Commentary Magazine


Posts For: June 18, 2010

A Time for Choosing

In a June 18 piece, Caroline Glick outlines nicely the threat Israel faces in the coming days, as Iran, Hezbollah, and Turkey ramp up their flotilla assault. She points out that the purpose of the flotillas is to force Israel to use its military against them, and thus incur greater disapproval from the global community with each incident. What she doesn’t go on to say — at least not in so many words — is that Hamas, Hezbollah, and their backers have a very specific interim objective in mind: they want to dilute the integrity of Israel’s national security by institutionalizing multilateral vetoes over it.

Ms. Glick undoubtedly knows this. It’s worth emphasizing, however, because there is great danger in assuming that the asymmetric methods of guerrilla terrorism are evidence of random, incoherent anger. The West is particularly prone to this analytical failure. But in this situation we have special reason to recognize that a geopolitical strategy is at work: the governments of Turkey and Iran are overtly involved. Their campaign method is unconventional, but what they seek is very much a boundable, state-oriented goal. By inducing the Western nations to accept today’s circumstances as unsustainable, they want to make it the default solution to create an international “buffer,” in some minimal but expandable form, between Israel and Gaza.

Efforts to reach just this kind of solution are already underway, as the Economist outlined a week ago. Hamas is actively lobbying for such proposals, which include having a European body inspect Gaza-bound cargo in Greece, as well as Hamas operating the Gaza port “under European inspection” (see here and here). The process of internationalizing the Gaza blockade is in motion; it will gain momentum, at least in diplomatic circles, with each fresh flotilla confrontation.

As a bureaucratic solution, endowed with ostensible neutrality and the official promise of engagement, this will be attractive to many. But it’s an unacceptable outcome for Israel — not least because of the terrible record of multinational peacekeeping forces, in Lebanon and around the world, in safeguarding the interests of populations under siege. No amount of European oversight at the docks will keep arms shipments from reaching Hamas if the naval blockade is lifted. But the presence of Europeans on an international mission would constrain Israel’s options, effectively putting the EU at the table with Israel’s Ministry of Defense and giving it a vote.

These concerns, however, as significant as they are, amount to tactical considerations. The strategic danger is philosophical, striking directly at the heart of the Western concept of nationhood and national prerogative. If a sustained asymmetric assault can induce the Western powers to withdraw their support of one nation’s integrity, that approach can work against others. Internationalizing the blockade of Gaza would unquestionably amount to such a withdrawal.

There is a little time left to craft a strategy for dealing with the “flotilla Intifada,” but we are at the point of decision right now regarding what America’s objective is to be. If we don’t hew to one of our own, we will find ourselves funneled, along with Europe, into the objective sought by Israel’s enemies. Our objective ought to be relieving these flotilla confrontations of their political significance by affirming Israel’s sovereign national right to defend itself and negotiate its borders on its own terms.

There is considerably more latitude to do that than the mainstream media narrative suggests. MEMRI has an excellent summary of regional opinion this week, in which the opportunities to leverage Arab concerns about Turkish and Iranian activism stand out in neon. Egypt, particularly leery of both nations’ intentions, is also Israel’s erstwhile partner in keeping Gaza demilitarized; a reassuring approach to Cairo is where we should start.

President Obama may well have prejudiced the outcome already by telling Mahmoud Abbas that the Gaza situation is “unsustainable.” That word works expressly to the advantage of Israel’s enemies: it tells them that Obama is in their corner and singing off their sheet music. Israel’s enemies can also take heart from the American reaction to Turkey’s major military incursion into northern Iraq this week. The dispatch of hundreds of troops into Iraq in pursuit of Kurdish rebels was met with the officious explanation from the U.S. State Department that “Turkey, like any country, has the right to defend itself against terrorist organizations.” There has apparently been no call for an international investigation into the deaths of the four Kurds killed so far by Turkish forces.

There is a truth being revealed this summer about what is unsustainable, and it turns out that it’s the West’s fashionable ambivalence about Israel. The terrorists and their national backers are putting pressure directly on that weak spot in our collective posture. For all our sakes, we had better choose to affirm Israel’s rights as a sovereign nation. The one thing that is certain is that we cannot postpone that choice any longer.

In a June 18 piece, Caroline Glick outlines nicely the threat Israel faces in the coming days, as Iran, Hezbollah, and Turkey ramp up their flotilla assault. She points out that the purpose of the flotillas is to force Israel to use its military against them, and thus incur greater disapproval from the global community with each incident. What she doesn’t go on to say — at least not in so many words — is that Hamas, Hezbollah, and their backers have a very specific interim objective in mind: they want to dilute the integrity of Israel’s national security by institutionalizing multilateral vetoes over it.

Ms. Glick undoubtedly knows this. It’s worth emphasizing, however, because there is great danger in assuming that the asymmetric methods of guerrilla terrorism are evidence of random, incoherent anger. The West is particularly prone to this analytical failure. But in this situation we have special reason to recognize that a geopolitical strategy is at work: the governments of Turkey and Iran are overtly involved. Their campaign method is unconventional, but what they seek is very much a boundable, state-oriented goal. By inducing the Western nations to accept today’s circumstances as unsustainable, they want to make it the default solution to create an international “buffer,” in some minimal but expandable form, between Israel and Gaza.

Efforts to reach just this kind of solution are already underway, as the Economist outlined a week ago. Hamas is actively lobbying for such proposals, which include having a European body inspect Gaza-bound cargo in Greece, as well as Hamas operating the Gaza port “under European inspection” (see here and here). The process of internationalizing the Gaza blockade is in motion; it will gain momentum, at least in diplomatic circles, with each fresh flotilla confrontation.

As a bureaucratic solution, endowed with ostensible neutrality and the official promise of engagement, this will be attractive to many. But it’s an unacceptable outcome for Israel — not least because of the terrible record of multinational peacekeeping forces, in Lebanon and around the world, in safeguarding the interests of populations under siege. No amount of European oversight at the docks will keep arms shipments from reaching Hamas if the naval blockade is lifted. But the presence of Europeans on an international mission would constrain Israel’s options, effectively putting the EU at the table with Israel’s Ministry of Defense and giving it a vote.

These concerns, however, as significant as they are, amount to tactical considerations. The strategic danger is philosophical, striking directly at the heart of the Western concept of nationhood and national prerogative. If a sustained asymmetric assault can induce the Western powers to withdraw their support of one nation’s integrity, that approach can work against others. Internationalizing the blockade of Gaza would unquestionably amount to such a withdrawal.

There is a little time left to craft a strategy for dealing with the “flotilla Intifada,” but we are at the point of decision right now regarding what America’s objective is to be. If we don’t hew to one of our own, we will find ourselves funneled, along with Europe, into the objective sought by Israel’s enemies. Our objective ought to be relieving these flotilla confrontations of their political significance by affirming Israel’s sovereign national right to defend itself and negotiate its borders on its own terms.

There is considerably more latitude to do that than the mainstream media narrative suggests. MEMRI has an excellent summary of regional opinion this week, in which the opportunities to leverage Arab concerns about Turkish and Iranian activism stand out in neon. Egypt, particularly leery of both nations’ intentions, is also Israel’s erstwhile partner in keeping Gaza demilitarized; a reassuring approach to Cairo is where we should start.

President Obama may well have prejudiced the outcome already by telling Mahmoud Abbas that the Gaza situation is “unsustainable.” That word works expressly to the advantage of Israel’s enemies: it tells them that Obama is in their corner and singing off their sheet music. Israel’s enemies can also take heart from the American reaction to Turkey’s major military incursion into northern Iraq this week. The dispatch of hundreds of troops into Iraq in pursuit of Kurdish rebels was met with the officious explanation from the U.S. State Department that “Turkey, like any country, has the right to defend itself against terrorist organizations.” There has apparently been no call for an international investigation into the deaths of the four Kurds killed so far by Turkish forces.

There is a truth being revealed this summer about what is unsustainable, and it turns out that it’s the West’s fashionable ambivalence about Israel. The terrorists and their national backers are putting pressure directly on that weak spot in our collective posture. For all our sakes, we had better choose to affirm Israel’s rights as a sovereign nation. The one thing that is certain is that we cannot postpone that choice any longer.

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Campaign Finance Reform? Just More Political Corruption

The effort by President Obama and congressional Democrats to sidestep the Supreme Court’s landmark free-speech ruling in the Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission case has sent these supposed advocates for clean elections down into the usual morass of special-interest legislation.

The Citizens United ruling overturned the McCain-Feingold federal restrictions, which prevented groups and corporations from exercising their right to comment on the behavior of our elected leaders. In this case, a so-called “reform” of campaign finance meant that incumbents had the right to silence their critics, such as in the instance that prompted the ruling, which concerned a film that was critical of Hillary Clinton and banned by the Federal Election Commission. The Court wisely saw this as a violation of the First Amendment.

