Maybe. But according to its release, it’s the fact that Specter voted for Republican court nominees John Roberts and Samuel Alito and at one point voted, along with many Democrats, in favor of a ban on partial-birth abortion. But Specter’s record on court nominations has been anything but consistent, given his participation in the vicious attacks on Robert Bork in the 1980s, which pleased NARAL, and his vote in favor of the confirmation of Sonia Sotomayor last year.

But the real answer may be elsewhere in the statement, where Keenan claims, “Joe Sestak is the candidate who is best positioned to defeat an anti-choice opponent in the November general election.” Which is to say that she has read the polls, which show that Specter’s lead over his opponent has evaporated and that Sestak may be a tougher opponent for likely Republican nominee Pat Toomey. Now that he really needs them, Specter is finding that NARAL, like every other political entity, prefers backing likely winners to helping out old friends.

But just to show that ingratitude and extremism aren’t confined to the pro-choicers, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports that the long-shot challenge to Toomey in the Republican primary next week is also motivated by abortion. Activist Peg Luksik thinks that the former congressman isn’t sufficiently fanatic on the issue because despite his consistent pro-life record, he believes there should be exceptions to any potential ban on abortion in cases of rape or incest or to save the life of the mother. Luksik’s claim to fame is that 20 years ago, she won 46 percent of the vote in a failed attempt to deny a GOP gubernatorial nomination to Barbara Hafer, a pro-choice Republican. Since then, she twice ran as a third-party candidate for governor against Tom Ridge.

Toomey is a prohibitive favorite and doesn’t have much to worry about in the primary. But looking ahead to November, he does seem to have a firm grasp on the difference between running against Specter and running against Sestak. While claiming that either would energize the Republican base, the Inquirer quotes Toomey as summing up the contrast between the two in this way:

“If Joe Sestak wins the nomination, I do think it will be a much more substantive discussion about policy, whereas if it was Arlen Specter, it would be a series of personal, negative ads trying to smear character. That’s the way he’s always operated.”

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The Limits of Charm

Obama’s “charm offensive” to the American Jewish community is underway, but the reality of the administration’s approach to Israel can’t be thoroughly disguised. The AP reports:

The Obama administration is preparing to join an international advisory group that the United States generally has shunned due to fears it would adopt anti-Israeli and anti-Western positions, U.S. officials said Wednesday.

The officials told The Associated Press the administration plans to announce as early as this week that it will begin a formal relationship with the Alliance of Civilizations. … The Bush administration boycotted the group when it was founded in 2005 over because it feared the group would become a forum for bashing Israel and the United States. Those concerns were magnified a year later when the alliance released a report that officials in Washington said unfairly blamed Israel and the United States for many of the world’s problems.

But the Obama administration assures us that this is all in the past. The Obama team, in its unending quest to accommodate and cozy up to the Muslim World, is convinced that the group has reformed:

The officials said earlier fears about the “imbalances” in the group, which was set up by Spain and Turkey, had been dealt with after the United States expressed “serious concerns” about the 2006 report.

That report focused on the Middle East and identified Israel’s “disproportionate retaliatory actions in Gaza and Lebanon” as a main cause of Muslim-Western tension.

The officials said the administration had been assured by its current leader, former Portuguese President Jorge Sampaio, that it would take a “more positive” approach to its work.

Needless to say, Israel isn’t joining up. And if the group — like the Human Right Council, which the U.S. joined ostensibly to engage the Israel-bashers — continues its anti-Israel tirades, will the Obama team leave? No, I don’t think so either.

One wonders: when the administration reveals its “charm offensive” as mere window dressing on the same policy, why doesn’t American Jewish officialdom speak out? One savvy critic wrote earlier this year:

As a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Democratic Party, whose fidelity financial and electoral all Dem administrations can and do take fully for granted, American Jewry is in a quandary right now. It’s mostly private, as its quandaries usually are when it comes to the sins of Dem presidents against American Jews and the Jewish State. As if failing to do their duty to the Party were akin to rising up in rebellion against kaiser or czar and inviting the unleashing of Cossack fury against them, the Jews who ought to have something to say about the ill wind blowing toward Israel from Mr. Obama’s office are passing their whispered worries from one to another: “Oy! What should we do? Oy! What should we say? Is it enough that X is saying something? Can we hide behind that? Do we have to say something, too? Oy!”

But American Jewish “leaders” are busy now — cooing over the Jewish Supreme Court nominee. All is well with the administration, we are told — they like us, they really like us! Let’s see what happens when the next anti-Israel missive emanates from one of the groups the Obama team insisted on joining.

Obama’s “charm offensive” to the American Jewish community is underway, but the reality of the administration’s approach to Israel can’t be thoroughly disguised. The AP reports:

The Obama administration is preparing to join an international advisory group that the United States generally has shunned due to fears it would adopt anti-Israeli and anti-Western positions, U.S. officials said Wednesday.

The officials told The Associated Press the administration plans to announce as early as this week that it will begin a formal relationship with the Alliance of Civilizations. … The Bush administration boycotted the group when it was founded in 2005 over because it feared the group would become a forum for bashing Israel and the United States. Those concerns were magnified a year later when the alliance released a report that officials in Washington said unfairly blamed Israel and the United States for many of the world’s problems.

But the Obama administration assures us that this is all in the past. The Obama team, in its unending quest to accommodate and cozy up to the Muslim World, is convinced that the group has reformed:

The officials said earlier fears about the “imbalances” in the group, which was set up by Spain and Turkey, had been dealt with after the United States expressed “serious concerns” about the 2006 report.

That report focused on the Middle East and identified Israel’s “disproportionate retaliatory actions in Gaza and Lebanon” as a main cause of Muslim-Western tension.

The officials said the administration had been assured by its current leader, former Portuguese President Jorge Sampaio, that it would take a “more positive” approach to its work.

Needless to say, Israel isn’t joining up. And if the group — like the Human Right Council, which the U.S. joined ostensibly to engage the Israel-bashers — continues its anti-Israel tirades, will the Obama team leave? No, I don’t think so either.

