Commentary Magazine


Posts For: June 14, 2010

Honorary Sovereignty and International De-recognition

In his recent piece in the New York Times, “To Save Africa, Reject Its Nations,” Pierre Englebert, professor of African politics at Pomona College, advances an important — fundamental, even — idea: i.e., that sovereignty, understood as a privilege accorded to a state by virtue of international recognition, is based on the satisfactory performance by that state of certain basic duties.

First among those duties is respecting and reflecting the will of the governed.  Thus, precisely because sovereignty belongs ultimately to the people, it cannot be separated from the sovereignty that pertains to the state in the international system.  If the first is not respected, the second should not exist.

Prof. Engelbert believes this is a “radical” idea, though he means that in an approving sense. But it is not radical at all. It is an old-fashioned idea, and I mean that in an approving sense. The classical literature on sovereignty teems with requirements that an entity must fulfill if it is to be described as a state and therefore accorded the privilege of sovereignty. It must control its territory. Its armed forces must obey the laws of war and be under a recognized chain of command. It must not allow its subjects to engage in freelance violence against other states. It must have a regular system of justice. By the late 19th century, it could not practice slavery. And, by the 20th century, it had to allow its citizens — the shift from ‘subject’ to ‘citizen’ is vital — some voice in shaping their own government.

If there is anything radical in Prof. Engelbert’s thought, it is that we should seek again to apply these classical standards in a world that, for most of the past hundred years, has paid them progressively little mind. The descent has been slow but steady — first, the admission of the USSR into the ranks of the recognized states, then the reluctance to kick Imperial Japan, Fascist Italy, and Nazi Germany out of those ranks, and then, finally, the step that most worries Prof. Engelbert: the fact that during decolonization, the “gift of sovereignty was granted from outside rather than earned from within.” I describe this as ‘honorary sovereignty’: sovereignty that is given but is not merited.

What really pleases me is that Prof. Engelbert goes on to draw the logical conclusion from this concept: the advance of honorary sovereignty has been bad for the peoples of the world (especially those who are victimized by the resulting mis-governance), and that one remedy is “international de-recognition” of abusive states. I would add something that Prof. Engelbert does not: since today’s international institutions are premised on the idea of universal membership (a premise entirely contradicted by their claim that they stand for certain non-negotiable freedoms), a world of de-recognition must also be a world with new international institutions, ones that have distinct standards for membership. But Prof. Engelbert is right to begin mapping out, even in the context of the existing institutions, what de-recognition might mean. The logic is simple: If sovereignty gives privileges to a state, then the failure to live up to the requirements of sovereignty means that those privileges should disappear.

For my part — and I believe for Prof. Engelbert — those requirements are relatively limited. Setting the bar too high would delegitimize virtually every existing state, which would be nonsensical. As Prof. Engelbert puts it, the standard is “a minimum of safety and basic rights.” In other words, a return to the traditional requirements of sovereignty, supplemented by the most vital modern addition: the voice of the people must be heard and respected. Of course, while the existence of honorary sovereignty is most glaringly obvious in Africa, it is not limited to that continent. And as Prof. Engelbert’s example of Taiwan suggests, we need to concern ourselves not just with kicking the non-sovereign states out: we also need to let the genuinely sovereign states in.

At bottom, what Prof. Engelbert rejects is the belief that a legitimate state can exist apart from its people. That confusion is illustrated by the headline writer for the Times, who – predictably — got it just about exactly wrong. We do not need to reject the nations of Africa (or others that fail to live up to those basic standards): we need to reject their states. Bravo to Prof. Engelbert for making the case.

In his recent piece in the New York Times, “To Save Africa, Reject Its Nations,” Pierre Englebert, professor of African politics at Pomona College, advances an important — fundamental, even — idea: i.e., that sovereignty, understood as a privilege accorded to a state by virtue of international recognition, is based on the satisfactory performance by that state of certain basic duties.

First among those duties is respecting and reflecting the will of the governed.  Thus, precisely because sovereignty belongs ultimately to the people, it cannot be separated from the sovereignty that pertains to the state in the international system.  If the first is not respected, the second should not exist.

Prof. Engelbert believes this is a “radical” idea, though he means that in an approving sense. But it is not radical at all. It is an old-fashioned idea, and I mean that in an approving sense. The classical literature on sovereignty teems with requirements that an entity must fulfill if it is to be described as a state and therefore accorded the privilege of sovereignty. It must control its territory. Its armed forces must obey the laws of war and be under a recognized chain of command. It must not allow its subjects to engage in freelance violence against other states. It must have a regular system of justice. By the late 19th century, it could not practice slavery. And, by the 20th century, it had to allow its citizens — the shift from ‘subject’ to ‘citizen’ is vital — some voice in shaping their own government.

If there is anything radical in Prof. Engelbert’s thought, it is that we should seek again to apply these classical standards in a world that, for most of the past hundred years, has paid them progressively little mind. The descent has been slow but steady — first, the admission of the USSR into the ranks of the recognized states, then the reluctance to kick Imperial Japan, Fascist Italy, and Nazi Germany out of those ranks, and then, finally, the step that most worries Prof. Engelbert: the fact that during decolonization, the “gift of sovereignty was granted from outside rather than earned from within.” I describe this as ‘honorary sovereignty’: sovereignty that is given but is not merited.

What really pleases me is that Prof. Engelbert goes on to draw the logical conclusion from this concept: the advance of honorary sovereignty has been bad for the peoples of the world (especially those who are victimized by the resulting mis-governance), and that one remedy is “international de-recognition” of abusive states. I would add something that Prof. Engelbert does not: since today’s international institutions are premised on the idea of universal membership (a premise entirely contradicted by their claim that they stand for certain non-negotiable freedoms), a world of de-recognition must also be a world with new international institutions, ones that have distinct standards for membership. But Prof. Engelbert is right to begin mapping out, even in the context of the existing institutions, what de-recognition might mean. The logic is simple: If sovereignty gives privileges to a state, then the failure to live up to the requirements of sovereignty means that those privileges should disappear.

For my part — and I believe for Prof. Engelbert — those requirements are relatively limited. Setting the bar too high would delegitimize virtually every existing state, which would be nonsensical. As Prof. Engelbert puts it, the standard is “a minimum of safety and basic rights.” In other words, a return to the traditional requirements of sovereignty, supplemented by the most vital modern addition: the voice of the people must be heard and respected. Of course, while the existence of honorary sovereignty is most glaringly obvious in Africa, it is not limited to that continent. And as Prof. Engelbert’s example of Taiwan suggests, we need to concern ourselves not just with kicking the non-sovereign states out: we also need to let the genuinely sovereign states in.

At bottom, what Prof. Engelbert rejects is the belief that a legitimate state can exist apart from its people. That confusion is illustrated by the headline writer for the Times, who – predictably — got it just about exactly wrong. We do not need to reject the nations of Africa (or others that fail to live up to those basic standards): we need to reject their states. Bravo to Prof. Engelbert for making the case.

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Flotilla Thriller

This summer promises events that will thoroughly eclipse the diplomatic flurry over the recent Gaza flotilla. What few would have expected is the maritime character of the drama to which we have to look forward. And in a manner reminiscent of some seemingly minor operational decisions during the Cold War, Obama’s response to the challenge will be the most important security signal sent by his administration to date.

The distant drumbeat of the impending climax has been sounding for some time; Iran and Hezbollah have repeatedly threatened shipping in, respectively, the Strait of Hormuz and the waters off Lebanon and Israel, near the northern approach to the Suez Canal. Hezbollah’s most recent threat was issued in May, shortly before the deadly flotilla incident. Both Iran and Hezbollah are actively preparing to make good on their threats. This is not a theoretical menace. A complacent dismissal of their activities would be very dangerous.

Moreover, they are about to get help from — and take direct advantage of — the chaotic maritime situation brewing with the follow-on flotillas now in planning. Avram Rimon at Examiner.com had a good summary of them this weekend: they include a Gaza flotilla sponsored by German Jews; a counter-flotilla of Israelis hoping to bring aid to Cyprus, the Turkish Kurds, and Armenia (the latter under a Turkish blockade for more than 16 years); the Turkish flotilla for which Tayyip Erdogan has promised his own presence and a naval escort; and the flotilla being mounted by Iran, which is scheduled to leave Iran for Gaza on June 18.

The U.S. can do one of two things about these proliferating flotillas. We can organize NATO overtly to monitor and control eruptions in the Eastern Mediterranean, or we can simply leave it all for Israel to handle. Doing the latter will guarantee the early involvement of Hezbollah and Hamas in enlarging the scope of this maritime challenge. A hands-off approach by the Western nations makes it more likely that the terrorists, along with Iran and Turkey, will seek to precipitate crises — which may involve innocent commercial shipping — and press situational advantages. On the other hand, a declaration that the U.S. and NATO will prevent destabilizing eruptions, accompanied by obvious readiness to impose order if necessary, would be a salutary and effective signal. None of this need be done in a bellicose manner: quiet but unyielding is the appropriate demeanor.

Turkey’s involvement in the recent flotilla should already have resulted in a moment of reckoning with its NATO allies, if only behind closed doors. The West’s lackadaisical approach to its core alliance is on borrowed time. If the impending parade of flotillas produces only disorganized posturing from NATO, while allowing Israel’s enemies to create havoc at sea and score propaganda points against Israel, the next challenge is likely to emerge almost automatically in the Persian Gulf. Iran has threatened to begin stopping ships in the Strait of Hormuz if the inspection clause of the June 9 UN sanctions is actually applied against Iran-bound cargo. Tehran’s willingness to carry through on this will depend on the U.S. posture, which governs what the Iranians think they can get away with.

A strong stance in the Eastern Mediterranean is the lowest-cost, highest-payoff method of deterring Iran from the outset. Maintaining stability at sea and control of the world’s key chokepoints is an American naval task so basic we rarely think about it, but the impact from breaches of that order is immediate and far-reaching. Doing nothing is courting crisis; we should be working to head this one off at the pass. That approach would be far less costly than reacting to a series of crises.

This summer promises events that will thoroughly eclipse the diplomatic flurry over the recent Gaza flotilla. What few would have expected is the maritime character of the drama to which we have to look forward. And in a manner reminiscent of some seemingly minor operational decisions during the Cold War, Obama’s response to the challenge will be the most important security signal sent by his administration to date.

The distant drumbeat of the impending climax has been sounding for some time; Iran and Hezbollah have repeatedly threatened shipping in, respectively, the Strait of Hormuz and the waters off Lebanon and Israel, near the northern approach to the Suez Canal. Hezbollah’s most recent threat was issued in May, shortly before the deadly flotilla incident. Both Iran and Hezbollah are actively preparing to make good on their threats. This is not a theoretical menace. A complacent dismissal of their activities would be very dangerous.

Moreover, they are about to get help from — and take direct advantage of — the chaotic maritime situation brewing with the follow-on flotillas now in planning. Avram Rimon at Examiner.com had a good summary of them this weekend: they include a Gaza flotilla sponsored by German Jews; a counter-flotilla of Israelis hoping to bring aid to Cyprus, the Turkish Kurds, and Armenia (the latter under a Turkish blockade for more than 16 years); the Turkish flotilla for which Tayyip Erdogan has promised his own presence and a naval escort; and the flotilla being mounted by Iran, which is scheduled to leave Iran for Gaza on June 18.

The U.S. can do one of two things about these proliferating flotillas. We can organize NATO overtly to monitor and control eruptions in the Eastern Mediterranean, or we can simply leave it all for Israel to handle. Doing the latter will guarantee the early involvement of Hezbollah and Hamas in enlarging the scope of this maritime challenge. A hands-off approach by the Western nations makes it more likely that the terrorists, along with Iran and Turkey, will seek to precipitate crises — which may involve innocent commercial shipping — and press situational advantages. On the other hand, a declaration that the U.S. and NATO will prevent destabilizing eruptions, accompanied by obvious readiness to impose order if necessary, would be a salutary and effective signal. None of this need be done in a bellicose manner: quiet but unyielding is the appropriate demeanor.

