Commentary Magazine


Posts For: June 24, 2010

Leftist Soccer Agony: U.S. Victory Equals Jingoism

You would think that leftists who hope that American sports exceptionalism is breaking down in the face of World Cup fever would be thrilled by the big American victory in a game against Algeria. And they are. Sort of.

As leftist ideologue and soccer fanatic Dave Zirin writes in the Nation, the NPR crowd was ecstatic when the U.S. squad’s Landon Donovan scored to seal the American victory that put them into the tournament’s second round. As Zirin tells it, he was literally at the NPR studios in Washington waiting to go on to discuss the game when the goal was scored and “almost every cubicle and office let out an extemporaneous yelp. Yes, NPR went wild.” Needless to say, there was no such demonstration at the offices of COMMENTARY.

That is, of course, hardly surprising. In the NPR universe, the reluctance of the vast majority of Americans to embrace the so-called “beautiful game” is a symbol of our Bush-like arrogance and refusal to march to the same drummers as those enlightened soccer hooligans from Europe, South America, and even North Korea (whose representatives made the 32-team final in South Africa). For soccer lovers who see the sport’s minor-league status here as an affront to their globalist sensibilities, the World Cup is the quadrennial chance to boost its status, so the fortunes of the American team are a matter of deep concern to them. If the Americans succeed, as they have so far in this World Cup, then they hope that somehow this will translate into more prestige for U.S. soccer or at least a chance that the sports manifestation of American exceptionalism is in decline. Notwithstanding our sympathy for the boys running around the fields of South Africa in red, white, and blue, that is an outcome we should not desire. Soccer is just a game (albeit a boring one), and there’s no need for patriots to abuse it or its fans. But let’s just say that as long as Americans don’t share a common sports culture with Algerians and Iranians or even Europeans, we need not fear for the future of the republic.

But there’s the rub for hardcore leftists like Zirin, who hope that one day we will be no different than the rest of the world. Zirin wrote last week that the real reason that most Americans don’t like soccer is racism and looked forward to Glenn Beck’s dilemma when America was a World Cup favorite, as the right-wing broadcaster would have to choose between supporting the flag and his anti-soccer faith. But American successes, such as yesterday’s U.S. victory, provide Zirin with his own problem. In order for soccer to do well here, he’s got to root for the American team against Third World victims like Algeria (he admits he’s really an Argentina fan) and be subjected to jingoist soccer rhetoric about America’s “cultural supremacy” on sports talk shows. He confesses that is why international competitions leave him “with such a sour taste.”

While I find Zirin’s soccer evangelism as well as his aversion to rooting for his own country risible, he’s actually right about that last point even if he doesn’t follow it to its logical conclusion. While I wish the American World Cup team well, as I would any endeavor in which my fellow citizens represent our country, the business of wrapping team sports in national flags is sheer humbug. Which is why I despise the World Cup in the same way I detest other instances of sports globaloney, like the Olympics or our beloved national pastime of baseball’s own World Cup, whose absurd out-of-season international tournament has produced little interest here the two times it was played. It is far better to leave this nonsense to the denizens of Old Europe, unstable South America, and the despotic Middle East, whose one democracy, Israel, is not allowed to compete against its neighbors in soccer but must instead play against the powerhouses of Europe to get into the World Cup, and thus has never been allowed to participate.

You would think that leftists who hope that American sports exceptionalism is breaking down in the face of World Cup fever would be thrilled by the big American victory in a game against Algeria. And they are. Sort of.

As leftist ideologue and soccer fanatic Dave Zirin writes in the Nation, the NPR crowd was ecstatic when the U.S. squad’s Landon Donovan scored to seal the American victory that put them into the tournament’s second round. As Zirin tells it, he was literally at the NPR studios in Washington waiting to go on to discuss the game when the goal was scored and “almost every cubicle and office let out an extemporaneous yelp. Yes, NPR went wild.” Needless to say, there was no such demonstration at the offices of COMMENTARY.

That is, of course, hardly surprising. In the NPR universe, the reluctance of the vast majority of Americans to embrace the so-called “beautiful game” is a symbol of our Bush-like arrogance and refusal to march to the same drummers as those enlightened soccer hooligans from Europe, South America, and even North Korea (whose representatives made the 32-team final in South Africa). For soccer lovers who see the sport’s minor-league status here as an affront to their globalist sensibilities, the World Cup is the quadrennial chance to boost its status, so the fortunes of the American team are a matter of deep concern to them. If the Americans succeed, as they have so far in this World Cup, then they hope that somehow this will translate into more prestige for U.S. soccer or at least a chance that the sports manifestation of American exceptionalism is in decline. Notwithstanding our sympathy for the boys running around the fields of South Africa in red, white, and blue, that is an outcome we should not desire. Soccer is just a game (albeit a boring one), and there’s no need for patriots to abuse it or its fans. But let’s just say that as long as Americans don’t share a common sports culture with Algerians and Iranians or even Europeans, we need not fear for the future of the republic.

But there’s the rub for hardcore leftists like Zirin, who hope that one day we will be no different than the rest of the world. Zirin wrote last week that the real reason that most Americans don’t like soccer is racism and looked forward to Glenn Beck’s dilemma when America was a World Cup favorite, as the right-wing broadcaster would have to choose between supporting the flag and his anti-soccer faith. But American successes, such as yesterday’s U.S. victory, provide Zirin with his own problem. In order for soccer to do well here, he’s got to root for the American team against Third World victims like Algeria (he admits he’s really an Argentina fan) and be subjected to jingoist soccer rhetoric about America’s “cultural supremacy” on sports talk shows. He confesses that is why international competitions leave him “with such a sour taste.”

While I find Zirin’s soccer evangelism as well as his aversion to rooting for his own country risible, he’s actually right about that last point even if he doesn’t follow it to its logical conclusion. While I wish the American World Cup team well, as I would any endeavor in which my fellow citizens represent our country, the business of wrapping team sports in national flags is sheer humbug. Which is why I despise the World Cup in the same way I detest other instances of sports globaloney, like the Olympics or our beloved national pastime of baseball’s own World Cup, whose absurd out-of-season international tournament has produced little interest here the two times it was played. It is far better to leave this nonsense to the denizens of Old Europe, unstable South America, and the despotic Middle East, whose one democracy, Israel, is not allowed to compete against its neighbors in soccer but must instead play against the powerhouses of Europe to get into the World Cup, and thus has never been allowed to participate.