One wonders: when the administration reveals its “charm offensive” as mere window dressing on the same policy, why doesn’t American Jewish officialdom speak out? One savvy critic wrote earlier this year:

As a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Democratic Party, whose fidelity financial and electoral all Dem administrations can and do take fully for granted, American Jewry is in a quandary right now. It’s mostly private, as its quandaries usually are when it comes to the sins of Dem presidents against American Jews and the Jewish State. As if failing to do their duty to the Party were akin to rising up in rebellion against kaiser or czar and inviting the unleashing of Cossack fury against them, the Jews who ought to have something to say about the ill wind blowing toward Israel from Mr. Obama’s office are passing their whispered worries from one to another: “Oy! What should we do? Oy! What should we say? Is it enough that X is saying something? Can we hide behind that? Do we have to say something, too? Oy!”

But American Jewish “leaders” are busy now — cooing over the Jewish Supreme Court nominee. All is well with the administration, we are told — they like us, they really like us! Let’s see what happens when the next anti-Israel missive emanates from one of the groups the Obama team insisted on joining.

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More Arrests, No Mirandizing in Times Square Bombing Investigation

Fox News reports that two Pakistani men in the Boston area have been arrested  in connection with the Times Square bombing attempt:

“These searches are the product of evidence that has been gathered in the investigation subsequent to the attempted Times Square bombing and do not relate to any known immediate threat to the public or active plot against the United States,” [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] spokeswoman Kelly Nantel said in the statement.

Specifically, one source said, the search warrants are the product of information obtained through interrogations of 30-year-old Faisal Shahzad, the main suspect in the May 1 attempted Times Square bombing who has now been charged with five federal offenses, including attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction.

This raises a few questions. First, doesn’t the “immediate” give one pause? Were these individuals a threat — but not immediately? Recall that on this one, the Obama team lucked out. They Mirandized the original suspect, Shahzad, who decided to keep talking. Had he not, we presumably would not have found the not-so-immediate threats. Second, these two are not being Mirandized, we learn:

The two Pakistani men have been arrested on “administrative charges,” which means federal authorities will not read them Miranda rights during any immediate interrogation. … One of the men arrested Thursday has been charged with overstaying his visa, and the other has been charged with staying in the country despite an order of removal, according to one source.

So, is this part of a new Obama administration approach to terror suspects? After all, these people were apprehended on U.S. soil and apparently may have conspired to kill Americans. Yet the administration — finally is not rushing to Mirandize terror suspects, who may yield additional intelligence information. About time, isn’t it?

Fox News reports that two Pakistani men in the Boston area have been arrested  in connection with the Times Square bombing attempt:

“These searches are the product of evidence that has been gathered in the investigation subsequent to the attempted Times Square bombing and do not relate to any known immediate threat to the public or active plot against the United States,” [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] spokeswoman Kelly Nantel said in the statement.

Specifically, one source said, the search warrants are the product of information obtained through interrogations of 30-year-old Faisal Shahzad, the main suspect in the May 1 attempted Times Square bombing who has now been charged with five federal offenses, including attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction.

This raises a few questions. First, doesn’t the “immediate” give one pause? Were these individuals a threat — but not immediately? Recall that on this one, the Obama team lucked out. They Mirandized the original suspect, Shahzad, who decided to keep talking. Had he not, we presumably would not have found the not-so-immediate threats. Second, these two are not being Mirandized, we learn:

The two Pakistani men have been arrested on “administrative charges,” which means federal authorities will not read them Miranda rights during any immediate interrogation. … One of the men arrested Thursday has been charged with overstaying his visa, and the other has been charged with staying in the country despite an order of removal, according to one source.

So, is this part of a new Obama administration approach to terror suspects? After all, these people were apprehended on U.S. soil and apparently may have conspired to kill Americans. Yet the administration — finally is not rushing to Mirandize terror suspects, who may yield additional intelligence information. About time, isn’t it?

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The Middle East Vacuum

Michael Young has a must-read article in today’s Lebanese newspaper the Daily Star. Young tackles the question of American decline in the Middle East and its consequences. He rather persuasively lays out the twofold argument that this is good for Iran and that the consequence of this decline might push President Obama in the direction “he dreads most” — namely, military action. (Naturally, this act would first require President Obama to recognize his policy’s failure and to realize that an Iranian ascendancy in the Gulf is bad for American interests.)

The article is illuminating as a succinct but comprehensive summary of all that is wrong — and misunderstood — about present U.S. policies in the region: from the marginal relevance of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict to the limited role that Gulf States have in countenancing Iran; from past, present, and possibly future policy blunders in Iraq to the Afghan challenge; and where Obama may be getting it all wrong. All this is known — though Young argues it well. A less discussed point deserving of more scrutiny is that the vacuum created by a U.S. retreat will not be filled by powers of a gentler kind:

The notion sounds absurd. America lose the power that it has managed to retain for as long as most of us have been alive? Perhaps it is absurd. But consider this: given President Barack Obama’s lack of a coherent strategy for the region, everywhere we see deepening vulnerabilities, when not a conscious decision by Washington to downgrade its ambitions in the face of more dynamic regional actors. These actors have shortcomings of their own, but they appear to be better prepared to deal with the consequences than the United States.

Just a reminder of what this means in practical terms: Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has just signed agreements to build nuclear reactors with both Syria and Turkey.

Those resentful of American power — including the liberal academic environment that shaped President Obama’s worldview during his formative years — should take notice of what a retreat of American power means. Not a kinder, gentler world, where the oppressed of the earth, finally free from imperialist chains, are able to realize their full potential. It means that authoritarian regimes assert themselves. The oppressed will remain so — more so. As for all those considerations that tame Western powers’ pursuit of their national interests (ethical concerns, respect for local cultures, protection of the environment, rule of law, and the like), forget about it. Power will be raw, at its most ruthless, heads will roll, and blood will flow, while the regional order is reshaped by the new powers that be.

The Middle East will be perhaps the place where the end of the American century will have its earliest and worst impact — Russia will reassert its influence by helping regional powers push America out while bullying Washington’s allies into subservience. In the process, the old Arab order may collapse. Nuclear proliferation will undo the fragile balance of power that currently prevents regional war. And America’s retreat will enable local Islamists to remove the lid of Western influence over the explosive cocktail of Arab authoritarianism, economic underdevelopment, and demographic explosion.

All in all, quite a set of accomplishments by realists, engagement seekers, and those embarrassed by America’s power and image in the world.

Michael Young has a must-read article in today’s Lebanese newspaper the Daily Star. Young tackles the question of American decline in the Middle East and its consequences. He rather persuasively lays out the twofold argument that this is good for Iran and that the consequence of this decline might push President Obama in the direction “he dreads most” — namely, military action. (Naturally, this act would first require President Obama to recognize his policy’s failure and to realize that an Iranian ascendancy in the Gulf is bad for American interests.)