Turkey’s involvement in the recent flotilla should already have resulted in a moment of reckoning with its NATO allies, if only behind closed doors. The West’s lackadaisical approach to its core alliance is on borrowed time. If the impending parade of flotillas produces only disorganized posturing from NATO, while allowing Israel’s enemies to create havoc at sea and score propaganda points against Israel, the next challenge is likely to emerge almost automatically in the Persian Gulf. Iran has threatened to begin stopping ships in the Strait of Hormuz if the inspection clause of the June 9 UN sanctions is actually applied against Iran-bound cargo. Tehran’s willingness to carry through on this will depend on the U.S. posture, which governs what the Iranians think they can get away with.

A strong stance in the Eastern Mediterranean is the lowest-cost, highest-payoff method of deterring Iran from the outset. Maintaining stability at sea and control of the world’s key chokepoints is an American naval task so basic we rarely think about it, but the impact from breaches of that order is immediate and far-reaching. Doing nothing is courting crisis; we should be working to head this one off at the pass. That approach would be far less costly than reacting to a series of crises.

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Calling ‘Em Like You See ‘Em on the Middle East

James Lindsay of the Council on Foreign Relations writes of the UN sanctions against Iran:

These are not the crippling sanctions that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had promised about a year ago. To the contrary. As the price of their support, veto-holding members China and Russia insisted that the resolution contain nothing that would impose broad costs on the Iranian economy — or damage Chinese and Russian commercial interests in the country.

The Obama administration calculates that even a watered-down resolution will put pressure on Tehran to return to the negotiating table. The resolution shows that the Security Council’s permanent members remain united in their demand that Iran come clean on its nuclear program, makes it harder for Iran to acquire nuclear technology, and opens the door to additional sanctions by the European Union and others.

Tehran will likely read the resolution’s passage differently. The weaker-than-threatened sanctions came only after months of haggling, making the prospect of tougher sanctions down the road look remote. Moreover, Brazil and Turkey voted against new sanctions (and Lebanon abstained). No country had voted against any of the three previous resolutions.

So if a mainstream foreign-policy guru can readily reach this conclusion, why aren’t Jewish groups sounding the alarm? It’s because they have bought into a strategy — or rather refuse to give up on a strategy — which amounts to “don’t annoy those in power.” That works fine when those in power have pro-Israel instincts and a basic understanding of the history and motivations of the players in the Middle East. However, with this administration, it is counterproductive — if not disastrous — both for the course of American foreign policy and for the reputation and integrity of pro-Israel groups. The inevitable result is to ignore bad news, cheer the unacceptable, and provide cover for an administration badly in need of scrutiny.

In sum, if the CFR refuses to make excuses for the administration, why should American Jewish groups? The former is rightly concerned with maintaining its intellectual credibility; the latter should start being so.

James Lindsay of the Council on Foreign Relations writes of the UN sanctions against Iran:

These are not the crippling sanctions that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had promised about a year ago. To the contrary. As the price of their support, veto-holding members China and Russia insisted that the resolution contain nothing that would impose broad costs on the Iranian economy — or damage Chinese and Russian commercial interests in the country.

The Obama administration calculates that even a watered-down resolution will put pressure on Tehran to return to the negotiating table. The resolution shows that the Security Council’s permanent members remain united in their demand that Iran come clean on its nuclear program, makes it harder for Iran to acquire nuclear technology, and opens the door to additional sanctions by the European Union and others.

Tehran will likely read the resolution’s passage differently. The weaker-than-threatened sanctions came only after months of haggling, making the prospect of tougher sanctions down the road look remote. Moreover, Brazil and Turkey voted against new sanctions (and Lebanon abstained). No country had voted against any of the three previous resolutions.

So if a mainstream foreign-policy guru can readily reach this conclusion, why aren’t Jewish groups sounding the alarm? It’s because they have bought into a strategy — or rather refuse to give up on a strategy — which amounts to “don’t annoy those in power.” That works fine when those in power have pro-Israel instincts and a basic understanding of the history and motivations of the players in the Middle East. However, with this administration, it is counterproductive — if not disastrous — both for the course of American foreign policy and for the reputation and integrity of pro-Israel groups. The inevitable result is to ignore bad news, cheer the unacceptable, and provide cover for an administration badly in need of scrutiny.

In sum, if the CFR refuses to make excuses for the administration, why should American Jewish groups? The former is rightly concerned with maintaining its intellectual credibility; the latter should start being so.

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Obama Only Encourages EU to Blast Israel

Obama refused to rule out an international inquest into the flotilla incident. So the EU, of course, can’t be any more supportive of Israel than Obama, and indeed announces that it shares Hamas’s position: lift the Gaza Blockade. This report explains:

The European Union on Monday called for “credible international participation” in an investigation of the Israel Navy’s deadly raid of a Gaza-bound aid flotilla earlier this month, and urged Israel to lift its blockade on the coastal territory.The EU added that it regretted the loss of nine Turkish lives aboard the aid convoy on May 31 and condemned the use of violence during the clashes.

“The Council believes that an immediate, full and impartial inquiry into these events and the circumstances surrounding them is essential,” the European Foreign Affairs council said in a statement, hours after Israel revealed the members of its panel charged with probing the affair. “To command the confidence of the international community this should include credible international participation.”

In its statement, the EU issued its expected call on Israel to lift its blockade on the Gaza Strip, declaring: “The situation in Gaza remains unsustainable. The continued policy of closure is unacceptable and politically counterproductive. The EU calls for an urgent and fundamental change of policy leading to a durable solution to the situation in Gaza.”

Obama likes to mollify all sides — the international community, Israel, the EU, and American Jews. His equivocation only winds up annoying everyone, and — of course — leaving the Jewish state exposed to the whims of those who pine for its enfeeblement or destruction.

Obama refused to rule out an international inquest into the flotilla incident. So the EU, of course, can’t be any more supportive of Israel than Obama, and indeed announces that it shares Hamas’s position: lift the Gaza Blockade. This report explains:

The European Union on Monday called for “credible international participation” in an investigation of the Israel Navy’s deadly raid of a Gaza-bound aid flotilla earlier this month, and urged Israel to lift its blockade on the coastal territory.The EU added that it regretted the loss of nine Turkish lives aboard the aid convoy on May 31 and condemned the use of violence during the clashes.

“The Council believes that an immediate, full and impartial inquiry into these events and the circumstances surrounding them is essential,” the European Foreign Affairs council said in a statement, hours after Israel revealed the members of its panel charged with probing the affair. “To command the confidence of the international community this should include credible international participation.”

In its statement, the EU issued its expected call on Israel to lift its blockade on the Gaza Strip, declaring: “The situation in Gaza remains unsustainable. The continued policy of closure is unacceptable and politically counterproductive. The EU calls for an urgent and fundamental change of policy leading to a durable solution to the situation in Gaza.”

Obama likes to mollify all sides — the international community, Israel, the EU, and American Jews. His equivocation only winds up annoying everyone, and — of course — leaving the Jewish state exposed to the whims of those who pine for its enfeeblement or destruction.

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Homeland Security’s Solution to Terror: Deport Those Who Fought It

Anyone looking for an explanation of the Homeland Security Department’s multiple failures to prevent terrorist attacks on the American homeland might want to consider this one: because the department is too busy targeting a leading Israeli counter-terrorism agent.

On June 30, a California court will consider the department’s request for a deportation order against Mosab Yousef, on the grounds that he “provided material support” to a terrorist organization — namely, Hamas. Yousef was indeed a Hamas member — unsurprisingly, given that his father is the movement’s leader in the West Bank — and was even arrested by Israel for it. But while in jail, he was persuaded to become an Israeli agent.

For the following 10 years, from 1997-2007, he was Israel’s top agent inside Hamas. His former handler in Israel’s Shin Bet security service credits him with foiling dozens of suicide bombings and supplying intelligence that led to the arrest of many of those on Israel’s most-wanted list.

In 2007, he decided he’d had enough and moved to the U.S., where he sought asylum. He also went public with his conversion to Christianity some years earlier and began writing his memoir, Son of Hamas, which was published earlier this year.

Incredibly, it was on this book — in which he details his work in Israel’s behalf at great length — that the Homeland Security Department based its request for Yousef’s deportation. The request notes, for instance, that Yousef himself described numerous occasions on which chauffeured Hamas terrorists around.

Well, of course he did. It was precisely his proximity to Hamas’s centers of power — by serving as a chauffeur for his father and other leading Hamas members — that enabled him to obtain such valuable intelligence. Had he refused to have anything to do with Hamas, he would have kept his hands clean, but he also would have been useless as an agent.

This deportation request prompts many questions. One is why official Israel has not been raising a storm in its former agent’s behalf — though a fair answer would be that official Israel has zero pull with the current administration. Another is what kind of message this sends to American agents — many of whom must also dirty their hands to produce vital intelligence. Will they, too, face deportation on account of their former involvement in terrorist organizations, should they someday seek asylum in the U.S.?

But the best question of all is the one Yousef himself asked on his blog: “If Homeland Security cannot understand a simple situation like mine, how can they be trusted with bigger issues?”

Anyone looking for an explanation of the Homeland Security Department’s multiple failures to prevent terrorist attacks on the American homeland might want to consider this one: because the department is too busy targeting a leading Israeli counter-terrorism agent.

On June 30, a California court will consider the department’s request for a deportation order against Mosab Yousef, on the grounds that he “provided material support” to a terrorist organization — namely, Hamas. Yousef was indeed a Hamas member — unsurprisingly, given that his father is the movement’s leader in the West Bank — and was even arrested by Israel for it. But while in jail, he was persuaded to become an Israeli agent.

For the following 10 years, from 1997-2007, he was Israel’s top agent inside Hamas. His former handler in Israel’s Shin Bet security service credits him with foiling dozens of suicide bombings and supplying intelligence that led to the arrest of many of those on Israel’s most-wanted list.

In 2007, he decided he’d had enough and moved to the U.S., where he sought asylum. He also went public with his conversion to Christianity some years earlier and began writing his memoir, Son of Hamas, which was published earlier this year.

Incredibly, it was on this book — in which he details his work in Israel’s behalf at great length — that the Homeland Security Department based its request for Yousef’s deportation. The request notes, for instance, that Yousef himself described numerous occasions on which chauffeured Hamas terrorists around.

Well, of course he did. It was precisely his proximity to Hamas’s centers of power — by serving as a chauffeur for his father and other leading Hamas members — that enabled him to obtain such valuable intelligence. Had he refused to have anything to do with Hamas, he would have kept his hands clean, but he also would have been useless as an agent.

This deportation request prompts many questions. One is why official Israel has not been raising a storm in its former agent’s behalf — though a fair answer would be that official Israel has zero pull with the current administration. Another is what kind of message this sends to American agents — many of whom must also dirty their hands to produce vital intelligence. Will they, too, face deportation on account of their former involvement in terrorist organizations, should they someday seek asylum in the U.S.?

But the best question of all is the one Yousef himself asked on his blog: “If Homeland Security cannot understand a simple situation like mine, how can they be trusted with bigger issues?”

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Social Security in the Hole

Social Security is in the hole this year, five years ahead of when it was expected to develop a negative cash flow. As Michael Barone points out, Social Security in the first half of 2009 took in $366 billion and dispersed $334.3 billion. In the first six months of this year, it will be $346.9 in, $347.3 out.

If the economy recovers well from the recession, Social Security will go back into the black for a few years, but the coming wave of baby-boomer retirements will put it in the red permanently (under current law) by the middle of the coming decade.