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It’s Obama’s War

Jennifer, Max, and Abe have been covering the McChrystal incident superbly. Beyond eschewing redundancy, however, I’ve been reticent about chiming in because I would be happier not to say what I really think, which is that President Obama’s current approach to Afghanistan wasn’t going to stand or fall with General McChrystal, and can’t be salvaged by General Petraeus.

A number of commentators have echoed Peter Wehner’s point that Obama did the right thing and chose the right man this week, and I agree with that. Obama did look decisive and presidential yesterday. I had John’s comments on the silly Maureen Dowd piece in mind as I watched Obama’s speech, thinking that it’s the military’s own traditions and character — distasteful as they are to Ms. Dowd — that endowed the removal of McChrystal with its air of statesmanlike decision. Everyone in uniform knew what the right answer was. There was absolute, uncomplaining loyalty from Obama’s senior military staffers to the boss and his decision, painful and unfortunate though it was.

As Jennifer has pointed out, looking decisive and presidential is out of character for this commander in chief. But loyal subordinates can and should make a boss look good. Even the best bosses would readily acknowledge how often the loyalty of the troops has saved their backsides. The military as an institution is particularly effective in this regard. I don’t grudge any president his recourse to the image-enhancing infrastructure of military culture.

Nevertheless, we shouldn’t exaggerate the signal sent about Obama’s leadership by a personnel shift that was essentially thrust on him by a discipline problem. Unlike other celebrated personnel replacements made by war-time presidents — Lincoln, Truman, the younger Bush — the replacement of McChrystal was not prompted by this president’s strategic concern about the conduct of the war. That is Obama’s great failing; what he owes the armed forces that do his bidding is precisely that strategic concern.

George W. Bush gave Bob Gates, Ryan Crocker, and David Petraeus a level of strategic concern — attention, political investment, diplomatic cover — that enabled them to adopt an executable plan for Iraq and then execute it. What Obama has done, by contrast, is take McChrystal’s original executable plan and, after months of seemingly aimless deliberation, compromise its executability.

It’s quite true that the surge in Afghanistan has not truly begun yet; current events are not a judgment on the surge’s effectiveness. We can give Petraeus time and keep our hopes up. But there is already pressure being exerted against the surge by myriad factors in Afghanistan and the region, from Iran’s radical interests to Pakistan’s stability problems, India’s security concerns, Russia’s devious ambivalence about our presence, and the motley array of terrorists seeking their fortunes in the Afghan countryside. Many of these factors can’t be addressed with military force. They are outside Petraeus’s purview. Dealing with them requires a horse-trading, arm-twisting diplomacy that must be handled by ambassadors and envoys — actors who, up to now, are variously reported to be inert or dysfunctional — and can’t be successful without the president’s overt leadership.

I remain skeptical that Obama’s performance in this regard will change. The military specializes in executing big decisions efficiently, but Petraeus’s leadership is not enough to bring success out of a surge that carries an expiration date, supported half-heartedly by the Oval Office. The latter conditions still need to change, not just rhetorically but materially, if Petraeus is to have the chance he is unquestionably the best man to make use of.

Jennifer, Max, and Abe have been covering the McChrystal incident superbly. Beyond eschewing redundancy, however, I’ve been reticent about chiming in because I would be happier not to say what I really think, which is that President Obama’s current approach to Afghanistan wasn’t going to stand or fall with General McChrystal, and can’t be salvaged by General Petraeus.

A number of commentators have echoed Peter Wehner’s point that Obama did the right thing and chose the right man this week, and I agree with that. Obama did look decisive and presidential yesterday. I had John’s comments on the silly Maureen Dowd piece in mind as I watched Obama’s speech, thinking that it’s the military’s own traditions and character — distasteful as they are to Ms. Dowd — that endowed the removal of McChrystal with its air of statesmanlike decision. Everyone in uniform knew what the right answer was. There was absolute, uncomplaining loyalty from Obama’s senior military staffers to the boss and his decision, painful and unfortunate though it was.

As Jennifer has pointed out, looking decisive and presidential is out of character for this commander in chief. But loyal subordinates can and should make a boss look good. Even the best bosses would readily acknowledge how often the loyalty of the troops has saved their backsides. The military as an institution is particularly effective in this regard. I don’t grudge any president his recourse to the image-enhancing infrastructure of military culture.

Nevertheless, we shouldn’t exaggerate the signal sent about Obama’s leadership by a personnel shift that was essentially thrust on him by a discipline problem. Unlike other celebrated personnel replacements made by war-time presidents — Lincoln, Truman, the younger Bush — the replacement of McChrystal was not prompted by this president’s strategic concern about the conduct of the war. That is Obama’s great failing; what he owes the armed forces that do his bidding is precisely that strategic concern.

George W. Bush gave Bob Gates, Ryan Crocker, and David Petraeus a level of strategic concern — attention, political investment, diplomatic cover — that enabled them to adopt an executable plan for Iraq and then execute it. What Obama has done, by contrast, is take McChrystal’s original executable plan and, after months of seemingly aimless deliberation, compromise its executability.

It’s quite true that the surge in Afghanistan has not truly begun yet; current events are not a judgment on the surge’s effectiveness. We can give Petraeus time and keep our hopes up. But there is already pressure being exerted against the surge by myriad factors in Afghanistan and the region, from Iran’s radical interests to Pakistan’s stability problems, India’s security concerns, Russia’s devious ambivalence about our presence, and the motley array of terrorists seeking their fortunes in the Afghan countryside. Many of these factors can’t be addressed with military force. They are outside Petraeus’s purview. Dealing with them requires a horse-trading, arm-twisting diplomacy that must be handled by ambassadors and envoys — actors who, up to now, are variously reported to be inert or dysfunctional — and can’t be successful without the president’s overt leadership.

I remain skeptical that Obama’s performance in this regard will change. The military specializes in executing big decisions efficiently, but Petraeus’s leadership is not enough to bring success out of a surge that carries an expiration date, supported half-heartedly by the Oval Office. The latter conditions still need to change, not just rhetorically but materially, if Petraeus is to have the chance he is unquestionably the best man to make use of.

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Power Dirge

Passage of the Democrats’ health-care bill back in March was so historic, we were told, it not only established President Obama as a superstar against the backdrop of our political past; it would also secure his future standing in the pantheon of great American leaders. “Obama’s health care win ensures his legacy,” blared the McClatchy news service  headline.