The article is illuminating as a succinct but comprehensive summary of all that is wrong — and misunderstood — about present U.S. policies in the region: from the marginal relevance of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict to the limited role that Gulf States have in countenancing Iran; from past, present, and possibly future policy blunders in Iraq to the Afghan challenge; and where Obama may be getting it all wrong. All this is known — though Young argues it well. A less discussed point deserving of more scrutiny is that the vacuum created by a U.S. retreat will not be filled by powers of a gentler kind:

The notion sounds absurd. America lose the power that it has managed to retain for as long as most of us have been alive? Perhaps it is absurd. But consider this: given President Barack Obama’s lack of a coherent strategy for the region, everywhere we see deepening vulnerabilities, when not a conscious decision by Washington to downgrade its ambitions in the face of more dynamic regional actors. These actors have shortcomings of their own, but they appear to be better prepared to deal with the consequences than the United States.

Just a reminder of what this means in practical terms: Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has just signed agreements to build nuclear reactors with both Syria and Turkey.

Those resentful of American power — including the liberal academic environment that shaped President Obama’s worldview during his formative years — should take notice of what a retreat of American power means. Not a kinder, gentler world, where the oppressed of the earth, finally free from imperialist chains, are able to realize their full potential. It means that authoritarian regimes assert themselves. The oppressed will remain so — more so. As for all those considerations that tame Western powers’ pursuit of their national interests (ethical concerns, respect for local cultures, protection of the environment, rule of law, and the like), forget about it. Power will be raw, at its most ruthless, heads will roll, and blood will flow, while the regional order is reshaped by the new powers that be.

The Middle East will be perhaps the place where the end of the American century will have its earliest and worst impact — Russia will reassert its influence by helping regional powers push America out while bullying Washington’s allies into subservience. In the process, the old Arab order may collapse. Nuclear proliferation will undo the fragile balance of power that currently prevents regional war. And America’s retreat will enable local Islamists to remove the lid of Western influence over the explosive cocktail of Arab authoritarianism, economic underdevelopment, and demographic explosion.

All in all, quite a set of accomplishments by realists, engagement seekers, and those embarrassed by America’s power and image in the world.

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Egypt Gets Rewarded for Repression

As I noted earlier in the week, Hosni Mubarak has extended the country’s emergency laws for yet another two years, confident that he’ll pay no price for continuing his reign of thuggery. Boy, did he get that right. Josh Rogin reports:

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton issued a mildly worded statement Tuesday criticizing the Egyptian government’s decision to extend its “state of emergency” another two years and urged Egypt to adhere to “legal principles that protect the rights of all citizens.”

Meanwhile, her department was preparing to enter into negotiations with Egypt over Cairo’s proposal for a new $4 billion aid endowment that critics say would unfairly reward an authoritarian regime that has jailed or marginalized its opponents, rigged elections, and censored or manipulated the press for the nearly three decades that President Hosni Mubarak has been in power.

The administration is getting push-back from an array of disparate critics “includ[ing] former Bush administration officials, human-rights groups, and regional experts, [who] say Egypt is attempting to secure aid outside of congressional oversight and without being compelled to make progress on democracy and human rights. They question why Egypt, which by all accounts has actually been backsliding on reform in recent years, should be singled out for such a unique and lucrative prize.” Even worse, the administration slashed democracy funding while increasing economic support, thus providing a handsome slush fund for Mubarak. Even Human Rights Watch has figured out the problem:

Tom Malinowski, Washington advocacy director for Human Rights Watch, argued that shifting the bulk of U.S. economic assistance to an endowment will inevitably be seen in Egypt as empowering Mubarak. “I don’t think there’s a way to do it that avoids that perception in the mind of Egyptians,” he said, “Everything the U.S. does in its relationship with Egypt should be to promote political and economic reform … and to convince the Egyptian people we are in line with their aspirations.”

This is the crux of the bizarrely misguided Muslim-outreach policy of the Obama team. It really has precious little to do with reaching out to Muslims; it is rather a policy of ingratiation with oppressive regimes (e.g., Iran, Syria, Egypt, Saudi Arabia) to the detriment of their people. We are not promoting warm feelings toward the U.S. by enabling Mubarak or by signaling that we’ll do business with Bashar al-Assad. And we haven’t gotten anything for our ingratiation. One can’t but help wondering why the Obama team has such affinity for the despots of the Middle East. Is this residual anti-Bush-ism? (He was in favor of democracy promotion, so they can’t be.) Is it disdain for the people of the Middle East, whom the Obama administration believes incapable of supporting democratic reform? Whatever the motivation, it lacks moral legitimacy and has failed to deliver any tangible benefits to the U.S. But it has made it clear that a foreign policy that lacks grounding in American values is, in the long run, unsustainable and ineffective.

As I noted earlier in the week, Hosni Mubarak has extended the country’s emergency laws for yet another two years, confident that he’ll pay no price for continuing his reign of thuggery. Boy, did he get that right. Josh Rogin reports:

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton issued a mildly worded statement Tuesday criticizing the Egyptian government’s decision to extend its “state of emergency” another two years and urged Egypt to adhere to “legal principles that protect the rights of all citizens.”

Meanwhile, her department was preparing to enter into negotiations with Egypt over Cairo’s proposal for a new $4 billion aid endowment that critics say would unfairly reward an authoritarian regime that has jailed or marginalized its opponents, rigged elections, and censored or manipulated the press for the nearly three decades that President Hosni Mubarak has been in power.

The administration is getting push-back from an array of disparate critics “includ[ing] former Bush administration officials, human-rights groups, and regional experts, [who] say Egypt is attempting to secure aid outside of congressional oversight and without being compelled to make progress on democracy and human rights. They question why Egypt, which by all accounts has actually been backsliding on reform in recent years, should be singled out for such a unique and lucrative prize.” Even worse, the administration slashed democracy funding while increasing economic support, thus providing a handsome slush fund for Mubarak. Even Human Rights Watch has figured out the problem:

Tom Malinowski, Washington advocacy director for Human Rights Watch, argued that shifting the bulk of U.S. economic assistance to an endowment will inevitably be seen in Egypt as empowering Mubarak. “I don’t think there’s a way to do it that avoids that perception in the mind of Egyptians,” he said, “Everything the U.S. does in its relationship with Egypt should be to promote political and economic reform … and to convince the Egyptian people we are in line with their aspirations.”

