Commentary Magazine


Posts For: June 1, 2010

The Political Noose Tightens for Dems

Gallup’s generic ballot poll (courtesy of the indispensible RealClearPolitics) shows a 49-43 percent lead for the GOP, the largest lead for Republicans since the poll started in the midpoint of the last century. The fact that this is almost unsurprising is evidence of the dangers facing the Democratic Party, and the modern liberal agenda, this November.

Among the problems for Democrats is that the narrative of the election — a bad economy, profligate spending, misplaced priorities, and the Obama administration’s general incompetence — is just about baked into the cake, absent some extraordinary intervening events. And the news for President Obama and Democrats continues to get worse rather than better. Even David Gergen is turning on the president.

President Obama and his party have been on a fairly steady slide since last summer, based on virtually every conceivable political metric (approval ratings, generic ballot polls, enthusiasm gap, trust in government, confidence in Congress, support for the stimulus package, the unpopularity of health care reform, et cetera).

The only good news is that according to Gallup, Americans’ favorable ratings of the Democratic and Republican parties are near record lows for each, with a 36 percent favorable score for the Republican Party (which is five percentage points above the low established in December 1998), while the Democratic Party’s 43 percent is just two points higher than its record low measured in March. The current poll marks the second successive sub–50 percent rating for the Democrats after the party had been consistently above that mark since July 2006, meaning that even the good news for Democrats is qualified.

The political noose continues to tighten around the necks of Democrats. Cheerleaders of the president — and there are still plenty of those in the political class — will explain all this as the result of bad luck or blame it on the previous administration. The rest of America considers this the results of a president whose agenda is failing virtually across the board.

Gallup’s generic ballot poll (courtesy of the indispensible RealClearPolitics) shows a 49-43 percent lead for the GOP, the largest lead for Republicans since the poll started in the midpoint of the last century. The fact that this is almost unsurprising is evidence of the dangers facing the Democratic Party, and the modern liberal agenda, this November.

Among the problems for Democrats is that the narrative of the election — a bad economy, profligate spending, misplaced priorities, and the Obama administration’s general incompetence — is just about baked into the cake, absent some extraordinary intervening events. And the news for President Obama and Democrats continues to get worse rather than better. Even David Gergen is turning on the president.

President Obama and his party have been on a fairly steady slide since last summer, based on virtually every conceivable political metric (approval ratings, generic ballot polls, enthusiasm gap, trust in government, confidence in Congress, support for the stimulus package, the unpopularity of health care reform, et cetera).

The only good news is that according to Gallup, Americans’ favorable ratings of the Democratic and Republican parties are near record lows for each, with a 36 percent favorable score for the Republican Party (which is five percentage points above the low established in December 1998), while the Democratic Party’s 43 percent is just two points higher than its record low measured in March. The current poll marks the second successive sub–50 percent rating for the Democrats after the party had been consistently above that mark since July 2006, meaning that even the good news for Democrats is qualified.

The political noose continues to tighten around the necks of Democrats. Cheerleaders of the president — and there are still plenty of those in the political class — will explain all this as the result of bad luck or blame it on the previous administration. The rest of America considers this the results of a president whose agenda is failing virtually across the board.

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WEB EXCLUSIVE: The Problem with Playing Defense

Given past performances, I’d say that Israel and its supporters are doing a better-than-average job of quickly beating back the international lynch mob that loves nothing more than propagating lies about Israel. The key weapon in this fight for truth has been this particular video of the IDF commandos descending onto the deck of the Mavi Marmara and into a hornet’s nest of murderous “peace activists.”

To read more, click here.

Given past performances, I’d say that Israel and its supporters are doing a better-than-average job of quickly beating back the international lynch mob that loves nothing more than propagating lies about Israel. The key weapon in this fight for truth has been this particular video of the IDF commandos descending onto the deck of the Mavi Marmara and into a hornet’s nest of murderous “peace activists.”

To read more, click here.

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Toomey Stands with Israel

Senate candidate Pat Toomey has issued a strong statement in support of Israel’s right of self-defense in the flotilla incident. So what say you, Joe Sestak? Recall that the J Street–backed candidate signed on to a letter urging Israel to put aside security concerns and lift the blockade of Gaza. So has he changed his views on the threat posed by Hamas, or will he join the Israel-bashers and their cousins, the moral-equivalence crowd?

It is time to stand up for Israel and to examine the records of candidates as to how they’ve addressed Israeli security needs and the condemnation of the “international community” when Israel must defend itself.

Senate candidate Pat Toomey has issued a strong statement in support of Israel’s right of self-defense in the flotilla incident. So what say you, Joe Sestak? Recall that the J Street–backed candidate signed on to a letter urging Israel to put aside security concerns and lift the blockade of Gaza. So has he changed his views on the threat posed by Hamas, or will he join the Israel-bashers and their cousins, the moral-equivalence crowd?

It is time to stand up for Israel and to examine the records of candidates as to how they’ve addressed Israeli security needs and the condemnation of the “international community” when Israel must defend itself.

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Turkey Knows Who the Strong Men Are

Matthew Continetti rightly points out the involvement of Turkey in the flotilla incident. As he also notes, Turkey for some time has been leaning away from Europe and from a secularized model that for decades has distinguished it from its Muslim neighbors. It had become a stable, economically productive post-Ataturk nation. That is changing.

But the Obama team has done little to abate and arguably contributed to this shift. The president has telegraphed his desire to engage the “Muslim World” and shown little interest in our European allies — a poor example. Moreover, as the U.S. recedes, the U.S.-Israeli alliance unravels, an alliance that has dominated the region for decades. Not only Turkey but other powers as well read the proverbial handwriting on the wall, size up which side (West or Islamic/anti-Israel) is in the ascendance, and place their bets. It will be interesting to see how Obama addresses Turkish involvement. Will he ignore it as he does so many other disagreeable developments? A more self-reflective administration would recognize the consequences of its own policies.

Matthew Continetti rightly points out the involvement of Turkey in the flotilla incident. As he also notes, Turkey for some time has been leaning away from Europe and from a secularized model that for decades has distinguished it from its Muslim neighbors. It had become a stable, economically productive post-Ataturk nation. That is changing.