This achievement was no end in itself. It heralded an Obama “power surge” of global reach. “In Washington, for the first time in his presidency, Obama is feared,” wrote the Daily Beast’s Peter Beinart. “Suddenly, Democrats are not so terrified about the midterm elections. …The Russians have backed down and signed an arms-control pact that doesn’t scrap missile defense in Eastern Europe.”

Pffh. Slaying the Russian bear with insurance regulation was just a warm-up. “Mr. Obama could retire into the history books, many presidential scholars say, on the health-care achievement alone,” wrote Helene Cooper in the New York Times. “But there is a swagger emanating from the White House that suggests he may now have acquired a liking for the benefits of sticking his neck out to lead.” Also in the Times, Tom Friedman assured us that health care’s passage made Obama a more formidable international player. “You don’t have to be Machiavelli to believe that the leaders of Iran and Venezuela shared the barely disguised Republican hope that health care would fail and, therefore, Mr. Obama’s whole political agenda would be stalled and, therefore, his presidency enfeebled,” he wrote.

Obama was on course to take out the Republicans, Russians, Iranians, Venezuelans, Martians, Aztecs, and Incas and still make tee time at Pebble Beach.

Too bad the power surge died before the spring. “Americans are more pessimistic about the state of the country and less confident in President Barack Obama’s leadership than at any point since Mr. Obama entered the White House,” runs an extraordinary lede in today’s Wall Street Journal. A new poll shows that the country is losing faith in the abilities of the world historic president who just three months ago passed historic legislation. That’s not nearly all. The White House is losing its grip on the military, getting smacked down by the judiciary on its drilling ban, and going into battle with about 15 states over health care. Oh, and the Russians ate us for breakfast on that arms treaty, the Iranians had us for lunch on UN sanctions, and the Venezuelans are seizing our oil rigs for dinner. Finally, pace Beinart, Democrats are “terrified about the midterm elections.”

How could this be? Leadership through Nancy Pelosi’s prop gavel and the imposition of mystery legislation doesn’t confer actual power? Go figure.

The big historic health-care victory was nothing more than a procedural high-wire act. Kind of like getting your package to FedEx at 7:55 p.m. on a rainy Friday. Never mind that the package is empty or, worse, that its contents are dangerous. ObamaCare’s popularity sinks with each day’s new frightening analysis.

What people do want are jobs. The Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll shows that Americans chose “job creation and economic growth” as their top-priority issue for the federal government to address. “The Gulf Coast oil spill and energy” was second. Health care came in at a distant number six, beating last place “social issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage.”

Like Tom Friedman says, you don’t have to be Machiavelli to see that Obama isn’t competently addressing the most important issues; you just have to be American. In fact, you don’t have to be Machiavelli at all. You just have to be effective. People instruct the president to get mad or get compassionate. But he only needs to get things done. All the “impressive leadership” stuff comes after a leader actually accomplishes something. For now, the new poll does at least partially vindicate Peter Beinart: people are certainly afraid of Barack Obama.

Passage of the Democrats’ health-care bill back in March was so historic, we were told, it not only established President Obama as a superstar against the backdrop of our political past; it would also secure his future standing in the pantheon of great American leaders. “Obama’s health care win ensures his legacy,” blared the McClatchy news service  headline.

This achievement was no end in itself. It heralded an Obama “power surge” of global reach. “In Washington, for the first time in his presidency, Obama is feared,” wrote the Daily Beast’s Peter Beinart. “Suddenly, Democrats are not so terrified about the midterm elections. …The Russians have backed down and signed an arms-control pact that doesn’t scrap missile defense in Eastern Europe.”

Pffh. Slaying the Russian bear with insurance regulation was just a warm-up. “Mr. Obama could retire into the history books, many presidential scholars say, on the health-care achievement alone,” wrote Helene Cooper in the New York Times. “But there is a swagger emanating from the White House that suggests he may now have acquired a liking for the benefits of sticking his neck out to lead.” Also in the Times, Tom Friedman assured us that health care’s passage made Obama a more formidable international player. “You don’t have to be Machiavelli to believe that the leaders of Iran and Venezuela shared the barely disguised Republican hope that health care would fail and, therefore, Mr. Obama’s whole political agenda would be stalled and, therefore, his presidency enfeebled,” he wrote.

Obama was on course to take out the Republicans, Russians, Iranians, Venezuelans, Martians, Aztecs, and Incas and still make tee time at Pebble Beach.

Too bad the power surge died before the spring. “Americans are more pessimistic about the state of the country and less confident in President Barack Obama’s leadership than at any point since Mr. Obama entered the White House,” runs an extraordinary lede in today’s Wall Street Journal. A new poll shows that the country is losing faith in the abilities of the world historic president who just three months ago passed historic legislation. That’s not nearly all. The White House is losing its grip on the military, getting smacked down by the judiciary on its drilling ban, and going into battle with about 15 states over health care. Oh, and the Russians ate us for breakfast on that arms treaty, the Iranians had us for lunch on UN sanctions, and the Venezuelans are seizing our oil rigs for dinner. Finally, pace Beinart, Democrats are “terrified about the midterm elections.”

How could this be? Leadership through Nancy Pelosi’s prop gavel and the imposition of mystery legislation doesn’t confer actual power? Go figure.

The big historic health-care victory was nothing more than a procedural high-wire act. Kind of like getting your package to FedEx at 7:55 p.m. on a rainy Friday. Never mind that the package is empty or, worse, that its contents are dangerous. ObamaCare’s popularity sinks with each day’s new frightening analysis.

What people do want are jobs. The Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll shows that Americans chose “job creation and economic growth” as their top-priority issue for the federal government to address. “The Gulf Coast oil spill and energy” was second. Health care came in at a distant number six, beating last place “social issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage.”

Like Tom Friedman says, you don’t have to be Machiavelli to see that Obama isn’t competently addressing the most important issues; you just have to be American. In fact, you don’t have to be Machiavelli at all. You just have to be effective. People instruct the president to get mad or get compassionate. But he only needs to get things done. All the “impressive leadership” stuff comes after a leader actually accomplishes something. For now, the new poll does at least partially vindicate Peter Beinart: people are certainly afraid of Barack Obama.

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New York’s Eminent Domain “Blight” Grows

The ruling of New York’s Court of Appeals — the state’s highest judicial body — in favor of Columbia University’s bid to have the property of landowners who will not sell their land to the institution condemned is another depressing chapter in the sorry history of the corruption of the use of eminent domain.