This is the crux of the bizarrely misguided Muslim-outreach policy of the Obama team. It really has precious little to do with reaching out to Muslims; it is rather a policy of ingratiation with oppressive regimes (e.g., Iran, Syria, Egypt, Saudi Arabia) to the detriment of their people. We are not promoting warm feelings toward the U.S. by enabling Mubarak or by signaling that we’ll do business with Bashar al-Assad. And we haven’t gotten anything for our ingratiation. One can’t but help wondering why the Obama team has such affinity for the despots of the Middle East. Is this residual anti-Bush-ism? (He was in favor of democracy promotion, so they can’t be.) Is it disdain for the people of the Middle East, whom the Obama administration believes incapable of supporting democratic reform? Whatever the motivation, it lacks moral legitimacy and has failed to deliver any tangible benefits to the U.S. But it has made it clear that a foreign policy that lacks grounding in American values is, in the long run, unsustainable and ineffective.

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Ignoring the Enemy

Cliff May has an important piece on the West’s reluctance to recognize the nature of the enemy we face:

We Americans are uncomfortable with such ideas as holy war and religiously motivated mass murder. Raised to believe in equality, tolerance, and diversity, we cannot imagine slaughtering fellow human beings so that adherents of the “true faith” might prevail over “enemies of God.” Nor can most of us imagine others acting in this way. Our imaginations are failing us.

As May explains, the averting-our-eyes problem is exacerbated by dim liberals searching for sociological or economic motivations for terrorists and by jihadist propagandists:

For example, Tariq Ramadan, a Swiss-born academic — he holds the His Highness Hamad Bin Khalifa Al-Thani Chair in Contemporary Islamic Studies at Oxford (no kidding) — last week told the Washington Post that jihad “has nothing to do with holy war. … Where you are trying to resist bad temptations and reform yourself with good aspirations that you have, this is a jihad of the self.”

What makes this lie so brazen — though the Post did not think to question it — is that Ramadan is the grandson of Hassan al-Banna, who in 1928 founded the Muslim Brotherhood. Al-Banna himself stated clearly that the Qur’an and other Islamic doctrines “summon people … to jihad, to warfare, to the armed forces, and all means of land and sea fighting.”

But, of course, the current administration has made the problem much worse, by refusing to name the enemy and by systematically downplaying in our Middle East diplomacy the nature of the jihadist threat. (This was on display in the Rashad Hussain interview, even as corrected by the State Department.) This only undermines the position of moderate Muslims:

Commenting on the Times Square bombing attempt, Dr. Zuhdi Jasser, a prominent American Muslim reformer, stated what so many others will not: “Islamists are at war intellectually and kinetically with western liberal democracies.” He added that while Americans are often the victims, “most Islamists globally actually target moderate Muslims who are their greatest existential threat.”

Anti-Islamist Muslims know, too, that the Islamists have not “hijacked” a “religion of peace,” comforting as that might be for us to believe. Islamists are fundamentalists, not heretics. Their reading of Islam is neither new nor unorthodox. They advocate a return to Islam as it was practiced in the seventh century. In that era, Islam was, without apology or ambiguity, a warrior faith dedicated to conquest — with power, wealth, and glory accruing to conquerors.

Americans’ natural disinclination to take at face value the extremist ideology of its foes can only be corrected by leadership from the president and his administration. It is their obligation to explain what we are fighting, to give support to anti-jihadist Muslims, and to focus all our anti-terror policies on aggressively combating an ideological foe. Until this is accomplished, we remain at a severe disadvantage against an enemy that suffers no lack of clarity, determination, and ideological focus.

Cliff May has an important piece on the West’s reluctance to recognize the nature of the enemy we face:

We Americans are uncomfortable with such ideas as holy war and religiously motivated mass murder. Raised to believe in equality, tolerance, and diversity, we cannot imagine slaughtering fellow human beings so that adherents of the “true faith” might prevail over “enemies of God.” Nor can most of us imagine others acting in this way. Our imaginations are failing us.

As May explains, the averting-our-eyes problem is exacerbated by dim liberals searching for sociological or economic motivations for terrorists and by jihadist propagandists:

For example, Tariq Ramadan, a Swiss-born academic — he holds the His Highness Hamad Bin Khalifa Al-Thani Chair in Contemporary Islamic Studies at Oxford (no kidding) — last week told the Washington Post that jihad “has nothing to do with holy war. … Where you are trying to resist bad temptations and reform yourself with good aspirations that you have, this is a jihad of the self.”

What makes this lie so brazen — though the Post did not think to question it — is that Ramadan is the grandson of Hassan al-Banna, who in 1928 founded the Muslim Brotherhood. Al-Banna himself stated clearly that the Qur’an and other Islamic doctrines “summon people … to jihad, to warfare, to the armed forces, and all means of land and sea fighting.”

But, of course, the current administration has made the problem much worse, by refusing to name the enemy and by systematically downplaying in our Middle East diplomacy the nature of the jihadist threat. (This was on display in the Rashad Hussain interview, even as corrected by the State Department.) This only undermines the position of moderate Muslims:

Commenting on the Times Square bombing attempt, Dr. Zuhdi Jasser, a prominent American Muslim reformer, stated what so many others will not: “Islamists are at war intellectually and kinetically with western liberal democracies.” He added that while Americans are often the victims, “most Islamists globally actually target moderate Muslims who are their greatest existential threat.”

Anti-Islamist Muslims know, too, that the Islamists have not “hijacked” a “religion of peace,” comforting as that might be for us to believe. Islamists are fundamentalists, not heretics. Their reading of Islam is neither new nor unorthodox. They advocate a return to Islam as it was practiced in the seventh century. In that era, Islam was, without apology or ambiguity, a warrior faith dedicated to conquest — with power, wealth, and glory accruing to conquerors.

Americans’ natural disinclination to take at face value the extremist ideology of its foes can only be corrected by leadership from the president and his administration. It is their obligation to explain what we are fighting, to give support to anti-jihadist Muslims, and to focus all our anti-terror policies on aggressively combating an ideological foe. Until this is accomplished, we remain at a severe disadvantage against an enemy that suffers no lack of clarity, determination, and ideological focus.