But the Obama team has done little to abate and arguably contributed to this shift. The president has telegraphed his desire to engage the “Muslim World” and shown little interest in our European allies — a poor example. Moreover, as the U.S. recedes, the U.S.-Israeli alliance unravels, an alliance that has dominated the region for decades. Not only Turkey but other powers as well read the proverbial handwriting on the wall, size up which side (West or Islamic/anti-Israel) is in the ascendance, and place their bets. It will be interesting to see how Obama addresses Turkish involvement. Will he ignore it as he does so many other disagreeable developments? A more self-reflective administration would recognize the consequences of its own policies.

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The Flotilla — Why Presume There Was Another Way?

Max Boot and Evelyn Gordon are both hard on the Israeli government and military for the operation against the flotilla. Their harmonizing arguments are that Israel has little or no room for error because the international response is always going to be harsh, Israel can’t strategically or emotionally handle the consequences of international isolation, that what happened is a calamity, something should have been done differently, and heads should roll.

The problem is that this suggests that Israel had a multiplicity of options and chose the wrong one. But what if the option it chose was really the best of a whole bunch of frankly unattractive options? Had it failed to halt the flotilla, the Gaza blockade would have been publicly breached. Hamas would not only have won a propaganda victory against Israel but would have effectively put an end to the “good” Palestinian rule by Fatah on the West Bank — for Hamas would have demonstrated it could best Israel in a way that Fatah has proved singularly unable to. It is theoretically possible, as Evelyn suggests, that had its interdiction been more aggressive, with more heavily armed commandos, Israel could have taken the ship more efficiently with less bloodshed (certainly to Israeli commandos). But there’s no way to know that for sure.

Max suggests, in his Wall Street Journal piece, that maybe Israel should have booby-trapped the Marmara, the ship it boarded, while it was in port. That does sound like a juicy, Guns of Navarone–like option. But it seems to me that the public exposure of a commando raid on a ship in a Turkish Cypriot port would have had consequences vastly more dire for Israel, since it would have involved a profound violation of another nation’s sovereignty. A friend suggests that the Israelis could have worked some kind of bribery trick at the harbor in Turkish Cyprus to get the harbormaster to refuse to allow the flotilla’s exit — but if he thought of it, it stands to reason the Israelis thought of it as well and were unable to pull it off.

There’s no sense in pretending this isn’t a terrible situation. But it’s terrible not because of Israel’s action or failure to run a pristine operation, but rather because of the multi-front war against Israel in which this is but a single incident, a moment in time. Israel can and may chew itself up over it, but in doing so, it will be granting its opponents and enemies a signal victory in their war. Which is why, let’s face it, this wretchedly brilliant propaganda play was undertaken in the first place.

Max Boot and Evelyn Gordon are both hard on the Israeli government and military for the operation against the flotilla. Their harmonizing arguments are that Israel has little or no room for error because the international response is always going to be harsh, Israel can’t strategically or emotionally handle the consequences of international isolation, that what happened is a calamity, something should have been done differently, and heads should roll.

The problem is that this suggests that Israel had a multiplicity of options and chose the wrong one. But what if the option it chose was really the best of a whole bunch of frankly unattractive options? Had it failed to halt the flotilla, the Gaza blockade would have been publicly breached. Hamas would not only have won a propaganda victory against Israel but would have effectively put an end to the “good” Palestinian rule by Fatah on the West Bank — for Hamas would have demonstrated it could best Israel in a way that Fatah has proved singularly unable to. It is theoretically possible, as Evelyn suggests, that had its interdiction been more aggressive, with more heavily armed commandos, Israel could have taken the ship more efficiently with less bloodshed (certainly to Israeli commandos). But there’s no way to know that for sure.

Max suggests, in his Wall Street Journal piece, that maybe Israel should have booby-trapped the Marmara, the ship it boarded, while it was in port. That does sound like a juicy, Guns of Navarone–like option. But it seems to me that the public exposure of a commando raid on a ship in a Turkish Cypriot port would have had consequences vastly more dire for Israel, since it would have involved a profound violation of another nation’s sovereignty. A friend suggests that the Israelis could have worked some kind of bribery trick at the harbor in Turkish Cyprus to get the harbormaster to refuse to allow the flotilla’s exit — but if he thought of it, it stands to reason the Israelis thought of it as well and were unable to pull it off.

There’s no sense in pretending this isn’t a terrible situation. But it’s terrible not because of Israel’s action or failure to run a pristine operation, but rather because of the multi-front war against Israel in which this is but a single incident, a moment in time. Israel can and may chew itself up over it, but in doing so, it will be granting its opponents and enemies a signal victory in their war. Which is why, let’s face it, this wretchedly brilliant propaganda play was undertaken in the first place.

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RE: Israel Can Win Every Battle but Still Lose the War

Max, I am relieved to know that you don’t consider Israel an apartheid state or the equivalent of apartheid South Africa, but I must take exception to much of your post.

First, you seem to give the Israel-hating international community a veto over Israel’s right of self-defense. The making of Israel into a pariah state will not be halted by Israel’s reticence or by withdrawal from territory or by treating activists masquerading as peace-loving souls with kid gloves. The terms of the debate — accept the international definition of proportionality or become like Burma — is wrong and inapplicable to any other nation. The notion that we can determine what is fair game (killing a Hamas “big shot”) and what is not (preserving a blockade critical to Israel’s security) is not one we are equipped to or have the right to determine. Do we let Turkey tell us: “Yes on an Afghan troop surge, but no on drones”?

Second, perhaps you know something we don’t, but I don’t see how interdicting a flotilla before it set out would have gotten Israel applause from the UN. “Israel Destroys Humanitarian Relief Effort!” the headlines would scream.

I recommend Leslie Gelb’s column in today’s Daily Beast. He cogently makes the case that Israel’s actions were fully justified, and any plan to conduct an international investigation is preposterous. He rightly scoffs at the howls from the international community, which recoils when Israeli commandos protect themselves. It is a model of clear-thinking that avoids the unwinnable debate that Israel’s enemies use to hobble the Jewish state.

Max, I am relieved to know that you don’t consider Israel an apartheid state or the equivalent of apartheid South Africa, but I must take exception to much of your post.