While I have no quarrel with the university’s desire to expand the Morningside Heights campus, where I spent my undergraduate years north into Harlem, the idea that it can use its clout with the state to bludgeon those who will not sell to it is repulsive. Moreover, the court decision, which overruled a lower appeals court’s rejection of the use of eminent domain in this case, is especially troubling. Though most of the property owners in the West Harlem area desired by Columbia sold it, some did not. In response, Columbia prevailed upon the State of New York to condemn the recalcitrant owners’ property upon the doubtful premise that it was “blighted,” which mandated its demolition and replacement with more useful (at least to Columbia) projects, which might ultimately generate more tax revenue. The four active warehouses and two bustling gas stations that Columbia wished to flatten to make way for new buildings of its own do not fit that description of “blighted,” though there is no shortage of locations in New York City that do.

Referring to another eminent-domain case in which the Court had recently ruled in favor of the effort to bulldoze businesses and apartments in order to make way for a new basketball arena and other real-estate projects in the Atlantic Yards section of Brooklyn, the decision, which was written by Judge Carmen Beauchamp Ciparick, claimed that “if we could rule in favor of a basketball arena, surely we could rule for a nonprofit university.”

But in making this point, Judge Ciparick revealed that what is on display in this decision is not the application of a coherent legal principle but rather merely the justification of an act of judicial tyranny. In this way, New York has ratified a procedure by which the powerful, be they the real-estate developers who own the NBA Nets or the trustees of one of America’s most prestigious universities, can simply force small property owners out of their businesses and homes for the sake of the convenience of the wealthy and of those who are better connected to power brokers. This means that the state has the power to label any property as “blighted” in order to create a legal fiction device that allows powerful interests to acquire it without the consent of its owners. This is state-sponsored theft by any definition and the fact that it is practiced on behalf of a “nonprofit university,” as well as an NBA team, does not make it any less odious.

This case, like the outrageous Kelo decision by the United States Supreme Court, which allowed New London, Connecticut to seize private homes to benefit a large corporation (that wound up not building anything on the ruins of the condemned property anyway) ought to inspire a groundswell of support for reform of eminent domain laws. Unless and until such laws are amended to restrict state seizures to cases of properties that are actually blighted and which could be used for a genuine civic purpose rather than merely for the benefit of large, powerful, and wealthy developers, the property rights of every American remain at risk.

The ruling of New York’s Court of Appeals — the state’s highest judicial body — in favor of Columbia University’s bid to have the property of landowners who will not sell their land to the institution condemned is another depressing chapter in the sorry history of the corruption of the use of eminent domain.

While I have no quarrel with the university’s desire to expand the Morningside Heights campus, where I spent my undergraduate years north into Harlem, the idea that it can use its clout with the state to bludgeon those who will not sell to it is repulsive. Moreover, the court decision, which overruled a lower appeals court’s rejection of the use of eminent domain in this case, is especially troubling. Though most of the property owners in the West Harlem area desired by Columbia sold it, some did not. In response, Columbia prevailed upon the State of New York to condemn the recalcitrant owners’ property upon the doubtful premise that it was “blighted,” which mandated its demolition and replacement with more useful (at least to Columbia) projects, which might ultimately generate more tax revenue. The four active warehouses and two bustling gas stations that Columbia wished to flatten to make way for new buildings of its own do not fit that description of “blighted,” though there is no shortage of locations in New York City that do.

Referring to another eminent-domain case in which the Court had recently ruled in favor of the effort to bulldoze businesses and apartments in order to make way for a new basketball arena and other real-estate projects in the Atlantic Yards section of Brooklyn, the decision, which was written by Judge Carmen Beauchamp Ciparick, claimed that “if we could rule in favor of a basketball arena, surely we could rule for a nonprofit university.”

But in making this point, Judge Ciparick revealed that what is on display in this decision is not the application of a coherent legal principle but rather merely the justification of an act of judicial tyranny. In this way, New York has ratified a procedure by which the powerful, be they the real-estate developers who own the NBA Nets or the trustees of one of America’s most prestigious universities, can simply force small property owners out of their businesses and homes for the sake of the convenience of the wealthy and of those who are better connected to power brokers. This means that the state has the power to label any property as “blighted” in order to create a legal fiction device that allows powerful interests to acquire it without the consent of its owners. This is state-sponsored theft by any definition and the fact that it is practiced on behalf of a “nonprofit university,” as well as an NBA team, does not make it any less odious.

This case, like the outrageous Kelo decision by the United States Supreme Court, which allowed New London, Connecticut to seize private homes to benefit a large corporation (that wound up not building anything on the ruins of the condemned property anyway) ought to inspire a groundswell of support for reform of eminent domain laws. Unless and until such laws are amended to restrict state seizures to cases of properties that are actually blighted and which could be used for a genuine civic purpose rather than merely for the benefit of large, powerful, and wealthy developers, the property rights of every American remain at risk.

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In Afghanistan Forever?

The most (inadvertently) optimistic thing I’ve read in the past few days is this blog post by Andrew Sullivan:

Those of us who hoped for some kind of winding down of the longest war in US history will almost certainly be disappointed now. David Petraeus is the real Pope of counter-insurgency and if he decides that he needs more troops and more time and more resources in Afghanistan next year, who is going to be able to gainsay him? That’s Thomas P. Barnett’s shrewd assessment. Obama’s pledge to start withdrawing troops in 2011 is now kaput. It won’t happen. I doubt it will happen in a second term either. Once Washington has decided to occupy a country, it will occupy it for ever. We are still, remember, in Germany! But Afghanistan?

I hope Andrew is right — not because I or anyone else is in favor of perpetually occupying Afghanistan (talk about a straw man!) — but because the only way to prevail is to show the will to stay in the long run. Obama’s artificial deadline for departure encourages our enemies to wait us out and makes our friends and potential friends too nervous to do much to help us. Paradoxically, the longer we announce we are willing to stay, the faster our troops are likely to prevail and come home.

The most (inadvertently) optimistic thing I’ve read in the past few days is this blog post by Andrew Sullivan:

Those of us who hoped for some kind of winding down of the longest war in US history will almost certainly be disappointed now. David Petraeus is the real Pope of counter-insurgency and if he decides that he needs more troops and more time and more resources in Afghanistan next year, who is going to be able to gainsay him? That’s Thomas P. Barnett’s shrewd assessment. Obama’s pledge to start withdrawing troops in 2011 is now kaput. It won’t happen. I doubt it will happen in a second term either. Once Washington has decided to occupy a country, it will occupy it for ever. We are still, remember, in Germany! But Afghanistan?