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The Underwelming Kagan

Joshua Green examines why liberals are nervous about Elena Kagan. He explains:

The same thing that makes her confirmation so likely — the lack of a paper trail for opponents to parse and attack — has also become a prime source of concern for her own side. There’s little hard evidence to reassure liberals that she’ll adjudicate in the way they would prefer. Kagan’s lack of a judicial record and scant legal writing during a career spent mostly in politics and the deanship of Harvard Law School leave open the possibility she’ll turn out to be more conservative than advertised. … The liberal complaint against Kagan is threefold: that she wasn’t sufficiently aggressive in hiring women and minorities to the Harvard faculty; that she took worrisome positions on executive power, the war on terrorism, and corporate campaign spending; and that she isn’t the counterpart to Antonin Scalia that the left has long desired.

Green makes a comparison to David Souter, the quintessential stealth candidate who turned out to be not at all what the president who nominated him expected.

Most interesting is that the left — despite the silly Obama spin — recognizes that “she isn’t the counterpart to Antonin Scalia that the left has long desired.” Perhaps they are worried her intellect is not all that dazzling? Well, we can say she’s not demonstrated the sort of brilliance and scholarship or fine writing that the left understands is a prerequisite to do battle on the Court.

She has had a total of six Supreme Court arguments in her short tenure as solicitor general. It took a full six months before she gave her first argument in Citizens United, bypassing key cases, including Ricci (the New Haven firefighter case) and a high-profile challenge to the Voting Rights Act. Sources within the Justice Department report that Kagan was preparing to argue the Voting Rights Act case but ultimately gave way to her deputy.

Does this sound like a proficient, accomplished “lawyer’s lawyer”? Not even Kagan is high on her own advocacy abilities. Her outing in Citizens United was rocky at best, getting the worst of questioning from both Justices Scalia and Kennedy (whom she is tasked by the left with persuading once she is confirmed). At an awards ceremony at Georgetown Law School honoring Kennedy earlier this month, Kagan spoke, and her comments are revealing — and should be bracing to the left:

At one point, Kagan raised audience eyebrows when she said she would remember an exchange she had with Kennedy “for the rest of my career as an advocate.” …

That memorable exchange with Kennedy that Kagan was recalling, by the way, offered a glimpse into how Kagan handled her first oral argument before the high court — or any court — last September in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. That’s the landmark campaign finance case that Kagan lost 5-4, with Kennedy writing the majority.

In spite of her earlier praise for Kennedy, Kagan told the Georgetown audience that the justice had “a bit of a bad habit,” namely that he asks advocates about cases that are not mentioned anywhere in the briefs for the case. Kennedy did just that in Citizens United when he asked Kagan whether something she had just said was “inconsistent with the whole line of cases that began with Thornhill v. Alabama and Coates v. Cincinnati.” … Perhaps many advocates know those cases, Kagan said, but “I at any rate did not.” She added, “There was a look of panic on my face.”

Without knowing for sure, Kagan said she believes that Kennedy “saw in the flash of an instant that … I really had no clue” about the cases he was asking her about. Instead of waiting for her painful reply, Kennedy quickly went on to explain the Thornhill line of cases — which relate to facial challenges to statutes under the First Amendment — with enough detail that Kagan was able to recover and answer the question.

The left has good reason to worry. Kagan will need to elicit respect, not pity, from Kennedy once she is confirmed if she is to fulfill the left’s fondest hopes. Maybe she will grow into the job, but if it took six months to get prepared for her first argument before the Court, how long will it take before she is an influential force on the Court? Will she ever be?

Joshua Green examines why liberals are nervous about Elena Kagan. He explains:

The same thing that makes her confirmation so likely — the lack of a paper trail for opponents to parse and attack — has also become a prime source of concern for her own side. There’s little hard evidence to reassure liberals that she’ll adjudicate in the way they would prefer. Kagan’s lack of a judicial record and scant legal writing during a career spent mostly in politics and the deanship of Harvard Law School leave open the possibility she’ll turn out to be more conservative than advertised. … The liberal complaint against Kagan is threefold: that she wasn’t sufficiently aggressive in hiring women and minorities to the Harvard faculty; that she took worrisome positions on executive power, the war on terrorism, and corporate campaign spending; and that she isn’t the counterpart to Antonin Scalia that the left has long desired.

Green makes a comparison to David Souter, the quintessential stealth candidate who turned out to be not at all what the president who nominated him expected.

Most interesting is that the left — despite the silly Obama spin — recognizes that “she isn’t the counterpart to Antonin Scalia that the left has long desired.” Perhaps they are worried her intellect is not all that dazzling? Well, we can say she’s not demonstrated the sort of brilliance and scholarship or fine writing that the left understands is a prerequisite to do battle on the Court.

She has had a total of six Supreme Court arguments in her short tenure as solicitor general. It took a full six months before she gave her first argument in Citizens United, bypassing key cases, including Ricci (the New Haven firefighter case) and a high-profile challenge to the Voting Rights Act. Sources within the Justice Department report that Kagan was preparing to argue the Voting Rights Act case but ultimately gave way to her deputy.

Does this sound like a proficient, accomplished “lawyer’s lawyer”? Not even Kagan is high on her own advocacy abilities. Her outing in Citizens United was rocky at best, getting the worst of questioning from both Justices Scalia and Kennedy (whom she is tasked by the left with persuading once she is confirmed). At an awards ceremony at Georgetown Law School honoring Kennedy earlier this month, Kagan spoke, and her comments are revealing — and should be bracing to the left:

At one point, Kagan raised audience eyebrows when she said she would remember an exchange she had with Kennedy “for the rest of my career as an advocate.” …

That memorable exchange with Kennedy that Kagan was recalling, by the way, offered a glimpse into how Kagan handled her first oral argument before the high court — or any court — last September in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. That’s the landmark campaign finance case that Kagan lost 5-4, with Kennedy writing the majority.

In spite of her earlier praise for Kennedy, Kagan told the Georgetown audience that the justice had “a bit of a bad habit,” namely that he asks advocates about cases that are not mentioned anywhere in the briefs for the case. Kennedy did just that in Citizens United when he asked Kagan whether something she had just said was “inconsistent with the whole line of cases that began with Thornhill v. Alabama and Coates v. Cincinnati.” … Perhaps many advocates know those cases, Kagan said, but “I at any rate did not.” She added, “There was a look of panic on my face.”