First, you seem to give the Israel-hating international community a veto over Israel’s right of self-defense. The making of Israel into a pariah state will not be halted by Israel’s reticence or by withdrawal from territory or by treating activists masquerading as peace-loving souls with kid gloves. The terms of the debate — accept the international definition of proportionality or become like Burma — is wrong and inapplicable to any other nation. The notion that we can determine what is fair game (killing a Hamas “big shot”) and what is not (preserving a blockade critical to Israel’s security) is not one we are equipped to or have the right to determine. Do we let Turkey tell us: “Yes on an Afghan troop surge, but no on drones”?

Second, perhaps you know something we don’t, but I don’t see how interdicting a flotilla before it set out would have gotten Israel applause from the UN. “Israel Destroys Humanitarian Relief Effort!” the headlines would scream.

I recommend Leslie Gelb’s column in today’s Daily Beast. He cogently makes the case that Israel’s actions were fully justified, and any plan to conduct an international investigation is preposterous. He rightly scoffs at the howls from the international community, which recoils when Israeli commandos protect themselves. It is a model of clear-thinking that avoids the unwinnable debate that Israel’s enemies use to hobble the Jewish state.

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Israel Can Win Every Battle but Still Lose the War

In the Wall Street Journal today, I write about the disastrous consequences of Israel’s boarding operation off Gaza. Although the Israelis were perfectly justified in trying to stop Hamas from receiving outside aid, the way they went about it resulted in a public-relations catastrophe. A friend asks me in essence, So what? Is growing international approval really a problem for Israel? I believe it is.

Israel cannot afford to become another South Africa, Burma, or North Korea. Come to think of it, even South Africa couldn’t afford to become South Africa: an international pariah regime. It was too democratic and too Western to bear such isolation indefinitely in the way that absolute dictatorships like Burma or North Korea can. The international embargo ultimately led to a crisis of confidence within Afrikaner leadership circles and to the negotiated end to the racist regime. Israel, I stress, is no South Africa: it is not an apartheid regime. It is in fact the most liberal and democratic regime in the region, offering Arabs more rights than they are offered in any of its immediate neighbors. And Israel is, mercifully, not yet subject to the kind of international opprobrium that South Africa (rightly) received. Unfortunately, it is heading in that direction.

Other CONTENTIONS bloggers have noted that liberal Gentiles long ago turned on Israel; now it’s the turn of liberal Jews. Israel already faces the most hostile administration in Washington in decades — perhaps ever. This is an ominous trend. Israel depends on trade and interaction with the rest of the world; its people are liberal and Western in their outlook — they need to feel a part of the “West.” That image is furthered when Israel joins the OECD, the club of advanced industrial countries, as it just did. But incidents such as the Gaza flotilla fight set Israel back and further the propaganda war being waged against it by its enemies. Israel cannot afford to provide its foes further ammunition.

That doesn’t mean it should refrain from legitimate acts of self-defense (such as killing Hamas big shots or retaliating for Hamas rocket strikes), but it should be ultra careful to manage public perceptions of its actions. Unfortunately, the Israeli Defense Forces have always shown more competence at tactical kinetic operations than at information operations. That deficiency was revealed during the 2006 war with Hezbollah and now more recently in the botched raid on the Gaza ships. Granted, Israel is getting better about managing the consequences of its actions; the IDF gets kudos for posting video of the raid online quickly and making some naval commandos available for interviews. But if Israel were strategically smarter, it would have avoided the raid altogether, with all the possibilities of something going wrong, and used more stealthy means to prevent the Hamas activists from reaching their objective. The IDF should be mindful of the French experience in Algeria and the American experience in Vietnam: it is possible to win every battle and still lose the war.

In the Wall Street Journal today, I write about the disastrous consequences of Israel’s boarding operation off Gaza. Although the Israelis were perfectly justified in trying to stop Hamas from receiving outside aid, the way they went about it resulted in a public-relations catastrophe. A friend asks me in essence, So what? Is growing international approval really a problem for Israel? I believe it is.

Israel cannot afford to become another South Africa, Burma, or North Korea. Come to think of it, even South Africa couldn’t afford to become South Africa: an international pariah regime. It was too democratic and too Western to bear such isolation indefinitely in the way that absolute dictatorships like Burma or North Korea can. The international embargo ultimately led to a crisis of confidence within Afrikaner leadership circles and to the negotiated end to the racist regime. Israel, I stress, is no South Africa: it is not an apartheid regime. It is in fact the most liberal and democratic regime in the region, offering Arabs more rights than they are offered in any of its immediate neighbors. And Israel is, mercifully, not yet subject to the kind of international opprobrium that South Africa (rightly) received. Unfortunately, it is heading in that direction.

Other CONTENTIONS bloggers have noted that liberal Gentiles long ago turned on Israel; now it’s the turn of liberal Jews. Israel already faces the most hostile administration in Washington in decades — perhaps ever. This is an ominous trend. Israel depends on trade and interaction with the rest of the world; its people are liberal and Western in their outlook — they need to feel a part of the “West.” That image is furthered when Israel joins the OECD, the club of advanced industrial countries, as it just did. But incidents such as the Gaza flotilla fight set Israel back and further the propaganda war being waged against it by its enemies. Israel cannot afford to provide its foes further ammunition.

That doesn’t mean it should refrain from legitimate acts of self-defense (such as killing Hamas big shots or retaliating for Hamas rocket strikes), but it should be ultra careful to manage public perceptions of its actions. Unfortunately, the Israeli Defense Forces have always shown more competence at tactical kinetic operations than at information operations. That deficiency was revealed during the 2006 war with Hezbollah and now more recently in the botched raid on the Gaza ships. Granted, Israel is getting better about managing the consequences of its actions; the IDF gets kudos for posting video of the raid online quickly and making some naval commandos available for interviews. But if Israel were strategically smarter, it would have avoided the raid altogether, with all the possibilities of something going wrong, and used more stealthy means to prevent the Hamas activists from reaching their objective. The IDF should be mindful of the French experience in Algeria and the American experience in Vietnam: it is possible to win every battle and still lose the war.