I hope Andrew is right — not because I or anyone else is in favor of perpetually occupying Afghanistan (talk about a straw man!) — but because the only way to prevail is to show the will to stay in the long run. Obama’s artificial deadline for departure encourages our enemies to wait us out and makes our friends and potential friends too nervous to do much to help us. Paradoxically, the longer we announce we are willing to stay, the faster our troops are likely to prevail and come home.

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Syria and Turkey Sink Another Obama Initiative

One of the keys to President Obama’s ill-fated attempt to engage the Islamic world has been the effort to convince Syria to abandon its alliance with Iran and to join the West. But like his vaunted outreach to Iran, this too fell flat — though some in the administration continued to try getting Israel to pay for this initiative with concessions on the Golan Heights and the standoff with Hezbollah, an ally of both Iran and Syria, along the border with Lebanon. But the final nail in the coffin of the Syria gambit appears to have come not from Israeli intransigence but rather from the intervention of a country that once feared the Syrians: Turkey.

Writing in Le Monde Diplomatique, Stephen Starr reports that Turkey has become “Syria’s new best friend.” Though not so long ago the Turks looked to cultivate an alliance with Israel as a counter-balance to the threat they perceived from the Assad regime, they have now embarked on their own outreach campaign to Damascus. Trade between the two countries has grown from a trickle to a flood. More importantly, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s decision to become an apologist and diplomatic partner for Iran and to attempt to become the leader of the Islamic world’s anti-Israel diplomatic front has the potential to change the balance of power in the eastern Mediterranean. By sponsoring the Gaza flotilla provocation and then engaging in what even Starr concedes was a “disproportionate response” to Israel’s efforts to maintain the blockade on the Hamas regime, Turkey has “improved Syria’s political clout significantly.”

Obama’s attempt to woo the Syrians away from Iran was always doomed. While willing to pocket lucrative bribes from the West in the form of aid and development projects, the Assad family regime has no real interest in the welfare of the Syrian people or in better relations with the West. As any narrowly based dictatorships, the Assads know that a more open and prosperous society and peace with Israel do not serve their purposes of perpetuating their vise-like grip on their country. Iran and Hezbollah were always going to be the natural allies of Damascus. The United States might have been able to tell the Syrians that they could get them the Golan Heights back if they just made peace with Israel and deigned to accept Western largess in return. Contrary to how Starr interprets Syria’s past flirting — sponsored by Turkey – with negotiations with Israel, Bashar al-Assad was not interested in peace even if it brought him the Golan.

But edging away from its military alliance with Israel and bidding to revive the Ottoman Empire’s pose as the leader of the Islamic world, NATO member Turkey is a far better fit for being a partner with Syria than with the United States. Indeed, as Starr writes, with Turkey behind it, Assad can now afford to ignore Obama’s entreaties altogether. The result not only deepens Israel’s isolation but also exposes the utter failure of one of the administration’s foreign policy goals. The president imagined that, by distancing the United States from Israel and trying to “engage” the Arab “street” and Iran’s dictators, he could inaugurate a new era of American influence in the Middle East. But it appears as though all he has done is to set the stage for a dangerous turn for the worse in the region.

One of the keys to President Obama’s ill-fated attempt to engage the Islamic world has been the effort to convince Syria to abandon its alliance with Iran and to join the West. But like his vaunted outreach to Iran, this too fell flat — though some in the administration continued to try getting Israel to pay for this initiative with concessions on the Golan Heights and the standoff with Hezbollah, an ally of both Iran and Syria, along the border with Lebanon. But the final nail in the coffin of the Syria gambit appears to have come not from Israeli intransigence but rather from the intervention of a country that once feared the Syrians: Turkey.

Writing in Le Monde Diplomatique, Stephen Starr reports that Turkey has become “Syria’s new best friend.” Though not so long ago the Turks looked to cultivate an alliance with Israel as a counter-balance to the threat they perceived from the Assad regime, they have now embarked on their own outreach campaign to Damascus. Trade between the two countries has grown from a trickle to a flood. More importantly, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s decision to become an apologist and diplomatic partner for Iran and to attempt to become the leader of the Islamic world’s anti-Israel diplomatic front has the potential to change the balance of power in the eastern Mediterranean. By sponsoring the Gaza flotilla provocation and then engaging in what even Starr concedes was a “disproportionate response” to Israel’s efforts to maintain the blockade on the Hamas regime, Turkey has “improved Syria’s political clout significantly.”

Obama’s attempt to woo the Syrians away from Iran was always doomed. While willing to pocket lucrative bribes from the West in the form of aid and development projects, the Assad family regime has no real interest in the welfare of the Syrian people or in better relations with the West. As any narrowly based dictatorships, the Assads know that a more open and prosperous society and peace with Israel do not serve their purposes of perpetuating their vise-like grip on their country. Iran and Hezbollah were always going to be the natural allies of Damascus. The United States might have been able to tell the Syrians that they could get them the Golan Heights back if they just made peace with Israel and deigned to accept Western largess in return. Contrary to how Starr interprets Syria’s past flirting — sponsored by Turkey – with negotiations with Israel, Bashar al-Assad was not interested in peace even if it brought him the Golan.

But edging away from its military alliance with Israel and bidding to revive the Ottoman Empire’s pose as the leader of the Islamic world, NATO member Turkey is a far better fit for being a partner with Syria than with the United States. Indeed, as Starr writes, with Turkey behind it, Assad can now afford to ignore Obama’s entreaties altogether. The result not only deepens Israel’s isolation but also exposes the utter failure of one of the administration’s foreign policy goals. The president imagined that, by distancing the United States from Israel and trying to “engage” the Arab “street” and Iran’s dictators, he could inaugurate a new era of American influence in the Middle East. But it appears as though all he has done is to set the stage for a dangerous turn for the worse in the region.

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How the Media Colluded with Hamas

I have read few things more disturbing than this week’s media reports from Gaza describing full supermarket shelves offering a wide variety of choices. For if this is true, there is only one way to interpret all the previous years’ reports: as intentional collusion with Hamas on an anti-Israel smear campaign.