Without knowing for sure, Kagan said she believes that Kennedy “saw in the flash of an instant that … I really had no clue” about the cases he was asking her about. Instead of waiting for her painful reply, Kennedy quickly went on to explain the Thornhill line of cases — which relate to facial challenges to statutes under the First Amendment — with enough detail that Kagan was able to recover and answer the question.

The left has good reason to worry. Kagan will need to elicit respect, not pity, from Kennedy once she is confirmed if she is to fulfill the left’s fondest hopes. Maybe she will grow into the job, but if it took six months to get prepared for her first argument before the Court, how long will it take before she is an influential force on the Court? Will she ever be?

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Will Specter Be One More Obama Electoral Loss?

Two commentators, one from the left (Gail Collins) and one from the right (Chris Stirewalt), observe that Arlen Specter’s perilous primary run is one more sign of Obama’s declining fortunes. From Collins:

The president appreciated Specter’s help in shoving the stimulus bill over the finish line last year, when the senator was still a Republican. And he really did love the fact that Specter’s party switch gave the Democrats what would turn out to be a very temporary 60th vote in the Senate. But he is not so grateful that he is going to go to Pennsylvania to campaign for him and risk adding yet another political carcass to the list of uncharming Democrats who went down the drain while clinging to his coattails.

And then Stirewalt:

For many months, it seemed that Specter would have little trouble because of Obama’s support. But in time, both Obama and Specter fell out of favor with Pennsylvanians. Obama’s job approval in the state fell below 50 percent and Specter’s slid down into the low 30s. Rather than Obama pulling Specter up, they pulled each other down.

Obama was supposed to clear the field for Specter, but Joe Sestak refused to go and instead has accused Obama of making  a nefarious effort to chase him out of the race with a job offer. Rather than endow Specter with the stamp of approval, Obama has simply reminded everyone — with help from rather biting Sestak ads — that Specter is a turncoat. The result is that Obama, as Stirewalt notes, may wind up showing that “running against him, even in a Democratic primary, is the winning electoral strategy of 2010.”

And consider this: should Specter lose next week, will he still vote for Elena Kagan, whom he opposed as solicitor general? After all, he’ll be free to vote his conscience (assumes facts not in evidence?). Well, who knows what he’ll do.

And who knows what the rest of the Democrats in Congress will do for the remainder of the year if Specter goes down. On nominations and legislation, what incentive do many have to stick with the president? Specter and the list of other Democratic losers who campaigned with Obama have shown that Obama’s only electoral influence may be negative. Maybe it’s time to put some daylight between themselves and the president.

Two commentators, one from the left (Gail Collins) and one from the right (Chris Stirewalt), observe that Arlen Specter’s perilous primary run is one more sign of Obama’s declining fortunes. From Collins:

The president appreciated Specter’s help in shoving the stimulus bill over the finish line last year, when the senator was still a Republican. And he really did love the fact that Specter’s party switch gave the Democrats what would turn out to be a very temporary 60th vote in the Senate. But he is not so grateful that he is going to go to Pennsylvania to campaign for him and risk adding yet another political carcass to the list of uncharming Democrats who went down the drain while clinging to his coattails.

And then Stirewalt:

For many months, it seemed that Specter would have little trouble because of Obama’s support. But in time, both Obama and Specter fell out of favor with Pennsylvanians. Obama’s job approval in the state fell below 50 percent and Specter’s slid down into the low 30s. Rather than Obama pulling Specter up, they pulled each other down.

Obama was supposed to clear the field for Specter, but Joe Sestak refused to go and instead has accused Obama of making  a nefarious effort to chase him out of the race with a job offer. Rather than endow Specter with the stamp of approval, Obama has simply reminded everyone — with help from rather biting Sestak ads — that Specter is a turncoat. The result is that Obama, as Stirewalt notes, may wind up showing that “running against him, even in a Democratic primary, is the winning electoral strategy of 2010.”

And consider this: should Specter lose next week, will he still vote for Elena Kagan, whom he opposed as solicitor general? After all, he’ll be free to vote his conscience (assumes facts not in evidence?). Well, who knows what he’ll do.

And who knows what the rest of the Democrats in Congress will do for the remainder of the year if Specter goes down. On nominations and legislation, what incentive do many have to stick with the president? Specter and the list of other Democratic losers who campaigned with Obama have shown that Obama’s only electoral influence may be negative. Maybe it’s time to put some daylight between themselves and the president.

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Encouraging the Mullahs, Not Iranian Democracy Activists

Roxana Saberi, who was locked up in Evin prison for 100 days, writes — pleads, really — for the West to take human rights seriously. She explains that on Sunday, five Kurdish political activists were executed. You might have missed it (I did) because, as usual, our government is mute. She argues:

If the international community fails to condemn such atrocities, Iran’s regime will continue to trample on the basic rights of individuals, many of whom have been detained simply for peacefully standing up for universal human rights. It is common for Tehran’s prisoners — including journalists, bloggers, women’s rights campaigners, student activists and adherents of the minority Baha’i faith — to be held in prolonged solitary confinement without access to an attorney as they try to defend themselves against fabricated charges such as espionage and “propaganda against Islam” or the regime.

She makes a key point: Tehran cares what is said about it in the free media and struggles to keep negative accounts from its own citizens. In other words, our quietude only aids in the regime’s repression. See, the West doesn’t care. How bad can things be if the Obama administration still wants to talk to us? Our silence both emboldens the oppressor and disheartens the oppressed.

Saberi makes an excellent suggestion:

As the international community focuses on Iran’s nuclear program, it should also make human rights a first-tier issue. When the U.N. Human Rights Council meets in Geneva next month, Washington and the European Union should lead calls for a resolution setting up a mechanism to investigate human rights atrocities in Iran during the past year. A bigger push should be made to send a U.N. special envoy on human rights to Iran and to aid Iranians, including the many journalists forced to flee their country out of fear of persecution.

But perhaps even more important than government efforts is the outcry of ordinary people worldwide. When everyday citizens speak out against Iran’s human rights violations, Tehran has a tougher time asserting that their calls have been masterminded by foreign governments.

But what are the chances that is going to happen? This administration let Iran into the Commission on the Status of Women with nary a peep. We continue to explain that sanctions are only a means to get the regime back to the bargaining table. The notion that we should undermine the mullahs or attempt to make the regime a pariah in the international community appears not to be under consideration. So rather than empower Iranian political dissidents and encourage journalists and activists, we encourage the mullahs to continue their reign of brutality. After all, if the West isn’t going to object, why not?