That’s why the idea that the intra-governmental portion of the debt doesn’t matter is so pernicious. Vincent Fernando at Business Insider argues that:

The U.S. government’s net debt is not about to reach 100% of GDP. Hysteria about the U.S. debt/GDP ratio breaking 100% is due to a misconception regarding which figure to calculate Federal debt. You can’t count money the Federal government owed to itself . …

The national debt, as of June 10, is $8.5 trillion owed to the public and $4.7 trillion owed to branches of the federal government. Fernando argues that the intra-governmental debt doesn’t count because, while a debit at the Treasury, it is an asset at the Social Security Administration and elsewhere within the government and therefore nets out to zero, as does a debt owed by a subsidiary of a corporation to the parent company.

This is nonsense. The negative cash flow this year will be financed by the Social Security Administration’s taking federal bonds it holds to the Treasury (they cannot be sold to the public) to be redeemed for the needed cash. The Treasury will sell bonds in the market place to get the money. When Social Security goes permanently into a negative cash flow, more and more of the intra-governmental debt will be converted into public debt. (Unless, of course, Congress either reduces Social Security payments to current retirees, cuts spending elsewhere, or raises Social Security taxes. The first two of those possibilities are, to put it mildly, highly unlikely.)

So what is now intra-governmental debt will inexorably become public debt and so should be counted in calculating the total national debt. That sum is now $13.041 trillion. GDP was $14.256 trillion in 2009. That works out to 91.48 percent of GDP, which is close enough to 100 percent for government work.

Social Security is in the hole this year, five years ahead of when it was expected to develop a negative cash flow. As Michael Barone points out, Social Security in the first half of 2009 took in $366 billion and dispersed $334.3 billion. In the first six months of this year, it will be $346.9 in, $347.3 out.

If the economy recovers well from the recession, Social Security will go back into the black for a few years, but the coming wave of baby-boomer retirements will put it in the red permanently (under current law) by the middle of the coming decade.

That’s why the idea that the intra-governmental portion of the debt doesn’t matter is so pernicious. Vincent Fernando at Business Insider argues that:

The U.S. government’s net debt is not about to reach 100% of GDP. Hysteria about the U.S. debt/GDP ratio breaking 100% is due to a misconception regarding which figure to calculate Federal debt. You can’t count money the Federal government owed to itself . …

The national debt, as of June 10, is $8.5 trillion owed to the public and $4.7 trillion owed to branches of the federal government. Fernando argues that the intra-governmental debt doesn’t count because, while a debit at the Treasury, it is an asset at the Social Security Administration and elsewhere within the government and therefore nets out to zero, as does a debt owed by a subsidiary of a corporation to the parent company.

This is nonsense. The negative cash flow this year will be financed by the Social Security Administration’s taking federal bonds it holds to the Treasury (they cannot be sold to the public) to be redeemed for the needed cash. The Treasury will sell bonds in the market place to get the money. When Social Security goes permanently into a negative cash flow, more and more of the intra-governmental debt will be converted into public debt. (Unless, of course, Congress either reduces Social Security payments to current retirees, cuts spending elsewhere, or raises Social Security taxes. The first two of those possibilities are, to put it mildly, highly unlikely.)

So what is now intra-governmental debt will inexorably become public debt and so should be counted in calculating the total national debt. That sum is now $13.041 trillion. GDP was $14.256 trillion in 2009. That works out to 91.48 percent of GDP, which is close enough to 100 percent for government work.

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Obama Grasps at Straws

Barack Obama is learning the hard way about the limits of the power of the presidency.

Obama told Louisiana residents, who are confronting the worst environmental disaster in history because of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, that he couldn’t “suck it up with a straw.” “Even though I’m president of the United States, my power is not limitless,” Obama told residents from Grand Isle as they sat around a table together. “So I can’t dive down there and plug the hole. I can’t suck it up with a straw.”

When a major American city was 80 percent under water due to a breached levee caused by one of the worst hurricanes in our history, then-Senator Obama was silent about the limits on the power of the president. In fact, he excoriated his predecessor for his “unconscionable ineptitude” in the context of Katrina, despite the fact that George W. Bush had to deal with local and state leaders far more incompetent than the ones facing Obama. “We can talk about a trust that was broken, the promise that our government will be prepared, will protect us, and will respond in a catastrophe,” Obama said in 2008.

There was no mention of straws.

Obama’s comments to Louisiana residents come on top of what Obama told Politco’s Roger Simon in an interview. “The overwhelming majority of the American people” have reasonable expectations, Obama said. “What they hope and expect is for the president to do everything that’s within his power. They don’t expect us to be magicians.”

I think most American do have reasonable expectations of what a president can and cannot do. But if their expectations are reasonable, it is not because of anything Barack Obama has ever said before. In fact, you can review his speeches during the campaign, and you will find a lot about what a magical, transformational, hopeful, and historical moment his election would be. Even when offering a perfunctory acknowledgement of his own limitations, what Obama promised America was, even by campaign standards, extraordinary (see here and here.)

Yet almost 17 months into his presidency, the man who was going to remake this nation, who was going to provide care for the sick and good jobs to the jobless, who was going to restore prosperity and promote the cause of peace, who was going to open doors of opportunities to our kids and replace cynicism with hope and stop the rise of the oceans and heal the planet — this man has come up short. None of this has come to pass. It turns out he cannot even, in his own words, “plug the damn hole.” He has not issued waivers that he should, nor has he provided Gulf Coast governors with the requests they need, nor coordinated the clean-up effort that the people of the Louisiana are begging for. He can do nothing, it seems, except blame others. The man whom, we were told, was the next Lincoln and FDR is coming to grips with his own impotence and ineptitude. From Iran to the Gulf of Mexico, from Middle East peace to job creation, from uniting our country to cleansing our politics, Barack Obama is being brought to his knees.

This doesn’t mean the Obama presidency is broken or beyond repair. And Obama’s admission of the limits to the power of the presidency is justified. The problem for the president is that his comments now were preceded by so much hubris. Obama and his aides set mythic expectations. Those expectations now lie in ruin. What we’re seeing was, therefore, inevitable and predictable. Barack Obama is reaping what he has sown. Let’s hope for the sake of the country that he learns from the punishing blows reality has dealt him.

Barack Obama is learning the hard way about the limits of the power of the presidency.

Obama told Louisiana residents, who are confronting the worst environmental disaster in history because of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, that he couldn’t “suck it up with a straw.” “Even though I’m president of the United States, my power is not limitless,” Obama told residents from Grand Isle as they sat around a table together. “So I can’t dive down there and plug the hole. I can’t suck it up with a straw.”

When a major American city was 80 percent under water due to a breached levee caused by one of the worst hurricanes in our history, then-Senator Obama was silent about the limits on the power of the president. In fact, he excoriated his predecessor for his “unconscionable ineptitude” in the context of Katrina, despite the fact that George W. Bush had to deal with local and state leaders far more incompetent than the ones facing Obama. “We can talk about a trust that was broken, the promise that our government will be prepared, will protect us, and will respond in a catastrophe,” Obama said in 2008.

There was no mention of straws.

Obama’s comments to Louisiana residents come on top of what Obama told Politco’s Roger Simon in an interview. “The overwhelming majority of the American people” have reasonable expectations, Obama said. “What they hope and expect is for the president to do everything that’s within his power. They don’t expect us to be magicians.”

I think most American do have reasonable expectations of what a president can and cannot do. But if their expectations are reasonable, it is not because of anything Barack Obama has ever said before. In fact, you can review his speeches during the campaign, and you will find a lot about what a magical, transformational, hopeful, and historical moment his election would be. Even when offering a perfunctory acknowledgement of his own limitations, what Obama promised America was, even by campaign standards, extraordinary (see here and here.)

Yet almost 17 months into his presidency, the man who was going to remake this nation, who was going to provide care for the sick and good jobs to the jobless, who was going to restore prosperity and promote the cause of peace, who was going to open doors of opportunities to our kids and replace cynicism with hope and stop the rise of the oceans and heal the planet — this man has come up short. None of this has come to pass. It turns out he cannot even, in his own words, “plug the damn hole.” He has not issued waivers that he should, nor has he provided Gulf Coast governors with the requests they need, nor coordinated the clean-up effort that the people of the Louisiana are begging for. He can do nothing, it seems, except blame others. The man whom, we were told, was the next Lincoln and FDR is coming to grips with his own impotence and ineptitude. From Iran to the Gulf of Mexico, from Middle East peace to job creation, from uniting our country to cleansing our politics, Barack Obama is being brought to his knees.

This doesn’t mean the Obama presidency is broken or beyond repair. And Obama’s admission of the limits to the power of the presidency is justified. The problem for the president is that his comments now were preceded by so much hubris. Obama and his aides set mythic expectations. Those expectations now lie in ruin. What we’re seeing was, therefore, inevitable and predictable. Barack Obama is reaping what he has sown. Let’s hope for the sake of the country that he learns from the punishing blows reality has dealt him.

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Say It in Arabic

David wondered yesterday why revolutionary statements by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas had been largely ignored by the mainstream media, and suggested that perhaps it’s because “it doesn’t fit well with the current climate of radically de-legitimizing the Jewish state.” But there could be a far less sinister reason: The smarter Middle East hands have figured out by now that what Arab leaders say in English to American audiences is meaningless; what matters is what they are willing to say in Arabic to their own people. And so far, Abbas shows no sign of being willing to say the same in Arabic.

Granted, the statements represent progress: Even in English, I can’t recall Abbas ever before so openly acknowledging Jewish historical ties to the Middle East or Israel’s claim to (part of) Jerusalem. But in Arabic, the standard narrative continues to be that Jews are colonial interlopers with no claim whatsoever to the land. And as Max Singer of the Begin-Sadat Center perceptively noted, until this changes, peace will be impossible: Palestinians will not make peace unless they believe they can do so honorably, and this “depends on whether the Jews are colonial thieves stealing land solely on the basis of force, or whether they are a people that also historically lived in the land.”

It would be nice to think that Abbas’s statements last week were a dry run for the more difficult job of telling his countrymen the same things in Arabic. Far more likely, however, is that his goal was simply to woo liberal American Jews, who are presumably close to the Democratic administration, in the hope that they will in turn use their influence with the administration to help him secure his real goal — which is not a deal with Israel, but a deal with Barack Obama.

And that is not mere cynical speculation. It is, almost word for word, what a close associate quoted Abbas as saying less than three weeks ago.

According to the Jerusalem Post’s invaluable Khaled Abu Toameh, Abbas Zaki, who sits on the central committee of Abbas’s Fatah party, told the London-based Al-Quds Al-Arabi paper in May that at a recent meeting with U.S. envoy George Mitchell, “President Abbas told Mitchell that the Israelis are no longer peace partners as much as the Americans are,” and therefore urged the U.S. to present its own peace proposals instead of waiting for an Israeli proposal.

“The Palestinian Authority is negotiating with Washington and not with Tel Aviv,” he added, lest anyone miss the message.

That interview, incidentally, occurred several days before Israel’s botched raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla. Numerous Western commentators have since blamed that raid for thwarting peace efforts. But as long as Abbas remains determined to negotiate with America rather than Israel, there can be no serious peace effort to thwart.

David wondered yesterday why revolutionary statements by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas had been largely ignored by the mainstream media, and suggested that perhaps it’s because “it doesn’t fit well with the current climate of radically de-legitimizing the Jewish state.” But there could be a far less sinister reason: The smarter Middle East hands have figured out by now that what Arab leaders say in English to American audiences is meaningless; what matters is what they are willing to say in Arabic to their own people. And so far, Abbas shows no sign of being willing to say the same in Arabic.