Obama and the Democrats have engaged in nonstop demagoguery about this issue, which they pretend is about ensuring fairness but is actually about protecting politicians and the mainstream media from both scrutiny and competition. A measure proposed by Maryland’s Rep. Chris Van Hollen and New York’s Sen. Charles Schumer attempts to skirt the Court’s decision by adding new disclosure rulings, which will burden those attempting to speak out and is almost certainly unconstitutional. As the New York Times reports, they’ve now made it worse by granting specific exemptions to some groups but not to others. And in order to gain the votes of moderate Democrats, they’ve added the National Rifle Association to the ranks of those who will be excluded from the new regulations. That has now been changed to include all groups with 500,000 or more members. That may lead some Democrats to think they’ll escape being tarred as anti-gun in a year in which anti-incumbent fever is running high. But all this does is narrow down the government’s discrimination between speech that it likes — such as campaign expenditures by labor unions — and speech it doesn’t like — such as any group targeted by the bill — while infuriating some liberals who are appalled at having to exempt the NRA.

This law isn’t just a mess. It also illustrates everything that is wrong about so-called reform of election spending, which amounts to nothing more than deciding who can speak and who can’t. The Times treats this as just the usual congressional log-rolling, in which deals are made to avoid antagonizing some while harming others. But free speech cannot be allocated like earmark pork legislation, which doles out funds to some districts while others get nothing. But to unprincipled politicians whose main goal is to silence their critics, there is no limit as to how low they will sink in order to pass a bill that will hamstring independently financed political speech.

The effort by President Obama and congressional Democrats to sidestep the Supreme Court’s landmark free-speech ruling in the Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission case has sent these supposed advocates for clean elections down into the usual morass of special-interest legislation.

The Citizens United ruling overturned the McCain-Feingold federal restrictions, which prevented groups and corporations from exercising their right to comment on the behavior of our elected leaders. In this case, a so-called “reform” of campaign finance meant that incumbents had the right to silence their critics, such as in the instance that prompted the ruling, which concerned a film that was critical of Hillary Clinton and banned by the Federal Election Commission. The Court wisely saw this as a violation of the First Amendment.

Obama and the Democrats have engaged in nonstop demagoguery about this issue, which they pretend is about ensuring fairness but is actually about protecting politicians and the mainstream media from both scrutiny and competition. A measure proposed by Maryland’s Rep. Chris Van Hollen and New York’s Sen. Charles Schumer attempts to skirt the Court’s decision by adding new disclosure rulings, which will burden those attempting to speak out and is almost certainly unconstitutional. As the New York Times reports, they’ve now made it worse by granting specific exemptions to some groups but not to others. And in order to gain the votes of moderate Democrats, they’ve added the National Rifle Association to the ranks of those who will be excluded from the new regulations. That has now been changed to include all groups with 500,000 or more members. That may lead some Democrats to think they’ll escape being tarred as anti-gun in a year in which anti-incumbent fever is running high. But all this does is narrow down the government’s discrimination between speech that it likes — such as campaign expenditures by labor unions — and speech it doesn’t like — such as any group targeted by the bill — while infuriating some liberals who are appalled at having to exempt the NRA.

This law isn’t just a mess. It also illustrates everything that is wrong about so-called reform of election spending, which amounts to nothing more than deciding who can speak and who can’t. The Times treats this as just the usual congressional log-rolling, in which deals are made to avoid antagonizing some while harming others. But free speech cannot be allocated like earmark pork legislation, which doles out funds to some districts while others get nothing. But to unprincipled politicians whose main goal is to silence their critics, there is no limit as to how low they will sink in order to pass a bill that will hamstring independently financed political speech.

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RE: Making No Friends in the Middle East

Jen, forget the fact that Muslim publics don’t like Barack Obama as much as they once did. Consider this: “the new [Pew] poll does show a modest increase over the past year in support for suicide bombing being often or sometimes justifiable, with a rise in Egypt from 15% to 20% and in Jordan from 12% to 20%.”

During the George W. Bush years, that number had plunged. In 2007, the BBC reported, “In Lebanon, Bangladesh, Jordan, Pakistan and Indonesia, the proportion of Muslims who support suicide bombing has declined by half or more since 2002.”

Why did support for suicide bombing go up in the past year? In the U.S., our post-9/11 self-assessment is all about resenting the leader who took us into long and difficult fights. But the war against jihad plays out in Muslim publics as a war of ideas. For the endless jokes about his oratorical shortcomings, Bush articulated the choice with unsurpassed clarity: it’s Islamism v. democracy. What does each one offer? Islamism gives you a zombie doctrine of earthly denial so that you may, in death, triumph over your hopeless life. Under Bush, American democracy put your oppressive leaders on notice and gave you the hope, if not the actual opportunity, to change your hopeless life. Under Obama, democracy bows to your authoritarian king, extends an open hand to the autocrat who beats you over the head, and welcomes with open arms the dictator who tortured you in jail. Obama’s made the choice a no brainer.

As the Egyptian dissident Saad Ibrahim wrote in the Washington Post a few days ago:

To be sure, the methods through which Bush pursued his policies left much to be desired, but his persistent rhetoric and efforts produced results. From 2005 to 2006, 11 contested elections took place in the Middle East: in Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine, Lebanon, Kuwait, Jordan, Yemen, Egypt and Mauritania. These elections were not perfect, but the advances sparked unprecedented sociopolitical dynamism and unleashed tremendous pent-up desire for democratic choice.

Obama has put the cap back on. Where’s that pent-up desire headed? Americans still think it’s about a president with a Texas twang versus one who enunciates phonetic Farsi, or it’s about light skin versus dark, or some other cosmetic consideration. One awful aspect of postmodern culture is that identity is seen as more powerful than ideas. But despite the popularity of Obama’s identity, his country’s exceptional ideas are now losing ground to a retrograde death cult.

American neo-isolationists and faux realists love to pit the costs of democracy promotion abroad against the benefits of domestic spending. “How does Muslim democracy help Americans?” they ask. They may not spot the connections between the latest Pew poll, the uptick in attacks on America, and our new policy of democracy dismissal, but the next wave of potential jihadists are in a position to see it all too clearly.

Jen, forget the fact that Muslim publics don’t like Barack Obama as much as they once did. Consider this: “the new [Pew] poll does show a modest increase over the past year in support for suicide bombing being often or sometimes justifiable, with a rise in Egypt from 15% to 20% and in Jordan from 12% to 20%.”

During the George W. Bush years, that number had plunged. In 2007, the BBC reported, “In Lebanon, Bangladesh, Jordan, Pakistan and Indonesia, the proportion of Muslims who support suicide bombing has declined by half or more since 2002.”

Why did support for suicide bombing go up in the past year? In the U.S., our post-9/11 self-assessment is all about resenting the leader who took us into long and difficult fights. But the war against jihad plays out in Muslim publics as a war of ideas. For the endless jokes about his oratorical shortcomings, Bush articulated the choice with unsurpassed clarity: it’s Islamism v. democracy. What does each one offer? Islamism gives you a zombie doctrine of earthly denial so that you may, in death, triumph over your hopeless life. Under Bush, American democracy put your oppressive leaders on notice and gave you the hope, if not the actual opportunity, to change your hopeless life. Under Obama, democracy bows to your authoritarian king, extends an open hand to the autocrat who beats you over the head, and welcomes with open arms the dictator who tortured you in jail. Obama’s made the choice a no brainer.

As the Egyptian dissident Saad Ibrahim wrote in the Washington Post a few days ago:

To be sure, the methods through which Bush pursued his policies left much to be desired, but his persistent rhetoric and efforts produced results. From 2005 to 2006, 11 contested elections took place in the Middle East: in Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine, Lebanon, Kuwait, Jordan, Yemen, Egypt and Mauritania. These elections were not perfect, but the advances sparked unprecedented sociopolitical dynamism and unleashed tremendous pent-up desire for democratic choice.

Obama has put the cap back on. Where’s that pent-up desire headed? Americans still think it’s about a president with a Texas twang versus one who enunciates phonetic Farsi, or it’s about light skin versus dark, or some other cosmetic consideration. One awful aspect of postmodern culture is that identity is seen as more powerful than ideas. But despite the popularity of Obama’s identity, his country’s exceptional ideas are now losing ground to a retrograde death cult.

American neo-isolationists and faux realists love to pit the costs of democracy promotion abroad against the benefits of domestic spending. “How does Muslim democracy help Americans?” they ask. They may not spot the connections between the latest Pew poll, the uptick in attacks on America, and our new policy of democracy dismissal, but the next wave of potential jihadists are in a position to see it all too clearly.

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Measuring Obama: Their Finest Hour but Not Ours

In the wake of yet another disappointing Oval Office speech, this time about the oil spill and energy policy, the arrival today of the 70th anniversary of two of the most influential speeches by world leaders is a harsh reminder of the gap between President Barack Obama’s pedestrian yet self-aggrandizing style and the measure of genuine leadership. Measuring anyone, even someone whose supporters tend to speak of him as if he were the Messiah, against the standards set on June 18, 1940, by Winston Churchill and Charles De Gaulle may be unfair. But the contrast between Obama and these historical icons isn’t so much one of eloquence but their ability to see moral choices clearly, to act decisively based on those choices, and then to be able to articulate the reasoning behind them in such a way as to not only render them explicable to a general audience but also to inspire their listeners to act and sacrifice in the cause they have set forth.

