Commentary Magazine


Posts For: June 21, 2010

Bad News For Democrats Now “Fit To Print”

It’s no secret that, as a smart Brookings Institution pundit conceded recently to me, that the CBS/New York Times poll “slants left.” So that makes the latest survey all the more bracing for the White House ( if they’d stop ignoring bad news):

[D]espite intense news coverage and widespread public concern about the economic and ecological damage from the gulf disaster, most Americans remain far more concerned about jobs and the nation’s overall economy.

And in that regard, President Obama does not fare well: 54 percent of the public say he does not have a clear plan for creating jobs, while only 34 percent say he does, an ominous sign heading into this fall’s midterm elections.

Respondents were nearly evenly split on the president’s handling of the economy — 45 percent approve, 48 percent disapprove. His job approval rating remains just below 50 percent. And by a nearly 2-to-1 margin, Americans think the country is on the wrong track.

They are also impatient with Mr. Obama’s response to the oil disaster in the gulf, by a large margin, and attribute the spill to risks taken by BP and its partners in the failed well, according to the poll, which was conducted by telephone from June 16 to 2o with 1,259 adults.

And after his widely panned Oval office, the poll shows 59% of respondents don’t think Obama has a plan for cleaning up the Gulf.

The decline in Obama’s fortunes is not solely attributable to the oil spill, of course. It’s been a long time in coming, although Times readers have been sheltered from much of the bad news for Obama ( much like the president himself, we suspect). If they only read the Times, they might have missed the warning signs in the 2009 gubernatorial elections, written off the election of Scott Brown as a fluke, clung to the belief that the public would learn to love ObamaCare and been convinced George W. Bush could be blamed for everything that went wrong. But there’s no averting their eyes now — Obama and his party are in a heap of trouble and the election will in all likelihood deal a punishing blow to Democrats unlucky enough to be on the ballot.

It’s no secret that, as a smart Brookings Institution pundit conceded recently to me, that the CBS/New York Times poll “slants left.” So that makes the latest survey all the more bracing for the White House ( if they’d stop ignoring bad news):

[D]espite intense news coverage and widespread public concern about the economic and ecological damage from the gulf disaster, most Americans remain far more concerned about jobs and the nation’s overall economy.

And in that regard, President Obama does not fare well: 54 percent of the public say he does not have a clear plan for creating jobs, while only 34 percent say he does, an ominous sign heading into this fall’s midterm elections.

Respondents were nearly evenly split on the president’s handling of the economy — 45 percent approve, 48 percent disapprove. His job approval rating remains just below 50 percent. And by a nearly 2-to-1 margin, Americans think the country is on the wrong track.

They are also impatient with Mr. Obama’s response to the oil disaster in the gulf, by a large margin, and attribute the spill to risks taken by BP and its partners in the failed well, according to the poll, which was conducted by telephone from June 16 to 2o with 1,259 adults.

And after his widely panned Oval office, the poll shows 59% of respondents don’t think Obama has a plan for cleaning up the Gulf.

The decline in Obama’s fortunes is not solely attributable to the oil spill, of course. It’s been a long time in coming, although Times readers have been sheltered from much of the bad news for Obama ( much like the president himself, we suspect). If they only read the Times, they might have missed the warning signs in the 2009 gubernatorial elections, written off the election of Scott Brown as a fluke, clung to the belief that the public would learn to love ObamaCare and been convinced George W. Bush could be blamed for everything that went wrong. But there’s no averting their eyes now — Obama and his party are in a heap of trouble and the election will in all likelihood deal a punishing blow to Democrats unlucky enough to be on the ballot.

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Great Moments in Television History: ‘Outlaw’

Coming in the fall on NBC, according to Variety:

The Jimmy Smits starrer “Outlaw”… has its own kind of weirdness, starting with its premise. Smits is already an established conservative Supreme Court justice at around age 50 when a death penalty appeal case — and not his bigtime gambling problem — suddenly motivates him to leave the bench.

Yes, he’s a conservative driven to leave the court because he decides to fight the death penalty. But not to worry — as the trailer reveals, he’s a playboy sexual harrasser too. And they say Hollywood doesn’t know how to write about conservatives.

Coming in the fall on NBC, according to Variety:

The Jimmy Smits starrer “Outlaw”… has its own kind of weirdness, starting with its premise. Smits is already an established conservative Supreme Court justice at around age 50 when a death penalty appeal case — and not his bigtime gambling problem — suddenly motivates him to leave the bench.

Yes, he’s a conservative driven to leave the court because he decides to fight the death penalty. But not to worry — as the trailer reveals, he’s a playboy sexual harrasser too. And they say Hollywood doesn’t know how to write about conservatives.

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The Anti-Israel Face of Labor

This post could be subtitled “The Deceptive Face of the Mainstream Media.” As recounted by blogger Zombie at Pajamas Media, that’s the face the media showed in its credulous news coverage of an anti-Israel protest in Oakland on Sunday. During the protest, the port’s longshoremen staged a work stoppage and refused to unload cargo from an Israeli ship. The media, notes Zombie, have depicted the stoppage as the result of pro-Palestinian protesters “convincing” the longshoremen to join them. Indeed, mainstream news outlets have obediently portrayed the event in the exact terms proffered by the protest’s organizers, from the interpretation of its meaning to the articulation of basic facts.

This faithful adherence to the organizers’ narrative is producing some unintended humor. As reported by Arutz Sheva and picked up by a number of non-traditional outlets in the U.S., the Israeli ship targeted by the protesters didn’t even reach the port until after the crowd had broken up on Sunday evening. The longshoremen’s work stoppage delayed the unloading of an unfortunate Chinese cargo ship but had no effect on the Israeli vessel’s unloading schedule. Nevertheless, in just the first two pages of results from a Google search performed this morning, I counted six mainstream outlets reporting that the protesters had delayed or blocked the unloading of an Israeli ship (see here and here, for example).

The story certainly comes off better if the impression is left that the demonstrators achieved their goal. But another aspect of this event has gone unreported by the traditional media: the attitude of international labor toward Israel and Gaza. Whatever the personal sentiments of the longshoremen manning the day shift in Oakland on Sunday, the federations and councils with which their union leaders are affiliated take a firmly anti-Israel stance. The evidence of centralized labor planning for the Oakland protest is overwhelming.

The San Francisco Labor Council, an affiliate of the AFL-CIO, urged union participation with its prior advertising of the protest and work stoppage. The Labor Council’s resolution on the May 31 flotilla incident, approved on June 14, is posted at the International Journal of Socialist Renewal’s website; in it, the Longshoremen’s Local in Oakland (ILWU 10) is among the 28 U.S. and foreign-labor organizations listed as having already condemned Israel.

As Zombie notes, the international Transport Workers Solidarity Committee publicized the dockside protest in advance.  Its website also makes clear that union organizers around the world – as well as non-transport unions in the U.S. – knew of the plan days beforehand and sent encouraging messages to ILWU 10. On June 5, Jack Weyman, a member of ILWU 10’s executive board, expressed solidarity with Swedish dockworkers who announced a boycott of Israel. The Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) website, meanwhile, reports yesterday’s action as a “historic victory” and features the participation of labor as prominent, planned, and intentional.

It was all of those things. Days before the Sunday protest, the website of Labor for Palestine tallied up the union support “pouring in” for ILWU 10’s planned work stoppage. Labor for Palestine (LFP) is the labor-union arm of the Global Boycott, Divestment, and Sanction (BDS) Movement for Palestine, about which the Jewish Federations of North America issued a warning resolution in November 2009. LFP was founded by al-Awda (the Palestinian Right to Return Coalition) and New York City Labor Against the War in 2004.

This appears to be an emerging trend. For decades, U.S. unions have been largely inhospitable to the internationalist radicalism of most global labor federations. Their pedestrian, inward-looking character has been a source of frustration to some of their more extremist members and critics. But as international labor aligns itself firmly with the “Palestinian” cause, American organized labor is being presented with the kind of basic choice it hasn’t faced since the 1930s: whether to be politically American and affirm American policy stances, or to adhere to a radical posture that subverts national boundaries and delegitimizes national character. The Oakland work stoppage will not be the last such confrontation we see, as this defining challenge for our union work forces heads to a climax.

This post could be subtitled “The Deceptive Face of the Mainstream Media.” As recounted by blogger Zombie at Pajamas Media, that’s the face the media showed in its credulous news coverage of an anti-Israel protest in Oakland on Sunday. During the protest, the port’s longshoremen staged a work stoppage and refused to unload cargo from an Israeli ship. The media, notes Zombie, have depicted the stoppage as the result of pro-Palestinian protesters “convincing” the longshoremen to join them. Indeed, mainstream news outlets have obediently portrayed the event in the exact terms proffered by the protest’s organizers, from the interpretation of its meaning to the articulation of basic facts.

This faithful adherence to the organizers’ narrative is producing some unintended humor. As reported by Arutz Sheva and picked up by a number of non-traditional outlets in the U.S., the Israeli ship targeted by the protesters didn’t even reach the port until after the crowd had broken up on Sunday evening. The longshoremen’s work stoppage delayed the unloading of an unfortunate Chinese cargo ship but had no effect on the Israeli vessel’s unloading schedule. Nevertheless, in just the first two pages of results from a Google search performed this morning, I counted six mainstream outlets reporting that the protesters had delayed or blocked the unloading of an Israeli ship (see here and here, for example).

The story certainly comes off better if the impression is left that the demonstrators achieved their goal. But another aspect of this event has gone unreported by the traditional media: the attitude of international labor toward Israel and Gaza. Whatever the personal sentiments of the longshoremen manning the day shift in Oakland on Sunday, the federations and councils with which their union leaders are affiliated take a firmly anti-Israel stance. The evidence of centralized labor planning for the Oakland protest is overwhelming.

The San Francisco Labor Council, an affiliate of the AFL-CIO, urged union participation with its prior advertising of the protest and work stoppage. The Labor Council’s resolution on the May 31 flotilla incident, approved on June 14, is posted at the International Journal of Socialist Renewal’s website; in it, the Longshoremen’s Local in Oakland (ILWU 10) is among the 28 U.S. and foreign-labor organizations listed as having already condemned Israel.

As Zombie notes, the international Transport Workers Solidarity Committee publicized the dockside protest in advance.  Its website also makes clear that union organizers around the world – as well as non-transport unions in the U.S. – knew of the plan days beforehand and sent encouraging messages to ILWU 10. On June 5, Jack Weyman, a member of ILWU 10’s executive board, expressed solidarity with Swedish dockworkers who announced a boycott of Israel. The Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) website, meanwhile, reports yesterday’s action as a “historic victory” and features the participation of labor as prominent, planned, and intentional.

It was all of those things. Days before the Sunday protest, the website of Labor for Palestine tallied up the union support “pouring in” for ILWU 10’s planned work stoppage. Labor for Palestine (LFP) is the labor-union arm of the Global Boycott, Divestment, and Sanction (BDS) Movement for Palestine, about which the Jewish Federations of North America issued a warning resolution in November 2009. LFP was founded by al-Awda (the Palestinian Right to Return Coalition) and New York City Labor Against the War in 2004.

This appears to be an emerging trend. For decades, U.S. unions have been largely inhospitable to the internationalist radicalism of most global labor federations. Their pedestrian, inward-looking character has been a source of frustration to some of their more extremist members and critics. But as international labor aligns itself firmly with the “Palestinian” cause, American organized labor is being presented with the kind of basic choice it hasn’t faced since the 1930s: whether to be politically American and affirm American policy stances, or to adhere to a radical posture that subverts national boundaries and delegitimizes national character. The Oakland work stoppage will not be the last such confrontation we see, as this defining challenge for our union work forces heads to a climax.