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Media Attack on Israel

Mainstream media coverage of the Gaza flotilla incident is predictably incomplete, misleading, and anti-Israel. If you peruse the news pages of the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal, you will learn that IHH is a “charity” but not read about its connections to terrorist groups. The usually reliable Journal would have us believe that with this incident, Turkey has turned on a dime — from friend to critic of the Jewish state. Perhaps the quite obvious tilt toward Islamism and the Davos war of words between Shimon Peres and Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan were early hints of Turkey’s disposition. And one has to read deep into the print stories to learn that Israeli commandos were set upon with metal poles and bats.

Mona Charen has a must-read reality check. It should be read in full, but just a sample confirms how distorted the mainstream media coverage is:

Fact: Upon learning of the intentions of the Gaza flotilla, the Israeli government asked the organizers to deliver their humanitarian aid first to an Israeli port where it would be inspected (for weapons) before being forwarded to Gaza. The organizers refused. “There are two possible happy endings,” a Muslim activist on board explained, “either we will reach Gaza or we will achieve martyrdom.” …

Fact: The flotilla’s participants included the IHH, a “humanitarian relief fund” based in Turkey that has close ties to Hamas and to global jihadi groups in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Chechnya, and elsewhere, and which has also organized relief to anti-U.S. Islamic radicals in Fallujah, Iraq. A French intelligence report suggests that IHH has provided documents to terrorists, permitting them to pose as relief workers. Among the other cheerleaders — former British MP and Saddam Hussein pal George Galloway, all-purpose America and Israel hater Noam Chomsky, and John Ging, head of UNRWA, the U.N.’s agency for Palestinian support.

Beyond the “news” reporting, the mainstream press has already decided that Israel acted excessively and will be responsible for an increase in tension in an already tense Middle East. The way to “fix” this is to give the Palestinians their state. The Washington Post editors pronounce:

As for Mr. Netanyahu, the only road to recovery from this disaster lies in embracing, once and for all, credible steps to create conditions for a Palestinian state.

Hmm. Haven’t the Israelis repeatedly offered the Palestinians their own state? And after all this was an incident concerning Gaza — do the editors expect Bibi to recognize a Hamas state? Well, let’s not get bogged down in facts.

The task of rebutting the lies and distortions is huge. Having been too meek on too many fronts for too long, it’s a good opportunity for American Jewry to step up to the plate and take on that task — and be prepared to also take on the administration should Obama be less than fulsome in his support of Israel’s right of self-defense.

Mainstream media coverage of the Gaza flotilla incident is predictably incomplete, misleading, and anti-Israel. If you peruse the news pages of the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal, you will learn that IHH is a “charity” but not read about its connections to terrorist groups. The usually reliable Journal would have us believe that with this incident, Turkey has turned on a dime — from friend to critic of the Jewish state. Perhaps the quite obvious tilt toward Islamism and the Davos war of words between Shimon Peres and Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan were early hints of Turkey’s disposition. And one has to read deep into the print stories to learn that Israeli commandos were set upon with metal poles and bats.

Mona Charen has a must-read reality check. It should be read in full, but just a sample confirms how distorted the mainstream media coverage is:

Fact: Upon learning of the intentions of the Gaza flotilla, the Israeli government asked the organizers to deliver their humanitarian aid first to an Israeli port where it would be inspected (for weapons) before being forwarded to Gaza. The organizers refused. “There are two possible happy endings,” a Muslim activist on board explained, “either we will reach Gaza or we will achieve martyrdom.” …

Fact: The flotilla’s participants included the IHH, a “humanitarian relief fund” based in Turkey that has close ties to Hamas and to global jihadi groups in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Chechnya, and elsewhere, and which has also organized relief to anti-U.S. Islamic radicals in Fallujah, Iraq. A French intelligence report suggests that IHH has provided documents to terrorists, permitting them to pose as relief workers. Among the other cheerleaders — former British MP and Saddam Hussein pal George Galloway, all-purpose America and Israel hater Noam Chomsky, and John Ging, head of UNRWA, the U.N.’s agency for Palestinian support.

Beyond the “news” reporting, the mainstream press has already decided that Israel acted excessively and will be responsible for an increase in tension in an already tense Middle East. The way to “fix” this is to give the Palestinians their state. The Washington Post editors pronounce:

As for Mr. Netanyahu, the only road to recovery from this disaster lies in embracing, once and for all, credible steps to create conditions for a Palestinian state.

Hmm. Haven’t the Israelis repeatedly offered the Palestinians their own state? And after all this was an incident concerning Gaza — do the editors expect Bibi to recognize a Hamas state? Well, let’s not get bogged down in facts.

The task of rebutting the lies and distortions is huge. Having been too meek on too many fronts for too long, it’s a good opportunity for American Jewry to step up to the plate and take on that task — and be prepared to also take on the administration should Obama be less than fulsome in his support of Israel’s right of self-defense.

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Poverty Doesn’t Create Crime? Who Knew?

Richard Cohen has discovered that liberal dogma is all wet. Well, at least the dogma that says crime is caused by poverty and other societal failings. He writes that crime is down despite a painful recession:

Whatever the reasons, it now seems fairly clear that something akin to culture and not economics is the root cause of crime. By and large everyday people do not go into a life of crime because they have been laid off or their home is worth less than their mortgage. They do something else, but whatever it is, it does not generally entail packing heat. Once this becomes an accepted truth, criminals will lose what status they still retain as victims. …

The Watts survey [following the 1965 riots] tended to support liberal dogma that criminals were like everyone else, only more desperate. Probably the ultimate example of this was cited to me years ago by a woman who had her necklace yanked from her while walking in Manhattan. When I commiserated with her, she said of the crook — I am not making this up — “he probably needed it more than I did.” This is liberal guilt at its apogee.

Cohen acknowledges that a great deal of social policy was based on a false premise: “It made victims of criminals and criminals of victims (all wealth comes from theft, etc.) — and in so doing, insulted the law-abiding poor who somehow lacked the wit to appreciate their historic plight.”

Well, better late than never. This revelation might suggest that liberals re-examine other premises that have proved dangerous. Perhaps they can take a look at “The government can create wealth” or “The rich need to pay more taxes.” The possibilities in foreign policy are endless. (Let’s start with, “The problem with our policy toward Iran, China, Syria, etc. is that we haven’t tried to engage them.”) Liberals consider their opponents to be dunderheads and anti-intellectuals. It must be a shock to find out that the dunderheads were right about so much.