Addressing the House of Commons after the collapse of the French army under the weight of the German blitzkrieg, Churchill made one of the most justly famous speeches in history. His concluding sentence still has the power to raise the hair on the back of our necks today: “Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves that, if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, ‘This was their finest hour.’ ”

But there was more to this speech than just a memorable phrase. He was brutally frank about the extent of the catastrophe to the Allies while urging that time not be wasted on recriminations. He spoke of the hope of victory but grounded that hope in practical policy. Most important, unlike many in the Commons as well as in his cabinet who still thought that peace with Hitler was possible and that accommodation with the reality of Nazi victory was merely common sense, Churchill was unafraid to state explicitly that such a decision would be unthinkable, because “if we fail, then the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new Dark Age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science.”

Elsewhere in London that day, De Gaulle, a mere brigadier general and an undersecretary of war in the last government of France’s Third Republic, made a speech on the BBC declaring that he and not the French leaders who would soon sign an armistice and set up the Nazi puppet Vichy regime truly represented the people of France. Though almost all of his countrymen could not see past their lamentable predicament at that moment, DeGaulle, almost alone, refused to submit. Like Churchill, he saw the war as more than merely a struggle of countries but of ideas. As he put it, “Honor, common sense and the best interest of our homeland all command the free French to fight.” He asked the French to consider that when “the forces of liberty finally triumph over those of servitude, what will be the destiny of a France which submitted to the enemy.” Though most of the French passively waited out the war until they were liberated by the sacrifices of others, De Gaulle not only saved the honor of his country but also inspired many Frenchmen and others to fight on against the Nazis.

Taken together, it is easy now to see these two statements as examples of how true statesmen can react at a crucial moment of history. By contrast, today the United States may be in a far stronger position than was Britain and France in 1940, but it, too, is faced with grave threats to its security that force it to fight wars that also demand inspired leadership. But it is led by a man who prides himself above all on his cool temperament, his willingness to see the world in terms of moral equivalences, his irrepressible desire to apologize to enemies of freedom rather than to confront them, and to temporize and prevaricate and to choose half measures when faced with dilemmas rather than to act decisively and with honor.

Comparisons with historical greatness are inevitably invidious, but seen in this light, the gap between Churchill and De Gaulle on the one hand and Barack Obama on the other must force Americans to sadly admit that this is not our finest hour.

In the wake of yet another disappointing Oval Office speech, this time about the oil spill and energy policy, the arrival today of the 70th anniversary of two of the most influential speeches by world leaders is a harsh reminder of the gap between President Barack Obama’s pedestrian yet self-aggrandizing style and the measure of genuine leadership. Measuring anyone, even someone whose supporters tend to speak of him as if he were the Messiah, against the standards set on June 18, 1940, by Winston Churchill and Charles De Gaulle may be unfair. But the contrast between Obama and these historical icons isn’t so much one of eloquence but their ability to see moral choices clearly, to act decisively based on those choices, and then to be able to articulate the reasoning behind them in such a way as to not only render them explicable to a general audience but also to inspire their listeners to act and sacrifice in the cause they have set forth.

Addressing the House of Commons after the collapse of the French army under the weight of the German blitzkrieg, Churchill made one of the most justly famous speeches in history. His concluding sentence still has the power to raise the hair on the back of our necks today: “Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves that, if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, ‘This was their finest hour.’ ”

But there was more to this speech than just a memorable phrase. He was brutally frank about the extent of the catastrophe to the Allies while urging that time not be wasted on recriminations. He spoke of the hope of victory but grounded that hope in practical policy. Most important, unlike many in the Commons as well as in his cabinet who still thought that peace with Hitler was possible and that accommodation with the reality of Nazi victory was merely common sense, Churchill was unafraid to state explicitly that such a decision would be unthinkable, because “if we fail, then the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new Dark Age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science.”

Elsewhere in London that day, De Gaulle, a mere brigadier general and an undersecretary of war in the last government of France’s Third Republic, made a speech on the BBC declaring that he and not the French leaders who would soon sign an armistice and set up the Nazi puppet Vichy regime truly represented the people of France. Though almost all of his countrymen could not see past their lamentable predicament at that moment, DeGaulle, almost alone, refused to submit. Like Churchill, he saw the war as more than merely a struggle of countries but of ideas. As he put it, “Honor, common sense and the best interest of our homeland all command the free French to fight.” He asked the French to consider that when “the forces of liberty finally triumph over those of servitude, what will be the destiny of a France which submitted to the enemy.” Though most of the French passively waited out the war until they were liberated by the sacrifices of others, De Gaulle not only saved the honor of his country but also inspired many Frenchmen and others to fight on against the Nazis.

Taken together, it is easy now to see these two statements as examples of how true statesmen can react at a crucial moment of history. By contrast, today the United States may be in a far stronger position than was Britain and France in 1940, but it, too, is faced with grave threats to its security that force it to fight wars that also demand inspired leadership. But it is led by a man who prides himself above all on his cool temperament, his willingness to see the world in terms of moral equivalences, his irrepressible desire to apologize to enemies of freedom rather than to confront them, and to temporize and prevaricate and to choose half measures when faced with dilemmas rather than to act decisively and with honor.

Comparisons with historical greatness are inevitably invidious, but seen in this light, the gap between Churchill and De Gaulle on the one hand and Barack Obama on the other must force Americans to sadly admit that this is not our finest hour.

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A Former Clinton Adviser Pushes the Panic Button

William Galston, a first-rate academic mind who was a top domestic adviser to President Clinton, begins his piece in the New Republic this way:

Earth to House Democrats: It’s time to push the panic button. But don’t take my word for it; consider the evidence.

After analyzing the evidence, this is how Galston concludes:

It’s too late to enact legislation that will actually affect the economy’s performance between now and November, but it may not be too late for Democrats to better align their agenda with the public’s economic concerns. And they could get lucky: The four remaining employment reports between now and the election might show accelerating job creation in the private sector and a more rapid decline in unemployment than we have seen thus far. That would give embattled incumbents the chance to argue—more credibly than they can now—that we’re on the right track and shouldn’t turn back.

On the other hand, it’s entirely possible that none of this matters now, that the voters likely to turn out this fall have already concluded that with one-party control of the legislative and executive branches, Democrats will continue to take the country further to the left than the majority of the electorate would like. If so, Democrats should probably prepare themselves for the two words they dread the most—“Speaker Boehner.”

It will be hard for Obama acolytes in the press to dismiss this as more “the sky is falling” predictions from Republican critics, now, won’t it?

William Galston, a first-rate academic mind who was a top domestic adviser to President Clinton, begins his piece in the New Republic this way:

Earth to House Democrats: It’s time to push the panic button. But don’t take my word for it; consider the evidence.

After analyzing the evidence, this is how Galston concludes:

It’s too late to enact legislation that will actually affect the economy’s performance between now and November, but it may not be too late for Democrats to better align their agenda with the public’s economic concerns. And they could get lucky: The four remaining employment reports between now and the election might show accelerating job creation in the private sector and a more rapid decline in unemployment than we have seen thus far. That would give embattled incumbents the chance to argue—more credibly than they can now—that we’re on the right track and shouldn’t turn back.

On the other hand, it’s entirely possible that none of this matters now, that the voters likely to turn out this fall have already concluded that with one-party control of the legislative and executive branches, Democrats will continue to take the country further to the left than the majority of the electorate would like. If so, Democrats should probably prepare themselves for the two words they dread the most—“Speaker Boehner.”

It will be hard for Obama acolytes in the press to dismiss this as more “the sky is falling” predictions from Republican critics, now, won’t it?

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Yes We Can … Win in Afghanistan

Andrew Exum has posted a short reply to my critique of his hand-wringing article on Afghanistan. He begins on a nice note: “I respect the heck out of Max Boot and consider him among the smartest of the thinkers often lumped under the label ‘neoconservative’.” (I especially like the way he distances himself from the cliched neocon label.) He then goes on to concede, “Boot is right, to a degree, about political will.” (I had written that, although political will is now lacking in the United States, it could easily be manufactured, if only President Obama were to be slightly more resolute.) But Andrew writes:

I think Boot, like many other neoconservatives, overestimates the importance of U.S. actions and downplays the agency of others. So Afghanistan will definitely be a success if we will it? Sorry, but that’s not how third-party counterinsurgency campaigns work. The actions of others matter as much or more than our own.

For my part, I respect the heck out of Andrew Exum and believe his arguments are worthy of a more detailed examination.

Will Afghanistan definitely be a success if we will it? Nothing is definite, especially not in the confusing realm of warfare. But I think the odds are good — certainly better than 50% — that a reasonable commitment of time and resources can make Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s counterinsurgency strategy (which Andrew helped formulate) to succeed. Population-centric counterinsurgency has worked in countries as diverse as Iraq, Malaya, the Philippines, Northern Ireland, Oman, and Colombia. Historically speaking (and I say this based on research I’m currently doing for a book on the history of guerrilla warfare and terrorism), it is the most successful counterinsurgency strategy there is. Does that mean it will work in every instance? Of course not. But it works more often than not, and I have yet to see any evidence that Afghanistan is uniquely resistant to such an approach.

There are difficulties, to be sure, principally having to do with weak and corrupt government; but those problems were well known a year ago, when the McChrystal strategy was formulated with Andrew’s input and support. What has changed in the past year to make McChrystal’s approach invalid? Nothing that I can see.