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It’s the Follow-Through

Today, a “War Termination Conference” was held at West Point. No, no, no. Generals didn’t sit on panels and pontificate on how to end all war. Rather, participants mulled over a tragically overlooked military consideration.

Several prominent military historians tell West Point instructors training the next generation of Army officers that American wars usually begin with a bang, yet it’s the endings that have long-lasting influences.

Brian Linn, a professor at Texas A&M University, said Monday at the United States Military Academy that wars “don’t end simply.”

Which kind of complicates Barack Obama’s plan to unobtrusively slip out of two critical wars like an on-call doctor with a nation full of patients back home. Even the years-long run-up to our leaving Iraq and Afghanistan threatens to make things unmanageable. As Elliott Abrams recently wrote in the Weekly Standard, “Everyone [in the Middle East] sees clearly that Obama desires to be out of Iraq more than he desires to stabilize that country. Since a strong Iraq would be a force of resistance to Iran, this policy suggests that the rise of Iran will be unchecked by America.” Yet, Obama continues to call this mad escape plan a “responsible exit.”

In Afghanistan, Obama has been staring impulsively at the exit door. This has essentially cost us our relationship with the Karzai government. Our effort to defeat the Taliban is unraveling for lack of a reliable alliance with Kabul. Still, the White House insists the “end” is near.

There’s an argument to be made that wars not only fail to end simply, they fail to “end” at all. They are won or lost. For our current commander in chief, this is one big Obamian false choice: No longer do we have to choose between the responsibilities of securing victory and the partisan satisfactions of aborting the last president’s policies.

Today, a “War Termination Conference” was held at West Point. No, no, no. Generals didn’t sit on panels and pontificate on how to end all war. Rather, participants mulled over a tragically overlooked military consideration.

Several prominent military historians tell West Point instructors training the next generation of Army officers that American wars usually begin with a bang, yet it’s the endings that have long-lasting influences.

Brian Linn, a professor at Texas A&M University, said Monday at the United States Military Academy that wars “don’t end simply.”

Which kind of complicates Barack Obama’s plan to unobtrusively slip out of two critical wars like an on-call doctor with a nation full of patients back home. Even the years-long run-up to our leaving Iraq and Afghanistan threatens to make things unmanageable. As Elliott Abrams recently wrote in the Weekly Standard, “Everyone [in the Middle East] sees clearly that Obama desires to be out of Iraq more than he desires to stabilize that country. Since a strong Iraq would be a force of resistance to Iran, this policy suggests that the rise of Iran will be unchecked by America.” Yet, Obama continues to call this mad escape plan a “responsible exit.”

In Afghanistan, Obama has been staring impulsively at the exit door. This has essentially cost us our relationship with the Karzai government. Our effort to defeat the Taliban is unraveling for lack of a reliable alliance with Kabul. Still, the White House insists the “end” is near.

There’s an argument to be made that wars not only fail to end simply, they fail to “end” at all. They are won or lost. For our current commander in chief, this is one big Obamian false choice: No longer do we have to choose between the responsibilities of securing victory and the partisan satisfactions of aborting the last president’s policies.

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Never Really Left Chicago

There is a stray “rumor” (more like a reasonable prediction) that Rahm Emanuel may resign in six to eight months. (Sort of like saying there is a rumor Democrats will lose seats in the fall election.) Then there is this report:

President Barack Obama’s chief of staff, then a congressman in Illinois, apparently attempted to trade favors with embattled Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich while he was in office, according to newly disclosed e-mails obtained by The Associated Press. Emanuel agreed to sign a letter to the Chicago Tribune supporting Blagojevich in the face of a scathing editorial by the newspaper that ridiculed the governor for self-promotion. Within hours, Emanuel’s own staff asked for a favor of its own: The release of a delayed $2 million grant to a school in his district. … Phone records show Emanuel called Blagojevich on four successive days in late summer 2006. One message indicated the subject was the school. Repeated phone calls between Emanuel’s and Blagojevich’s staff followed the next week. Shortly thereafter, the money started flowing, and the $2 million was paid by December.

Well, it’s not exactly shocking that Emanuel was horsetrading with Blago. But it sure does put the Joe Sestak and Andrew Romanoff job offers in perspective. This is how these people do business. The only surprise is that so many bought the hooey that Obama was a different sort of politician, immune to the backroom deals and secrecy in which he operated for his entire pre-presidential political career.

There is a stray “rumor” (more like a reasonable prediction) that Rahm Emanuel may resign in six to eight months. (Sort of like saying there is a rumor Democrats will lose seats in the fall election.) Then there is this report:

President Barack Obama’s chief of staff, then a congressman in Illinois, apparently attempted to trade favors with embattled Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich while he was in office, according to newly disclosed e-mails obtained by The Associated Press. Emanuel agreed to sign a letter to the Chicago Tribune supporting Blagojevich in the face of a scathing editorial by the newspaper that ridiculed the governor for self-promotion. Within hours, Emanuel’s own staff asked for a favor of its own: The release of a delayed $2 million grant to a school in his district. … Phone records show Emanuel called Blagojevich on four successive days in late summer 2006. One message indicated the subject was the school. Repeated phone calls between Emanuel’s and Blagojevich’s staff followed the next week. Shortly thereafter, the money started flowing, and the $2 million was paid by December.

Well, it’s not exactly shocking that Emanuel was horsetrading with Blago. But it sure does put the Joe Sestak and Andrew Romanoff job offers in perspective. This is how these people do business. The only surprise is that so many bought the hooey that Obama was a different sort of politician, immune to the backroom deals and secrecy in which he operated for his entire pre-presidential political career.

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Thirty Days to Go

Here’s a headline that should cheer conservatives: “Countdown to August; 30 workdays left.” Indeed, it should cheer all Americans, for that is not much time at all for Democrats to do any more mischief. A chunk of that will be taken up by the Elena Kagan Supreme Court confirmation hearings. This brings a smile to the faces of conservatives who have wrestled the Obama agenda to the mat: “How can the Senate expect to pull off an energy bill or even consider immigration when it’s paralyzed by bills that used to be a slam-dunk, like war funding?”

As the report notes, the unwillingness to do more legislating isn’t only on the GOP side of the aisle:

Driven by a White House that wants to keep racking up accomplishments, Reid continues to add big-ticket items to the Senate agenda — like energy and immigration — while fellow Democrats keep trying to take them off. President Barack Obama wants a quick confirmation for Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan, but he also wants an energy bill and a final deal on Wall Street reform. But with just 30 workdays remaining before senators check out for the August break, Democrats are fatigued, still have a health care hangover and are increasingly pessimistic about what can actually get done.

The short time frame should also please Democrats, who now must admit that much of what they have done up until now has been unhelpful to their political fortunes. Better no more “accomplishments” than another unpopular measure over which they will be attacked.

Here’s a headline that should cheer conservatives: “Countdown to August; 30 workdays left.” Indeed, it should cheer all Americans, for that is not much time at all for Democrats to do any more mischief. A chunk of that will be taken up by the Elena Kagan Supreme Court confirmation hearings. This brings a smile to the faces of conservatives who have wrestled the Obama agenda to the mat: “How can the Senate expect to pull off an energy bill or even consider immigration when it’s paralyzed by bills that used to be a slam-dunk, like war funding?”

As the report notes, the unwillingness to do more legislating isn’t only on the GOP side of the aisle:

Driven by a White House that wants to keep racking up accomplishments, Reid continues to add big-ticket items to the Senate agenda — like energy and immigration — while fellow Democrats keep trying to take them off. President Barack Obama wants a quick confirmation for Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan, but he also wants an energy bill and a final deal on Wall Street reform. But with just 30 workdays remaining before senators check out for the August break, Democrats are fatigued, still have a health care hangover and are increasingly pessimistic about what can actually get done.

The short time frame should also please Democrats, who now must admit that much of what they have done up until now has been unhelpful to their political fortunes. Better no more “accomplishments” than another unpopular measure over which they will be attacked.

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Like 1994 — But Worse

Gallup reports:

An average of 59% of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents have said they are more enthusiastic than usual about voting this year compared with past elections, the highest average Gallup has found in a midterm election year for either party since the question was first asked in 1994.

The prior high for a party group was 50% more enthusiastic for Democrats in 2006, which is the only one of the last five midterm election years in which Democrats have had an enthusiasm advantage. In that election, Democrats won back control of the U.S. House of Representatives for the first time since 1994. . . Republicans’ net score of +14 more enthusiastic in the latest poll compared with the Democrats’ net score of -21 represents the largest relative party advantage Gallup has measured in a single midterm election-year poll.

We’ll see if this phenomenon lasts through the fall, but for now, it seems that the Republicans’ decision to oppose Obama and his agenda at every turn — rather than accommodating it and splitting the differences — was precisely the right strategy. The GOP’s base is energized; the Democrats’ base is demoralized. Democrats who stuck with Obama and who hoped liberal support would emerge to counteract the tide of opposition from angry conservatives and independents will, I suspect, look back upon that decision (a career-ender in some cases) with regret.

Gallup reports:

An average of 59% of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents have said they are more enthusiastic than usual about voting this year compared with past elections, the highest average Gallup has found in a midterm election year for either party since the question was first asked in 1994.

The prior high for a party group was 50% more enthusiastic for Democrats in 2006, which is the only one of the last five midterm election years in which Democrats have had an enthusiasm advantage. In that election, Democrats won back control of the U.S. House of Representatives for the first time since 1994. . . Republicans’ net score of +14 more enthusiastic in the latest poll compared with the Democrats’ net score of -21 represents the largest relative party advantage Gallup has measured in a single midterm election-year poll.

We’ll see if this phenomenon lasts through the fall, but for now, it seems that the Republicans’ decision to oppose Obama and his agenda at every turn — rather than accommodating it and splitting the differences — was precisely the right strategy. The GOP’s base is energized; the Democrats’ base is demoralized. Democrats who stuck with Obama and who hoped liberal support would emerge to counteract the tide of opposition from angry conservatives and independents will, I suspect, look back upon that decision (a career-ender in some cases) with regret.

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Obama’s Pressure, Not Support for Israel, Harms U.S. Interests

Israel’s decision to ease the restrictions on nonmilitary goods let into Hamas-controlled Gaza earned the Obama administration’s praise yesterday. The White House coupled its approval with the announcement of the rescheduling of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s meeting with the president, which will, we don’t doubt, be more cordial than the brusque reception he got the last time he ventured into Obama’s presence.

Given Israel’s almost complete diplomatic isolation, Netanyahu’s move was probably an unavoidable response to an impossible situation. If Israel is to have any hope of maintaining its shaky alliance with the United States during Obama’s term in office, Netanyahu knows that he must do what he can to appease the White House’s appetite for Israeli concessions. If letting in luxury items — as opposed to the basic food and medicine already flowing unimpeded into Gaza — was the price for retaining American support for the naval blockade of the Hamas-run entity and avoiding an Obama endorsement for an international kangaroo court in which Israel’s actions would be judged, then it can be argued that what Netanyahu has conceded will not alter the strategic balance in favor of the Islamist terrorist group.