Roxana Saberi, who was locked up in Evin prison for 100 days, writes — pleads, really — for the West to take human rights seriously. She explains that on Sunday, five Kurdish political activists were executed. You might have missed it (I did) because, as usual, our government is mute. She argues:

If the international community fails to condemn such atrocities, Iran’s regime will continue to trample on the basic rights of individuals, many of whom have been detained simply for peacefully standing up for universal human rights. It is common for Tehran’s prisoners — including journalists, bloggers, women’s rights campaigners, student activists and adherents of the minority Baha’i faith — to be held in prolonged solitary confinement without access to an attorney as they try to defend themselves against fabricated charges such as espionage and “propaganda against Islam” or the regime.

She makes a key point: Tehran cares what is said about it in the free media and struggles to keep negative accounts from its own citizens. In other words, our quietude only aids in the regime’s repression. See, the West doesn’t care. How bad can things be if the Obama administration still wants to talk to us? Our silence both emboldens the oppressor and disheartens the oppressed.

Saberi makes an excellent suggestion:

As the international community focuses on Iran’s nuclear program, it should also make human rights a first-tier issue. When the U.N. Human Rights Council meets in Geneva next month, Washington and the European Union should lead calls for a resolution setting up a mechanism to investigate human rights atrocities in Iran during the past year. A bigger push should be made to send a U.N. special envoy on human rights to Iran and to aid Iranians, including the many journalists forced to flee their country out of fear of persecution.

But perhaps even more important than government efforts is the outcry of ordinary people worldwide. When everyday citizens speak out against Iran’s human rights violations, Tehran has a tougher time asserting that their calls have been masterminded by foreign governments.

But what are the chances that is going to happen? This administration let Iran into the Commission on the Status of Women with nary a peep. We continue to explain that sanctions are only a means to get the regime back to the bargaining table. The notion that we should undermine the mullahs or attempt to make the regime a pariah in the international community appears not to be under consideration. So rather than empower Iranian political dissidents and encourage journalists and activists, we encourage the mullahs to continue their reign of brutality. After all, if the West isn’t going to object, why not?

Read Less

The Obama Team’s Criminal-Justice Model Fails

The Obama administration came into office convinced that the Bush approach to fighting terrorism was flawed and that instead we could apply criminal-justice rules in the war against Islamic terrorism. It proved unworkable. Now the administration is in a muddle — trying to alter a criminal-justice model that plainly doesn’t work but misunderstanding the legal landscape and the alternatives they have.

Bill Burck and Dana Perino explain that by suggesting that Miranda rules need to be altered, Eric Holder has in essence confessed to error:

The administration is making a number of admissions here: Mirandizing Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, aka the underwear bomber, after only 50 minutes of questioning was a mistake; terrorists are enemies of America, not ordinary criminals; and the law-enforcement approach to combatting terrorism, which is designed to obtain evidence admissible at trial after a crime has already been committed, is not the most effective way to obtain intelligence to prevent future attacks.

This is an important step forward and a sign that, after the Manhattan subway plot, Fort Hood, Detroit, and now Times Square, the administration has become more adaptable to the realities of the war on terror. Yet the jury is out on whether the administration has a real plan or is merely improvising. Times Square bomber Faisal Shahzad remains in the criminal justice system and has not been designated as an enemy combatant, though he is still eligible for such designation.

Burck and Perino make a key point: we can designate even U.S. citizens to be enemy combatants. (“No less an authority than the U.S. Supreme Court, in Hamdi v. Rumsfeld (2004), resolved this question: The president has the authority to hold even U.S. citizens as enemy combatants if he believes they are working with the Taliban, al Qaeda or associated terrorist groups.”) This is probably true even if the U.S. citizen is on U.S. soil (“the federal Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit answered in the affirmative in Padilla v. Hanft).

So we have an administration that in all its condescension and criticism of the prior administration came up with a flawed alternative but that still lacks a full grasp of the alternatives. How could this be? Perhaps they are getting terrible advice from the Justice Department. One wonders what Elena Kagan thinks of all this. She, of course, is part of that brain trust. Maybe she should answer some tough questions at her confirmation hearing, starting with her views on what existing law says about terror suspects. Her colleagues might find it enlightening — provided she knows the law better than Holder.

The Obama administration came into office convinced that the Bush approach to fighting terrorism was flawed and that instead we could apply criminal-justice rules in the war against Islamic terrorism. It proved unworkable. Now the administration is in a muddle — trying to alter a criminal-justice model that plainly doesn’t work but misunderstanding the legal landscape and the alternatives they have.

Bill Burck and Dana Perino explain that by suggesting that Miranda rules need to be altered, Eric Holder has in essence confessed to error:

The administration is making a number of admissions here: Mirandizing Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, aka the underwear bomber, after only 50 minutes of questioning was a mistake; terrorists are enemies of America, not ordinary criminals; and the law-enforcement approach to combatting terrorism, which is designed to obtain evidence admissible at trial after a crime has already been committed, is not the most effective way to obtain intelligence to prevent future attacks.

This is an important step forward and a sign that, after the Manhattan subway plot, Fort Hood, Detroit, and now Times Square, the administration has become more adaptable to the realities of the war on terror. Yet the jury is out on whether the administration has a real plan or is merely improvising. Times Square bomber Faisal Shahzad remains in the criminal justice system and has not been designated as an enemy combatant, though he is still eligible for such designation.

Burck and Perino make a key point: we can designate even U.S. citizens to be enemy combatants. (“No less an authority than the U.S. Supreme Court, in Hamdi v. Rumsfeld (2004), resolved this question: The president has the authority to hold even U.S. citizens as enemy combatants if he believes they are working with the Taliban, al Qaeda or associated terrorist groups.”) This is probably true even if the U.S. citizen is on U.S. soil (“the federal Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit answered in the affirmative in Padilla v. Hanft).