Indeed, the biggest cause for optimism remains intact — namely the unpopularity of the Taliban. Public opinion polls show that only 6% of the Afghan people would like to see them return to power. The percentage is slightly higher in the South but still well short of a majority. The Taliban suffer from a major disadvantage that did not afflict successful insurgencies in countries such as China, Vietnam, and Cuba: they have actually been in power before and people remember how awful they were. Some 90% of Afghans favor the current government for all of its myriad imperfections.

The Taliban are able to make gains only because of the security and governance vacuum that has existed in much of the countryside. Filling that vacuum is certainly difficult and will take a long time. But is it impossible? I think not, because our objectives are fundamentally in alignment with the views of most Afghans. The key, as I stress once again, is whether the U.S. will have the patience and the will to see this war through to an acceptable conclusion — something that Andrew concedes is “probably” a vital interest of ours.

I don’t mean to suggest that the U.S. is capable of doing anything; I don’t think we could transform the moon into Swiss cheese simply by willing it. Can we, working in cooperation with international and local partners, defeat a ragtag guerrilla army of perhaps 20,000 to 30,000 fighters who are widely despised by the population they seek to rule? Yes, we can.

Andrew Exum has posted a short reply to my critique of his hand-wringing article on Afghanistan. He begins on a nice note: “I respect the heck out of Max Boot and consider him among the smartest of the thinkers often lumped under the label ‘neoconservative’.” (I especially like the way he distances himself from the cliched neocon label.) He then goes on to concede, “Boot is right, to a degree, about political will.” (I had written that, although political will is now lacking in the United States, it could easily be manufactured, if only President Obama were to be slightly more resolute.) But Andrew writes:

I think Boot, like many other neoconservatives, overestimates the importance of U.S. actions and downplays the agency of others. So Afghanistan will definitely be a success if we will it? Sorry, but that’s not how third-party counterinsurgency campaigns work. The actions of others matter as much or more than our own.

For my part, I respect the heck out of Andrew Exum and believe his arguments are worthy of a more detailed examination.

Will Afghanistan definitely be a success if we will it? Nothing is definite, especially not in the confusing realm of warfare. But I think the odds are good — certainly better than 50% — that a reasonable commitment of time and resources can make Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s counterinsurgency strategy (which Andrew helped formulate) to succeed. Population-centric counterinsurgency has worked in countries as diverse as Iraq, Malaya, the Philippines, Northern Ireland, Oman, and Colombia. Historically speaking (and I say this based on research I’m currently doing for a book on the history of guerrilla warfare and terrorism), it is the most successful counterinsurgency strategy there is. Does that mean it will work in every instance? Of course not. But it works more often than not, and I have yet to see any evidence that Afghanistan is uniquely resistant to such an approach.

There are difficulties, to be sure, principally having to do with weak and corrupt government; but those problems were well known a year ago, when the McChrystal strategy was formulated with Andrew’s input and support. What has changed in the past year to make McChrystal’s approach invalid? Nothing that I can see.

Indeed, the biggest cause for optimism remains intact — namely the unpopularity of the Taliban. Public opinion polls show that only 6% of the Afghan people would like to see them return to power. The percentage is slightly higher in the South but still well short of a majority. The Taliban suffer from a major disadvantage that did not afflict successful insurgencies in countries such as China, Vietnam, and Cuba: they have actually been in power before and people remember how awful they were. Some 90% of Afghans favor the current government for all of its myriad imperfections.

The Taliban are able to make gains only because of the security and governance vacuum that has existed in much of the countryside. Filling that vacuum is certainly difficult and will take a long time. But is it impossible? I think not, because our objectives are fundamentally in alignment with the views of most Afghans. The key, as I stress once again, is whether the U.S. will have the patience and the will to see this war through to an acceptable conclusion — something that Andrew concedes is “probably” a vital interest of ours.

I don’t mean to suggest that the U.S. is capable of doing anything; I don’t think we could transform the moon into Swiss cheese simply by willing it. Can we, working in cooperation with international and local partners, defeat a ragtag guerrilla army of perhaps 20,000 to 30,000 fighters who are widely despised by the population they seek to rule? Yes, we can.

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New Poll Shatters Myths on Gaza Blockade and Settlement Freeze

A new poll by the Ramallah-based Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research shatters several myths about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The first is that Israel’s blockade of Gaza in general, and its botched raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla in particular, has only strengthened Hamas.

The poll, conducted between June 10 and 13, found that “despite the events associated with the Free Gaza flotilla and the Israeli attack on it,” there was “a significant improvement in the status of Salam Fayyad and his government.” If elections were held today, 45% of Palestinians would vote for Fatah and 26% for Hamas, compared with 42% and 28%, respectively, in March. Most interestingly, Fatah trounces Hamas among Gazans: 49% to 32%. Fayyad, who had zero political support when he took office three years ago, would now edge out Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh in a presidential matchup, 36% to 32%. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas would rout Haniyeh, 54% to 39%; that is up from 50% to 40% in March.

Why the upsurge? Because the blockade is working: “Only 9% say conditions in the Gaza Strip today are good or very good while 35% say conditions in the West Bank are good or very good.” Moreover, while 62% of Gazans and 60% of West Bankers “feel that their personal safety and security and that of their family are assured,” the Gaza figure is down from 70% in March, while the West Bank figure is up from 55%. Strong majorities in the West Bank say the economy, health care, education, and law enforcement have improved since Fayyad became prime minister.

Myth No. 2: Palestinians’ prime concern is ending Israeli settlement construction. In fact, the poll found a huge majority, 60% to 38%, opposing a ban on Palestinians working in the settlements; in the West Bank, where the settlements actually are, support dropped to 34% percent. And since Palestinians work in the settlements almost exclusively in construction, the obvious implication is that they prefer construction to continue, so that they can have jobs.

Why? Because most Palestinians’ actual prime concern is supporting their families (something that really shouldn’t surprise those liberals who believe all people want the same things), and the settlements are a major employer. It will be years before the Palestinian economy is capable of providing an alternative. Thus by demanding a freeze on settlement construction now, Barack Obama and his European counterparts are merely generating massive Palestinian unemployment. It turns out that Palestinians would rather they didn’t.

Myth No. 3: Israel’s war on Gaza last year was counterproductive. Actually, 57% of Palestinians now support efforts by Hamas to prevent rocket launches at Israeli towns, while only 38% oppose them. In June 2008, six months before the war began, the opposite was true: 57% of Palestinians favored rocket attacks on Israel. In short, the war achieved exactly what it was meant to achieve: discouraging rocket fire.

But here’s one thing that really is counterproductive: Western governments making policy based on what they want to believe rather than on the facts. Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem likely to change anytime soon.

A new poll by the Ramallah-based Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research shatters several myths about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The first is that Israel’s blockade of Gaza in general, and its botched raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla in particular, has only strengthened Hamas.

The poll, conducted between June 10 and 13, found that “despite the events associated with the Free Gaza flotilla and the Israeli attack on it,” there was “a significant improvement in the status of Salam Fayyad and his government.” If elections were held today, 45% of Palestinians would vote for Fatah and 26% for Hamas, compared with 42% and 28%, respectively, in March. Most interestingly, Fatah trounces Hamas among Gazans: 49% to 32%. Fayyad, who had zero political support when he took office three years ago, would now edge out Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh in a presidential matchup, 36% to 32%. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas would rout Haniyeh, 54% to 39%; that is up from 50% to 40% in March.

Why the upsurge? Because the blockade is working: “Only 9% say conditions in the Gaza Strip today are good or very good while 35% say conditions in the West Bank are good or very good.” Moreover, while 62% of Gazans and 60% of West Bankers “feel that their personal safety and security and that of their family are assured,” the Gaza figure is down from 70% in March, while the West Bank figure is up from 55%. Strong majorities in the West Bank say the economy, health care, education, and law enforcement have improved since Fayyad became prime minister.

Myth No. 2: Palestinians’ prime concern is ending Israeli settlement construction. In fact, the poll found a huge majority, 60% to 38%, opposing a ban on Palestinians working in the settlements; in the West Bank, where the settlements actually are, support dropped to 34% percent. And since Palestinians work in the settlements almost exclusively in construction, the obvious implication is that they prefer construction to continue, so that they can have jobs.

Why? Because most Palestinians’ actual prime concern is supporting their families (something that really shouldn’t surprise those liberals who believe all people want the same things), and the settlements are a major employer. It will be years before the Palestinian economy is capable of providing an alternative. Thus by demanding a freeze on settlement construction now, Barack Obama and his European counterparts are merely generating massive Palestinian unemployment. It turns out that Palestinians would rather they didn’t.

Myth No. 3: Israel’s war on Gaza last year was counterproductive. Actually, 57% of Palestinians now support efforts by Hamas to prevent rocket launches at Israeli towns, while only 38% oppose them. In June 2008, six months before the war began, the opposite was true: 57% of Palestinians favored rocket attacks on Israel. In short, the war achieved exactly what it was meant to achieve: discouraging rocket fire.

But here’s one thing that really is counterproductive: Western governments making policy based on what they want to believe rather than on the facts. Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem likely to change anytime soon.