But no one should be under the impression that such a move will moderate international criticism of the Jewish state. With the secretary-general of the United Nations as well as the International Red Cross condemning the blockade as a matter of principle, it’s clear that international opinion has reached a tipping point in terms of the legitimizing the Hamas regime. The United States has not gone that far in terms of its public stance on the situation and the pressure it has exerted upon Israel, but the White House needs to understand that the price it has forced Israel to pay for Obama’s “goodwill” in fact will undermine U.S. interests in the Middle East.

Forcing Israel to loosen the blockade will be rightly seen as a victory for Hamas. Indeed, it’s hard to argue with Israeli Arab Knesset member Haneen Zoabi — who was aboard the Turkish-backed flotilla that was intercepted by Israeli forces earlier this month — when she crowed that Israel’s announcement was a victory for those who sought to break the blockade. “This is the beginning of the total collapse of the siege,” she told Ynet News yesterday. While she may be a bit premature about that, there is no doubt that Hamas will be strengthened and the Palestinian Authority will be further weakened. Indeed, as Marc Lynch claims, writing at Foreign Policy’s blog, the Israeli concession might revive Palestinian “reconciliation” talks in which Fatah and Hamas will join in a united front against Israel, which is a guarantee of future bloodshed, not a peace deal.

The White House may think itself quite clever today as it can tell the Palestinians and the international community that it has successfully pressured Israel into giving in on Gaza while at the same time assuring Israel’s American supporters that it has the Jewish state’s back on the flotilla incident. But if the result of this exercise is a stronger Hamas regime and a weaker Palestinian Authority — which may now feel compelled to join forces with the Islamists — then it is Obama and the United States that are as much the loser as Israel. By granting an unnecessary victory to Iran’s ally Hamas and making it even less likely that the PA will be able to resist Hamas’s pressure to not make a peace deal with Israel, then the outcome here is a less stable and probably more violent region as well as doomed hopes for a two-state solution. For all the mendacious arguments from Israel’s critics about the Jewish state becoming a strategic liability, it is Obama’s instinctual desire to appease Hamas that may do more to harm America’s interests than anything Washington has done to support Israel.

Israel’s decision to ease the restrictions on nonmilitary goods let into Hamas-controlled Gaza earned the Obama administration’s praise yesterday. The White House coupled its approval with the announcement of the rescheduling of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s meeting with the president, which will, we don’t doubt, be more cordial than the brusque reception he got the last time he ventured into Obama’s presence.

Given Israel’s almost complete diplomatic isolation, Netanyahu’s move was probably an unavoidable response to an impossible situation. If Israel is to have any hope of maintaining its shaky alliance with the United States during Obama’s term in office, Netanyahu knows that he must do what he can to appease the White House’s appetite for Israeli concessions. If letting in luxury items — as opposed to the basic food and medicine already flowing unimpeded into Gaza — was the price for retaining American support for the naval blockade of the Hamas-run entity and avoiding an Obama endorsement for an international kangaroo court in which Israel’s actions would be judged, then it can be argued that what Netanyahu has conceded will not alter the strategic balance in favor of the Islamist terrorist group.

But no one should be under the impression that such a move will moderate international criticism of the Jewish state. With the secretary-general of the United Nations as well as the International Red Cross condemning the blockade as a matter of principle, it’s clear that international opinion has reached a tipping point in terms of the legitimizing the Hamas regime. The United States has not gone that far in terms of its public stance on the situation and the pressure it has exerted upon Israel, but the White House needs to understand that the price it has forced Israel to pay for Obama’s “goodwill” in fact will undermine U.S. interests in the Middle East.

Forcing Israel to loosen the blockade will be rightly seen as a victory for Hamas. Indeed, it’s hard to argue with Israeli Arab Knesset member Haneen Zoabi — who was aboard the Turkish-backed flotilla that was intercepted by Israeli forces earlier this month — when she crowed that Israel’s announcement was a victory for those who sought to break the blockade. “This is the beginning of the total collapse of the siege,” she told Ynet News yesterday. While she may be a bit premature about that, there is no doubt that Hamas will be strengthened and the Palestinian Authority will be further weakened. Indeed, as Marc Lynch claims, writing at Foreign Policy’s blog, the Israeli concession might revive Palestinian “reconciliation” talks in which Fatah and Hamas will join in a united front against Israel, which is a guarantee of future bloodshed, not a peace deal.

The White House may think itself quite clever today as it can tell the Palestinians and the international community that it has successfully pressured Israel into giving in on Gaza while at the same time assuring Israel’s American supporters that it has the Jewish state’s back on the flotilla incident. But if the result of this exercise is a stronger Hamas regime and a weaker Palestinian Authority — which may now feel compelled to join forces with the Islamists — then it is Obama and the United States that are as much the loser as Israel. By granting an unnecessary victory to Iran’s ally Hamas and making it even less likely that the PA will be able to resist Hamas’s pressure to not make a peace deal with Israel, then the outcome here is a less stable and probably more violent region as well as doomed hopes for a two-state solution. For all the mendacious arguments from Israel’s critics about the Jewish state becoming a strategic liability, it is Obama’s instinctual desire to appease Hamas that may do more to harm America’s interests than anything Washington has done to support Israel.

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Our Best Ally in Afghanistan: the Taliban

The Washington Post has a pair of stories that illuminate both the challenges and the potential in the fight against the Taliban.

First the good news: in one part of Daikundi province in southern Afghanistan, the locals have risen up against the Taliban and pushed them out of town. The residents of the town of Gizab, about 100 miles north of Kandahar, got sick of the Taliban’s oppressive presence. Post correspondent Rajiv Chandrasekaran writes:

The spark for the rebellion was ignited in mid-April, after Lalay [a storekeeper with one name] received $24,000 in compensation payments from the Afghan government to distribute to the relatives of a dozen villagers — six of whom were members of his extended family — killed by a Taliban-planted roadside bomb. A Taliban commander told him to hand over the money, saying it was against Islam to accept funds from the government. “If it is haram” — forbidden — “for me, then it is haram for you,” Lalay recalled replying.

The insurgents did not relent. They detained his brother and then his father, a tribal leader in the village. It was then that Lalay decided to plot the revolt.

Before long, the villagers were in a full-fledged firefight against the Taliban. There aren’t many coalition troops in Daikundi, but they asked for help, and Australian and U.S. Special Operations soldiers answered the call. The revolt against the Taliban has since progressed:

Lalay’s force has now grown to 300 men. They conduct foot patrols and operate checkpoints in and around Gizab. The revolt also has spread to 14 neighboring villages, each of which has a 10-man defense squad.

The Special Forces detachment that had been based to the north has since moved to Gizab, where its members are training the local defenders and watching over them to prevent any other extrajudicial killings.

Insurgent attacks and intimidation have ceased. “There are still Talibs in the mountains, but they’re in hiding,” said Lalay, who wears a bandolier slung over the shoulder. “They don’t dare to come outside and fight us.”

That’s the good news. The bad news is the continuing sloth and ineffectiveness of the Afghan police charged with patrolling Kandahar. Post correspondent Ernesto Londono reports that American MPs are getting frustrated with the Afghans they are supposed to be mentoring. In a nutshell, they don’t want to patrol, but they do want to take bribes. Such frustrations are nothing new, of course; they recall the difficulties in Iraq in improving police and army performance. That process is just starting in Afghanistan and needs time to mature.

But as the revolt in Daikundi reminds us, our best ally is the Taliban. Their very heavy-handedness and repression alienates the population. The key is to be able to take advantage of that alienation by helping the Afghan people to secure themselves — something that growing numbers of American troops should be able to help with, just as they did in Iraq.

The Washington Post has a pair of stories that illuminate both the challenges and the potential in the fight against the Taliban.

First the good news: in one part of Daikundi province in southern Afghanistan, the locals have risen up against the Taliban and pushed them out of town. The residents of the town of Gizab, about 100 miles north of Kandahar, got sick of the Taliban’s oppressive presence. Post correspondent Rajiv Chandrasekaran writes:

The spark for the rebellion was ignited in mid-April, after Lalay [a storekeeper with one name] received $24,000 in compensation payments from the Afghan government to distribute to the relatives of a dozen villagers — six of whom were members of his extended family — killed by a Taliban-planted roadside bomb. A Taliban commander told him to hand over the money, saying it was against Islam to accept funds from the government. “If it is haram” — forbidden — “for me, then it is haram for you,” Lalay recalled replying.

The insurgents did not relent. They detained his brother and then his father, a tribal leader in the village. It was then that Lalay decided to plot the revolt.

Before long, the villagers were in a full-fledged firefight against the Taliban. There aren’t many coalition troops in Daikundi, but they asked for help, and Australian and U.S. Special Operations soldiers answered the call. The revolt against the Taliban has since progressed:

Lalay’s force has now grown to 300 men. They conduct foot patrols and operate checkpoints in and around Gizab. The revolt also has spread to 14 neighboring villages, each of which has a 10-man defense squad.

The Special Forces detachment that had been based to the north has since moved to Gizab, where its members are training the local defenders and watching over them to prevent any other extrajudicial killings.

Insurgent attacks and intimidation have ceased. “There are still Talibs in the mountains, but they’re in hiding,” said Lalay, who wears a bandolier slung over the shoulder. “They don’t dare to come outside and fight us.”

That’s the good news. The bad news is the continuing sloth and ineffectiveness of the Afghan police charged with patrolling Kandahar. Post correspondent Ernesto Londono reports that American MPs are getting frustrated with the Afghans they are supposed to be mentoring. In a nutshell, they don’t want to patrol, but they do want to take bribes. Such frustrations are nothing new, of course; they recall the difficulties in Iraq in improving police and army performance. That process is just starting in Afghanistan and needs time to mature.

But as the revolt in Daikundi reminds us, our best ally is the Taliban. Their very heavy-handedness and repression alienates the population. The key is to be able to take advantage of that alienation by helping the Afghan people to secure themselves — something that growing numbers of American troops should be able to help with, just as they did in Iraq.

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Ambush Journalism — the 19th-Century Version

The Hill is reporting that members of Congress are getting increasingly fed up with “ambush interviews” by “guerrilla-style reporters, bloggers, and campaign operatives who ambush them on video to provoke an aggressive or outraged response.” Rep. Bob Etheridge, D-N.C., is the latest to run afoul of this tactic and had to apologize after he lost his temper when journalists (or whoever they were) confronted him on the street in Washington but refused to identify themselves.

With most cell phones now capable of recording videos, and with actual video cameras getting smaller, cheaper, and more ubiquitous every year, politicians and other people in the public eye should probably operate on the assumption that there is always a video camera recording what they say and do.

But it didn’t take a technological revolution to bring ambush journalism into existence. Indeed, one of the most famous quotes of the 19th century was the result of an ambush.

William Henry Vanderbilt, who controlled the New York Central Railroad, was a vastly rich (“I would not cross the street to make another million.”) and vastly competent business executive. In 1882, he was traveling in his private railroad car on an inspection trip. He was in the middle of dinner when a young journalist named Clarence Dresser demanded an interview. According to the head of the Associated Press, Dresser “was one of the offensively aggressive types — one of those wrens who make prey where eagles dare not tread. Always importunate and usually impudent.”

There are several versions of what happened next (none likely to be wholly accurate), but according to Samuel Barton, who was Vanderbilt’s favorite nephew and who undoubtedly wanted to put his uncle in the best possible light, the conversation went as follows. “Why are you going to stop this fast mail-train?” Dresser asked.

“Because it doesn’t pay. I can’t run a train as far as this permanently at a loss.”

“But the public find it very convenient and useful. You ought to accommodate them.”