For years, the media bombarded us with reports on the grave humanitarian crisis in Gaza: people going hungry, children deprived of toys and schoolbooks, a population denied all the good things of life due to Israel’s cruel blockade.

But suddenly, now that Israel has agreed to end the blockade on most civilian products, we get reports like this one from the New York Times: “The store shelves were filled on Monday in Rafah and in Deir al Balah and Gaza City, the shops stocked with all kinds of supplies, stoves, refrigerators, fans, generators — most smuggled through tunnels dug deep beneath the border with Egypt.” People “said they were not starving” and that easing the blockade would improve their lives only “at the margins”: they would be able to buy soda in cans “that were not covered in sand,” or Israeli appliances instead of “low-quality Chinese goods.”

Or this report, from Haaretz: “The market is still full of items brought through the tunnels and it is possible that merchants will not immediately order ‘permitted’ items from Israel — because there are similar items from Egypt,” said economist Muhammed Skaik of the Gaza branch of Paltrade. And anyway, he added, “ketchup, snacks and mayonnaise, for example … are not essential items that will genuinely change the situation.” True, but isn’t that exactly what Israel claimed for years — to universal derision?

Indeed, the situation is so far from desperate that Hamas has announced it will bar many of the newly permitted products from entering Gaza altogether — such as Israeli cookies, juices, soft drinks, and salads. But has anyone noticed any media outcry lately against Hamas for depriving Gazans of the same products Israel was excoriated for withholding?

And then there is this interesting statistic: “An infant in Gaza has a life expectancy a year and a half longer than his Turkish cousin — 73.5 as compared to 72.” Anyone care to explain how, despite having been brutally starved by Israel for years, Gazans still manage to outlive residents of wealthy, peace-loving, democratic Turkey?

In reality, of course, none of this is new; reporters could have gone to Gaza anytime over the past few years and described the same full supermarket shelves and the same wide variety of products. But instead, they preferred to collude with Hamas in accusing Israel of causing widespread hunger and deprivation.

And the only reason they have changed their tune now is that Israel’s decision to end the civilian blockade makes it vital to update the smear campaign: to explain that Gaza is still a place of “limited options and few hopes for a better life” (to quote the Times), that easing the blockade will do nothing to change this, and that the misery is still, somehow, all Israel’s fault.

I have read few things more disturbing than this week’s media reports from Gaza describing full supermarket shelves offering a wide variety of choices. For if this is true, there is only one way to interpret all the previous years’ reports: as intentional collusion with Hamas on an anti-Israel smear campaign.

For years, the media bombarded us with reports on the grave humanitarian crisis in Gaza: people going hungry, children deprived of toys and schoolbooks, a population denied all the good things of life due to Israel’s cruel blockade.

But suddenly, now that Israel has agreed to end the blockade on most civilian products, we get reports like this one from the New York Times: “The store shelves were filled on Monday in Rafah and in Deir al Balah and Gaza City, the shops stocked with all kinds of supplies, stoves, refrigerators, fans, generators — most smuggled through tunnels dug deep beneath the border with Egypt.” People “said they were not starving” and that easing the blockade would improve their lives only “at the margins”: they would be able to buy soda in cans “that were not covered in sand,” or Israeli appliances instead of “low-quality Chinese goods.”

Or this report, from Haaretz: “The market is still full of items brought through the tunnels and it is possible that merchants will not immediately order ‘permitted’ items from Israel — because there are similar items from Egypt,” said economist Muhammed Skaik of the Gaza branch of Paltrade. And anyway, he added, “ketchup, snacks and mayonnaise, for example … are not essential items that will genuinely change the situation.” True, but isn’t that exactly what Israel claimed for years — to universal derision?

Indeed, the situation is so far from desperate that Hamas has announced it will bar many of the newly permitted products from entering Gaza altogether — such as Israeli cookies, juices, soft drinks, and salads. But has anyone noticed any media outcry lately against Hamas for depriving Gazans of the same products Israel was excoriated for withholding?

And then there is this interesting statistic: “An infant in Gaza has a life expectancy a year and a half longer than his Turkish cousin — 73.5 as compared to 72.” Anyone care to explain how, despite having been brutally starved by Israel for years, Gazans still manage to outlive residents of wealthy, peace-loving, democratic Turkey?

In reality, of course, none of this is new; reporters could have gone to Gaza anytime over the past few years and described the same full supermarket shelves and the same wide variety of products. But instead, they preferred to collude with Hamas in accusing Israel of causing widespread hunger and deprivation.

And the only reason they have changed their tune now is that Israel’s decision to end the civilian blockade makes it vital to update the smear campaign: to explain that Gaza is still a place of “limited options and few hopes for a better life” (to quote the Times), that easing the blockade will do nothing to change this, and that the misery is still, somehow, all Israel’s fault.

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A Presidency on the Rocks

The firing of Gen. Stanley McChrystal has many liberal pundits breathless. Granted, it’s been a long time since Obama made a decision quickly and effectively. There was disagreement over whether McChrystal had to go, but few quibble with bringing in the general who snatched victory from the jaws of defeat in Iraq. Despite liberals’ delirium (See, he can get something right!), the incident actually highlights the degree to which Obama is no longer in command of events or his own political destiny. In a compelling column, A.B. Stoddard of the Hill writes:

Within the competing factions in burgeoning disagreement over Afghan war policy in his administration, Obama has tried taking shelter in the middle, his habitual no man’s land where he is neither wartime commander nor consensus builder. In deciding to relieve McChrystal, Obama cannot be accused of weakness, but the scandal weakened him instantly and immeasurably and made him appear even more alone.

In a foundering war our allies have lost patience with, and a fragile economic recovery that has failed to make a dent in joblessness, Obama struggles to lead at home and abroad. Seventeen months into office, Obama is increasingly isolated — from his party, from American voters and from the world. Though he was sworn in amid great expectations to transcend partisan, racial, cultural and economic divisions, the country is more polarized than ever and Washington is even more a target for voter anger than it was under President Bush.