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Liking the People Who Have Come Here

As most political-blog readers know, Mickey Kaus ran an anti-Democratic-establishment campaign for the U.S. Senate against Barbara Boxer. His main issues were opposition to public-employee unions and to “amnesty” for illegal immigrants (i.e., comprehensive immigration reform). In an interesting post-race interview, he acknowledges that the latter was a hard sell:

On immigration, it’s a very hard road to hoe  in a state like California where everybody appreciates the contribution of both legal and illegal immigrants to the state economy. You can’t live here without sort of liking the people who have come here because by and large they are good people.

He concedes that his illegal-immigration message didn’t strike an “instant chord” with people.

This seems to be a powerful argument for comprehensive immigration reform. If these people are essential to the economy in many states and the vast majority are law-abiding, hard workers, shouldn’t we be figuring out a way to secure the border and devising a pathway to permanent, legal status for  them?

The notion that if we get really, really strict with employment verification and border control these workers will voluntarily return in huge numbers to their home countries seems to be a wishful thinking. (A super-effective verification/ID system would still require a massive policing effort to crack down on businesses, punish employers, and boot out the illegal workers.) Moreover, it ignores the candid conclusions that Kaus reached — we need and generally like these people. Whether by “voluntary” emigration or forced deportation, the exodus of people “essential to the economy” doesn’t seem to be a desirable end.

As most political-blog readers know, Mickey Kaus ran an anti-Democratic-establishment campaign for the U.S. Senate against Barbara Boxer. His main issues were opposition to public-employee unions and to “amnesty” for illegal immigrants (i.e., comprehensive immigration reform). In an interesting post-race interview, he acknowledges that the latter was a hard sell:

On immigration, it’s a very hard road to hoe  in a state like California where everybody appreciates the contribution of both legal and illegal immigrants to the state economy. You can’t live here without sort of liking the people who have come here because by and large they are good people.

He concedes that his illegal-immigration message didn’t strike an “instant chord” with people.

This seems to be a powerful argument for comprehensive immigration reform. If these people are essential to the economy in many states and the vast majority are law-abiding, hard workers, shouldn’t we be figuring out a way to secure the border and devising a pathway to permanent, legal status for  them?

The notion that if we get really, really strict with employment verification and border control these workers will voluntarily return in huge numbers to their home countries seems to be a wishful thinking. (A super-effective verification/ID system would still require a massive policing effort to crack down on businesses, punish employers, and boot out the illegal workers.) Moreover, it ignores the candid conclusions that Kaus reached — we need and generally like these people. Whether by “voluntary” emigration or forced deportation, the exodus of people “essential to the economy” doesn’t seem to be a desirable end.

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How to Stand with Israel

Not every Jewish organization is taking the path of least resistance in opposing Obama’s approach to Israel. This report explains:

The Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA) declined to meet with a delegation from Turkey’s ruling party, the AKP, this week. JINSA views the AKP invitation as an attempt by the Government of Turkey to avoid dealing with the Government of Israel by appealing to the American Jewish community. As such, the effort failed.

JINSA executive director Tom Neumann stated, “The negative trend in Turkish government statements and actions regarding the United States and Israel, however, ultimately has made the AKP an unacceptable interlocutor.” JINSA provides an ample list of Turkish actions to support its decision:

Examples of this negative trend include the Turkish government’s growing closeness with the Iranian government and Turkey’s negative vote in the UN on international sanctions aimed at preventing a nuclear-capable Iran; new military relations with Syria, which is on the U.S. State Department’s list of terrorism supporting countries; increasing closeness with the Hamas government in Gaza and Hezbollah in Lebanon, both of which are U.S.-designated terrorist organizations; open support for the flotilla that sought a violent confrontation with Israel as it attempted to break the Israeli-Egyptian security cordon designed to prevent the smuggling of weapons and materials to Hamas; and the poisonous anti-Israel and anti-Semitic rhetoric the AKP has issued over the last several years.

Neumann added that, “JINSA regrets the choices made by the AKP and will not be used to provide political cover for those choices.”

Well, that’s a breath of fresh air — and certainly a far cry from the Woodrow Wilson Center, which is giving the Turkish foreign minister a pat on the back and a prize. There is no shortage of evidence of Turkey’s dangerous turn to the “radical camp,” Elliott Abrams recently wrote:

In the flotilla incident, it not only sided with but also sought to strengthen the terrorist group Hamas—a group that is anathema not just to the United States and Israel, but to the governments of Jordan and Egypt. The recent photo of Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Bashar Assad in Damascus is an emblem of this change, and Turkey’s work to undermine U.N. sanctions against Iran shows its substance. Turkey’s U.N. Security Council vote against the newest round of sanctions this past week put it in Iran’s camp against Europe, the United States, Russia, and China. That’s quite a realignment for a NATO ally.

For now, however, most Jewish groups are not doing much at all to call attention to the growing Islamic, and hence anti-Israel, inclinations of the Turkish government. The Pope-Peters letter, for which AIPAC is rounding up support, lightly — almost invisibly — tiptoes around the Turkish connection. The letter has a single sentence on the topic that explains the “sinister element” that infiltrated the flotilla:

Furthermore, as confirmed by the State Department and intelligence agencies around the world, the Turkish aid group that sent out the flotilla … IHH, has met with senior officials of recognized terrorist groups over the last three years.

That’s it.

There are two approaches Jewish groups might take with regard to Turkey. The JINSA tactic is to call attention to Turkey’s role in the flotilla incident and its increasingly hostile behavior toward the West, thereby applying some pressure on the Obama administration to demand some answers on Turkey’s role in the flotilla and to rethink its policy toward a NATO ally that has turned unmistakably away from the West. The other is to ignore the whole thing and hope the Obama team doesn’t give Turkey a pass on its efforts to assist Hamas (which would thereby embolden the radical camp and undermine the “peace process” of which Obama is so enamored).

It is disturbing that so few groups have decided to follow JINSA. It is yet another failure to stand up to the administration — and stand with Israel.

Not every Jewish organization is taking the path of least resistance in opposing Obama’s approach to Israel. This report explains:

The Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA) declined to meet with a delegation from Turkey’s ruling party, the AKP, this week. JINSA views the AKP invitation as an attempt by the Government of Turkey to avoid dealing with the Government of Israel by appealing to the American Jewish community. As such, the effort failed.

JINSA executive director Tom Neumann stated, “The negative trend in Turkish government statements and actions regarding the United States and Israel, however, ultimately has made the AKP an unacceptable interlocutor.” JINSA provides an ample list of Turkish actions to support its decision:

Examples of this negative trend include the Turkish government’s growing closeness with the Iranian government and Turkey’s negative vote in the UN on international sanctions aimed at preventing a nuclear-capable Iran; new military relations with Syria, which is on the U.S. State Department’s list of terrorism supporting countries; increasing closeness with the Hamas government in Gaza and Hezbollah in Lebanon, both of which are U.S.-designated terrorist organizations; open support for the flotilla that sought a violent confrontation with Israel as it attempted to break the Israeli-Egyptian security cordon designed to prevent the smuggling of weapons and materials to Hamas; and the poisonous anti-Israel and anti-Semitic rhetoric the AKP has issued over the last several years.

Neumann added that, “JINSA regrets the choices made by the AKP and will not be used to provide political cover for those choices.”

Well, that’s a breath of fresh air — and certainly a far cry from the Woodrow Wilson Center, which is giving the Turkish foreign minister a pat on the back and a prize. There is no shortage of evidence of Turkey’s dangerous turn to the “radical camp,” Elliott Abrams recently wrote:

In the flotilla incident, it not only sided with but also sought to strengthen the terrorist group Hamas—a group that is anathema not just to the United States and Israel, but to the governments of Jordan and Egypt. The recent photo of Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Bashar Assad in Damascus is an emblem of this change, and Turkey’s work to undermine U.N. sanctions against Iran shows its substance. Turkey’s U.N. Security Council vote against the newest round of sanctions this past week put it in Iran’s camp against Europe, the United States, Russia, and China. That’s quite a realignment for a NATO ally.

For now, however, most Jewish groups are not doing much at all to call attention to the growing Islamic, and hence anti-Israel, inclinations of the Turkish government. The Pope-Peters letter, for which AIPAC is rounding up support, lightly — almost invisibly — tiptoes around the Turkish connection. The letter has a single sentence on the topic that explains the “sinister element” that infiltrated the flotilla:

Furthermore, as confirmed by the State Department and intelligence agencies around the world, the Turkish aid group that sent out the flotilla … IHH, has met with senior officials of recognized terrorist groups over the last three years.

That’s it.

There are two approaches Jewish groups might take with regard to Turkey. The JINSA tactic is to call attention to Turkey’s role in the flotilla incident and its increasingly hostile behavior toward the West, thereby applying some pressure on the Obama administration to demand some answers on Turkey’s role in the flotilla and to rethink its policy toward a NATO ally that has turned unmistakably away from the West. The other is to ignore the whole thing and hope the Obama team doesn’t give Turkey a pass on its efforts to assist Hamas (which would thereby embolden the radical camp and undermine the “peace process” of which Obama is so enamored).

It is disturbing that so few groups have decided to follow JINSA. It is yet another failure to stand up to the administration — and stand with Israel.

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What’s the Blockade For?