Richard Cohen has discovered that liberal dogma is all wet. Well, at least the dogma that says crime is caused by poverty and other societal failings. He writes that crime is down despite a painful recession:

Whatever the reasons, it now seems fairly clear that something akin to culture and not economics is the root cause of crime. By and large everyday people do not go into a life of crime because they have been laid off or their home is worth less than their mortgage. They do something else, but whatever it is, it does not generally entail packing heat. Once this becomes an accepted truth, criminals will lose what status they still retain as victims. …

The Watts survey [following the 1965 riots] tended to support liberal dogma that criminals were like everyone else, only more desperate. Probably the ultimate example of this was cited to me years ago by a woman who had her necklace yanked from her while walking in Manhattan. When I commiserated with her, she said of the crook — I am not making this up — “he probably needed it more than I did.” This is liberal guilt at its apogee.

Cohen acknowledges that a great deal of social policy was based on a false premise: “It made victims of criminals and criminals of victims (all wealth comes from theft, etc.) — and in so doing, insulted the law-abiding poor who somehow lacked the wit to appreciate their historic plight.”

Well, better late than never. This revelation might suggest that liberals re-examine other premises that have proved dangerous. Perhaps they can take a look at “The government can create wealth” or “The rich need to pay more taxes.” The possibilities in foreign policy are endless. (Let’s start with, “The problem with our policy toward Iran, China, Syria, etc. is that we haven’t tried to engage them.”) Liberals consider their opponents to be dunderheads and anti-intellectuals. It must be a shock to find out that the dunderheads were right about so much.

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When Do They Tune Out?

There is a point in a presidency when the public simply has had enough and tunes out, unwilling to listen even when the president says sensible things or has a reasonable point to make in his own defense. For George W. Bush, it was Katrina. The question for Obama is how close to that point is he now, and will the next bad news week push him over the edge.

Toby Harnden writes:

Central to Obama’s appeal was his promise to be truly different. His failure to achieve that is now at the core of the deep disappointment Americans feel about him. At the press conference — the first full-scale affair he had deigned to give for 309 days — he appeared uncomfortable and petulant. … Obama engaged in the obligatory populist bashing of Big Oil and, of course, demonstrated the Obama administration’s version of Tourette’s Syndrome, blaming the previous administration for the situation when, by my reckoning, it’s a full 16 months since Bush left office.

So an oil spill that he had as much ability to prevent as George W. Bush did to stop Katrina from hitting shore has snared the president, who oversold himself and the power of government. But the Joe Sestak scandal may be worse. For one thing, it’s a White House–made mess, not a natural disaster. As Harden comments:

That was potentially illegal and for weeks the White House stonewalled. When, even more inconveniently, Sestak beat Specter, the trust-us-nothing-untoward-happened approach would no longer wash. But still Obama declined to answer the question on Thursday, fobbing the reporter — and America — off with the promise that “there will be an official response shortly on the Sestak issue.”

This did indeed come the following day — conveniently timed for that Friday afternoon news void before the Memorial Day holiday weekend. Lo and behold, it turns out that none other than former President Bill Clinton was asked by Obama’s chief of staff and Chicago enforcer Rahm Emanuel to offer Sestak a place on a presidential board.

Whether or not the law was broken, the cynicism of this is breathtaking. Obama offered a break from the Clinton-Bush past and an end to the shoddy backroom deals of Washington. So what does he do? He tries to deny Pennsylvania voters a chance to decide for themselves by using his former foe Clinton to offer a grubby inducement.

Obama has persistently ridiculed his opposition and shown contempt for and emotional distance from the voters. In a bind now — partly his fault, partly not — he encounters an opposition more than willing to turn the knife and a public that lacks much of an emotional connection with its president. In short, he’s infuriated and reinvigorated the opposition while frittering away his reserve of goodwill with the American people. Presidential credibility is a precious commodity, and Obama has little left. He is approaching the point — maybe he’s at it already — where the public disregards his utterances and begins to look around for a Congress to block his unpopular agenda and then a successor to, well, deliver “change.”

There is a point in a presidency when the public simply has had enough and tunes out, unwilling to listen even when the president says sensible things or has a reasonable point to make in his own defense. For George W. Bush, it was Katrina. The question for Obama is how close to that point is he now, and will the next bad news week push him over the edge.

Toby Harnden writes:

Central to Obama’s appeal was his promise to be truly different. His failure to achieve that is now at the core of the deep disappointment Americans feel about him. At the press conference — the first full-scale affair he had deigned to give for 309 days — he appeared uncomfortable and petulant. … Obama engaged in the obligatory populist bashing of Big Oil and, of course, demonstrated the Obama administration’s version of Tourette’s Syndrome, blaming the previous administration for the situation when, by my reckoning, it’s a full 16 months since Bush left office.

So an oil spill that he had as much ability to prevent as George W. Bush did to stop Katrina from hitting shore has snared the president, who oversold himself and the power of government. But the Joe Sestak scandal may be worse. For one thing, it’s a White House–made mess, not a natural disaster. As Harden comments:

That was potentially illegal and for weeks the White House stonewalled. When, even more inconveniently, Sestak beat Specter, the trust-us-nothing-untoward-happened approach would no longer wash. But still Obama declined to answer the question on Thursday, fobbing the reporter — and America — off with the promise that “there will be an official response shortly on the Sestak issue.”

This did indeed come the following day — conveniently timed for that Friday afternoon news void before the Memorial Day holiday weekend. Lo and behold, it turns out that none other than former President Bill Clinton was asked by Obama’s chief of staff and Chicago enforcer Rahm Emanuel to offer Sestak a place on a presidential board.

Whether or not the law was broken, the cynicism of this is breathtaking. Obama offered a break from the Clinton-Bush past and an end to the shoddy backroom deals of Washington. So what does he do? He tries to deny Pennsylvania voters a chance to decide for themselves by using his former foe Clinton to offer a grubby inducement.

Obama has persistently ridiculed his opposition and shown contempt for and emotional distance from the voters. In a bind now — partly his fault, partly not — he encounters an opposition more than willing to turn the knife and a public that lacks much of an emotional connection with its president. In short, he’s infuriated and reinvigorated the opposition while frittering away his reserve of goodwill with the American people. Presidential credibility is a precious commodity, and Obama has little left. He is approaching the point — maybe he’s at it already — where the public disregards his utterances and begins to look around for a Congress to block his unpopular agenda and then a successor to, well, deliver “change.”