Granted, the statements represent progress: Even in English, I can’t recall Abbas ever before so openly acknowledging Jewish historical ties to the Middle East or Israel’s claim to (part of) Jerusalem. But in Arabic, the standard narrative continues to be that Jews are colonial interlopers with no claim whatsoever to the land. And as Max Singer of the Begin-Sadat Center perceptively noted, until this changes, peace will be impossible: Palestinians will not make peace unless they believe they can do so honorably, and this “depends on whether the Jews are colonial thieves stealing land solely on the basis of force, or whether they are a people that also historically lived in the land.”

It would be nice to think that Abbas’s statements last week were a dry run for the more difficult job of telling his countrymen the same things in Arabic. Far more likely, however, is that his goal was simply to woo liberal American Jews, who are presumably close to the Democratic administration, in the hope that they will in turn use their influence with the administration to help him secure his real goal — which is not a deal with Israel, but a deal with Barack Obama.

And that is not mere cynical speculation. It is, almost word for word, what a close associate quoted Abbas as saying less than three weeks ago.

According to the Jerusalem Post’s invaluable Khaled Abu Toameh, Abbas Zaki, who sits on the central committee of Abbas’s Fatah party, told the London-based Al-Quds Al-Arabi paper in May that at a recent meeting with U.S. envoy George Mitchell, “President Abbas told Mitchell that the Israelis are no longer peace partners as much as the Americans are,” and therefore urged the U.S. to present its own peace proposals instead of waiting for an Israeli proposal.

“The Palestinian Authority is negotiating with Washington and not with Tel Aviv,” he added, lest anyone miss the message.

That interview, incidentally, occurred several days before Israel’s botched raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla. Numerous Western commentators have since blamed that raid for thwarting peace efforts. But as long as Abbas remains determined to negotiate with America rather than Israel, there can be no serious peace effort to thwart.

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Democrats “Too Liberal” — Who Knew?

Gallup reports:

In the past two years, Americans have become increasingly likely to describe the Democratic Party’s views as “too liberal” (49%), and less likely to say its views are “about right” (38%). Americans’ views of the Republican Party, on the other hand, have moderated slightly, with a dip in the percentage saying the GOP is too conservative from 43% last year to 40% today, and an increase in the percentage saying it is about right, from 34% to 41%.

The recent increase in perceptions of the Democratic Party as too liberal could be a response to the expansion in government spending since President Barack Obama took office, most notably regarding the economic stimulus and healthcare legislation.The 49% of Americans who now believe the Democratic Party’s views are too liberal is one percentage point below the 50% Gallup measured after the 1994 elections, the all-time high in the trend question first asked in 1992.

So it’s not those whacky partisans who have gotten Obama “wrong” — mischaracterizing his “moderation” as extremism. It’s the whole country that has woken up to his leftism. In fact the biggest shift in perception is among independent voters. (“Since February 2008, the percentage calling the Democratic Party ‘too liberal’ has increased by 12 points among independents and 8 points among Republicans, with little change among Democrats.”)

The president is not only the chief executive but also the head of his party. In addition to sending his own approval skidding downward, Obama has managed to give his party the labels it has struggled so hard to shed — “weak on national security” and “tax-and-spend liberals.” A majority of the electorate was snookered into believing Obama was a moderate pragmatist. They aren’t likely to make that mistake again — and they are likely first to take it out on the Democrats on the ballot this November.

Gallup reports:

In the past two years, Americans have become increasingly likely to describe the Democratic Party’s views as “too liberal” (49%), and less likely to say its views are “about right” (38%). Americans’ views of the Republican Party, on the other hand, have moderated slightly, with a dip in the percentage saying the GOP is too conservative from 43% last year to 40% today, and an increase in the percentage saying it is about right, from 34% to 41%.

The recent increase in perceptions of the Democratic Party as too liberal could be a response to the expansion in government spending since President Barack Obama took office, most notably regarding the economic stimulus and healthcare legislation.The 49% of Americans who now believe the Democratic Party’s views are too liberal is one percentage point below the 50% Gallup measured after the 1994 elections, the all-time high in the trend question first asked in 1992.

So it’s not those whacky partisans who have gotten Obama “wrong” — mischaracterizing his “moderation” as extremism. It’s the whole country that has woken up to his leftism. In fact the biggest shift in perception is among independent voters. (“Since February 2008, the percentage calling the Democratic Party ‘too liberal’ has increased by 12 points among independents and 8 points among Republicans, with little change among Democrats.”)

The president is not only the chief executive but also the head of his party. In addition to sending his own approval skidding downward, Obama has managed to give his party the labels it has struggled so hard to shed — “weak on national security” and “tax-and-spend liberals.” A majority of the electorate was snookered into believing Obama was a moderate pragmatist. They aren’t likely to make that mistake again — and they are likely first to take it out on the Democrats on the ballot this November.

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Fayyad’s Bonfire Lights the Way to Hatred, Not Peace

The popularity of Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad among Israeli and American observers has always greatly exceeded his standing among his own people. Both dovish and hawkish analysts hold the American-educated technocrat as a unique Palestinian politician: honest, skilled at economics and governing, and dedicated to peace. But lately, even his Israeli and American fans have begun to notice that Fayyad’s dedication to peace is being undermined by his efforts to make himself more loved by Palestinians.

Fayyad is at a disadvantage when he competes with Hamas and other factions because the bona fides of any Palestinian political faction has always been defined by the amount of Jewish blood spilled. Unlike other major Palestinian figures, the University of Texas-trained economist has no gunmen or terrorist cadres at his disposal. So instead, he must wage war against the Jews using the tools of his own trade — by championing the boycott of Israeli goods produced in Jewish communities in the territories.

Even an admirer like Dalia Itzik, an important figure in Kadima – the party that the Obama administration hopes will somehow eventually replace Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud – thinks Fayyad’s decision to embrace such tactics is a blow to the hopes for peace that Fayyad has done so much to encourage in the past. No right-winger, Itzik is a former Labor Party speaker of the Knesset, but even she understands that what Fayyad is doing when he allows himself to be photographed throwing Israeli products into a bonfire is burning the chances for cooperation between the two peoples. As Itzik writes in the Jerusalem Post, it is “hope that is being boycotted” most of all in this campaign.

As to be expected, Fayyad’s bonfire photo-op got more sympathetic coverage in the New York Times last week as its article played along with the notion that his mobilization of the slender resources of the PA to conduct a witch hunt weeding out Israeli goods in Palestinian stores was merely a matter of “nonviolent resistance.”

But Fayyad’s administration was supposed to focus on development, heightened security, and the promise of peaceful interaction with Israel. But as both Itzik and other Israelis have rightly noted, the whole premise behind the boycott is a campaign of incitement in which anything created or sold by Jews is seen as illegitimate. It also feeds into the Palestinian notion that, despite Fayyad’s talk of peace, the Jewish state is, itself, illegitimate.

If Fayyad’s notion of peace rests on the premise of the expulsion of every single Jew from the territories and a Palestinian boycott of Israel, it is hard to see how even this paragon of Palestinian politicians is doing much to foster a spirit of peace. Rather than fighting to create a saner Palestinian political culture, Fayyad appears to be attempting to gain points with his public by pandering to the basest Palestinian instincts. The problem with such a plan is that no matter how many bonfires of Jewish products Fayyad builds, he can never really compete with the guys who have the guns and the explosives for the affection of the Palestinian public. All of which ought to lead us to wonder why so much attention and so much hope is being wagered by both Israel and the United States on his success.

The popularity of Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad among Israeli and American observers has always greatly exceeded his standing among his own people. Both dovish and hawkish analysts hold the American-educated technocrat as a unique Palestinian politician: honest, skilled at economics and governing, and dedicated to peace. But lately, even his Israeli and American fans have begun to notice that Fayyad’s dedication to peace is being undermined by his efforts to make himself more loved by Palestinians.

Fayyad is at a disadvantage when he competes with Hamas and other factions because the bona fides of any Palestinian political faction has always been defined by the amount of Jewish blood spilled. Unlike other major Palestinian figures, the University of Texas-trained economist has no gunmen or terrorist cadres at his disposal. So instead, he must wage war against the Jews using the tools of his own trade — by championing the boycott of Israeli goods produced in Jewish communities in the territories.

Even an admirer like Dalia Itzik, an important figure in Kadima – the party that the Obama administration hopes will somehow eventually replace Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud – thinks Fayyad’s decision to embrace such tactics is a blow to the hopes for peace that Fayyad has done so much to encourage in the past. No right-winger, Itzik is a former Labor Party speaker of the Knesset, but even she understands that what Fayyad is doing when he allows himself to be photographed throwing Israeli products into a bonfire is burning the chances for cooperation between the two peoples. As Itzik writes in the Jerusalem Post, it is “hope that is being boycotted” most of all in this campaign.

As to be expected, Fayyad’s bonfire photo-op got more sympathetic coverage in the New York Times last week as its article played along with the notion that his mobilization of the slender resources of the PA to conduct a witch hunt weeding out Israeli goods in Palestinian stores was merely a matter of “nonviolent resistance.”

But Fayyad’s administration was supposed to focus on development, heightened security, and the promise of peaceful interaction with Israel. But as both Itzik and other Israelis have rightly noted, the whole premise behind the boycott is a campaign of incitement in which anything created or sold by Jews is seen as illegitimate. It also feeds into the Palestinian notion that, despite Fayyad’s talk of peace, the Jewish state is, itself, illegitimate.

If Fayyad’s notion of peace rests on the premise of the expulsion of every single Jew from the territories and a Palestinian boycott of Israel, it is hard to see how even this paragon of Palestinian politicians is doing much to foster a spirit of peace. Rather than fighting to create a saner Palestinian political culture, Fayyad appears to be attempting to gain points with his public by pandering to the basest Palestinian instincts. The problem with such a plan is that no matter how many bonfires of Jewish products Fayyad builds, he can never really compete with the guys who have the guns and the explosives for the affection of the Palestinian public. All of which ought to lead us to wonder why so much attention and so much hope is being wagered by both Israel and the United States on his success.

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Is the Afghan Gold Rush Good News for Obama or Afghanistan?

Over the past few years, some left-wing critics of the Bush administration may have wondered whether Washington would have prioritized the war in Afghanistan over the one in Iraq if, instead of being a mountainous wasteland, Afghanistan had been sitting on vast oil deposits. While the idea that the war in Iraq was fought for oil was a cherished leftist myth, there seemed little reason to fight in Afghanistan from a Marxist economic perspective.

But with the news today that the United States has newly discovered nearly $1 trillion in mineral deposits in Afghanistan, paranoid left-wing fantasy-spinners won’t be the only ones rushing to reevaluate the conflict there. According to U.S. officials quoted in the New York Times:

The previously unknown deposits — including huge veins of iron, copper, cobalt, gold and critical industrial metals like lithium — are so big and include so many minerals that are essential to modern industry that Afghanistan could eventually be transformed into one of the most important mining centers in the world, the United States officials believe. An internal Pentagon memo, for example, states that Afghanistan could become the “Saudi Arabia of lithium,” a key raw material in the manufacture of batteries for laptops and BlackBerrys.

While these discoveries may represent a great hope for the future of Afghanistan – and a way for its people to shake off the notion that the only viable careers involve bloodshed or opium-growing — the chances that it could also create even more mischief, mayhem, and misery for that country are all too apparent.

The national government of President Hamid Karzai and local warlords will bitterly fight for control of the new mining opportunities. And don’t think the Taliban won’t be prepared to contest the areas where riches are under the ground.

And the potential for trouble from foreigners storming into the region to exploit these resources is also considerable. Except in this case, it won’t so much be a Yukon-style gold rush with wily prospectors straight out of a Jack London novel but, as the Times noted, a neighboring Chinese government looking to expand its sphere of influence.