“The public? How do you know they find it useful? How do you know, or how can I know, that they want it? If they want it, why don’t they patronize it and make it pay? That’s the only test I have of whether a thing is wanted — does it pay? If it doesn’t pay, I suppose it isn’t wanted.”

“Mr. Vanderbilt, are you working for the public or for your stockholders?”

“The public be damned! I am working for my stockholders! If the public want the train, why don’t they support it?”

Vanderbilt, however impolitic his phrasing, was only telling an inescapable economic truth — one that the left didn’t grasp in 1882 and doesn’t in 2010 — about how capitalism works: the public good is served by the pursuit of private advantage.

But, of course, it was the impolitic phrasing that carried the day. “The public be damned!” was on the front page of every newspaper in the country within 24 hours. And William Henry Vanderbilt, who had not the slightest pretensions to literary talent, ended up in Bartlett’s.

The Hill is reporting that members of Congress are getting increasingly fed up with “ambush interviews” by “guerrilla-style reporters, bloggers, and campaign operatives who ambush them on video to provoke an aggressive or outraged response.” Rep. Bob Etheridge, D-N.C., is the latest to run afoul of this tactic and had to apologize after he lost his temper when journalists (or whoever they were) confronted him on the street in Washington but refused to identify themselves.

With most cell phones now capable of recording videos, and with actual video cameras getting smaller, cheaper, and more ubiquitous every year, politicians and other people in the public eye should probably operate on the assumption that there is always a video camera recording what they say and do.

But it didn’t take a technological revolution to bring ambush journalism into existence. Indeed, one of the most famous quotes of the 19th century was the result of an ambush.

William Henry Vanderbilt, who controlled the New York Central Railroad, was a vastly rich (“I would not cross the street to make another million.”) and vastly competent business executive. In 1882, he was traveling in his private railroad car on an inspection trip. He was in the middle of dinner when a young journalist named Clarence Dresser demanded an interview. According to the head of the Associated Press, Dresser “was one of the offensively aggressive types — one of those wrens who make prey where eagles dare not tread. Always importunate and usually impudent.”

There are several versions of what happened next (none likely to be wholly accurate), but according to Samuel Barton, who was Vanderbilt’s favorite nephew and who undoubtedly wanted to put his uncle in the best possible light, the conversation went as follows. “Why are you going to stop this fast mail-train?” Dresser asked.

“Because it doesn’t pay. I can’t run a train as far as this permanently at a loss.”

“But the public find it very convenient and useful. You ought to accommodate them.”

“The public? How do you know they find it useful? How do you know, or how can I know, that they want it? If they want it, why don’t they patronize it and make it pay? That’s the only test I have of whether a thing is wanted — does it pay? If it doesn’t pay, I suppose it isn’t wanted.”

“Mr. Vanderbilt, are you working for the public or for your stockholders?”

“The public be damned! I am working for my stockholders! If the public want the train, why don’t they support it?”

Vanderbilt, however impolitic his phrasing, was only telling an inescapable economic truth — one that the left didn’t grasp in 1882 and doesn’t in 2010 — about how capitalism works: the public good is served by the pursuit of private advantage.

But, of course, it was the impolitic phrasing that carried the day. “The public be damned!” was on the front page of every newspaper in the country within 24 hours. And William Henry Vanderbilt, who had not the slightest pretensions to literary talent, ended up in Bartlett’s.

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RE: Darrell Issa And the Criminalization of Politics

Pete, you sound a helpful warning on the dangers of overreach and the disturbing tendency to summon special prosecutors as a cure-all for bad government. There are a couple of issues that, I think, are helpful to keep in mind as we look at the issue of oversight and, more broadly, of divided government.

It is understandable that the Republicans would welcome the opportunity for congressional oversight. We have had virtually none of it during the last 18 months. Whether it has been on the failings that led up to Fort Hood, the dismissal of the New Black Panther case, the potential conflicts of interest for Justice Department lawyers who previously represented terrorists, or dozens of other issues, congressional Democrats have placed party loyalty above their obligation to act as a check on the executive branch through congressional oversight. Subpoenas are needed when the government refuses to cooperate with Congressional investigators. Some of those demands for information are not legitimate, in which case Congress generally retreats or is rebuffed by the courts. But at other times, it is the last resort when confronting a Nixonesque administration. In short, Congressional oversight can be abused and boomerang on the investigators, but when an administration is as overreaching and nontransparent as this one, robust oversight is generally a good idea.

The other issue to keep in mind is the distinction between political and legal consequences. Not every bad decision or decision undertaken for corrupt motives is illegal, but there is still a need to expose it and subject the participants to the scrutiny of voters. Normally this is a function we’d expect the media to perform. But again, they are doing a fraction of what they should and normally would do — if a Republicans were in power. For example, a congressional investigation on the shady job offers need not be intended to or result in criminal prosecution; the need to expose the ethical standards of this administration is more than enough reason to conduct some hearings and require testimony under oath.

I would suggest that the proper balance in this is ample congressional oversight, but selective (very selective) use of criminal proceedings. The punishment for unwise, ethically repugnant, and incompetent office holders should come from the ballot box. But to do that we first have to figure out what they are up to. In the Obama era, I think we could use plenty more of that.

Pete, you sound a helpful warning on the dangers of overreach and the disturbing tendency to summon special prosecutors as a cure-all for bad government. There are a couple of issues that, I think, are helpful to keep in mind as we look at the issue of oversight and, more broadly, of divided government.

It is understandable that the Republicans would welcome the opportunity for congressional oversight. We have had virtually none of it during the last 18 months. Whether it has been on the failings that led up to Fort Hood, the dismissal of the New Black Panther case, the potential conflicts of interest for Justice Department lawyers who previously represented terrorists, or dozens of other issues, congressional Democrats have placed party loyalty above their obligation to act as a check on the executive branch through congressional oversight. Subpoenas are needed when the government refuses to cooperate with Congressional investigators. Some of those demands for information are not legitimate, in which case Congress generally retreats or is rebuffed by the courts. But at other times, it is the last resort when confronting a Nixonesque administration. In short, Congressional oversight can be abused and boomerang on the investigators, but when an administration is as overreaching and nontransparent as this one, robust oversight is generally a good idea.

The other issue to keep in mind is the distinction between political and legal consequences. Not every bad decision or decision undertaken for corrupt motives is illegal, but there is still a need to expose it and subject the participants to the scrutiny of voters. Normally this is a function we’d expect the media to perform. But again, they are doing a fraction of what they should and normally would do — if a Republicans were in power. For example, a congressional investigation on the shady job offers need not be intended to or result in criminal prosecution; the need to expose the ethical standards of this administration is more than enough reason to conduct some hearings and require testimony under oath.

I would suggest that the proper balance in this is ample congressional oversight, but selective (very selective) use of criminal proceedings. The punishment for unwise, ethically repugnant, and incompetent office holders should come from the ballot box. But to do that we first have to figure out what they are up to. In the Obama era, I think we could use plenty more of that.

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In Praise of David Brooks

On Jim Lehrer’s NewsHour, David Brooks — while properly castigating Rep. Joe Barton for his politically inept defense of BP and his muddled attempt to draw an important principle from what is happening — said this:

He actually had a kernel of truth at the core of what he said, which is that we’re a nation of laws. We have laws to protect the unpopular, and to even protect people who do bad things. And we have a set of laws, when somebody does something bad, does something negligent, to force them to pay and compensate those who were damaged. And that’s all on the books. And what President Obama did when he very publicly and very brutally strong-armed BP into setting aside this $20 billion, is, he went around those laws. And some people think, “Oh, it’s no problem. It’s only BP.” Well, if you’re upset about — I mean, if, imagine if Dick Cheney did it to somebody he didn’t like and said, “Oh, we don’t happen to like you. We’re going to set $20 billion aside, and I will appoint the person who is going to decide what is going to happen to that $20 billion.”

Now, I’m not personally worried about what’s going to happen to this $20 billion, because Ken Feinberg, who was on the show earlier, is a hero. He will be honest. He will be straight. So, I’m not worried about that. I’m worried about the erosion of the rule of law, which is a president using the vast powers of the federal government to strong-arm a company, no matter how unpopular and no matter how badly they may have behaved.

David’s point is well put, and, when passions among the polity are running high, it was a responsible observation to make.

In A Man for All Seasons, Thomas More and William Roper have an exchange in which Roper says to More, “So now you’d give the Devil benefit of law!”

More answers: “Yes. What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?” Roper replies, “I’d cut down every law in England to do that!” And More answers this way:

Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you — where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country’s planted thick with laws from coast to coast — man’s laws, not God’s — and if you cut them down — and you’re just the man to do it — d’you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I’d give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety’s sake.

During this crisis, BP has acted horribly on almost every level; but the rule of law still matters, even — and maybe especially — in instances like this.

On Jim Lehrer’s NewsHour, David Brooks — while properly castigating Rep. Joe Barton for his politically inept defense of BP and his muddled attempt to draw an important principle from what is happening — said this:

He actually had a kernel of truth at the core of what he said, which is that we’re a nation of laws. We have laws to protect the unpopular, and to even protect people who do bad things. And we have a set of laws, when somebody does something bad, does something negligent, to force them to pay and compensate those who were damaged. And that’s all on the books. And what President Obama did when he very publicly and very brutally strong-armed BP into setting aside this $20 billion, is, he went around those laws. And some people think, “Oh, it’s no problem. It’s only BP.” Well, if you’re upset about — I mean, if, imagine if Dick Cheney did it to somebody he didn’t like and said, “Oh, we don’t happen to like you. We’re going to set $20 billion aside, and I will appoint the person who is going to decide what is going to happen to that $20 billion.”

Now, I’m not personally worried about what’s going to happen to this $20 billion, because Ken Feinberg, who was on the show earlier, is a hero. He will be honest. He will be straight. So, I’m not worried about that. I’m worried about the erosion of the rule of law, which is a president using the vast powers of the federal government to strong-arm a company, no matter how unpopular and no matter how badly they may have behaved.

David’s point is well put, and, when passions among the polity are running high, it was a responsible observation to make.

In A Man for All Seasons, Thomas More and William Roper have an exchange in which Roper says to More, “So now you’d give the Devil benefit of law!”

More answers: “Yes. What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?” Roper replies, “I’d cut down every law in England to do that!” And More answers this way:

Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you — where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country’s planted thick with laws from coast to coast — man’s laws, not God’s — and if you cut them down — and you’re just the man to do it — d’you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I’d give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety’s sake.

During this crisis, BP has acted horribly on almost every level; but the rule of law still matters, even — and maybe especially — in instances like this.

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Drafting Diplomatic Alternatives for Israel

The one-day-old Israel Security Council, founded by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, seeks to fill a crucial gap in Israeli public discourse by crafting alternatives to accepted diplomatic dogmas.

JCPA chief Dore Gold, a former Israeli ambassador to the UN, explained to reporters that Israel’s biggest international-relations problem is its inability to articulate what it actually wants. Any Palestinian Authority official can recite his goals: a Palestinian state, the 1967 borders, East Jerusalem. But “if someone asks an Israeli politician they say, ‘It’s complicated’ or ‘We want peace,’ or ‘a secure peace.’ The Palestinians have clear targets and we have only indistinct goals.”