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No Room for Human Rights

Jackson Diehl notices that in introducing the administration’s National Security Strategy, Obama omits one big item:

Nowhere in that long sentence, in the introduction to his new national security strategy, does Obama suggest that the international “engagement” he proposes should serve to combat tyranny or oppression, or promote democracy. In that sense, it is typical of the first comprehensive account Obama has offered of his administration’s goals in the world. In theory — as in the practice of his first year — human rights come second. …

The White House’s left-leaning “realists” — who seek to limit U.S. foreign engagements, shift resources to domestic programs and jettison the “freedom agenda” of George W. Bush — seem to have won all of the big arguments. Definitions of strategy throughout the report, from how to defeat al-Qaeda to resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to dealing with North Korea and Iran, exclude any mention of democracy or human rights.

As Diehl observes, there is no indication as to why the administration has taken this tact. There are several explanations.

Obama and his advisers may believe that this is the path of least resistance with despots and thugs. He hopes by not bringing up subjects disagreeable to them — the murder, imprisonment, brutalization, and oppression of their citizens — he will induce their cooperation. But there is now, after a year and a half, overwhelming evidence that this is not so, and indeed the thugs’ aggression and brutality increases in proportion to our quietude and attempts at appeasement. Iran, Syria, China, Burma, Egypt, Russia, and Sudan have all become more brazen, not less so. If this was the intention, what explains the fixation with a losing policy?

There are at least two explanations for that. First, as Obama has repeatedly demonstrated, he perceives America as deeply flawed and responsible for many of the world’s ills. Who are we, then, to promote and insist upon other nations’ adhering to a basic standard of decency and respect for their citizens? Then there is Obama’s infatuation with the international community, multilateralism, and consensus (which one presumes is to take the place of American power). Since most of these bodies are populated by human rights abusers, one isn’t going to fit into the “club” and gain their approval if one insists on pointing out their most disagreeable aspects.

Pundits can weigh these explanations and combinations of them to explain Obama’s approach to the world. But at some level, the why matters less than the result. We have signaled to despots that they have a free pass, demoralized activists and democracy protesters, betrayed friends, and weakened our own standing as the leader of free and democratic nations. When electing a president with zero experience in foreign policy, the country risks that it will elect someone with poor judgment or a flawed worldview or faulty executive skills. In Obama we have all three.

Jackson Diehl notices that in introducing the administration’s National Security Strategy, Obama omits one big item:

Nowhere in that long sentence, in the introduction to his new national security strategy, does Obama suggest that the international “engagement” he proposes should serve to combat tyranny or oppression, or promote democracy. In that sense, it is typical of the first comprehensive account Obama has offered of his administration’s goals in the world. In theory — as in the practice of his first year — human rights come second. …

The White House’s left-leaning “realists” — who seek to limit U.S. foreign engagements, shift resources to domestic programs and jettison the “freedom agenda” of George W. Bush — seem to have won all of the big arguments. Definitions of strategy throughout the report, from how to defeat al-Qaeda to resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to dealing with North Korea and Iran, exclude any mention of democracy or human rights.

As Diehl observes, there is no indication as to why the administration has taken this tact. There are several explanations.

Obama and his advisers may believe that this is the path of least resistance with despots and thugs. He hopes by not bringing up subjects disagreeable to them — the murder, imprisonment, brutalization, and oppression of their citizens — he will induce their cooperation. But there is now, after a year and a half, overwhelming evidence that this is not so, and indeed the thugs’ aggression and brutality increases in proportion to our quietude and attempts at appeasement. Iran, Syria, China, Burma, Egypt, Russia, and Sudan have all become more brazen, not less so. If this was the intention, what explains the fixation with a losing policy?

There are at least two explanations for that. First, as Obama has repeatedly demonstrated, he perceives America as deeply flawed and responsible for many of the world’s ills. Who are we, then, to promote and insist upon other nations’ adhering to a basic standard of decency and respect for their citizens? Then there is Obama’s infatuation with the international community, multilateralism, and consensus (which one presumes is to take the place of American power). Since most of these bodies are populated by human rights abusers, one isn’t going to fit into the “club” and gain their approval if one insists on pointing out their most disagreeable aspects.

Pundits can weigh these explanations and combinations of them to explain Obama’s approach to the world. But at some level, the why matters less than the result. We have signaled to despots that they have a free pass, demoralized activists and democracy protesters, betrayed friends, and weakened our own standing as the leader of free and democratic nations. When electing a president with zero experience in foreign policy, the country risks that it will elect someone with poor judgment or a flawed worldview or faulty executive skills. In Obama we have all three.

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Israel Can’t Afford Unforced Errors

Shmuel Rosner at the Jerusalem Post aptly identifies two things on which the “vast majority of Israelis” would probably agree: first, “letting the flotilla into Gaza was not an option,” because ending the naval blockade would allow Hamas to import huge quantities of arms that, as recent history proves, would be used against Israeli civilians. And second, “letting peace activists stab Israeli soldiers with knives and hammer them and axe them was also not an option”: in a life-threatening situation, soldiers are supposed to defend themselves, not let themselves be killed. These two points are the heart of the matter, and CONTENTIONS contributors rightly focused on them yesterday.

Nevertheless, I can’t agree with Jonathan that given the circumstances, “the question of whether Israel’s forces might have been better prepared” is “insignificant.” Israel knows that much of the world will seize on any pretext to condemn it, justified or not; it also knows there will be many times when it cannot avoid providing such pretexts: for instance, it couldn’t let its citizens suffer daily rocket fire from Gaza forever, even knowing that last year’s successful military action against Hamas would spark widespread denunciations. Therefore, it must take extra care to avoid providing unnecessary pretexts for condemnation. And in this case, it failed to take even minimal precautions.

For instance, the radical nature of IHH, the Turkish group that organized the flotilla, was well known. J.E. Dyer detailed it for CONTENTIONS readers yesterday; similar information is available from Israel’s Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center. The center was founded by retired members of Israel’s intelligence community and cooperates closely with this community; anything it knows would also have been known to the Israel Defense Forces — or at least should have been.