Obama has gone from a political colossus to a political leper. (“Obama is so politically toxic in battlegrounds he can’t campaign for most Democratic candidates and his relationships with Democrats outside his intimate circle of mostly Chicagoan advisers fall somewhere between faint and frosty.”) His fondness for big government and for phony budget calculations has run up against increasingly skeptic voters and nervous Democrats. As Stoddard notes:

Democrats have joined Republicans with a newfound distaste for deficit spending. So spooked are Democrats from every region of the country, mostly vulnerable members elected in 2006 and 2008, they are turning their backs on unpaid emergency spending to extend COBRA health benefits for the unemployed and continued unemployment benefits and aid to cash-strapped states that can’t be offset with other spending cuts. Jobs bills are stalling, and a debate about the extension of Bush tax cuts — including those promised to the middle class by then-candidate Obama in his presidential campaign — it’s all on the table in the new age of fiscal rectitude.

None of this should be that surprising. Americans elected an ideologically extreme candidate with no executive experience and little warmth. He identifies with European elites and American academics, not so much with ordinary Americans. He has even managed to annoy his mainstream fan club. It’s no wonder that his administration is on the rocks.

Obama has two and a half years in his term to turn things around. The irony here is that he came into office wanting to change us. Now, to save his presidency, he will have to change policies, staff, and himself. I frankly don’t think he has it in him. But we’ll find out.

The firing of Gen. Stanley McChrystal has many liberal pundits breathless. Granted, it’s been a long time since Obama made a decision quickly and effectively. There was disagreement over whether McChrystal had to go, but few quibble with bringing in the general who snatched victory from the jaws of defeat in Iraq. Despite liberals’ delirium (See, he can get something right!), the incident actually highlights the degree to which Obama is no longer in command of events or his own political destiny. In a compelling column, A.B. Stoddard of the Hill writes:

Within the competing factions in burgeoning disagreement over Afghan war policy in his administration, Obama has tried taking shelter in the middle, his habitual no man’s land where he is neither wartime commander nor consensus builder. In deciding to relieve McChrystal, Obama cannot be accused of weakness, but the scandal weakened him instantly and immeasurably and made him appear even more alone.

In a foundering war our allies have lost patience with, and a fragile economic recovery that has failed to make a dent in joblessness, Obama struggles to lead at home and abroad. Seventeen months into office, Obama is increasingly isolated — from his party, from American voters and from the world. Though he was sworn in amid great expectations to transcend partisan, racial, cultural and economic divisions, the country is more polarized than ever and Washington is even more a target for voter anger than it was under President Bush.

Obama has gone from a political colossus to a political leper. (“Obama is so politically toxic in battlegrounds he can’t campaign for most Democratic candidates and his relationships with Democrats outside his intimate circle of mostly Chicagoan advisers fall somewhere between faint and frosty.”) His fondness for big government and for phony budget calculations has run up against increasingly skeptic voters and nervous Democrats. As Stoddard notes:

Democrats have joined Republicans with a newfound distaste for deficit spending. So spooked are Democrats from every region of the country, mostly vulnerable members elected in 2006 and 2008, they are turning their backs on unpaid emergency spending to extend COBRA health benefits for the unemployed and continued unemployment benefits and aid to cash-strapped states that can’t be offset with other spending cuts. Jobs bills are stalling, and a debate about the extension of Bush tax cuts — including those promised to the middle class by then-candidate Obama in his presidential campaign — it’s all on the table in the new age of fiscal rectitude.

None of this should be that surprising. Americans elected an ideologically extreme candidate with no executive experience and little warmth. He identifies with European elites and American academics, not so much with ordinary Americans. He has even managed to annoy his mainstream fan club. It’s no wonder that his administration is on the rocks.

Obama has two and a half years in his term to turn things around. The irony here is that he came into office wanting to change us. Now, to save his presidency, he will have to change policies, staff, and himself. I frankly don’t think he has it in him. But we’ll find out.

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RE: Forcing a Vote on Jobs-Gate

As I noted yesterday, House Republicans introduced a resolution earlier in the month to require the Justice Department to turn over any documents on the job offers to Joe Sestak and Andrew Romanoff. Predictably, the Democrats voted down the resolution in the House Judiciary Committee by a 15-12 vote. Ranking member Lamar Smith had this to say after the vote:

I’m disappointed that Judiciary Committee Democrats today voted against requiring the Obama administration to make good on its promise of openness and transparency.  Allegations of unethical and possibly criminal conduct by Administration officials should be taken seriously by Congress.  Unfortunately, when it’s comes to possible misconduct by the Obama administration, Democrats in Congress seem eager to sweep the allegations under the rug. … I am disappointed that this Resolution of Inquiry is even necessary.  But the Administration has ignored all efforts to conduct meaningful oversight. If the Administration has nothing to hide, why not provide Congress with the requested documents and restore integrity to our election process?

The Democrats say that the resolution was “political.” Oh, puhleez. The White House tenders jobs to get two candidates out of primary races and then House Democrats vote in lockstep not to force it to disclose even what was said to whom. But the Republicans are playing politics? And so what if they are? What’s the excuse for not turning over the information — it would look bad? It would be embarrassing? When Democrats skewered the hapless Alberto Gonzales for firing the U.S. attorney, they were playing politics too; but that’s an observation, not an excuse for refusing to turn over relevant documents.

This is a powerful advertisement for divided government. If the administration isn’t going to allow scrutiny of its behavior, and House Democrats aren’t going to demand it, then voters who have come to loathe backroom deals and self-serving pols may conclude either that the House needs new management or that the White House does. Maybe both.

As I noted yesterday, House Republicans introduced a resolution earlier in the month to require the Justice Department to turn over any documents on the job offers to Joe Sestak and Andrew Romanoff. Predictably, the Democrats voted down the resolution in the House Judiciary Committee by a 15-12 vote. Ranking member Lamar Smith had this to say after the vote:

I’m disappointed that Judiciary Committee Democrats today voted against requiring the Obama administration to make good on its promise of openness and transparency.  Allegations of unethical and possibly criminal conduct by Administration officials should be taken seriously by Congress.  Unfortunately, when it’s comes to possible misconduct by the Obama administration, Democrats in Congress seem eager to sweep the allegations under the rug. … I am disappointed that this Resolution of Inquiry is even necessary.  But the Administration has ignored all efforts to conduct meaningful oversight. If the Administration has nothing to hide, why not provide Congress with the requested documents and restore integrity to our election process?

The Democrats say that the resolution was “political.” Oh, puhleez. The White House tenders jobs to get two candidates out of primary races and then House Democrats vote in lockstep not to force it to disclose even what was said to whom. But the Republicans are playing politics? And so what if they are? What’s the excuse for not turning over the information — it would look bad? It would be embarrassing? When Democrats skewered the hapless Alberto Gonzales for firing the U.S. attorney, they were playing politics too; but that’s an observation, not an excuse for refusing to turn over relevant documents.