Though the discoveries made by a team of Pentagon officials and American geologists – working from new maps charted by the United States Geological Survey – have produced results rightly considered both “amazing” and “promising,” the article goes on to state the difficulties of developing resources in a country with no heavy industry or mining infrastructure. A bloody war won’t make it any easier. But the really troubling aspect of this announcement is why the administration chose to leak the story — especially when even the preparations for mining for these minerals are clearly in the distant future, and when the Afghanistan government is far from ready to make such preparations.

The answer may come within the story itself: “The Obama administration is hungry for some positive news to come out of Afghanistan,” even though the announcement may complicate both the war and Washington’s delicate relations with the Karzai government. While the story was bound to come out sooner or later, it could be that this administration, which is such a ferocious foe of leaks to the media from government sources, let this particularly strategic piece of information slip to bolster its sagging poll numbers and to gain new support for the war.

Over the past few years, some left-wing critics of the Bush administration may have wondered whether Washington would have prioritized the war in Afghanistan over the one in Iraq if, instead of being a mountainous wasteland, Afghanistan had been sitting on vast oil deposits. While the idea that the war in Iraq was fought for oil was a cherished leftist myth, there seemed little reason to fight in Afghanistan from a Marxist economic perspective.

But with the news today that the United States has newly discovered nearly $1 trillion in mineral deposits in Afghanistan, paranoid left-wing fantasy-spinners won’t be the only ones rushing to reevaluate the conflict there. According to U.S. officials quoted in the New York Times:

The previously unknown deposits — including huge veins of iron, copper, cobalt, gold and critical industrial metals like lithium — are so big and include so many minerals that are essential to modern industry that Afghanistan could eventually be transformed into one of the most important mining centers in the world, the United States officials believe. An internal Pentagon memo, for example, states that Afghanistan could become the “Saudi Arabia of lithium,” a key raw material in the manufacture of batteries for laptops and BlackBerrys.

While these discoveries may represent a great hope for the future of Afghanistan – and a way for its people to shake off the notion that the only viable careers involve bloodshed or opium-growing — the chances that it could also create even more mischief, mayhem, and misery for that country are all too apparent.

The national government of President Hamid Karzai and local warlords will bitterly fight for control of the new mining opportunities. And don’t think the Taliban won’t be prepared to contest the areas where riches are under the ground.

And the potential for trouble from foreigners storming into the region to exploit these resources is also considerable. Except in this case, it won’t so much be a Yukon-style gold rush with wily prospectors straight out of a Jack London novel but, as the Times noted, a neighboring Chinese government looking to expand its sphere of influence.

Though the discoveries made by a team of Pentagon officials and American geologists – working from new maps charted by the United States Geological Survey – have produced results rightly considered both “amazing” and “promising,” the article goes on to state the difficulties of developing resources in a country with no heavy industry or mining infrastructure. A bloody war won’t make it any easier. But the really troubling aspect of this announcement is why the administration chose to leak the story — especially when even the preparations for mining for these minerals are clearly in the distant future, and when the Afghanistan government is far from ready to make such preparations.

The answer may come within the story itself: “The Obama administration is hungry for some positive news to come out of Afghanistan,” even though the announcement may complicate both the war and Washington’s delicate relations with the Karzai government. While the story was bound to come out sooner or later, it could be that this administration, which is such a ferocious foe of leaks to the media from government sources, let this particularly strategic piece of information slip to bolster its sagging poll numbers and to gain new support for the war.

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Not If — but When — Does Holder Go?

COMMENTARY contributor Gabriel Schoenfeld writes:

Eric Holder has been a disastrous attorney general. “Classic 101 Boobery” was how one Democratic operative memorably called his decision, now on hold, to try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in a civilian court in lower Manhattan. Other blunders have piled up and the White House has been repeatedly embarrassed by his string of ill-considered decisions and gaffes. With the midterm elections approaching, it would not be surprising if Holder soon finds himself under the Obama bus, lying next to former Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair.

No doubt Holder has become a liability. It’s not clear, however, that shoving him aside before the election would win Obama any brownie points with voters. But one thing is for sure: if the Republicans take either the House or the Senate, Holder will get bounced before new chairmen take over key committees and start firing subpoenas his way. The stonewall act will end, or the Obama administration will wind up in nasty court fights. And we will learn how Holder’s operation, supposedly dedicated to de-politicizing the Justice Department, has been corrupted by left-wing ideologues. For a White House increasingly perceived as a bastion of liberal political hackery, Holder has become one more problem that they’d rather have behind them. Better to have Holder skewered as the former attorney general and to let a brand-new attorney general promise to take a “hard look” at Justice than to watch the agonizing sight of Holder twisting and turning, struggling to explain himself and his crew of leftist lawyers.

COMMENTARY contributor Gabriel Schoenfeld writes:

Eric Holder has been a disastrous attorney general. “Classic 101 Boobery” was how one Democratic operative memorably called his decision, now on hold, to try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in a civilian court in lower Manhattan. Other blunders have piled up and the White House has been repeatedly embarrassed by his string of ill-considered decisions and gaffes. With the midterm elections approaching, it would not be surprising if Holder soon finds himself under the Obama bus, lying next to former Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair.

No doubt Holder has become a liability. It’s not clear, however, that shoving him aside before the election would win Obama any brownie points with voters. But one thing is for sure: if the Republicans take either the House or the Senate, Holder will get bounced before new chairmen take over key committees and start firing subpoenas his way. The stonewall act will end, or the Obama administration will wind up in nasty court fights. And we will learn how Holder’s operation, supposedly dedicated to de-politicizing the Justice Department, has been corrupted by left-wing ideologues. For a White House increasingly perceived as a bastion of liberal political hackery, Holder has become one more problem that they’d rather have behind them. Better to have Holder skewered as the former attorney general and to let a brand-new attorney general promise to take a “hard look” at Justice than to watch the agonizing sight of Holder twisting and turning, struggling to explain himself and his crew of leftist lawyers.

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Tolerating Anti-Semites

Howard Kurtz catches up with the conservative blogosphere today, observing of Helen Thomas:

It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that she was a member in good standing of a tightly knit club that refused to question why a woman whose main job seemed to be to harangue press secretaries and presidents deserved a front-row seat in the briefing room . … Journalists, especially those who spend a great deal of time together, don’t usually turn on each other. If Thomas was spewing bias and bile, the reasoning went, what was the harm?

All that is true, but there is more to it than that. If the subject of her venom were African-Americans or Hispanics or gays, she would have been booted long ago. Kurtz notes:

Since Thomas was a columnist, she had every right to her opinions — even if her view was that Jews should be banished from Israel. But she didn’t have a perpetual right to a newspaper column or a White House pressroom seat. Hearst bears some responsibility for keeping Thomas on as her behavior grew more disturbing. It’s not that a pro-Israel press corps drove her out; it’s that Thomas could not defend her remarks, and indeed apologized for them.

Actually, it is that Hearst and Thomas’s colleagues had a high threshold for anti-Semitism that allowed her, as Kurtz puts it, to be “regarded her as one of Washington’s harmless gadflies.” For all the diversity-training and political correctness spread throughout the professional class, the attention on hateful speech and bias has focused almost exclusively on race and ethnicity. As a result, racial bigots and those who peddle in ethnic slurs are barred from “polite society.” But take a swipe at evangelical Christians or voice noxious views on Jews? Well, many would cheer the former and simply roll their eyes at the latter.

Kurtz is right that the media bears responsibility for tolerating Thomas. But it’s worth considering more broadly why elites are so indifferent to religious bigotry.

Howard Kurtz catches up with the conservative blogosphere today, observing of Helen Thomas:

It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that she was a member in good standing of a tightly knit club that refused to question why a woman whose main job seemed to be to harangue press secretaries and presidents deserved a front-row seat in the briefing room . … Journalists, especially those who spend a great deal of time together, don’t usually turn on each other. If Thomas was spewing bias and bile, the reasoning went, what was the harm?

All that is true, but there is more to it than that. If the subject of her venom were African-Americans or Hispanics or gays, she would have been booted long ago. Kurtz notes:

Since Thomas was a columnist, she had every right to her opinions — even if her view was that Jews should be banished from Israel. But she didn’t have a perpetual right to a newspaper column or a White House pressroom seat. Hearst bears some responsibility for keeping Thomas on as her behavior grew more disturbing. It’s not that a pro-Israel press corps drove her out; it’s that Thomas could not defend her remarks, and indeed apologized for them.

Actually, it is that Hearst and Thomas’s colleagues had a high threshold for anti-Semitism that allowed her, as Kurtz puts it, to be “regarded her as one of Washington’s harmless gadflies.” For all the diversity-training and political correctness spread throughout the professional class, the attention on hateful speech and bias has focused almost exclusively on race and ethnicity. As a result, racial bigots and those who peddle in ethnic slurs are barred from “polite society.” But take a swipe at evangelical Christians or voice noxious views on Jews? Well, many would cheer the former and simply roll their eyes at the latter.

Kurtz is right that the media bears responsibility for tolerating Thomas. But it’s worth considering more broadly why elites are so indifferent to religious bigotry.

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RE: Why Are We Making It Harder for Our Military to Win in Afghanistan?

As I noted yesterday, we are learning that part of the problem — maybe most of it — with our Afghanistan offensive are the president’s imposed timeline and his envoy and ambassador, both of whom can’t seem to carve out a decent relationship with Hamid Karzai or our own military. Jackson Diehl confirms this, delineating how the Obama administration has hobbled the military:

One is the failure of European governments to follow through on pledges to contribute in crucial areas such as training. … A second is the divergence between U.S. interests and those of Karzai, despite a make-up session between the two governments last month in Washington. The Afghan leader had reasons to fire the two pro-American ministers, including their resistance to negotiations with the Taliban. But U.S. sources said he had been pushing for the two men, along with Defense Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak, ever since Washington insisted they be included in his cabinet after his reelection last year. Karzai seems determined to minimize American influence. Most seriously, McChrystal’s announcement reflected the continued absence in the U.S. command of a clear and coherent plan for pacifying southern Afghanistan — one that seamlessly blends civilian and military initiatives.

However, it is Obama’s insistence on a timeline — which derives from purely political reasons and, it is widely believed, was pushed into a military debate by the president’s Chicago political cronies. Diehl explains:

Hanging over all these complexities, and driving some of them, is Obama’s imposition of a timeline on the Afghan surge: first a review of its progress this December, followed by the beginning of troop withdrawals in July 2011. The perception that the clock is ticking on the U.S. mission pushes Karzai toward building and defending his own family network, and favoring aides who can talk to Pakistan — and maybe the Taliban — over those close to the United States. It forces McChrystal to focus on producing easier and positive-looking results in the next few months, rather than committing to harder and longer-term solutions. It fuels continuing acrimony among military commanders, who believe the timetable is folly, and State Department and White House civilians, who regard it as the key to Obama’s policy.

Obama should promptly correct his error and reaffirm our determination to seeing the effort through to completion. But here’s the thing: once you’ve signaled your less-than-full commitment to an endeavor, it’s hard to convince friends and foes that you really, honestly will stay as long as it takes to win. As in so many other aspects of foreign policy — the U.S.-Israeli relationship and our Iran policy, especially — it is hard to undo the impression of irresoluteness and flakiness. Whether Obama can do so — or wants to — with regard to Afghanistan is open to debate. Unfortunately, one senses the most important thing to him is not repairing the damage he has wrought but maintaining the myth of his own infallibility.

As I noted yesterday, we are learning that part of the problem — maybe most of it — with our Afghanistan offensive are the president’s imposed timeline and his envoy and ambassador, both of whom can’t seem to carve out a decent relationship with Hamid Karzai or our own military. Jackson Diehl confirms this, delineating how the Obama administration has hobbled the military:

One is the failure of European governments to follow through on pledges to contribute in crucial areas such as training. … A second is the divergence between U.S. interests and those of Karzai, despite a make-up session between the two governments last month in Washington. The Afghan leader had reasons to fire the two pro-American ministers, including their resistance to negotiations with the Taliban. But U.S. sources said he had been pushing for the two men, along with Defense Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak, ever since Washington insisted they be included in his cabinet after his reelection last year. Karzai seems determined to minimize American influence. Most seriously, McChrystal’s announcement reflected the continued absence in the U.S. command of a clear and coherent plan for pacifying southern Afghanistan — one that seamlessly blends civilian and military initiatives.