But given that the flotilla was organized by a group with links to al-Qaeda and other “jihadist terrorist networks in Bosnia, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Chechnya” — a group that actively provided “logistical support and funding” to such networks and kept weapons, explosives, and instructions for making improvised explosive devices in its Istanbul offices — how could the IDF possibly have “planned on dealing with peace activists, not a battle,” as one senior naval officer said afterward? Al-Qaeda affiliates are not generally known for peaceful demonstrations.

For that matter, neither are some of the left-wing activists Israel attracts — as nobody knows better than the IDF: it confronts them weekly at demonstrations against the security fence in Bili’in. Though Palestinian shills term these protests “nonviolent,” they are anything but: masked men routinely use slingshots to hurl stones at Israeli troops and have wounded many; one Israeli policeman was permanently blinded when a hurled stone took out his eye. The IDF would never send a lone soldier into the mob at Bili’in. So why send soldiers to rappel one by one into the mob aboard the Marmara, making them easy pickings?

This is the kind of unforced error Israel cannot afford to make. It may be unfair that Israel can’t afford mistakes that other countries make with impunity, but it’s reality. And Israel must start learning to deal with it.

Shmuel Rosner at the Jerusalem Post aptly identifies two things on which the “vast majority of Israelis” would probably agree: first, “letting the flotilla into Gaza was not an option,” because ending the naval blockade would allow Hamas to import huge quantities of arms that, as recent history proves, would be used against Israeli civilians. And second, “letting peace activists stab Israeli soldiers with knives and hammer them and axe them was also not an option”: in a life-threatening situation, soldiers are supposed to defend themselves, not let themselves be killed. These two points are the heart of the matter, and CONTENTIONS contributors rightly focused on them yesterday.

Nevertheless, I can’t agree with Jonathan that given the circumstances, “the question of whether Israel’s forces might have been better prepared” is “insignificant.” Israel knows that much of the world will seize on any pretext to condemn it, justified or not; it also knows there will be many times when it cannot avoid providing such pretexts: for instance, it couldn’t let its citizens suffer daily rocket fire from Gaza forever, even knowing that last year’s successful military action against Hamas would spark widespread denunciations. Therefore, it must take extra care to avoid providing unnecessary pretexts for condemnation. And in this case, it failed to take even minimal precautions.

For instance, the radical nature of IHH, the Turkish group that organized the flotilla, was well known. J.E. Dyer detailed it for CONTENTIONS readers yesterday; similar information is available from Israel’s Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center. The center was founded by retired members of Israel’s intelligence community and cooperates closely with this community; anything it knows would also have been known to the Israel Defense Forces — or at least should have been.

But given that the flotilla was organized by a group with links to al-Qaeda and other “jihadist terrorist networks in Bosnia, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Chechnya” — a group that actively provided “logistical support and funding” to such networks and kept weapons, explosives, and instructions for making improvised explosive devices in its Istanbul offices — how could the IDF possibly have “planned on dealing with peace activists, not a battle,” as one senior naval officer said afterward? Al-Qaeda affiliates are not generally known for peaceful demonstrations.

For that matter, neither are some of the left-wing activists Israel attracts — as nobody knows better than the IDF: it confronts them weekly at demonstrations against the security fence in Bili’in. Though Palestinian shills term these protests “nonviolent,” they are anything but: masked men routinely use slingshots to hurl stones at Israeli troops and have wounded many; one Israeli policeman was permanently blinded when a hurled stone took out his eye. The IDF would never send a lone soldier into the mob at Bili’in. So why send soldiers to rappel one by one into the mob aboard the Marmara, making them easy pickings?

This is the kind of unforced error Israel cannot afford to make. It may be unfair that Israel can’t afford mistakes that other countries make with impunity, but it’s reality. And Israel must start learning to deal with it.

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Does Israel Have a Right to Defend Itself?

The flotilla interdiction raises the same issue as Israel’s original response to Hamas’s rocket attacks into Israel. The fundamental question that Richard Goldstone, the UN, the J Street crowd, and the chorus of international critics have answered in the negative is whether Israel has the right to defend itself and its territory against threats to its citizens. In both cases, Israel attempted to use proportionate force and to avoid casualties.

In Gaza, extensive measures were undertaken to avoid killing innocents, behind whom Hamas hid. And in the flotilla, as others have noted, “the Israeli navy first sought to warn the ships off verbally, then sent in commandos armed with paintball guns, according to Israeli media reports. It was only after the humanitarians aboard the ship assaulted the commandos with clubs and knives that the Israelis used live fire.” When the Israeli commandos were set upon as they were lowered from a helicopter, they acted to defend themselves.

The rule set for Israel, which applies to no other nation in the world, is an intentionally impossible one to meet: the Jewish state can only defend itself without harming terrorists, who abide by no laws of war and exercise no concern for Israeli casualties. Words are twisted: Israel is transformed into  “the aggressor” in each instance, and the “peace” forces — in this case, populated by Turkish IHH forces with ties to Hamas and other terror groups — are those that attacks Israelis.

This is a critical moment for Israel, for its supporters, for American Jewry, and for Obama. Who will defend Israel’s right to defend itself, and who will fall in with the venomous critics who will be satisfied only when Israel is a defenseless shell of its former self? We will see once again who is pro-Israel — and willing to defy partisan loyalty if need be — and who is so in name only.

The flotilla interdiction raises the same issue as Israel’s original response to Hamas’s rocket attacks into Israel. The fundamental question that Richard Goldstone, the UN, the J Street crowd, and the chorus of international critics have answered in the negative is whether Israel has the right to defend itself and its territory against threats to its citizens. In both cases, Israel attempted to use proportionate force and to avoid casualties.

In Gaza, extensive measures were undertaken to avoid killing innocents, behind whom Hamas hid. And in the flotilla, as others have noted, “the Israeli navy first sought to warn the ships off verbally, then sent in commandos armed with paintball guns, according to Israeli media reports. It was only after the humanitarians aboard the ship assaulted the commandos with clubs and knives that the Israelis used live fire.” When the Israeli commandos were set upon as they were lowered from a helicopter, they acted to defend themselves.