What Gold didn’t mention, but is equally true, is that the same problem plagues Israel’s internal discourse. Virtually the only Israeli who ever articulated a clear diplomatic vision is the left-wing Yossi Beilin. And this remains the left’s best argument against the center-right. Whenever someone points out the Beilinite vision’s dangers, leftist politicians retort: “So what’s your solution?” And since center-right politicians have no real answer, they wind up adopting Beilinesque solutions once in office.

Granted, a “solution” shouldn’t be necessary. In real life, not all problems have instant solutions, and Israeli politicians should be capable of saying so — just as successive American presidents acknowledged that there was no instant solution to the Soviet problem, so the free world simply had to hold the line against Communist expansion until a solution became possible. This has the great advantage of being true: until the Arabs accept Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state, no diplomatic solution will be possible.

But Israeli politicians have never succeeded in making this argument. Thus Gold and his colleagues, who represent a broad center-right spectrum, are wise to seek to craft an alternative vision.

The council’s second vital goal is to restore security, and especially Israel’s need for defensible borders, to the center of the diplomatic discourse. At a JPCA symposium on Israel’s security needs earlier this year, Maj. Gen. (res.) Uzi Dayan, a council member, noted that contrary to accepted dogma, high-trajectory weapons make defensible borders more important, not less.

The 2006 Second Lebanon War demonstrated one reason. The Israel Air Force destroyed all of Hezbollah’s medium- and long-range missiles the first day, because these missiles are easier for intelligence to detect. But short-range missiles are almost impossible to detect and destroy by air; the only solution is to keep them out of range by physically occupying territory. That’s why Israel is currently unwilling to leave the West Bank, which is in rocket range of all its major cities.

But Dayan also cited another reason: Israel’s small population means a small standing army, so its defense depends on the reserves. But rocket fire could disrupt their mobilization, requiring the standing army to fight for longer before they arrive. Moreover, the air force might be too busy with the missile threat to help. Both factors make strategic depth critical.

If the council succeeds in changing the diplomatic discourse on these issues, it will make an invaluable contribution to Israel’s future. So wish it luck.

The one-day-old Israel Security Council, founded by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, seeks to fill a crucial gap in Israeli public discourse by crafting alternatives to accepted diplomatic dogmas.

JCPA chief Dore Gold, a former Israeli ambassador to the UN, explained to reporters that Israel’s biggest international-relations problem is its inability to articulate what it actually wants. Any Palestinian Authority official can recite his goals: a Palestinian state, the 1967 borders, East Jerusalem. But “if someone asks an Israeli politician they say, ‘It’s complicated’ or ‘We want peace,’ or ‘a secure peace.’ The Palestinians have clear targets and we have only indistinct goals.”

What Gold didn’t mention, but is equally true, is that the same problem plagues Israel’s internal discourse. Virtually the only Israeli who ever articulated a clear diplomatic vision is the left-wing Yossi Beilin. And this remains the left’s best argument against the center-right. Whenever someone points out the Beilinite vision’s dangers, leftist politicians retort: “So what’s your solution?” And since center-right politicians have no real answer, they wind up adopting Beilinesque solutions once in office.

Granted, a “solution” shouldn’t be necessary. In real life, not all problems have instant solutions, and Israeli politicians should be capable of saying so — just as successive American presidents acknowledged that there was no instant solution to the Soviet problem, so the free world simply had to hold the line against Communist expansion until a solution became possible. This has the great advantage of being true: until the Arabs accept Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state, no diplomatic solution will be possible.

But Israeli politicians have never succeeded in making this argument. Thus Gold and his colleagues, who represent a broad center-right spectrum, are wise to seek to craft an alternative vision.

The council’s second vital goal is to restore security, and especially Israel’s need for defensible borders, to the center of the diplomatic discourse. At a JPCA symposium on Israel’s security needs earlier this year, Maj. Gen. (res.) Uzi Dayan, a council member, noted that contrary to accepted dogma, high-trajectory weapons make defensible borders more important, not less.

The 2006 Second Lebanon War demonstrated one reason. The Israel Air Force destroyed all of Hezbollah’s medium- and long-range missiles the first day, because these missiles are easier for intelligence to detect. But short-range missiles are almost impossible to detect and destroy by air; the only solution is to keep them out of range by physically occupying territory. That’s why Israel is currently unwilling to leave the West Bank, which is in rocket range of all its major cities.

But Dayan also cited another reason: Israel’s small population means a small standing army, so its defense depends on the reserves. But rocket fire could disrupt their mobilization, requiring the standing army to fight for longer before they arrive. Moreover, the air force might be too busy with the missile threat to help. Both factors make strategic depth critical.

If the council succeeds in changing the diplomatic discourse on these issues, it will make an invaluable contribution to Israel’s future. So wish it luck.

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Partners in the Conservative Revival

Both Bill Kristol and Peter Berkowitz have taken up the issue of conservative reform and the respective tasks of wonkish conservative innovators and the grassroots Tea Party movement. The mainstream media like to portray the two groups — the reformers and the Tea Partiers – in opposition in a party civil war (as if Rep. Paul Ryan and Sarah Palin were in competition for the soul of the GOP). But as Kristol and Berkowitz explain, the two aspects of the revived conservative movement are compatible, and each is essential in its own realm.

Kristol reminds us that the Tea Party movement has helped to unnerve and beat back the liberal statists, but that is the beginning and not the end of a conservative resurgence:

We already have a Middle American populist reaction against the government schemes of pointy-headed intellectuals. Barack Obama got the highest percentage of the votes of any Democratic presidential candidate since Lyndon Johnson in 1964; Republicans look to be on track this year to replicate their 47-seat House pick-up in 1966.

What comes next? That’s up to us—especially to us conservatives. We’re not doomed to repeat the pretty miserable political, social, and economic performance of 1967-80. …

Can conservatives develop a program, an agenda, and a governing vision that would, in the words of Federalist 39, vindicate “that honorable determination which animates every votary of freedom, to rest all our political experiments on the capacity of mankind for self-government”?

And Berkowitz provides a helpful review of the history of conservative reform, pointing toward those whose task it will be to provide an alternative to Obamaism:

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour and Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan are among those officeholders in the process of recovering reform as a conservative virtue. In November, Meg Whitman, the new Republican nominee in California, and Brian Sandoval, the new Republican nominee for governor in Nevada, stand a good chance to join their ranks.

Today’s conservative reformers appreciate that within its limited sphere government should be excellent. Promoting individual responsibility, self-reliance and opportunity requires targeted action, beginning with health-care reform that really controls costs by eliminating barriers on insurance companies operating across state lines and limiting malpractice damages; public-sector reform that reins in unions by reducing benefits and expanding accountability; and education reform that through school-choice programs gives parents, particularly in low income and minority communities, greater control over their children’s education.

None of this is to underestimate or denigrate the intellectual underpinnings of the Tea Party movement. Despite the media indictment (Racists! Know-nothings!), it is perhaps the most wonkish popular uprising we’ve had in the past century. It is the CATO  Institute’s dream mass movement — based on self-reliance, limited government, sound money, fiscal discipline, and market economics. Many of the protesters like to carry copies of the Constitution. For every inflammatory hand-painted sign that CNN films, there are dozens quoting James Madison, challenging the “bailout nation,” and contesting the constitutionality of an individual health-care insurance mandate. It’s certainly a step up from “Turn on, tune in, drop out.” But it is not a methodology for governing nor an agenda for what would follow Obamaism. You don’t write legislation in mass gatherings seeking to discredit and upend those in power. And it’s unrealistic and misguided to expect a mass movement to decimate a political agenda, defeat liberal one-party rule, defend itself against incessant media attacks – and come up with a health-care alternative, a scheme for entitlement reform, and proposals to tame the debt. (The latter is the work of Ryan, Daniels, Christie, et. al.)

The media narrative that the conservative movement is riven with conflict is, as is so much else the media spew, a distortion intended to bolster the spirits of the left and paint the right in the most disagreeable light possible. We actually have witnessed a rather effective division of labor on the right, with reformers and Tea Partiers collaborating on common goals. They share a mutual desire to put a stake through the heart of the statist agenda of one-party Democratic rule and to find a better alternative. The first task is well under way; the latter is just beginning.

Both Bill Kristol and Peter Berkowitz have taken up the issue of conservative reform and the respective tasks of wonkish conservative innovators and the grassroots Tea Party movement. The mainstream media like to portray the two groups — the reformers and the Tea Partiers – in opposition in a party civil war (as if Rep. Paul Ryan and Sarah Palin were in competition for the soul of the GOP). But as Kristol and Berkowitz explain, the two aspects of the revived conservative movement are compatible, and each is essential in its own realm.

Kristol reminds us that the Tea Party movement has helped to unnerve and beat back the liberal statists, but that is the beginning and not the end of a conservative resurgence:

We already have a Middle American populist reaction against the government schemes of pointy-headed intellectuals. Barack Obama got the highest percentage of the votes of any Democratic presidential candidate since Lyndon Johnson in 1964; Republicans look to be on track this year to replicate their 47-seat House pick-up in 1966.

What comes next? That’s up to us—especially to us conservatives. We’re not doomed to repeat the pretty miserable political, social, and economic performance of 1967-80. …

Can conservatives develop a program, an agenda, and a governing vision that would, in the words of Federalist 39, vindicate “that honorable determination which animates every votary of freedom, to rest all our political experiments on the capacity of mankind for self-government”?

And Berkowitz provides a helpful review of the history of conservative reform, pointing toward those whose task it will be to provide an alternative to Obamaism:

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour and Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan are among those officeholders in the process of recovering reform as a conservative virtue. In November, Meg Whitman, the new Republican nominee in California, and Brian Sandoval, the new Republican nominee for governor in Nevada, stand a good chance to join their ranks.

Today’s conservative reformers appreciate that within its limited sphere government should be excellent. Promoting individual responsibility, self-reliance and opportunity requires targeted action, beginning with health-care reform that really controls costs by eliminating barriers on insurance companies operating across state lines and limiting malpractice damages; public-sector reform that reins in unions by reducing benefits and expanding accountability; and education reform that through school-choice programs gives parents, particularly in low income and minority communities, greater control over their children’s education.

None of this is to underestimate or denigrate the intellectual underpinnings of the Tea Party movement. Despite the media indictment (Racists! Know-nothings!), it is perhaps the most wonkish popular uprising we’ve had in the past century. It is the CATO  Institute’s dream mass movement — based on self-reliance, limited government, sound money, fiscal discipline, and market economics. Many of the protesters like to carry copies of the Constitution. For every inflammatory hand-painted sign that CNN films, there are dozens quoting James Madison, challenging the “bailout nation,” and contesting the constitutionality of an individual health-care insurance mandate. It’s certainly a step up from “Turn on, tune in, drop out.” But it is not a methodology for governing nor an agenda for what would follow Obamaism. You don’t write legislation in mass gatherings seeking to discredit and upend those in power. And it’s unrealistic and misguided to expect a mass movement to decimate a political agenda, defeat liberal one-party rule, defend itself against incessant media attacks – and come up with a health-care alternative, a scheme for entitlement reform, and proposals to tame the debt. (The latter is the work of Ryan, Daniels, Christie, et. al.)

The media narrative that the conservative movement is riven with conflict is, as is so much else the media spew, a distortion intended to bolster the spirits of the left and paint the right in the most disagreeable light possible. We actually have witnessed a rather effective division of labor on the right, with reformers and Tea Partiers collaborating on common goals. They share a mutual desire to put a stake through the heart of the statist agenda of one-party Democratic rule and to find a better alternative. The first task is well under way; the latter is just beginning.