So we have an administration that in all its condescension and criticism of the prior administration came up with a flawed alternative but that still lacks a full grasp of the alternatives. How could this be? Perhaps they are getting terrible advice from the Justice Department. One wonders what Elena Kagan thinks of all this. She, of course, is part of that brain trust. Maybe she should answer some tough questions at her confirmation hearing, starting with her views on what existing law says about terror suspects. Her colleagues might find it enlightening — provided she knows the law better than Holder.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

From the Jerusalem Day festivities: “Heckled by a lawmaker from Israel’s Arab minority, Netanyahu offered a lesson in comparative religion from the lectern. ‘Because you asked: Jerusalem is mentioned 142 times in the New Testament, and none of the 16 various Arabic names for Jerusalem is mentioned in the Koran. But in an expanded interpretation of the Koran from the 12th century, one passage is said to refer to Jerusalem,’ he said. Responding to Netanyahu’s citations, Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat said: ‘I find it very distasteful, this use of religion to incite hatred and fear. East Jerusalem is an occupied Palestinian town, and East Jerusalem cannot continue to be occupied if there is to be peace.'” Really, only Muslims are allowed to assert a religious claim to Jerusalem, you see.

Sen. Pat Leahy has figured out Elena Kagan’s biggest liability: “During their 40-minute meeting in his office, Leahy said he spoke with Kagan about her decision that military officials could not use the campus’ main recruitment office because doing so would violate the school’s anti-discrimination policy — given the military’s prohibition against the service of openly gay men and women. Speaking to reporters afterward, Leahy downplayed the controversy.”

Perhaps the donors should sue to get their money back: “Florida Gov. Charlie Crist announced today that he will not refund donations he received from Republican voters before he left the GOP in his bid for Florida’s U.S. Senate seat. … The announcement contradicts statements the Crist campaign has made to several newspapers, including the Miami Herald and St. Petersburg Times. In both publications, the campaign said it would issue ‘pro-rated refunds’ because Crist had already spent some of the money.”

More evidence of a wave election: “Republicans have solidified support among voters who had drifted from the party in recent elections, putting the GOP in position for a strong comeback in November’s elections, according to a new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll. The findings suggest that public opinion has hardened in advance of the 2010 elections, making it harder for Democrats to translate their legislative successes or a tentatively improving U.S. economy into gains among voters. Republicans have reassembled their coalition by reconnecting with independents, seniors, blue-collar voters, suburban women and small town and rural voters—all of whom had moved away from the party in the 2006 elections, in which Republicans lost control of the House. Those voter groups now favor GOP control of Congress.” All it took was less than two years of one-party Democratic rule.

Oh good grief: “The Jewish chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee urged colleagues to reassess negative impressions of the Obama administration’s U.N. outreach. ‘I wanted to bring to your attention two recent hard-fought victories by the United States at these institutions, which highlight how sustained engagement with international organizations by the Obama Administration has reaped important dividends for both the U.S. and Israel,’ [Howard] Berman said in a May 11 letter sent to every member of the House. ‘By actively using our voice and vote in organizations such as the UNHRC and UNESCO, we are better able to support Israel — and achieve other important goals — in the international community.'” Is he mad?

Republicans have the lead in generic congressional poll in latest Fox News/Opinion Dynamics survey. And Obama is tied with a generic Republican in the 2012 race. Of course, generic candidates don’t actually run, which is what makes politics interesting.

Jeffrey Goldberg on Robert Wright: “Yep, I’m guilty of believing that jihadist ideology is at the root of Islamist terrorism. Bob got me good this time.” Really, foreclosures and mental illness are the root of the problem.

The left rides to the defense of Richard Goldstone. No surprise there.

From the Jerusalem Day festivities: “Heckled by a lawmaker from Israel’s Arab minority, Netanyahu offered a lesson in comparative religion from the lectern. ‘Because you asked: Jerusalem is mentioned 142 times in the New Testament, and none of the 16 various Arabic names for Jerusalem is mentioned in the Koran. But in an expanded interpretation of the Koran from the 12th century, one passage is said to refer to Jerusalem,’ he said. Responding to Netanyahu’s citations, Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat said: ‘I find it very distasteful, this use of religion to incite hatred and fear. East Jerusalem is an occupied Palestinian town, and East Jerusalem cannot continue to be occupied if there is to be peace.'” Really, only Muslims are allowed to assert a religious claim to Jerusalem, you see.

Sen. Pat Leahy has figured out Elena Kagan’s biggest liability: “During their 40-minute meeting in his office, Leahy said he spoke with Kagan about her decision that military officials could not use the campus’ main recruitment office because doing so would violate the school’s anti-discrimination policy — given the military’s prohibition against the service of openly gay men and women. Speaking to reporters afterward, Leahy downplayed the controversy.”

Perhaps the donors should sue to get their money back: “Florida Gov. Charlie Crist announced today that he will not refund donations he received from Republican voters before he left the GOP in his bid for Florida’s U.S. Senate seat. … The announcement contradicts statements the Crist campaign has made to several newspapers, including the Miami Herald and St. Petersburg Times. In both publications, the campaign said it would issue ‘pro-rated refunds’ because Crist had already spent some of the money.”

More evidence of a wave election: “Republicans have solidified support among voters who had drifted from the party in recent elections, putting the GOP in position for a strong comeback in November’s elections, according to a new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll. The findings suggest that public opinion has hardened in advance of the 2010 elections, making it harder for Democrats to translate their legislative successes or a tentatively improving U.S. economy into gains among voters. Republicans have reassembled their coalition by reconnecting with independents, seniors, blue-collar voters, suburban women and small town and rural voters—all of whom had moved away from the party in the 2006 elections, in which Republicans lost control of the House. Those voter groups now favor GOP control of Congress.” All it took was less than two years of one-party Democratic rule.

Oh good grief: “The Jewish chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee urged colleagues to reassess negative impressions of the Obama administration’s U.N. outreach. ‘I wanted to bring to your attention two recent hard-fought victories by the United States at these institutions, which highlight how sustained engagement with international organizations by the Obama Administration has reaped important dividends for both the U.S. and Israel,’ [Howard] Berman said in a May 11 letter sent to every member of the House. ‘By actively using our voice and vote in organizations such as the UNHRC and UNESCO, we are better able to support Israel — and achieve other important goals — in the international community.'” Is he mad?

Republicans have the lead in generic congressional poll in latest Fox News/Opinion Dynamics survey. And Obama is tied with a generic Republican in the 2012 race. Of course, generic candidates don’t actually run, which is what makes politics interesting.

Jeffrey Goldberg on Robert Wright: “Yep, I’m guilty of believing that jihadist ideology is at the root of Islamist terrorism. Bob got me good this time.” Really, foreclosures and mental illness are the root of the problem.

The left rides to the defense of Richard Goldstone. No surprise there.

Read Less




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