However, it is Obama’s insistence on a timeline — which derives from purely political reasons and, it is widely believed, was pushed into a military debate by the president’s Chicago political cronies. Diehl explains:

Hanging over all these complexities, and driving some of them, is Obama’s imposition of a timeline on the Afghan surge: first a review of its progress this December, followed by the beginning of troop withdrawals in July 2011. The perception that the clock is ticking on the U.S. mission pushes Karzai toward building and defending his own family network, and favoring aides who can talk to Pakistan — and maybe the Taliban — over those close to the United States. It forces McChrystal to focus on producing easier and positive-looking results in the next few months, rather than committing to harder and longer-term solutions. It fuels continuing acrimony among military commanders, who believe the timetable is folly, and State Department and White House civilians, who regard it as the key to Obama’s policy.

Obama should promptly correct his error and reaffirm our determination to seeing the effort through to completion. But here’s the thing: once you’ve signaled your less-than-full commitment to an endeavor, it’s hard to convince friends and foes that you really, honestly will stay as long as it takes to win. As in so many other aspects of foreign policy — the U.S.-Israeli relationship and our Iran policy, especially — it is hard to undo the impression of irresoluteness and flakiness. Whether Obama can do so — or wants to — with regard to Afghanistan is open to debate. Unfortunately, one senses the most important thing to him is not repairing the damage he has wrought but maintaining the myth of his own infallibility.

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The Israeli Investigation

It’s remarkable that the Obama administration’s reaction to the Israeli investigation of the flotilla was so critical. As this report makes clear, it’s an all-star lineup:

The Prime Minister’s Office published, on Sunday evening, the names of those who will serve on the panel headed by retired Supreme Court justice Ya’akov Tuerkel, which will investigate Israel’s interception of the Turkish ship Mavi Marmara on May 31st. International-law Professor Shabtai Rosen is an Israel Prize winner and winner of the Hague Prize for International Law.  Former Technion president Amos Chorev serves as a general in the reserves.

There will be two international observers: Lord William David Trimble [of Northern Ireland], winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, and international lawyer Ken Watkin, Canada’s Judge Advocate General of Canada’s forces.

The two international observers are respected authorities and men of integrity that will add creditability to the findings of the investigation. Unfortunately, their presence and involvement are necessary because the conclusions of the respected Israelis on this panel would be dismissed out of hand by much of the international community.

The Obama administration responded to this Israeli panel with tempered support and a dictate to work quickly. It still remains to be seen if the Administration will support a United Nations based panel that will convict Israel before gathering any evidence.

Considering the panel’s composition, why didn’t Obama declare this fully sufficient and rule out an inquest by the UN or another outside entity? Those working behind the scenes to head off an international inquest were certainly hoping he would do so. Instead, Obama maintained his “above-the-fray” tone of condescension and let Israel know he stands with the “international community,” not with Israel. And where is Turkey’s board of inquest? Obama has made clear: that won’t be necessary.

It’s remarkable that the Obama administration’s reaction to the Israeli investigation of the flotilla was so critical. As this report makes clear, it’s an all-star lineup:

The Prime Minister’s Office published, on Sunday evening, the names of those who will serve on the panel headed by retired Supreme Court justice Ya’akov Tuerkel, which will investigate Israel’s interception of the Turkish ship Mavi Marmara on May 31st. International-law Professor Shabtai Rosen is an Israel Prize winner and winner of the Hague Prize for International Law.  Former Technion president Amos Chorev serves as a general in the reserves.

There will be two international observers: Lord William David Trimble [of Northern Ireland], winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, and international lawyer Ken Watkin, Canada’s Judge Advocate General of Canada’s forces.

The two international observers are respected authorities and men of integrity that will add creditability to the findings of the investigation. Unfortunately, their presence and involvement are necessary because the conclusions of the respected Israelis on this panel would be dismissed out of hand by much of the international community.

The Obama administration responded to this Israeli panel with tempered support and a dictate to work quickly. It still remains to be seen if the Administration will support a United Nations based panel that will convict Israel before gathering any evidence.

Considering the panel’s composition, why didn’t Obama declare this fully sufficient and rule out an inquest by the UN or another outside entity? Those working behind the scenes to head off an international inquest were certainly hoping he would do so. Instead, Obama maintained his “above-the-fray” tone of condescension and let Israel know he stands with the “international community,” not with Israel. And where is Turkey’s board of inquest? Obama has made clear: that won’t be necessary.

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Carly Makes the Case for Throwing Out Rude Liberals

Carly Fiorina appeared on Meet the Press and gave one of her more impressive performances, in contrast with the rudeness and perpetual interruptions of the accompanying Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz. Fiorina, on Republican criticism of Obama’s handling of the gulf oil spill:

Well, I think there’s much in that that’s fair.  And there is a difference, obviously, between governing and leading, and running for office or campaigning.  Look, BP has huge accountability here, and they need to be held to account.  But the government has accountability as well. When we hear that there are 13 separate federal government agencies running around in confusion down there, when we hear that there is equipment that could be used to help clean up the Gulf sitting in warehouses, when we hear that there is assistance that is being pleaded for by local officials and that assistance is not coming, all of this leads to the impression that this is not yet an effort where the president is exerting as much control as is necessary to get this thing fixed.  Of course BP has responsibility, but we also need to understand, where were the government regulators?  Where was MMS, despite the fact that the leader of MMS had been brought in by Ken Salazar in a move to reform the agency, according to him?

That was followed by this exchange:

MR. GREGORY:  Well, and…

REP. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ:  David–right.

MR. GREGORY:  Well, hold on a minute, that’s–wait, because I wanted to go back to Carly Fiorina.  I mean, respond to that point, Carly, for one.  But for two, because there’s legitimacy to that, what, what is good government, going forward, in a crisis like this?

MS. FIORINA:  Good government needs to be efficient and effective.  I’m not talking about small or big, but I know from the real world that when things get too big and too complicated and two expensive, as our government is now, they don’t perform well.  These are vast, unaccountable bureaucracies.  They don’t coordinate with one another, and, as a result, they’re not effective. And may I just say, it was Ken Salazar who put in place the secretary or the head of MMS who just recently resigned and who came from the industry.  So I think…

REP. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ:  No, he didn’t.

MS. FIORINA:  …this is a question of the blame game to say this is all about Republicans…

REP. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ:  He came from the House.

MS. FIORINA:  …saying small government.  This is about efficient,effective government…

REP. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ:  Birnbaum was from the House.

MS. FIORINA:  …and efficient and effective response.  And what the American people are seeing is an ineffective response.

MR. GREGORY:  Did, did that head of MMS come from–did she work on the hill or did she come from industry?

REP. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ:  The head of MMS was from the House of Representatives.  Liz Birnbaum came from the U.S.  House of Representatives. She was an employee for many years, and then she moved from the House of Representatives to MMS. So I don’t know what she’s talking about.  But this is a big, expensive disaster.

MS. FIORINA:  And she was forced to resign because of her failure to reform the department as she promised to.

REP. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ:  In the year–excuse me, excuse me–in the year that she was, that, that she was there, there definitely was not enough reform, but she was cleaning up, in the process of cleaning up from years of a totally hands-off regulatory policy by the Bush administration…

MS. FIORINA:  Then why did she resign?

REP. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ:  …in which they had a scandal-ridden regulatory agency.

MR. GREGORY:  OK, but, Congresswoman, the reality is that if the president made a priority of reforming MMS, he also made the decision to curtail that reform, if it was incomplete, to move forward on more oil drilling, to…

REP. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ:  Which I don’t…

MR. GREGORY:  …to achieve political consensus on climate change legislation.  So it’s a question of the choices the president made.

REP. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ:  Look, as–well, in a–arguably in a year, you weren’t going to be able to clean up that regulatory mess that, that essentially was–left, left industry in charge of itself, and that’s why we ended up with this BP disaster.

MR. GREGORY:  All right.

REP. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ:  But as someone, unlike Ms. Fiorina, as someone who represents a Gulf state, who is totally opposed to expanding offshore oil drilling, unlike Ms. Fiorina, who even in the face of this BP disaster, would continue to allow offshore oil drilling as a solution, it is absolutely…

MR. GREGORY:  All right.

REP. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ:  …irresponsible to do that.  We need to focus…

MS. FIORINA:  If I may–if I may just say…

REP. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ:  No, no, no.  You keep interrupting me.

MS. FIORINA:  If I may just say, actually…

REP. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ:  Excuse me, excuse me.

MS. FIORINA:  …you–if I may just say that…

MR. GREGORY:  Hold, hold on, hold on one second.  Congressman***(as spoken)***let’s let Carly Fiorina respond.  Go ahead.

MS. FIORINA:  If I might just say, I am not defending the performance of MMS over many years.  Debbie Wasserman Schultz is absolutely correct that MMS has failed in its duties under both Republican and Democratic presidents.  That’s a fact.  It is also true that the reason President Obama reversed his decision on shallow offshore drilling is because the people in the Gulf course–Coast were pleading for jobs and we need the energy.

And on it went in this vein. Recall that Barbara Boxer drew attention to herself both by tangling with an African-American business leader and a general, revealing herself as both rude and out-of-touch. If Fiorina can repeat this MTP performance — showing that her liberal opponent is both obnoxious and uniformed — she will do very well in her race. Voters already disgusted by the political elite may welcome a Washington outsider who has a businesslike and civil approach to issues.

Carly Fiorina appeared on Meet the Press and gave one of her more impressive performances, in contrast with the rudeness and perpetual interruptions of the accompanying Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz. Fiorina, on Republican criticism of Obama’s handling of the gulf oil spill:

Well, I think there’s much in that that’s fair.  And there is a difference, obviously, between governing and leading, and running for office or campaigning.  Look, BP has huge accountability here, and they need to be held to account.  But the government has accountability as well. When we hear that there are 13 separate federal government agencies running around in confusion down there, when we hear that there is equipment that could be used to help clean up the Gulf sitting in warehouses, when we hear that there is assistance that is being pleaded for by local officials and that assistance is not coming, all of this leads to the impression that this is not yet an effort where the president is exerting as much control as is necessary to get this thing fixed.  Of course BP has responsibility, but we also need to understand, where were the government regulators?  Where was MMS, despite the fact that the leader of MMS had been brought in by Ken Salazar in a move to reform the agency, according to him?

That was followed by this exchange:

MR. GREGORY:  Well, and…

REP. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ:  David–right.

MR. GREGORY:  Well, hold on a minute, that’s–wait, because I wanted to go back to Carly Fiorina.  I mean, respond to that point, Carly, for one.  But for two, because there’s legitimacy to that, what, what is good government, going forward, in a crisis like this?

MS. FIORINA:  Good government needs to be efficient and effective.  I’m not talking about small or big, but I know from the real world that when things get too big and too complicated and two expensive, as our government is now, they don’t perform well.  These are vast, unaccountable bureaucracies.  They don’t coordinate with one another, and, as a result, they’re not effective. And may I just say, it was Ken Salazar who put in place the secretary or the head of MMS who just recently resigned and who came from the industry.  So I think…

REP. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ:  No, he didn’t.

MS. FIORINA:  …this is a question of the blame game to say this is all about Republicans…

REP. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ:  He came from the House.

MS. FIORINA:  …saying small government.  This is about efficient,effective government…

REP. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ:  Birnbaum was from the House.

MS. FIORINA:  …and efficient and effective response.  And what the American people are seeing is an ineffective response.