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WEB EXCLUSIVE: Darrell Issa and the Criminalization of Politics

Politico reports that

Rep. Darrell Issa, the conservative firebrand whose specialty is lobbing corruption allegations at the Obama White House, is making plans to hire dozens of subpoena-wielding investigators if Republicans win the House this fall. … Issa has told Republican leadership that if he becomes chairman, he wants to roughly double his staff from 40 to between 70 and 80. And he is not subtle about what that means for President Barack Obama. At a recent speech to Pennsylvania Republicans here, he boasted about what would happen if the GOP wins 39 seats, and he gets the power to subpoena.

“That will make all the difference in the world,” he told 400 applauding party members during a dinner at the chocolate-themed Hershey Lodge. “I won’t use it to have corporate America live in fear that we’re going to subpoena everything. I will use it to get the very information that today the White House is either shredding or not producing.”

In other words, Issa wants to be to the Obama administration what Rep. Dan Burton (R-Ind.) was to the Clinton administration — a subpoena machine in search of White House scandals.

For the sake of the country I hope that Republicans take over the House in November — and for the sake of the country, I hope that if they do, Representative Issa is very careful with the power he wields.

To finish reading this COMMENTARY Web Exclusive, click here.

Politico reports that

Rep. Darrell Issa, the conservative firebrand whose specialty is lobbing corruption allegations at the Obama White House, is making plans to hire dozens of subpoena-wielding investigators if Republicans win the House this fall. … Issa has told Republican leadership that if he becomes chairman, he wants to roughly double his staff from 40 to between 70 and 80. And he is not subtle about what that means for President Barack Obama. At a recent speech to Pennsylvania Republicans here, he boasted about what would happen if the GOP wins 39 seats, and he gets the power to subpoena.

“That will make all the difference in the world,” he told 400 applauding party members during a dinner at the chocolate-themed Hershey Lodge. “I won’t use it to have corporate America live in fear that we’re going to subpoena everything. I will use it to get the very information that today the White House is either shredding or not producing.”

In other words, Issa wants to be to the Obama administration what Rep. Dan Burton (R-Ind.) was to the Clinton administration — a subpoena machine in search of White House scandals.

For the sake of the country I hope that Republicans take over the House in November — and for the sake of the country, I hope that if they do, Representative Issa is very careful with the power he wields.

To finish reading this COMMENTARY Web Exclusive, click here.

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When Does an Unfulfilled Political Promise Become a Lie?

The president and his hapless attorney general (who, like the former director of National Intelligence, Dennis Blair, seems to be handicapped by his inability to go out in public without unnerving political supporters and giving fodder to opponents) repeatedly promised that they would reverse the Bush administration’s alleged proclivity to politicize the administration of justice. In the end, the accusations against the Bush team proved to be generally groundless (John Yoo and Jay Bybee were cleared, and the allegations that Yoo intentionally provided faulty legal advice were specifically rejected) or trivial (e.g., replacing nine U.S. attorneys, in contrast to other administrations, which replaced all of them). And in the politicization department, no one holds a candle to the Obama team.

This report explains that for all the crying about upholding our legal traditions and rejecting the “lawless” Bush team, the Obama gang is delaying a decision on the KSM trial until the election is in the rear-view mirror. It’s hard to get more political than that (unless, of course, it’s dismissing the New Black Panther intimidation case because left-wing civil rights groups and Holder’s lawyers don’t like enforcing the civil rights laws against minority defendants). Josh Gerstein reports:

Attorney General Eric Holder said the decision over where to hold the trial for alleged 9/11 plotter Khalid Sheikh Mohammad was “weeks away” — three months ago. Now advocates on both sides of the issue say they expect the Obama administration to punt the decision until after the November midterm elections — when the controversial plan could do less damage to the political fortunes of endangered Democrats and might face less resistance on Capitol Hill.

Holder last week explicitly denied the midterms had anything to do with the timing but would only say discussions are continuing. The White House had no comment. Any further stalling could pose a serious political problem for President Barack Obama on the left — where advocates cheered his administration’s plan to break from the Bush administration and give top al-Qaida figures trials in American courtrooms, a sign to the country and the world that U.S.-style justice was enough to try to men accused of the worst crimes in the nation’s history. … Advocates say the signs of foot-dragging are evident. The Democrats’ political fortunes have dipped further, talks on the broader issue of Guantanamo closure have ground to a halt and the House took a little-noticed vote to block transporting any Gitmo detainees to the United States, for any reason.

The Obama administration plainly doesn’t have the nerve to stand up to its own base, so it delays and delays. Not exactly upholding our fundamental values, as Obama often preened. When the Bush administration had to combat endless attacks on its detainee procedures, the left, of course, excoriated the Bush Justice Department for dragging its feet and holding detainees in limbo. Some are shocked, shocked, to discover that the Obama gang is much worse:

“The worst possible outcome is not making a decision. … There’s a genuinely weird paralysis I would not have predicted,” said Ben Wittes, a Brookings Institution scholar who has urged Obama to announce that there will be no trials for the 9/11 suspects. “It’s disgraceful and they should be embarrassed by it. There are pros and cons of any approach you take, but there is no good argument to let this fester indefinitely.”

If there were Democrats willing to exercise any semblance of congressional oversight, the administration might be pressured to end the “weird” and entirely self-imposed paralysis. But for now, onlookers can only fume:

While “swift and certain justice” once was a regular part of the White House lexicon on Guantanamo and detainee trials, that catchphrase has now vanished along with the prospect of anything swift happening to most of the prisoners slated for continued detention or trial.

“Both the 9/11 and the Cole families had the president look them in the eye and say, ‘We’re going to close Gitmo, move forward with this process, and hold people accountable,’” said Commander Kirk Lippold, a proponent of military trials who was the commanding officer aboard the U.S.S. Cole when it was attacked in Yemen in 2000. “When does an unfulfilled political promise become a lie?” Lippold asked.

Now, there’s a question for Holder for his next outing on Capitol Hill.

The president and his hapless attorney general (who, like the former director of National Intelligence, Dennis Blair, seems to be handicapped by his inability to go out in public without unnerving political supporters and giving fodder to opponents) repeatedly promised that they would reverse the Bush administration’s alleged proclivity to politicize the administration of justice. In the end, the accusations against the Bush team proved to be generally groundless (John Yoo and Jay Bybee were cleared, and the allegations that Yoo intentionally provided faulty legal advice were specifically rejected) or trivial (e.g., replacing nine U.S. attorneys, in contrast to other administrations, which replaced all of them). And in the politicization department, no one holds a candle to the Obama team.

This report explains that for all the crying about upholding our legal traditions and rejecting the “lawless” Bush team, the Obama gang is delaying a decision on the KSM trial until the election is in the rear-view mirror. It’s hard to get more political than that (unless, of course, it’s dismissing the New Black Panther intimidation case because left-wing civil rights groups and Holder’s lawyers don’t like enforcing the civil rights laws against minority defendants). Josh Gerstein reports:

Attorney General Eric Holder said the decision over where to hold the trial for alleged 9/11 plotter Khalid Sheikh Mohammad was “weeks away” — three months ago. Now advocates on both sides of the issue say they expect the Obama administration to punt the decision until after the November midterm elections — when the controversial plan could do less damage to the political fortunes of endangered Democrats and might face less resistance on Capitol Hill.

Holder last week explicitly denied the midterms had anything to do with the timing but would only say discussions are continuing. The White House had no comment. Any further stalling could pose a serious political problem for President Barack Obama on the left — where advocates cheered his administration’s plan to break from the Bush administration and give top al-Qaida figures trials in American courtrooms, a sign to the country and the world that U.S.-style justice was enough to try to men accused of the worst crimes in the nation’s history. … Advocates say the signs of foot-dragging are evident. The Democrats’ political fortunes have dipped further, talks on the broader issue of Guantanamo closure have ground to a halt and the House took a little-noticed vote to block transporting any Gitmo detainees to the United States, for any reason.

The Obama administration plainly doesn’t have the nerve to stand up to its own base, so it delays and delays. Not exactly upholding our fundamental values, as Obama often preened. When the Bush administration had to combat endless attacks on its detainee procedures, the left, of course, excoriated the Bush Justice Department for dragging its feet and holding detainees in limbo. Some are shocked, shocked, to discover that the Obama gang is much worse:

“The worst possible outcome is not making a decision. … There’s a genuinely weird paralysis I would not have predicted,” said Ben Wittes, a Brookings Institution scholar who has urged Obama to announce that there will be no trials for the 9/11 suspects. “It’s disgraceful and they should be embarrassed by it. There are pros and cons of any approach you take, but there is no good argument to let this fester indefinitely.”

If there were Democrats willing to exercise any semblance of congressional oversight, the administration might be pressured to end the “weird” and entirely self-imposed paralysis. But for now, onlookers can only fume:

While “swift and certain justice” once was a regular part of the White House lexicon on Guantanamo and detainee trials, that catchphrase has now vanished along with the prospect of anything swift happening to most of the prisoners slated for continued detention or trial.

“Both the 9/11 and the Cole families had the president look them in the eye and say, ‘We’re going to close Gitmo, move forward with this process, and hold people accountable,’” said Commander Kirk Lippold, a proponent of military trials who was the commanding officer aboard the U.S.S. Cole when it was attacked in Yemen in 2000. “When does an unfulfilled political promise become a lie?” Lippold asked.

Now, there’s a question for Holder for his next outing on Capitol Hill.

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The Best Speech Those High School Grads May Ever Hear

Justice Antonin Scalia gave a high school commencement address last week. As he routinely does on the Supreme Court and in his public speeches on judicial philosophy, he took modern platitudes that have become conventional wisdom and dismantled them. The gist of it was this:

[A] platitude I want to discuss comes in many flavors. It can be variously delivered as, “Follow your star,” or “Never compromise your principles.” Or, quoting Polonius in “Hamlet” — who people forget was supposed to be an idiot — “To thine own self be true.” Now this can be very good or very bad advice. Indeed, follow your star if you want to head north and it’s the North Star. But if you want to head north and it’s Mars, you had better follow somebody else’s star. …

Movement is not necessarily progress. More important than your obligation to follow your conscience, or at least prior to it, is your obligation to form your conscience correctly. Nobody — remember this — neither Hitler, nor Lenin, nor any despot you could name, ever came forward with a proposal that read, “Now, let’s create a really oppressive and evil society.” Hitler said, “Let’s take the means necessary to restore our national pride and civic order.” And Lenin said, “Let’s take the means necessary to assure a fair distribution of the goods of the world.”

In short, it is your responsibility, men and women of the class of 2010, not just to be zealous in the pursuit of your ideals, but to be sure that your ideals are the right ones. That is perhaps the hardest part of being a good human being: Good intentions are not enough. Being a good person begins with being a wise person. Then, when you follow your conscience, will you be headed in the right direction.

This is anathema to the left, of course. For the left, “self-realization” is the highest ideal. And results matter so much less than their heartfelt intention and their hard work (for which they never tire of seeking approval). Moreover, Scalia’s notion that there are “right ideals” is no doubt horrifying to the moral relativists and cultural levelers.

Scalia also offers up a refreshing dose of humility in a world in which those with minimal life experience and capabilities not only assert that their own insights, hunches, preferences, and cravings are worth pursuing but also dare not be second-guessed. Scalia contends that it is essential to look to external, fixed principles and reminds us how easy it is to confuse your own desires with morally superior goals.