The Israeli government has decided to ease its blockade of the Gaza Strip, earning it kudos from the United Nations and contempt from Hamas, which dismisses it as a public-relations stunt. Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri accuses Israel of manipulating public opinion by allowing more goods in, but there has been no shortage of misleading information from his side already.

Preventing Hamas from importing missiles and other sophisticated weaponry from Syria and Iran is the blockade’s primary function. There’s a secondary goal, as well, and it’s this one that has drawn the most criticism from the United Nations and Western activists. Israeli blockade-enforcement authorities have not only blocked construction materials such as cement, they’ve also been prohibiting seemingly random items like coriander, nutmeg, and musical instruments, while allowing in cinnamon, frozen meat, and medical supplies.

Critics describe the Israeli blockade as “collective punishment” against Gaza’s entire population, and it does look that way when perusing the list of prohibited items, but the items on that list aren’t outright banned. Aid organizations can import all the cement and coriander they want for reconstruction and food distribution. The restrictions only apply to private-sector importers, and even then, only “luxury” items and construction materials that can be used for military purposes are blocked.

“Humanitarian products are delivered on a daily bases to the Strip,” said the spokesman for COGAT, the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories. “Food products are delivered almost without restriction—with the exception of luxury goods, which the average Gazan cannot afford, but which are purchased by the wealthy and corrupt leaders of Hamas.”

“Why would we want to transfer items that only Hamas members could afford?” said an Israel Defense Forces spokesperson I contacted. “International aid organizations basically get to bring in whatever they want. So if there are certain luxury food items that we wouldn’t transfer to the private sector in Gaza, the aid organizations will get them. The same applies for construction materials, which we won’t let in unless it is going to aid organizations, since we are able to know where they end up (for building houses rather than bunkers, kassams, etc.) with a higher likelihood than if they were sent in privately.”

As most Palestinians in Gaza are dependent on aid organizations for their basic needs, they are not adversely affected by the blockade. So easing the blockade won’t help much, if it will help them at all.

The Israeli government has decided to ease its blockade of the Gaza Strip, earning it kudos from the United Nations and contempt from Hamas, which dismisses it as a public-relations stunt. Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri accuses Israel of manipulating public opinion by allowing more goods in, but there has been no shortage of misleading information from his side already.

Preventing Hamas from importing missiles and other sophisticated weaponry from Syria and Iran is the blockade’s primary function. There’s a secondary goal, as well, and it’s this one that has drawn the most criticism from the United Nations and Western activists. Israeli blockade-enforcement authorities have not only blocked construction materials such as cement, they’ve also been prohibiting seemingly random items like coriander, nutmeg, and musical instruments, while allowing in cinnamon, frozen meat, and medical supplies.

Critics describe the Israeli blockade as “collective punishment” against Gaza’s entire population, and it does look that way when perusing the list of prohibited items, but the items on that list aren’t outright banned. Aid organizations can import all the cement and coriander they want for reconstruction and food distribution. The restrictions only apply to private-sector importers, and even then, only “luxury” items and construction materials that can be used for military purposes are blocked.

“Humanitarian products are delivered on a daily bases to the Strip,” said the spokesman for COGAT, the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories. “Food products are delivered almost without restriction—with the exception of luxury goods, which the average Gazan cannot afford, but which are purchased by the wealthy and corrupt leaders of Hamas.”

“Why would we want to transfer items that only Hamas members could afford?” said an Israel Defense Forces spokesperson I contacted. “International aid organizations basically get to bring in whatever they want. So if there are certain luxury food items that we wouldn’t transfer to the private sector in Gaza, the aid organizations will get them. The same applies for construction materials, which we won’t let in unless it is going to aid organizations, since we are able to know where they end up (for building houses rather than bunkers, kassams, etc.) with a higher likelihood than if they were sent in privately.”

As most Palestinians in Gaza are dependent on aid organizations for their basic needs, they are not adversely affected by the blockade. So easing the blockade won’t help much, if it will help them at all.

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Rediscovering the Wonders of Federalism in the Gulf

In reviewing the chaos, confusion, and bureaucratic snafus associated with the response to the BP oil spill, David Brooks discovers that “we have a federalism problem.” He observes:

All around the region there are local officials who think they know their towns best. They feel insulted by a distant and opaque bureaucracy lurking above. The balance between federal oversight and local control is off-kilter. We have vested too much authority in national officials who are really smart, but who are really distant. We should be leaving more power with local officials, who may not be as expert, but who have the advantage of being there on the ground.

Umm, we have a president — who came highly recommended as “really smart” — who has decided to federalize health care and the car industry and would like to do the same with industrial emissions, financial regulation, and almost anything else he can get his hands on. And “smart,” as we have learned the hard way, doesn’t mean smart about managing a crisis, or smart about economics, or smart about the medical profession, or smart about any other area of governance. In sum, the people in Washington, especially the president, may be glib and polished, but they possess no monopoly on “smart”; rather, they have an acute shortage of common sense and business experience.

This is a good reminder to be wary of giving the federal government tasks outside its expertise — which includes more than cleaning up an oil spill.

In reviewing the chaos, confusion, and bureaucratic snafus associated with the response to the BP oil spill, David Brooks discovers that “we have a federalism problem.” He observes:

All around the region there are local officials who think they know their towns best. They feel insulted by a distant and opaque bureaucracy lurking above. The balance between federal oversight and local control is off-kilter. We have vested too much authority in national officials who are really smart, but who are really distant. We should be leaving more power with local officials, who may not be as expert, but who have the advantage of being there on the ground.

Umm, we have a president — who came highly recommended as “really smart” — who has decided to federalize health care and the car industry and would like to do the same with industrial emissions, financial regulation, and almost anything else he can get his hands on. And “smart,” as we have learned the hard way, doesn’t mean smart about managing a crisis, or smart about economics, or smart about the medical profession, or smart about any other area of governance. In sum, the people in Washington, especially the president, may be glib and polished, but they possess no monopoly on “smart”; rather, they have an acute shortage of common sense and business experience.

This is a good reminder to be wary of giving the federal government tasks outside its expertise — which includes more than cleaning up an oil spill.

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Sally Quinn Gives Hillary a Merit Badge

Sally Quinn thinks Hillary Clinton has done a swell job. Actually, it sounds like she’s nominating Hillary for Girl Scout of the year (my observations in brackets):

Clinton has done an incredible job as secretary of state. [No, argument there. It's incredible we could have annoyed so many allies and come up with no viable plan to keep Iran from going nuclear.] First of all, she has worked harder than anyone should ever be expected to. ["Hard work" is the sort of compliment liberals pay themselves for good intentions and poor results.] She has managed to do the impossible: She is the ambassador of the United States to the world [Doesn't every secretary of state do this?], maintaining her credibility [Do we think the Brits, Israelis, Hondurans, not to mention our enemies, find her credible?] while playing the bad guy to President Obama’s good guy, such as with North Korea [How bizarre is it that Obama plays "good guy" to the world's largest gulag?], Iran and Israel [According to polls, only a few percent of Israelis think he's the "good guy"], and still looking good. She has been a true team player. If Clinton is dissatisfied with her role, you would never know it. She has been loyal and supportive to the president and has maintained a good relationship with him and with others in the White House. [Is any of this extraordinary?] If she is being left out of the policymaking [Yes, not really doing her job is a drag], or being sent on trips to keep her out of town, she has not shown it. She is cheerful, thoughtful, serious and diligent. [Clean, modest in dress, and polite too? Good golly, imagine describing Henry Kissinger or George Shultz or any other grown-up secretary of state in such terms.] There are no horror stories about her coming out of the State Department. [One would have to have ideas and be influential to make enemies] Most notable, though, is that Bill Clinton has not been the problem that so many anticipated. He has been supportive of her and of Obama, and he has stayed out of the limelight and been discreet about his own life. [Excuse me, but is "keeping husband out of scandal sheets" an accomplishment worth touting?]

OK, there’s not a single thing Hillary has done that is deserving of praise. So Quinn thinks she needs a promotion to VP. No, no, it’s easy:

After the president announced the switch, majorities in both houses of Congress would have to confirm Clinton to her new position, following the rules laid out in the 25th Amendment. She could then immediately begin campaigning for Obama for 2012, and she would also have at least two years in the White House as vice president to give her unassailable experience, clout and credibility. For his part, Biden would simply need Senate confirmation to get to work in Foggy Bottom.

Thunk. I’m reasonably certain that as inept and ham-handed as the White House has become, there is no one with the nerve to suggest this to Obama, nor a single senator who’d want to rubber-stamp such a harebrained idea.

Forget Hillary for a moment. Is Quinn serious, or is this an entry in a “Write a column so silly, not even Maureen Dowd could come up with it” contest? If it’s the latter, it’s sheer genius.