MR. GREGORY:  Did, did that head of MMS come from–did she work on the hill or did she come from industry?

REP. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ:  The head of MMS was from the House of Representatives.  Liz Birnbaum came from the U.S.  House of Representatives. She was an employee for many years, and then she moved from the House of Representatives to MMS. So I don’t know what she’s talking about.  But this is a big, expensive disaster.

MS. FIORINA:  And she was forced to resign because of her failure to reform the department as she promised to.

REP. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ:  In the year–excuse me, excuse me–in the year that she was, that, that she was there, there definitely was not enough reform, but she was cleaning up, in the process of cleaning up from years of a totally hands-off regulatory policy by the Bush administration…

MS. FIORINA:  Then why did she resign?

REP. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ:  …in which they had a scandal-ridden regulatory agency.

MR. GREGORY:  OK, but, Congresswoman, the reality is that if the president made a priority of reforming MMS, he also made the decision to curtail that reform, if it was incomplete, to move forward on more oil drilling, to…

REP. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ:  Which I don’t…

MR. GREGORY:  …to achieve political consensus on climate change legislation.  So it’s a question of the choices the president made.

REP. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ:  Look, as–well, in a–arguably in a year, you weren’t going to be able to clean up that regulatory mess that, that essentially was–left, left industry in charge of itself, and that’s why we ended up with this BP disaster.

MR. GREGORY:  All right.

REP. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ:  But as someone, unlike Ms. Fiorina, as someone who represents a Gulf state, who is totally opposed to expanding offshore oil drilling, unlike Ms. Fiorina, who even in the face of this BP disaster, would continue to allow offshore oil drilling as a solution, it is absolutely…

MR. GREGORY:  All right.

REP. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ:  …irresponsible to do that.  We need to focus…

MS. FIORINA:  If I may–if I may just say…

REP. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ:  No, no, no.  You keep interrupting me.

MS. FIORINA:  If I may just say, actually…

REP. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ:  Excuse me, excuse me.

MS. FIORINA:  …you–if I may just say that…

MR. GREGORY:  Hold, hold on, hold on one second.  Congressman***(as spoken)***let’s let Carly Fiorina respond.  Go ahead.

MS. FIORINA:  If I might just say, I am not defending the performance of MMS over many years.  Debbie Wasserman Schultz is absolutely correct that MMS has failed in its duties under both Republican and Democratic presidents.  That’s a fact.  It is also true that the reason President Obama reversed his decision on shallow offshore drilling is because the people in the Gulf course–Coast were pleading for jobs and we need the energy.

And on it went in this vein. Recall that Barbara Boxer drew attention to herself both by tangling with an African-American business leader and a general, revealing herself as both rude and out-of-touch. If Fiorina can repeat this MTP performance — showing that her liberal opponent is both obnoxious and uniformed — she will do very well in her race. Voters already disgusted by the political elite may welcome a Washington outsider who has a businesslike and civil approach to issues.

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Canada and the Flotilla Incident

Obama has made it virtually impossible for Israel to escape both international scrutiny about the flotilla incident and a review of its internal investigation. But in contrast to the U.S. reaction to Israel’s flotilla investigation, Canada manages to treat Israel as an ally rather than as a suspect:

We welcome the Israeli Government’s decision to set up an independent public commission which will investigate what exactly occurred on board the flotilla headed for Gaza a few weeks ago. Canada fully supports an impartial, credible, and transparent investigation into the tragic incident. Canada joins others in calling on Israel and the Palestinian Authority to return quickly to negotiations toward a comprehensive and lasting peace in the region. Canada fully understands and sympathizes with Israel’s legitimate security concerns in the face of terrorism against its people. While we fully support the importance of delivering humanitarian aid to the people of Gaza, we also fully support Israel’s right to inspect ships to ensure military material and armaments do not reach the hands of Hamas terrorists.

With Obama cheer leading for an international inquiry, Canada appears to have been selected as the international element. (This is a typical Obama compromise — unlikely to assuage the Israel-haters and setting a dangerous precedent that Israel is unable to do this on its own.) The Canadian statement explains:

Retired Canadian Forces Brigadier General Ken Watkin will be a part of the panel leading the investigation. Given his career in the Canadian Forces, and his service as Judge Advocate General, Brigadier General Ken Watkin is well suited to participate in this commission. We expect that the findings of the investigation, upon completion, will be presented to the international community. States and international bodies should not rush to judgment before all the facts are known.

Now imagine that Obama had made it clear that the administration would support no international inquest. If Obama had assembled a group of countries to stand with Israel and support the blockade, reminded the world that Israel’s forces acted in self-defense, insisted that Turkey come clean on its role, and made it clear that the real responsibility lies with Iran and its proxies, he would have avoided repeating the same error that has been at the root of 18 months of his failed Middle East policy. It is only by standing with allies, facing down bullies, and forcing Iran and its network of allies to pay a price for their aggression that we can prevent the erosion of American power in the Middle East and hope to stave off more aggression. Unfortunately, this president apparently thinks his policies are working just fine.

Obama has made it virtually impossible for Israel to escape both international scrutiny about the flotilla incident and a review of its internal investigation. But in contrast to the U.S. reaction to Israel’s flotilla investigation, Canada manages to treat Israel as an ally rather than as a suspect:

We welcome the Israeli Government’s decision to set up an independent public commission which will investigate what exactly occurred on board the flotilla headed for Gaza a few weeks ago. Canada fully supports an impartial, credible, and transparent investigation into the tragic incident. Canada joins others in calling on Israel and the Palestinian Authority to return quickly to negotiations toward a comprehensive and lasting peace in the region. Canada fully understands and sympathizes with Israel’s legitimate security concerns in the face of terrorism against its people. While we fully support the importance of delivering humanitarian aid to the people of Gaza, we also fully support Israel’s right to inspect ships to ensure military material and armaments do not reach the hands of Hamas terrorists.

With Obama cheer leading for an international inquiry, Canada appears to have been selected as the international element. (This is a typical Obama compromise — unlikely to assuage the Israel-haters and setting a dangerous precedent that Israel is unable to do this on its own.) The Canadian statement explains:

Retired Canadian Forces Brigadier General Ken Watkin will be a part of the panel leading the investigation. Given his career in the Canadian Forces, and his service as Judge Advocate General, Brigadier General Ken Watkin is well suited to participate in this commission. We expect that the findings of the investigation, upon completion, will be presented to the international community. States and international bodies should not rush to judgment before all the facts are known.

Now imagine that Obama had made it clear that the administration would support no international inquest. If Obama had assembled a group of countries to stand with Israel and support the blockade, reminded the world that Israel’s forces acted in self-defense, insisted that Turkey come clean on its role, and made it clear that the real responsibility lies with Iran and its proxies, he would have avoided repeating the same error that has been at the root of 18 months of his failed Middle East policy. It is only by standing with allies, facing down bullies, and forcing Iran and its network of allies to pay a price for their aggression that we can prevent the erosion of American power in the Middle East and hope to stave off more aggression. Unfortunately, this president apparently thinks his policies are working just fine.

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The Alternative to Obama’s Israel Stance

Michael Goodwin notes that there is an alternative to Obama’s assault on Israel:

As the White House continues to turn the screws on Israel, some in Congress finally are saying, “Stop!” Unfortunately, none is a Democrat. Rep. Pete King, a Long Island Republican, aims to put America squarely on the side of our beleaguered ally. That King sees the need to do it through binding legislation tells you how far President Obama has careened off course.

The America Stands with Israel Act is direct and, at five pages, refreshingly concise. Noting that Hamas is a terrorist organization that aims to destroy Israel, the bill would require the US to withdraw from the loony UN Council on Human Rights, which, predictably, condemned Israel after the Gaza flotilla incident. The bill also would prohibit the use of American funds to investigate Israel.

About 40 Republicans have signed on as co-sponsors, but not a single Democrat has. Given the stakes and clarity, it seems fair to conclude all Dems agree with Obama that Israel is the obstacle to peace, or they are guilty of putting party loyalty ahead of Israel’s survival.

King’s office has also sent out a press release:

On Monday, June 14th at 11:00am, the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York (JCRC-NY), together with U.S. Representatives Eliot Engel, Carolyn Maloney, Jerrold Nadler, Charles Rangel and Anthony Weiner, NYC Council Speaker Christine Quinn, and a host of additional State and City public officials, will call on the U.S. State Department to investigate any and all passengers on the Mavi Marmara and other ships from Turkey’s IHH flotilla who apply for visas to enter the United States. A speaking tour has been announced for some of these passengers with a planned New York City event in the coming weeks. A petition calling for this investigation has already captured over 20,000 signatures and will be presented by JCRC-NY to Rep. Engel for delivery to the appropriate authorities in Washington, DC.

Perhaps some of those Democrats will sign on to King’s resolution, provided — of course — that the House leadership and the White House aren’t strong-arming them not to.

King, quoted by Goodwin, lays out the conceptual problem at the root of Obama’s stance toward Israel: “Barack Obama’s view of the world is that there is too much belligerency coming from the United States and Israel. … He looks at the plight of the Palestinians and blames Israel. Not Arafat, not Abbas and not the Arab countries that have let the Palestinians live in squalor for 60 years.” That is, of course, the worldview of the left — the U.S. and the West more generally are guilty of insufficient humility, Israel is an occupying force, Israel is not like any other democracy, and the “international community” composed of despots is entitled to sit in judgment of Israel (in part because nation-states have less moral standing than international bodies, many of whose members routinely brutalize their own people). No president to date has embraced this perspective.  But Obama is unlike any of his predecessors, and hence we have a foreign policy that is more Noam Chomsky than Ronald Reagan (or Bill Clinton, for that matter).

We are fortunate that King and others in Congress have figured this out. When will Democrats and American Jewry?

Michael Goodwin notes that there is an alternative to Obama’s assault on Israel:

As the White House continues to turn the screws on Israel, some in Congress finally are saying, “Stop!” Unfortunately, none is a Democrat. Rep. Pete King, a Long Island Republican, aims to put America squarely on the side of our beleaguered ally. That King sees the need to do it through binding legislation tells you how far President Obama has careened off course.

The America Stands with Israel Act is direct and, at five pages, refreshingly concise. Noting that Hamas is a terrorist organization that aims to destroy Israel, the bill would require the US to withdraw from the loony UN Council on Human Rights, which, predictably, condemned Israel after the Gaza flotilla incident. The bill also would prohibit the use of American funds to investigate Israel.

About 40 Republicans have signed on as co-sponsors, but not a single Democrat has. Given the stakes and clarity, it seems fair to conclude all Dems agree with Obama that Israel is the obstacle to peace, or they are guilty of putting party loyalty ahead of Israel’s survival.

King’s office has also sent out a press release:

On Monday, June 14th at 11:00am, the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York (JCRC-NY), together with U.S. Representatives Eliot Engel, Carolyn Maloney, Jerrold Nadler, Charles Rangel and Anthony Weiner, NYC Council Speaker Christine Quinn, and a host of additional State and City public officials, will call on the U.S. State Department to investigate any and all passengers on the Mavi Marmara and other ships from Turkey’s IHH flotilla who apply for visas to enter the United States. A speaking tour has been announced for some of these passengers with a planned New York City event in the coming weeks. A petition calling for this investigation has already captured over 20,000 signatures and will be presented by JCRC-NY to Rep. Engel for delivery to the appropriate authorities in Washington, DC.

Perhaps some of those Democrats will sign on to King’s resolution, provided — of course — that the House leadership and the White House aren’t strong-arming them not to.