Yes, there’s a bit of judicial philosophy in there. (It doesn’t matter what you’d like the Constitution to say; it only matters what it does say and what those who wrote it intended.) And, yes, there is a jab at Obama implicit in Scalia’s indictment of the mindset of the left. As the epitome of  the sort of condescending, self-important, and egocentric liberal who dominates universities and the media, Obama exhibits much of what Scalia deplores. The president and his spinners never tell us how hard he works. To combat criticism that his policies are destructive and wrongheaded (e.g., his stance toward Israel, a time table for troop withdrawal in Afghanistan), he reiterates the purity of his intentions (devoted to Israel, he says) and boasts about how thoughtful his decision-making is (what president could conducts months of seminars on Afghanistan?). All this is meant to substitute for or distract us from evaluating the rightness of the decisions, the effectiveness of his conduct, and the gap between his ideology and reality.

Scalia’s is a simple and poignant plea for personal restraint and objective truth. It’s not only what underlies his judicial philosophy, but it is a fine recipe for maintaining a just and decent society. It’s also a helpful reminder to avoid presidential aspirants whose emotional and intellectual habits resemble those of incoming college freshmen.

Justice Antonin Scalia gave a high school commencement address last week. As he routinely does on the Supreme Court and in his public speeches on judicial philosophy, he took modern platitudes that have become conventional wisdom and dismantled them. The gist of it was this:

[A] platitude I want to discuss comes in many flavors. It can be variously delivered as, “Follow your star,” or “Never compromise your principles.” Or, quoting Polonius in “Hamlet” — who people forget was supposed to be an idiot — “To thine own self be true.” Now this can be very good or very bad advice. Indeed, follow your star if you want to head north and it’s the North Star. But if you want to head north and it’s Mars, you had better follow somebody else’s star. …

Movement is not necessarily progress. More important than your obligation to follow your conscience, or at least prior to it, is your obligation to form your conscience correctly. Nobody — remember this — neither Hitler, nor Lenin, nor any despot you could name, ever came forward with a proposal that read, “Now, let’s create a really oppressive and evil society.” Hitler said, “Let’s take the means necessary to restore our national pride and civic order.” And Lenin said, “Let’s take the means necessary to assure a fair distribution of the goods of the world.”

In short, it is your responsibility, men and women of the class of 2010, not just to be zealous in the pursuit of your ideals, but to be sure that your ideals are the right ones. That is perhaps the hardest part of being a good human being: Good intentions are not enough. Being a good person begins with being a wise person. Then, when you follow your conscience, will you be headed in the right direction.

This is anathema to the left, of course. For the left, “self-realization” is the highest ideal. And results matter so much less than their heartfelt intention and their hard work (for which they never tire of seeking approval). Moreover, Scalia’s notion that there are “right ideals” is no doubt horrifying to the moral relativists and cultural levelers.

Scalia also offers up a refreshing dose of humility in a world in which those with minimal life experience and capabilities not only assert that their own insights, hunches, preferences, and cravings are worth pursuing but also dare not be second-guessed. Scalia contends that it is essential to look to external, fixed principles and reminds us how easy it is to confuse your own desires with morally superior goals.

Yes, there’s a bit of judicial philosophy in there. (It doesn’t matter what you’d like the Constitution to say; it only matters what it does say and what those who wrote it intended.) And, yes, there is a jab at Obama implicit in Scalia’s indictment of the mindset of the left. As the epitome of  the sort of condescending, self-important, and egocentric liberal who dominates universities and the media, Obama exhibits much of what Scalia deplores. The president and his spinners never tell us how hard he works. To combat criticism that his policies are destructive and wrongheaded (e.g., his stance toward Israel, a time table for troop withdrawal in Afghanistan), he reiterates the purity of his intentions (devoted to Israel, he says) and boasts about how thoughtful his decision-making is (what president could conducts months of seminars on Afghanistan?). All this is meant to substitute for or distract us from evaluating the rightness of the decisions, the effectiveness of his conduct, and the gap between his ideology and reality.

Scalia’s is a simple and poignant plea for personal restraint and objective truth. It’s not only what underlies his judicial philosophy, but it is a fine recipe for maintaining a just and decent society. It’s also a helpful reminder to avoid presidential aspirants whose emotional and intellectual habits resemble those of incoming college freshmen.

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Do They Want to Win?

At times you wonder if Obama and his minions want to win the war in Afghanistan. Oh, horror — can you say such things? Accuse them of less-than-steely determination to pursue victory? Well, to be blunt, it’s becoming hard to think of explanations for the Obama team’s insistence, childlike and illogical as it is, for defending what even sympathetic observers regard as the heart of our difficulty in our Afghanistan effort – the president’s timeline for a troop pullout. There was this exchange yesterday on This Week between Jake Tapper and Rahm Emanuel:

TAPPER: So what exactly does the July 2011 deadline mean? Is it going to be a whole lot of people moving out, definitely, as Vice President Biden says? Or could it be more nuanced, as General Petraeus says, maybe just a couple of people leaving one province?

EMANUEL: Well, no, everybody knows there’s a firm date. And that firm date is a date — deals with the troops that are part of the surge, the additional 30,000. What will be determined at that date or going into that date will be the scale and scope of that reduction.

But there will be no doubt that that’s going to happen. And I know actually — I look at both of those, and they’re not inconsistent. But remember where we were on Afghanistan policy, that war had waxed and waned. And there really hadn’t been a focus on how to bring that war to — and the effort (INAUDIBLE), even with al Qaeda and Taliban, to a point given what was going on in Iraq.

When pressed further, Emanuel praised the utility of the timeline:

TAPPER: But it could be any number of people.

EMANUEL: That’s what you’ll evaluate based on the conditions on the ground. That is — but what had to happen prior to that was having a date that gave everybody, the NATO, international forces, as well as Afghanistan, that sense of urgency to move.

We can speculate that Obama doesn’t want to admit his error. Or we can assume that Emanuel is panicked about the turnout of the administration’s liberal base in November. (The DNC is apparently so desperate that they are spending millions to get college kids and other first-time 2008 voters to turn out in a midterm election.) But whatever the explanation, they are doing the opposite of what the military and bipartisan supporters of the war tell us must be done: dispel the image that we are getting ready to cut and run.

Some still insist that Obama fully understands the responsibilities of commander in chief and is dedicated to avoiding a hugely damaging defeat in a war he deemed critical. At this point, those people have the burden of proof. By Obama’s actions and words, the evidence is mounting that neither is true.

At times you wonder if Obama and his minions want to win the war in Afghanistan. Oh, horror — can you say such things? Accuse them of less-than-steely determination to pursue victory? Well, to be blunt, it’s becoming hard to think of explanations for the Obama team’s insistence, childlike and illogical as it is, for defending what even sympathetic observers regard as the heart of our difficulty in our Afghanistan effort – the president’s timeline for a troop pullout. There was this exchange yesterday on This Week between Jake Tapper and Rahm Emanuel:

TAPPER: So what exactly does the July 2011 deadline mean? Is it going to be a whole lot of people moving out, definitely, as Vice President Biden says? Or could it be more nuanced, as General Petraeus says, maybe just a couple of people leaving one province?

EMANUEL: Well, no, everybody knows there’s a firm date. And that firm date is a date — deals with the troops that are part of the surge, the additional 30,000. What will be determined at that date or going into that date will be the scale and scope of that reduction.

But there will be no doubt that that’s going to happen. And I know actually — I look at both of those, and they’re not inconsistent. But remember where we were on Afghanistan policy, that war had waxed and waned. And there really hadn’t been a focus on how to bring that war to — and the effort (INAUDIBLE), even with al Qaeda and Taliban, to a point given what was going on in Iraq.

When pressed further, Emanuel praised the utility of the timeline:

TAPPER: But it could be any number of people.

EMANUEL: That’s what you’ll evaluate based on the conditions on the ground. That is — but what had to happen prior to that was having a date that gave everybody, the NATO, international forces, as well as Afghanistan, that sense of urgency to move.

We can speculate that Obama doesn’t want to admit his error. Or we can assume that Emanuel is panicked about the turnout of the administration’s liberal base in November. (The DNC is apparently so desperate that they are spending millions to get college kids and other first-time 2008 voters to turn out in a midterm election.) But whatever the explanation, they are doing the opposite of what the military and bipartisan supporters of the war tell us must be done: dispel the image that we are getting ready to cut and run.

Some still insist that Obama fully understands the responsibilities of commander in chief and is dedicated to avoiding a hugely damaging defeat in a war he deemed critical. At this point, those people have the burden of proof. By Obama’s actions and words, the evidence is mounting that neither is true.

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An Alternative to the Insiders’ Game

There is reason to despair when reviewing the performance of mainstream Jewish groups over the past 18 months. Their leaders and members are troubled and angry over Obama’s assault on Israel, and they are waking to the realization that there is no game plan that will thwart the mullahs’ nuclear ambitions. Nevertheless, they can’t bear to break with the president, whom so many worked so arduously to elect (and to convince others he was truly Israel’s friend). They have been unable to break free of their business-as-usual approach to U.S. policymakers – don’t openly challenge those in power, seek the broadest support for what inevitably becomes mushy affirmations of pro-Israel sentiments, and cling to the notion that by their “behind-the-scenes” dealings and cozy White House meetings they are doing their job and promoting a healthy U.S.-Israel relationship.

What they seem to be missing — or can’t bear to come to terms with — is that the insiders’ game only works when it is essentially unneeded. When the White House is pro-Israel, and when lawmakers are disposed to maintain bipartisan funding and support for Israel, all that is required is to pat the friendly incumbents on the back and call out the few antagonistic voices. But that situation is a distant memory in the Obama era. So it should not be surprising that their strategy has been an abysmal failure and that these groups seem more farcical and less relevant with each new Obama attack on Israel.

Now, there is another approach – one better suited to the urgent times in which we find ourselves and that is appropriate in the face of an administration hostile to the Jewish state. Take a look at the Friends of Israel Initiative and its impressive statement of convictions. (The signatories include José María Aznar, prime minister of Spain from 1996 to 2004; George Weigel; and COMMENTARY contributors John Bolton and Andrew Roberts.) The statement begins:

1. Israel is a Western country. With a liberal democratic political system operating under the rule of law, a flourishing market economy producing technological innovation to the benefit of the wider world, and a population as educated and cultured as anywhere in Europe or North America Israel is a normal Western country with a right to be treated as such in the community of nations.

2. Israel´s right to exist should not be questioned. In the face of a uniquely campaign of deligitimation, we remind all people of goodwill of the true historical context in which the State of Israel was re-established following United Nations Resolution 181 in 1947. We state emphatically that that decision to recognize the right of the Jewish people to national self-determination was not merely a gesture of compassion following the horrors that had befallen the Jewish people during the Holocaust. It was, above all, a recognition of the right of the Jewish people to establish a sovereign state on land in which they have had an enduring presence and to which they have had a historical claim for thousands of years.

The third is particularly noteworthy:

3. Israel, as a sovereign country, has the right to self-defense. Israel is indeed a normal Western country, but it is one which faces unique threats and challenges. Israel is the only state in the world forced to fight one war after another to secure its very existence. Confronting some of the most violent and well equipped terrorist groups in the world it is also the only country whose right to self-defense is consistently and widely questioned. Today, Israel has been forced to fight on two fronts: one to defend its borders and another to defend its legitimacy. We stand with Israel, and demand that it be accorded the same legitimacy and the same right to defend itself as any other Western country. Human rights statutes designed to defend the dignity of people everywhere, laws on universal jurisdiction intended to be used against criminals and tyrants and international bodies established to secure justice, have been subverted, their guiding principles stood on their head, to wage war against Israeli democracy. The campaign against Israel is corroding the international system from within.