Sally Quinn thinks Hillary Clinton has done a swell job. Actually, it sounds like she’s nominating Hillary for Girl Scout of the year (my observations in brackets):

Clinton has done an incredible job as secretary of state. [No, argument there. It's incredible we could have annoyed so many allies and come up with no viable plan to keep Iran from going nuclear.] First of all, she has worked harder than anyone should ever be expected to. ["Hard work" is the sort of compliment liberals pay themselves for good intentions and poor results.] She has managed to do the impossible: She is the ambassador of the United States to the world [Doesn't every secretary of state do this?], maintaining her credibility [Do we think the Brits, Israelis, Hondurans, not to mention our enemies, find her credible?] while playing the bad guy to President Obama’s good guy, such as with North Korea [How bizarre is it that Obama plays "good guy" to the world's largest gulag?], Iran and Israel [According to polls, only a few percent of Israelis think he's the "good guy"], and still looking good. She has been a true team player. If Clinton is dissatisfied with her role, you would never know it. She has been loyal and supportive to the president and has maintained a good relationship with him and with others in the White House. [Is any of this extraordinary?] If she is being left out of the policymaking [Yes, not really doing her job is a drag], or being sent on trips to keep her out of town, she has not shown it. She is cheerful, thoughtful, serious and diligent. [Clean, modest in dress, and polite too? Good golly, imagine describing Henry Kissinger or George Shultz or any other grown-up secretary of state in such terms.] There are no horror stories about her coming out of the State Department. [One would have to have ideas and be influential to make enemies] Most notable, though, is that Bill Clinton has not been the problem that so many anticipated. He has been supportive of her and of Obama, and he has stayed out of the limelight and been discreet about his own life. [Excuse me, but is "keeping husband out of scandal sheets" an accomplishment worth touting?]

OK, there’s not a single thing Hillary has done that is deserving of praise. So Quinn thinks she needs a promotion to VP. No, no, it’s easy:

After the president announced the switch, majorities in both houses of Congress would have to confirm Clinton to her new position, following the rules laid out in the 25th Amendment. She could then immediately begin campaigning for Obama for 2012, and she would also have at least two years in the White House as vice president to give her unassailable experience, clout and credibility. For his part, Biden would simply need Senate confirmation to get to work in Foggy Bottom.

Thunk. I’m reasonably certain that as inept and ham-handed as the White House has become, there is no one with the nerve to suggest this to Obama, nor a single senator who’d want to rubber-stamp such a harebrained idea.

Forget Hillary for a moment. Is Quinn serious, or is this an entry in a “Write a column so silly, not even Maureen Dowd could come up with it” contest? If it’s the latter, it’s sheer genius.

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Campaign Finance Bill Blows Up

Maybe it was a devilishly clever plan. The NRA struck a deal with House Democrats to exempt it from a noxious campaign finance bill intended as an end-around the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United. And the entire bill blew up:

Following a rebellion by two important factions of rank-and-file House Democrats, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has pulled a campaign-finance bill opposed by a broad coalition of special interest groups, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Pelosi and other Democratic leaders had scheduled a Friday vote on the DISCLOSE Act, a bill requiring special-interest groups to disclose their top donors if they choose to run TV ads or send out mass mailings in the final months of an election. The legislation is designed to roll back the controversial Supreme Court decision in the Citizens United case, which overturned restrictions on corporate campaign activities. But after complaints from the conservative Blue Dogs and the Congressional Black Caucus, Pelosi was forced to pull the bill on Thursday night.

It seems there was something for everyone to hate:

The Blue Dogs are concerned that opposition from the Chamber, National Federation of Independent Business, National Association of Realtors and other business groups will damage their reelection prospects in the fall. The CBC, on the other hand, was unhappy about an exemption to the bill granted to the National Rifle Association agreed to by Van Hollen. While the exemption was later extended to other groups, the CBC remained concerned about the bill’s potential impact on the NAACP and other progressive groups.

That’s more revealing than anything said on the subject. The name of the game is to shut up the “other guy.” But if your guy’s First Amendment rights are going to be curtailed, well then it’s an outrage. That is precisely the mentality Justice Anthony Kennedy rejected in his majority opinion. It is fitting that in the scramble to limit speech, House Democrats learned how valuable it was to their own supporters. Now if they would only learn to safeguard that same right for their opponents.

Maybe it was a devilishly clever plan. The NRA struck a deal with House Democrats to exempt it from a noxious campaign finance bill intended as an end-around the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United. And the entire bill blew up:

Following a rebellion by two important factions of rank-and-file House Democrats, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has pulled a campaign-finance bill opposed by a broad coalition of special interest groups, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Pelosi and other Democratic leaders had scheduled a Friday vote on the DISCLOSE Act, a bill requiring special-interest groups to disclose their top donors if they choose to run TV ads or send out mass mailings in the final months of an election. The legislation is designed to roll back the controversial Supreme Court decision in the Citizens United case, which overturned restrictions on corporate campaign activities. But after complaints from the conservative Blue Dogs and the Congressional Black Caucus, Pelosi was forced to pull the bill on Thursday night.

It seems there was something for everyone to hate:

The Blue Dogs are concerned that opposition from the Chamber, National Federation of Independent Business, National Association of Realtors and other business groups will damage their reelection prospects in the fall. The CBC, on the other hand, was unhappy about an exemption to the bill granted to the National Rifle Association agreed to by Van Hollen. While the exemption was later extended to other groups, the CBC remained concerned about the bill’s potential impact on the NAACP and other progressive groups.

That’s more revealing than anything said on the subject. The name of the game is to shut up the “other guy.” But if your guy’s First Amendment rights are going to be curtailed, well then it’s an outrage. That is precisely the mentality Justice Anthony Kennedy rejected in his majority opinion. It is fitting that in the scramble to limit speech, House Democrats learned how valuable it was to their own supporters. Now if they would only learn to safeguard that same right for their opponents.

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Jerry Brown Shocked to Discover 24/7 News Environment

Jerry Brown made waves last week playing the Nazi card against Meg Whitman. (“It’s like Goebbels. … Goebbels invented this kind of propaganda. He took control of the whole world. She wants to be president. That’s her ambition, the first woman president. That’s what this is all about.”) It took a while, but he’s come up with his excuse:

You don’t think you’re at a press conference or that you’re publishing an official record. I got the message. I can’t really ever say anything just musing in my mind. But it really does mean that politicians are always very controlled and not very spontaneous in their communications.

OK, he was governor in the 1970s, but since then he’s been mayor and state attorney general. You’d think he’d be a bit more “with it” and not sound as put out as Obama did, who sounded Luddite-like when he groused, “With iPods and iPads; Xboxes and PlayStations — none of which I know how to work — information becomes a distraction, a diversion, a form of entertainment, rather than a tool of empowerment, rather than the means of emancipation.”

Like so many politicians, Brown seems not at all sorry for what he said, only that he was caught by the 24/7 news environment. He can share his woes with Helen Thomas and Bob Etheridge.

Jerry Brown made waves last week playing the Nazi card against Meg Whitman. (“It’s like Goebbels. … Goebbels invented this kind of propaganda. He took control of the whole world. She wants to be president. That’s her ambition, the first woman president. That’s what this is all about.”) It took a while, but he’s come up with his excuse:

You don’t think you’re at a press conference or that you’re publishing an official record. I got the message. I can’t really ever say anything just musing in my mind. But it really does mean that politicians are always very controlled and not very spontaneous in their communications.

OK, he was governor in the 1970s, but since then he’s been mayor and state attorney general. You’d think he’d be a bit more “with it” and not sound as put out as Obama did, who sounded Luddite-like when he groused, “With iPods and iPads; Xboxes and PlayStations — none of which I know how to work — information becomes a distraction, a diversion, a form of entertainment, rather than a tool of empowerment, rather than the means of emancipation.”

Like so many politicians, Brown seems not at all sorry for what he said, only that he was caught by the 24/7 news environment. He can share his woes with Helen Thomas and Bob Etheridge.

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Making No Friends in the Middle East

The Pew Center on global public opinion reports:

Among Muslim publics – except in Indonesia where Obama lived for several years as a child — the modest levels of confidence and approval observed in 2009 have slipped markedly. In Egypt the percentage of Muslims expressing confidence in Obama fell from 41% to 31% and in Turkey from 33% to 23%. Last year only 13% of Pakistani Muslims expressed confidence in Obama, but this year even fewer (8%) hold this view. And while views of Obama are still more positive than were attitudes toward President Bush among most Muslim publics, significant percentages continue to worry that the U.S. could become a military threat to their country.

In countries outside of the Muslim world, where the president’s ratings remain generally positive, his standing is not quite as high in 2010 as it was a year ago. The new poll found fewer in many Asian and Latin American countries saying they have confidence in Obama and approve of his policies generally, and even in Europe the large majorities responding positively to his foreign policy are not quite as large as they were in 2009.

All that suck-uppery, all that Israel-bashing, and yet Muslim countries like Obama less. One explanation may be that Obama hasn’t been supporting the aspirations, human rights, and religious freedom of the people of the Muslim world; instead, he’s been courting the despotic rulers of these countries.

And recall too that Obama’s approval in Israel is in the single digits.Obama has failed to endear the U.S. to the countries of the Middle East and, in fact, has alienated all sides. It is what comes from straddling, equivocating, dumping friends, and showing meekness to bullies. It seems that not even joining the thugocracies on the U.N. Human Rights Council has done the trick. So many “smart” diplomats, such putrid results.