King, quoted by Goodwin, lays out the conceptual problem at the root of Obama’s stance toward Israel: “Barack Obama’s view of the world is that there is too much belligerency coming from the United States and Israel. … He looks at the plight of the Palestinians and blames Israel. Not Arafat, not Abbas and not the Arab countries that have let the Palestinians live in squalor for 60 years.” That is, of course, the worldview of the left — the U.S. and the West more generally are guilty of insufficient humility, Israel is an occupying force, Israel is not like any other democracy, and the “international community” composed of despots is entitled to sit in judgment of Israel (in part because nation-states have less moral standing than international bodies, many of whose members routinely brutalize their own people). No president to date has embraced this perspective.  But Obama is unlike any of his predecessors, and hence we have a foreign policy that is more Noam Chomsky than Ronald Reagan (or Bill Clinton, for that matter).

We are fortunate that King and others in Congress have figured this out. When will Democrats and American Jewry?

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RE: The Incoherent Response to the Flotilla Incident

The White House released a statement late on Sunday concerning the Israeli investigation of the flotilla incident. It is further proof that no good comes from soft-pedaling criticism of the administration or from wishful thinking that one day Obama will emerge as a stalwart friend of the Jewish state. The statement reads in full:

Today, the Government of Israel took an important step forward in proposing an independent public commission to investigate the circumstances of the recent tragic events on board the flotilla headed for Gaza. Through a presidential statement of the United Nations Security Council, the United States joined the international community in condemning those acts which led to nine fatalities and many injuries on board the flotilla, and supporting the completion of a prompt, impartial, credible, and transparent investigation.

We believe that Israel, like any other nation, should be allowed to undertake an investigation into events that involve its national security. Israel has a military justice system that meets international standards and is capable of conducting a serious and credible investigation, and the structure and terms of reference of Israel’s proposed independent public commission can meet the standard of a prompt, impartial, credible, and transparent investigation. But we will not prejudge the process or its outcome, and will await the conduct and findings of the investigation before drawing further conclusions.

While Israel should be afforded the time to complete its process, we expect Israel’s commission and military investigation will be carried out promptly. We also expect that, upon completion, its findings will be presented publicly and will be presented to the international community.

Let’s count the ways in which this statement is, as a colleague puts it, “appalling.”

First, contrary to assurances to some Jewish leaders, the Obama administration is not enthusiastically embracing or participating in an investigation of Israel. In fact, the administration’s response is a grudging acknowledgment that Israel insists on doing this itself and a warning that Obama and the “international community” will continue to sit in judgment. There is no repudiation of an international inquest; to the contrary, the door is left wide open if the UN decides that the results of the inquiry aren’t “credible.”

Second, after being apparently encouraged by the Reid-McConnell letter, which treated the UN statement as a positive development, the Obama team gloats about its move. (“Through a presidential statement of the United Nations Security Council, the United States joined the international community in condemning those acts which led to nine fatalities and many injuries on board the flotilla, and supporting the completion of a prompt, impartial, credible, and transparent investigation.”) This is what comes from cheer leading the unacceptable — you get more of it.

Third, it orders Israel to present the findings to the “international community.” What other country must do so? Would the U.S. dream of seeking the UN’s stamp of approval on its drone policy?

Finally, there is no indication that we are the least bit interested in investigating Turkey or the terrorists responsible for the violence. Since Turkey will not investigate itself, why is no international inquest convened to explore that nation’s “acts which led to nine fatalities and many injuries on board the flotilla”? It is because Obama refuses to cast blame or focus the international community’s ire anywhere but on Israel.

This should be a warning to those earnestly trying to curb the worst instincts of this president. It won’t be done by walking on eggshells, making excuses, or trying to soften criticism. In other words, it is time to robustly and clearly enunciate the ways in which this administration is doing damage to our ally, our security, and our moral standing. Obama continues to put all three in jeopardy.

The White House released a statement late on Sunday concerning the Israeli investigation of the flotilla incident. It is further proof that no good comes from soft-pedaling criticism of the administration or from wishful thinking that one day Obama will emerge as a stalwart friend of the Jewish state. The statement reads in full:

Today, the Government of Israel took an important step forward in proposing an independent public commission to investigate the circumstances of the recent tragic events on board the flotilla headed for Gaza. Through a presidential statement of the United Nations Security Council, the United States joined the international community in condemning those acts which led to nine fatalities and many injuries on board the flotilla, and supporting the completion of a prompt, impartial, credible, and transparent investigation.

We believe that Israel, like any other nation, should be allowed to undertake an investigation into events that involve its national security. Israel has a military justice system that meets international standards and is capable of conducting a serious and credible investigation, and the structure and terms of reference of Israel’s proposed independent public commission can meet the standard of a prompt, impartial, credible, and transparent investigation. But we will not prejudge the process or its outcome, and will await the conduct and findings of the investigation before drawing further conclusions.

While Israel should be afforded the time to complete its process, we expect Israel’s commission and military investigation will be carried out promptly. We also expect that, upon completion, its findings will be presented publicly and will be presented to the international community.

Let’s count the ways in which this statement is, as a colleague puts it, “appalling.”

First, contrary to assurances to some Jewish leaders, the Obama administration is not enthusiastically embracing or participating in an investigation of Israel. In fact, the administration’s response is a grudging acknowledgment that Israel insists on doing this itself and a warning that Obama and the “international community” will continue to sit in judgment. There is no repudiation of an international inquest; to the contrary, the door is left wide open if the UN decides that the results of the inquiry aren’t “credible.”

Second, after being apparently encouraged by the Reid-McConnell letter, which treated the UN statement as a positive development, the Obama team gloats about its move. (“Through a presidential statement of the United Nations Security Council, the United States joined the international community in condemning those acts which led to nine fatalities and many injuries on board the flotilla, and supporting the completion of a prompt, impartial, credible, and transparent investigation.”) This is what comes from cheer leading the unacceptable — you get more of it.

Third, it orders Israel to present the findings to the “international community.” What other country must do so? Would the U.S. dream of seeking the UN’s stamp of approval on its drone policy?

Finally, there is no indication that we are the least bit interested in investigating Turkey or the terrorists responsible for the violence. Since Turkey will not investigate itself, why is no international inquest convened to explore that nation’s “acts which led to nine fatalities and many injuries on board the flotilla”? It is because Obama refuses to cast blame or focus the international community’s ire anywhere but on Israel.

This should be a warning to those earnestly trying to curb the worst instincts of this president. It won’t be done by walking on eggshells, making excuses, or trying to soften criticism. In other words, it is time to robustly and clearly enunciate the ways in which this administration is doing damage to our ally, our security, and our moral standing. Obama continues to put all three in jeopardy.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Because all our problems are solved, there’s time for this: “Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), a former Marine and the sponsor of the bill in the upper chamber, has convinced 79 senators to sign on to the measure [to rename the Department of the Navy] he introduced in late February. But even though it has broad bipartisan support, the bill’s fate could be decided by Senate Armed Services Committee chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and his GOP counterpart Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who oppose the efforts to rename the Department of the Navy as the Department of the Navy and Marine Corps. The Marine Corps currently operates under the umbrella of the Department of the Navy.”

Because of columns like this, Newsweek became a self-parody. Eleanor Clift on Helen Thomas makes up a cover story and reaches an obnoxious conclusion: “She was talking about the settlers, and if she had said they should go back to Brooklyn, where many of them are from, she probably wouldn’t have made news.” And then she makes excuses for a bigot: “Thomas has always been outspoken on the Palestinian issue, phrasing questions in such a way that sometimes made eyes roll in the press room. The daughter of Lebanese immigrants who settled in Detroit, she felt she brought a perspective that people needed to hear.”

Because Obama is now a weight around the necks of his fellow Democrats, David Axelrod is forced to offer this spin: “I believe that ultimately these [2010] races are going to be decided at the local level at the, at the grass roots.  And the candidates who speak to the aspirations and concerns of people in their districts and states are going to win.”

Because there is no state in which Democrats escape Obama’s toxic effect: “Obamaland is crumbling. Democrats have firmly controlled Illinois, the president’s home state, for nearly a decade, turning it into what one Republican called ‘a deep blue state.’ But this has changed almost overnight. In the midterm elections on November 2, Democrats stand to lose the governorship, Obama’s old Senate seat, two to four House seats, and any number of state legislative seats and down-ticket statewide offices.”

Because there really is no way to overestimate their economic illiteracy, you shouldn’t be surprised when Democrats like House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.) say things like “Republicans need to stop talking about cutting taxes and ‘look to the future with a little more compassion and bipartisanship.’”

Because they have no clue what to do about the listing economy — cutting taxes and easing up on business burdens aren’t in their repertoire – the Obami’s solution is always the same: more government spending.

Because the mainstream media continually carry water for the Democrats, the obvious always comes as a surprise to their readers and the chattering class: “We’re all familiar with the factional fights among Republicans, the party purges, and rabid RINO (a.k.a. Republican in Name Only) hunting. … The divisions in the Democratic Party are deepening, less than two years after its galvanizing 2008 victory that left liberals crowing about the prospect of a 40-year majority. With Republicans essentially stonewalling any hope of bipartisan support for Obama’s policies, the reason the significant Democrat majorities have not materialized into a steady stream of legislative victories is because of these ideological and political divisions within the Democratic caucus itself, largely between big-city liberals and swing-district centrists.”

Because all our problems are solved, there’s time for this: “Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), a former Marine and the sponsor of the bill in the upper chamber, has convinced 79 senators to sign on to the measure [to rename the Department of the Navy] he introduced in late February. But even though it has broad bipartisan support, the bill’s fate could be decided by Senate Armed Services Committee chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and his GOP counterpart Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who oppose the efforts to rename the Department of the Navy as the Department of the Navy and Marine Corps. The Marine Corps currently operates under the umbrella of the Department of the Navy.”

Because of columns like this, Newsweek became a self-parody. Eleanor Clift on Helen Thomas makes up a cover story and reaches an obnoxious conclusion: “She was talking about the settlers, and if she had said they should go back to Brooklyn, where many of them are from, she probably wouldn’t have made news.” And then she makes excuses for a bigot: “Thomas has always been outspoken on the Palestinian issue, phrasing questions in such a way that sometimes made eyes roll in the press room. The daughter of Lebanese immigrants who settled in Detroit, she felt she brought a perspective that people needed to hear.”

Because Obama is now a weight around the necks of his fellow Democrats, David Axelrod is forced to offer this spin: “I believe that ultimately these [2010] races are going to be decided at the local level at the, at the grass roots.  And the candidates who speak to the aspirations and concerns of people in their districts and states are going to win.”

Because there is no state in which Democrats escape Obama’s toxic effect: “Obamaland is crumbling. Democrats have firmly controlled Illinois, the president’s home state, for nearly a decade, turning it into what one Republican called ‘a deep blue state.’ But this has changed almost overnight. In the midterm elections on November 2, Democrats stand to lose the governorship, Obama’s old Senate seat, two to four House seats, and any number of state legislative seats and down-ticket statewide offices.”

Because there really is no way to overestimate their economic illiteracy, you shouldn’t be surprised when Democrats like House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.) say things like “Republicans need to stop talking about cutting taxes and ‘look to the future with a little more compassion and bipartisanship.’”

Because they have no clue what to do about the listing economy — cutting taxes and easing up on business burdens aren’t in their repertoire – the Obami’s solution is always the same: more government spending.

Because the mainstream media continually carry water for the Democrats, the obvious always comes as a surprise to their readers and the chattering class: “We’re all familiar with the factional fights among Republicans, the party purges, and rabid RINO (a.k.a. Republican in Name Only) hunting. … The divisions in the Democratic Party are deepening, less than two years after its galvanizing 2008 victory that left liberals crowing about the prospect of a 40-year majority. With Republicans essentially stonewalling any hope of bipartisan support for Obama’s policies, the reason the significant Democrat majorities have not materialized into a steady stream of legislative victories is because of these ideological and political divisions within the Democratic caucus itself, largely between big-city liberals and swing-district centrists.”

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