It is essential, given the Obama administration’s false pledges of devotion and the “tough” love (minus the love) emanating from “liberal Zionists,” to restate what it means to be “pro-Israel” and what essential task that entails: those in power have to be held accountable for their actions, not their self-described feelings toward Israel. To the extent that mainstream Jewish groups are failing to do so, they are camouflaging the problem (namely, the shift in U.S. policy away from Israel) and providing cover for those whose policies are antithetical to the survival of the Jewish state and a robust U.S.-Israel relationship.  For fear of annoying Obama and losing their precious access to the inner sanctums of policymakers, they do damage to their own credibility and the goals of their own organizations. That creates an opening for groups like the Friends of Israel Initiative.

There is reason to despair when reviewing the performance of mainstream Jewish groups over the past 18 months. Their leaders and members are troubled and angry over Obama’s assault on Israel, and they are waking to the realization that there is no game plan that will thwart the mullahs’ nuclear ambitions. Nevertheless, they can’t bear to break with the president, whom so many worked so arduously to elect (and to convince others he was truly Israel’s friend). They have been unable to break free of their business-as-usual approach to U.S. policymakers – don’t openly challenge those in power, seek the broadest support for what inevitably becomes mushy affirmations of pro-Israel sentiments, and cling to the notion that by their “behind-the-scenes” dealings and cozy White House meetings they are doing their job and promoting a healthy U.S.-Israel relationship.

What they seem to be missing — or can’t bear to come to terms with — is that the insiders’ game only works when it is essentially unneeded. When the White House is pro-Israel, and when lawmakers are disposed to maintain bipartisan funding and support for Israel, all that is required is to pat the friendly incumbents on the back and call out the few antagonistic voices. But that situation is a distant memory in the Obama era. So it should not be surprising that their strategy has been an abysmal failure and that these groups seem more farcical and less relevant with each new Obama attack on Israel.

Now, there is another approach – one better suited to the urgent times in which we find ourselves and that is appropriate in the face of an administration hostile to the Jewish state. Take a look at the Friends of Israel Initiative and its impressive statement of convictions. (The signatories include José María Aznar, prime minister of Spain from 1996 to 2004; George Weigel; and COMMENTARY contributors John Bolton and Andrew Roberts.) The statement begins:

1. Israel is a Western country. With a liberal democratic political system operating under the rule of law, a flourishing market economy producing technological innovation to the benefit of the wider world, and a population as educated and cultured as anywhere in Europe or North America Israel is a normal Western country with a right to be treated as such in the community of nations.

2. Israel´s right to exist should not be questioned. In the face of a uniquely campaign of deligitimation, we remind all people of goodwill of the true historical context in which the State of Israel was re-established following United Nations Resolution 181 in 1947. We state emphatically that that decision to recognize the right of the Jewish people to national self-determination was not merely a gesture of compassion following the horrors that had befallen the Jewish people during the Holocaust. It was, above all, a recognition of the right of the Jewish people to establish a sovereign state on land in which they have had an enduring presence and to which they have had a historical claim for thousands of years.

The third is particularly noteworthy:

3. Israel, as a sovereign country, has the right to self-defense. Israel is indeed a normal Western country, but it is one which faces unique threats and challenges. Israel is the only state in the world forced to fight one war after another to secure its very existence. Confronting some of the most violent and well equipped terrorist groups in the world it is also the only country whose right to self-defense is consistently and widely questioned. Today, Israel has been forced to fight on two fronts: one to defend its borders and another to defend its legitimacy. We stand with Israel, and demand that it be accorded the same legitimacy and the same right to defend itself as any other Western country. Human rights statutes designed to defend the dignity of people everywhere, laws on universal jurisdiction intended to be used against criminals and tyrants and international bodies established to secure justice, have been subverted, their guiding principles stood on their head, to wage war against Israeli democracy. The campaign against Israel is corroding the international system from within.

It is essential, given the Obama administration’s false pledges of devotion and the “tough” love (minus the love) emanating from “liberal Zionists,” to restate what it means to be “pro-Israel” and what essential task that entails: those in power have to be held accountable for their actions, not their self-described feelings toward Israel. To the extent that mainstream Jewish groups are failing to do so, they are camouflaging the problem (namely, the shift in U.S. policy away from Israel) and providing cover for those whose policies are antithetical to the survival of the Jewish state and a robust U.S.-Israel relationship.  For fear of annoying Obama and losing their precious access to the inner sanctums of policymakers, they do damage to their own credibility and the goals of their own organizations. That creates an opening for groups like the Friends of Israel Initiative.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

When debating illegal immigration, let’s remember who wants to come here: “those ill-used souls who, having braved coyotes both literal and figurative to get here, are now, with the submissive resignation of the most forbearing lama, slaving away washing dishes in restaurant kitchens, or bent double picking grapes in Napa, or cleaning the toilets of people who look right through them as if they were not flesh and blood, and whose children are serving honorably in the United States military.” Read the whole thing.

When looking for media bias, you can always count on the New York Times. In this hatchet job, it’s pretty obvious that the Humane Society and MADD roped the Gray Lady into going after their antagonist, the libertarian activist Richard Berman, who seems to be doing nothing illegal despite the Times‘s inferences. (Indeed, the IRS investigated a Berman entity and “found nothing that would warrant a revocation of its tax exemption.”)

When world leaders awoke from their Obama daze, they reacted like many Americans: “They are no longer dazzled by his rock star personality and there is a sense that there is something amateurish and even incompetent about how Obama is managing U.S. power. For example, Obama has asserted that America is not at war with the Muslim world. The problem is that parts of the Muslim world are at war with America and the West. Obama feels, fairly enough, that America must be contrite in its dealings with the Muslim world. … America right now appears to be unreliable to traditional friends, compliant to rivals, and weak to enemies.”

When will Jewish non-leaders start demanding that we withdraw from the UN Human Rights Council? “The United States and its allies suffered a series of setbacks at the United Nations on Friday as the Human Rights Council flirted with media censorship and was poised to elevate an anti-American politician and a Cuban to key positions. Concerns about censorship were raised after the 56-nation Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), which has tremendous sway in the United Nations, successfully pushed through a resolution that creates a watchdog to monitor how religion is portrayed in the media.” (And for this, we needed a new ambassador to the OIC? Doesn’t seem like the ambassador is persuading the OIC of anything — or is the point to demonstrate that we don’t care to oppose its totalitarian impulses?)

When you see evidence like this, you also see just how lacking in goodwill toward Israel Obama is, such that he would insist the Jewish state be the subject of an inquest: “New footage from the Mavi Marmara was released by the Foreign Ministry on Friday afternoon, this time showing IHH head Bülent Yildirim inciting to violence against Israeli commandos hours before the encounter that claimed the lives of nine Turkish passengers. ‘We follow in the footsteps of the martyrs,’ Yildirim could be seen declaring to a large crowd of activists. ‘You shall see, we will definitely claim one or two victories. … If you send the commandos, we will throw you down from here and you will be humiliated in front of the whole world. … If they board our ship, we will throw them into the sea, Allah willing!’”

When Obama can’t decide whether to send an aircraft carrier to take part in South Korean naval exercises because it might upset North Korea and China – after promising our ally unequivocal support — you get an idea of how much trouble we and our allies are in.

When you return a terrorist to the heart of Wahhabism, guess what happens? “The United States have sent back around 120 Saudis from the detention camp at the U.S. naval base in Cuba, set up after the U.S. launched a ‘war on terror’ following the September 11 attacks by mostly Saudi suicide hijackers sent by al Qaeda.” The Saudi running the fake rehab operation (“religious re-education by clerics and financial help to start a new life”) blames “strong personal ties among former prisoners but also tough U.S. tactics as the reason why some 20 percent of the returned Saudis relapsed into militancy compared to 9.5 percent overall in the rehabilitation program.” The Saudis consider the plan such a smashing success that they are building five new centers. Yes, it is madness for us to facilitate this.

When debating illegal immigration, let’s remember who wants to come here: “those ill-used souls who, having braved coyotes both literal and figurative to get here, are now, with the submissive resignation of the most forbearing lama, slaving away washing dishes in restaurant kitchens, or bent double picking grapes in Napa, or cleaning the toilets of people who look right through them as if they were not flesh and blood, and whose children are serving honorably in the United States military.” Read the whole thing.

When looking for media bias, you can always count on the New York Times. In this hatchet job, it’s pretty obvious that the Humane Society and MADD roped the Gray Lady into going after their antagonist, the libertarian activist Richard Berman, who seems to be doing nothing illegal despite the Times‘s inferences. (Indeed, the IRS investigated a Berman entity and “found nothing that would warrant a revocation of its tax exemption.”)

When world leaders awoke from their Obama daze, they reacted like many Americans: “They are no longer dazzled by his rock star personality and there is a sense that there is something amateurish and even incompetent about how Obama is managing U.S. power. For example, Obama has asserted that America is not at war with the Muslim world. The problem is that parts of the Muslim world are at war with America and the West. Obama feels, fairly enough, that America must be contrite in its dealings with the Muslim world. … America right now appears to be unreliable to traditional friends, compliant to rivals, and weak to enemies.”

When will Jewish non-leaders start demanding that we withdraw from the UN Human Rights Council? “The United States and its allies suffered a series of setbacks at the United Nations on Friday as the Human Rights Council flirted with media censorship and was poised to elevate an anti-American politician and a Cuban to key positions. Concerns about censorship were raised after the 56-nation Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), which has tremendous sway in the United Nations, successfully pushed through a resolution that creates a watchdog to monitor how religion is portrayed in the media.” (And for this, we needed a new ambassador to the OIC? Doesn’t seem like the ambassador is persuading the OIC of anything — or is the point to demonstrate that we don’t care to oppose its totalitarian impulses?)

When you see evidence like this, you also see just how lacking in goodwill toward Israel Obama is, such that he would insist the Jewish state be the subject of an inquest: “New footage from the Mavi Marmara was released by the Foreign Ministry on Friday afternoon, this time showing IHH head Bülent Yildirim inciting to violence against Israeli commandos hours before the encounter that claimed the lives of nine Turkish passengers. ‘We follow in the footsteps of the martyrs,’ Yildirim could be seen declaring to a large crowd of activists. ‘You shall see, we will definitely claim one or two victories. … If you send the commandos, we will throw you down from here and you will be humiliated in front of the whole world. … If they board our ship, we will throw them into the sea, Allah willing!’”

When Obama can’t decide whether to send an aircraft carrier to take part in South Korean naval exercises because it might upset North Korea and China – after promising our ally unequivocal support — you get an idea of how much trouble we and our allies are in.

When you return a terrorist to the heart of Wahhabism, guess what happens? “The United States have sent back around 120 Saudis from the detention camp at the U.S. naval base in Cuba, set up after the U.S. launched a ‘war on terror’ following the September 11 attacks by mostly Saudi suicide hijackers sent by al Qaeda.” The Saudi running the fake rehab operation (“religious re-education by clerics and financial help to start a new life”) blames “strong personal ties among former prisoners but also tough U.S. tactics as the reason why some 20 percent of the returned Saudis relapsed into militancy compared to 9.5 percent overall in the rehabilitation program.” The Saudis consider the plan such a smashing success that they are building five new centers. Yes, it is madness for us to facilitate this.

Read Less




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