The Pew Center on global public opinion reports:

Among Muslim publics – except in Indonesia where Obama lived for several years as a child — the modest levels of confidence and approval observed in 2009 have slipped markedly. In Egypt the percentage of Muslims expressing confidence in Obama fell from 41% to 31% and in Turkey from 33% to 23%. Last year only 13% of Pakistani Muslims expressed confidence in Obama, but this year even fewer (8%) hold this view. And while views of Obama are still more positive than were attitudes toward President Bush among most Muslim publics, significant percentages continue to worry that the U.S. could become a military threat to their country.

In countries outside of the Muslim world, where the president’s ratings remain generally positive, his standing is not quite as high in 2010 as it was a year ago. The new poll found fewer in many Asian and Latin American countries saying they have confidence in Obama and approve of his policies generally, and even in Europe the large majorities responding positively to his foreign policy are not quite as large as they were in 2009.

All that suck-uppery, all that Israel-bashing, and yet Muslim countries like Obama less. One explanation may be that Obama hasn’t been supporting the aspirations, human rights, and religious freedom of the people of the Muslim world; instead, he’s been courting the despotic rulers of these countries.

And recall too that Obama’s approval in Israel is in the single digits.Obama has failed to endear the U.S. to the countries of the Middle East and, in fact, has alienated all sides. It is what comes from straddling, equivocating, dumping friends, and showing meekness to bullies. It seems that not even joining the thugocracies on the U.N. Human Rights Council has done the trick. So many “smart” diplomats, such putrid results.

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Still Out to Lunch on the Economy

Rep. Joe Barton’s statement wasn’t the most damaging political comment of the day. After all, he’s  not in the Republican leadership, and was forced to recant for rudely pointing out that once again the federal government was bullying private industry. Actually, the dumbest and most harmful thing said on Thursday came from Joe Biden, who managed to remind the voters how out of touch the White House is:

Vice President Joe Biden says the economic recovery act deserves credit for creating or saving upward of 2.8 million jobs so far, with thousands more projects coming soon in a busy summer of construction. At the White House Thursday, the vice president told reporters: “Folks, the act is working.”

With unemployment at historic highs — and predicted to stay that way for some time — and in the wake of another month of anemic private-sector job growth, virtually no one outside the White House believes this is true. Indeed, Biden’s timing could not have been worse:

The number of people filing new claims for jobless benefits jumped last week after three straight declines, another sign that the pace of layoffs has not slowed. Initial claims for jobless benefits rose by 12,000 to a seasonally adjusted 472,000, the Labor Department said Thursday. It was the highest level in a month and overshadowed a report that showed consumer prices remain essentially flat.

The public, as on health care and the oil spill, seems to have formed its opinion of the president’s performance. And it has come to see that White House utterances are often ludicrously wrong. The stimulus was going to keep unemployment at 8 percent. The health-care reform was going to cut the deficit. ObamaCare was going to let you keep your health-care plan.

By repeating spin that the public has already rejected, the White House isn’t changing anyone’s mind. Biden, like Obama and his economic advisers, is simply reinforcing the perception that the administration is either oblivious or dishonest — or both.

Rep. Joe Barton’s statement wasn’t the most damaging political comment of the day. After all, he’s  not in the Republican leadership, and was forced to recant for rudely pointing out that once again the federal government was bullying private industry. Actually, the dumbest and most harmful thing said on Thursday came from Joe Biden, who managed to remind the voters how out of touch the White House is:

Vice President Joe Biden says the economic recovery act deserves credit for creating or saving upward of 2.8 million jobs so far, with thousands more projects coming soon in a busy summer of construction. At the White House Thursday, the vice president told reporters: “Folks, the act is working.”

With unemployment at historic highs — and predicted to stay that way for some time — and in the wake of another month of anemic private-sector job growth, virtually no one outside the White House believes this is true. Indeed, Biden’s timing could not have been worse:

The number of people filing new claims for jobless benefits jumped last week after three straight declines, another sign that the pace of layoffs has not slowed. Initial claims for jobless benefits rose by 12,000 to a seasonally adjusted 472,000, the Labor Department said Thursday. It was the highest level in a month and overshadowed a report that showed consumer prices remain essentially flat.

The public, as on health care and the oil spill, seems to have formed its opinion of the president’s performance. And it has come to see that White House utterances are often ludicrously wrong. The stimulus was going to keep unemployment at 8 percent. The health-care reform was going to cut the deficit. ObamaCare was going to let you keep your health-care plan.

By repeating spin that the public has already rejected, the White House isn’t changing anyone’s mind. Biden, like Obama and his economic advisers, is simply reinforcing the perception that the administration is either oblivious or dishonest — or both.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Don’t expect a better description of the world’s unique treatment of Israel. From Mark Steyn: “North Korea sinks a South Korean ship; hundreds of thousands of people die in the Sudan; millions die in the Congo. But 10 men die at the hands of Israeli commandos and it dominates the news day in, day out for weeks, with UN resolutions, international investigations, calls for boycotts, and every Western prime minister and foreign minister expected to rise in parliament and express the outrage of the international community. Odd. But why? Because Israel is supposed to be up for grabs in a way that the Congo, Sudan or even North Korea aren’t. Only the Jewish state attracts an intellectually respectable movement querying its very existence, and insisting that, after 62 years of independence, that issue is still not resolved.”

Don’t miss the latest from Lee Smith on appeasing Muslim extremists: “The way Obama sees it, the upside is that it will not be a war without end, like the war on terror. All the extremists in the Muslim world want is money and the power that will flow their way as the consequence of the U.S. withdrawal from the Persian Gulf. The faster the United States leaves, the cheaper the cost. This is why the Jewish state is isolated today and why Washington stands with her only reluctantly: Distancing ourselves from Israel is part of the deal we are preparing to strike.”

Don’t expect her to get a cushy White House job after leaving office: “Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm says the oil spilling into the Gulf of Mexico has become a symbol that Barack Obama’s got to shake.”

Don’t think Obama’s foreign policy can’t get worse: “The Obama administration is secretly working with Russia to conclude an agreement that many officials fear will limit U.S. missile defenses, a key objective of Moscow since it opposed plans for a U.S. missile defense interceptor base in Eastern Europe, according to American officials involved in arms control issues.” Aside from the inanity of unilateral disarmament, how does he think this is going to get through the U.S. Senate?

Don’t hold your breath. The Washington Post editors go after Obama for his counterproductive timeline in Afghanistan: “It’s time for him to make clear whether the United States is prepared to stay long enough to ensure a stable and peaceful Afghanistan.”

Don’t imagine Republicans are ungrateful for a speech this bad: “President Barack Obama’s less-than-specific Oval Office address on energy has White House aides and Senate Democrats scrambling to find a way to pass climate change legislation. What it will be — if anything — remains an open question.”

Don’t let your guard down, but Obama finally seems to have been effective at killing some bad legislation: “Senate Democrats emerged from a special caucus meeting in the Capitol on Thursday with no clear consensus yet on the fate of energy and climate legislation due on the floor before the August recess.”

Don’t expect a better description of the world’s unique treatment of Israel. From Mark Steyn: “North Korea sinks a South Korean ship; hundreds of thousands of people die in the Sudan; millions die in the Congo. But 10 men die at the hands of Israeli commandos and it dominates the news day in, day out for weeks, with UN resolutions, international investigations, calls for boycotts, and every Western prime minister and foreign minister expected to rise in parliament and express the outrage of the international community. Odd. But why? Because Israel is supposed to be up for grabs in a way that the Congo, Sudan or even North Korea aren’t. Only the Jewish state attracts an intellectually respectable movement querying its very existence, and insisting that, after 62 years of independence, that issue is still not resolved.”

Don’t miss the latest from Lee Smith on appeasing Muslim extremists: “The way Obama sees it, the upside is that it will not be a war without end, like the war on terror. All the extremists in the Muslim world want is money and the power that will flow their way as the consequence of the U.S. withdrawal from the Persian Gulf. The faster the United States leaves, the cheaper the cost. This is why the Jewish state is isolated today and why Washington stands with her only reluctantly: Distancing ourselves from Israel is part of the deal we are preparing to strike.”

Don’t expect her to get a cushy White House job after leaving office: “Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm says the oil spilling into the Gulf of Mexico has become a symbol that Barack Obama’s got to shake.”

Don’t think Obama’s foreign policy can’t get worse: “The Obama administration is secretly working with Russia to conclude an agreement that many officials fear will limit U.S. missile defenses, a key objective of Moscow since it opposed plans for a U.S. missile defense interceptor base in Eastern Europe, according to American officials involved in arms control issues.” Aside from the inanity of unilateral disarmament, how does he think this is going to get through the U.S. Senate?

Don’t hold your breath. The Washington Post editors go after Obama for his counterproductive timeline in Afghanistan: “It’s time for him to make clear whether the United States is prepared to stay long enough to ensure a stable and peaceful Afghanistan.”

Don’t imagine Republicans are ungrateful for a speech this bad: “President Barack Obama’s less-than-specific Oval Office address on energy has White House aides and Senate Democrats scrambling to find a way to pass climate change legislation. What it will be — if anything — remains an open question.”

Don’t let your guard down, but Obama finally seems to have been effective at killing some bad legislation: “Senate Democrats emerged from a special caucus meeting in the Capitol on Thursday with no clear consensus yet on the fate of energy and climate legislation due on the floor before the August recess.”

Read Less




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