The rule set for Israel, which applies to no other nation in the world, is an intentionally impossible one to meet: the Jewish state can only defend itself without harming terrorists, who abide by no laws of war and exercise no concern for Israeli casualties. Words are twisted: Israel is transformed into  “the aggressor” in each instance, and the “peace” forces — in this case, populated by Turkish IHH forces with ties to Hamas and other terror groups — are those that attacks Israelis.

This is a critical moment for Israel, for its supporters, for American Jewry, and for Obama. Who will defend Israel’s right to defend itself, and who will fall in with the venomous critics who will be satisfied only when Israel is a defenseless shell of its former self? We will see once again who is pro-Israel — and willing to defy partisan loyalty if need be — and who is so in name only.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

When the New York Times and Colin Powell start taking potshots at Obama’s handling of the BP spill, you know things are dismal for the White House.

When the Obama team at least wants to get all the facts before speaking out on the flotilla incident, that’s a mild improvement. Unfortunately, he expresses no “deep regret” that Israeli soldiers were attacked. And of course, Israel’s enemies and supposed European friends are not so circumspect in condemning Israel.

When will the Obama team speak up about this? “Ten thousand Turks marched in protest from the Israeli consulate to a main square on Monday afternoon, chanting, ‘Murderous Israel you will drown in the blood you shed!’ The protesters had earlier tried to storm the consulate building but were blocked by police. Earlier on Monday, Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan condemned the seizure of the Gaza flotilla ship, Mavi Marmara, as ‘state terrorism,’ saying that Israel had violated international law and shown that it does not want peace in the region. The Mavi Marmara was flying a Turkish flag and most of the activists injured on board were Turkish members of the Islamic NGO IHH, which Israeli officials have said is linked to terrorist organizations.”

When the BBC runs amok and the world is at Israel’s throat, Melanie Phillips explains what’s afoot: “And now we can see that the real purpose of this invasion — backed by the Turkish Humanitarian Relief Foundation (IHH), a radical Islamic organization outlawed by Israel in 2008 for allegedly serving as a major component in Hamas’s global fund-raising machine — was to incite a violent uprising in the Middle East and across the Islamic world. As I write, reports are coming in of Arab rioting in Jerusalem. The notion — uncritically swallowed by the lazy, ignorant and bigoted BBC and other western media — that the flotilla organisers are ‘peace activists’ is simply ludicrous.”

When the world is at Israel’s throat and its soldiers are attacked, Jeffrey Goldberg wrings his hands.

When Ron Paul sends out a fundraising plea for Rand, it doesn’t help the son shake the rap that he is as politically extreme as his father.

When the Obama team is saying the worst is behind us, “Sixty-eight percent (68%) believe the U.S. economy is in a recession.”

When we are approaching the one-year anniversary of  Obama’s noxious Cairo speech, Michael Rubin writes: “As we near the first anniversary of President Obama’s Cairo speech, the Middle East is heading to hell in a handbag. The core of the Obama doctrine is that ‘if we say what our enemies want to hear and if they like us, then our strategic objectives will naturally fall in line. ‘This of course is naïve in the extreme, but it has been at the core of the Obama administration’s foreign policy for the past year. … If Obama decides it is in America’s interest to make an example of Israel after the Gaza flotilla incident in order to win goodwill in Cairo, Beirut, Tehran, and Ankara, then he must also recognize that the leadership in Jerusalem is going to conclude that it cannot trust the United States to safeguard its security, and that therefore it must take matters into its own hands on any number of issues, not the least of which is Iran’s nuclear program.”

When the New York Times and Colin Powell start taking potshots at Obama’s handling of the BP spill, you know things are dismal for the White House.

When the Obama team at least wants to get all the facts before speaking out on the flotilla incident, that’s a mild improvement. Unfortunately, he expresses no “deep regret” that Israeli soldiers were attacked. And of course, Israel’s enemies and supposed European friends are not so circumspect in condemning Israel.

When will the Obama team speak up about this? “Ten thousand Turks marched in protest from the Israeli consulate to a main square on Monday afternoon, chanting, ‘Murderous Israel you will drown in the blood you shed!’ The protesters had earlier tried to storm the consulate building but were blocked by police. Earlier on Monday, Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan condemned the seizure of the Gaza flotilla ship, Mavi Marmara, as ‘state terrorism,’ saying that Israel had violated international law and shown that it does not want peace in the region. The Mavi Marmara was flying a Turkish flag and most of the activists injured on board were Turkish members of the Islamic NGO IHH, which Israeli officials have said is linked to terrorist organizations.”

When the BBC runs amok and the world is at Israel’s throat, Melanie Phillips explains what’s afoot: “And now we can see that the real purpose of this invasion — backed by the Turkish Humanitarian Relief Foundation (IHH), a radical Islamic organization outlawed by Israel in 2008 for allegedly serving as a major component in Hamas’s global fund-raising machine — was to incite a violent uprising in the Middle East and across the Islamic world. As I write, reports are coming in of Arab rioting in Jerusalem. The notion — uncritically swallowed by the lazy, ignorant and bigoted BBC and other western media — that the flotilla organisers are ‘peace activists’ is simply ludicrous.”

When the world is at Israel’s throat and its soldiers are attacked, Jeffrey Goldberg wrings his hands.

When Ron Paul sends out a fundraising plea for Rand, it doesn’t help the son shake the rap that he is as politically extreme as his father.

When the Obama team is saying the worst is behind us, “Sixty-eight percent (68%) believe the U.S. economy is in a recession.”

When we are approaching the one-year anniversary of  Obama’s noxious Cairo speech, Michael Rubin writes: “As we near the first anniversary of President Obama’s Cairo speech, the Middle East is heading to hell in a handbag. The core of the Obama doctrine is that ‘if we say what our enemies want to hear and if they like us, then our strategic objectives will naturally fall in line. ‘This of course is naïve in the extreme, but it has been at the core of the Obama administration’s foreign policy for the past year. … If Obama decides it is in America’s interest to make an example of Israel after the Gaza flotilla incident in order to win goodwill in Cairo, Beirut, Tehran, and Ankara, then he must also recognize that the leadership in Jerusalem is going to conclude that it cannot trust the United States to safeguard its security, and that therefore it must take matters into its own hands on any number of issues, not the least of which is Iran’s nuclear program.”

Read Less




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