This is a powerful advertisement for divided government. If the administration isn’t going to allow scrutiny of its behavior, and House Democrats aren’t going to demand it, then voters who have come to loathe backroom deals and self-serving pols may conclude either that the House needs new management or that the White House does. Maybe both.

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Democrats Better Brace Themselves

Democrats won’t be able to say they didn’t see this coming — the “this” being an electoral wipeout. The Wall Street Journal/NBC poll finds:

In the survey, 45% said they wanted to see a Republican-controlled Congress after November, compared to 43% who wanted Democratic control. But even more telling is the excitement gap that continues to grow between the core voters of each party. Just 44% of Obama voters—those who voted for Mr. Obama in 2008 or told pollsters they intended to—now express high interest in the midterm elections. That’s a 38-point drop from this stage in the 2008 campaign. By contrast, 71% of voters who supported Republican John McCain in 2008 expressed high interest in this year’s elections, slightly higher than their interest level at this stage in that campaign.

The overriding message of this poll, however, is more than just that “Democrats are going to get pummeled in November”; it’s also that Obama is dragging his party down, with no sign he and it have hit bottom yet. The Journal explains that “Americans are more pessimistic about the state of the country and less confident in President Barack Obama’s leadership than at any point since Mr. Obama entered the White House.” And this is not simply an erosion of support among independent voters:

[M]ore ominous for the president, some in his base also are souring, with 17% of Democrats disapproving of Mr. Obama’s job performance, the highest level of his presidency.

Approval for Mr. Obama has dropped among Hispanics as well, along with small-town residents, white women and seniors. African-Americans remain the firmest part of Mr. Obama’s base, with 91% approving of his job performance.

Some 30% in the poll said they “do not really relate” to Mr. Obama. Only 8% said that at the beginning of his presidency. Fewer than half give him positive marks when asked if he is “honest and straightforward.” And 49% rate him positively when asked if he has “strong leadership qualities,” down from 70% when Mr. Obama took office and a drop of 8 points since January.

Just 40% rate him positively on his “ability to handle a crisis,” an 11-point drop since January.

Once the public loses confidence and ceases to trust or even “relate” to the president, it is hard for him to recapture the aura of invincibility. Frankly, voters have stopped giving Obama the benefit of the doubt. They’ve be spun enough times (e.g., on the job-creating abilities of the  stimulus plan, the “savings” generated by health-care reform) that they now tune out the president’s pleas, roll their eyes at the familiar excuses (Bush did it, or Republicans are to blame, or everything gets distorted by the media), and look for alternatives. Obama is not on the ballot this year, so voters are looking for the next best thing to voting him out — candidates who will stop him from doing what they don’t like.

Democrats won’t be able to say they didn’t see this coming — the “this” being an electoral wipeout. The Wall Street Journal/NBC poll finds:

In the survey, 45% said they wanted to see a Republican-controlled Congress after November, compared to 43% who wanted Democratic control. But even more telling is the excitement gap that continues to grow between the core voters of each party. Just 44% of Obama voters—those who voted for Mr. Obama in 2008 or told pollsters they intended to—now express high interest in the midterm elections. That’s a 38-point drop from this stage in the 2008 campaign. By contrast, 71% of voters who supported Republican John McCain in 2008 expressed high interest in this year’s elections, slightly higher than their interest level at this stage in that campaign.

The overriding message of this poll, however, is more than just that “Democrats are going to get pummeled in November”; it’s also that Obama is dragging his party down, with no sign he and it have hit bottom yet. The Journal explains that “Americans are more pessimistic about the state of the country and less confident in President Barack Obama’s leadership than at any point since Mr. Obama entered the White House.” And this is not simply an erosion of support among independent voters:

[M]ore ominous for the president, some in his base also are souring, with 17% of Democrats disapproving of Mr. Obama’s job performance, the highest level of his presidency.

Approval for Mr. Obama has dropped among Hispanics as well, along with small-town residents, white women and seniors. African-Americans remain the firmest part of Mr. Obama’s base, with 91% approving of his job performance.

Some 30% in the poll said they “do not really relate” to Mr. Obama. Only 8% said that at the beginning of his presidency. Fewer than half give him positive marks when asked if he is “honest and straightforward.” And 49% rate him positively when asked if he has “strong leadership qualities,” down from 70% when Mr. Obama took office and a drop of 8 points since January.

Just 40% rate him positively on his “ability to handle a crisis,” an 11-point drop since January.

Once the public loses confidence and ceases to trust or even “relate” to the president, it is hard for him to recapture the aura of invincibility. Frankly, voters have stopped giving Obama the benefit of the doubt. They’ve be spun enough times (e.g., on the job-creating abilities of the  stimulus plan, the “savings” generated by health-care reform) that they now tune out the president’s pleas, roll their eyes at the familiar excuses (Bush did it, or Republicans are to blame, or everything gets distorted by the media), and look for alternatives. Obama is not on the ballot this year, so voters are looking for the next best thing to voting him out — candidates who will stop him from doing what they don’t like.

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Take the Advice, Hold the Hyperbole

As many conservatives have been urging, Sens. Joe Lieberman, John McCain, and Lindsey Graham are imploring Obama to dump the incompetent civilian team in Afghanistan:

“The civilian side, in my view, is completely dysfunctional,” said Graham.

Lieberman said the magazine article “revealed what we have known, that there is not the kind of unity in Afghanistan between our civilian and military leadership” that is necessary.

Though none of the senators would name specific civilian leaders who should be replaced, McCain suggested “re-uniting the Crocker-Petraeus team,” a reference to former U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker, who served in Baghdad while Petraeus headed up military operations in the country.

It’s going to be hard to make the argument that only the general should change. Petraeus, because of his accomplishment in Iraq, is uniquely situated to give unvarnished advice to Obama and make clear what he needs to achieve victory. In this relationship, Obama needs Petraeus more than Petraeus needs this job.

But alas, Lindsey Graham can never pass up an opportunity to burnish his image with the media, often at the expense of others. He feels it necessary to toss this in:

Graham had particularly harsh words for the other military officers quoted in the piece. “You let yourself and your Army down,” he said. “The language you used, the cavalier attitude, the disrespect … was unacceptable. This was a low point, in my view, for the armed forces in a very long time.”

Oh, good grief. First, it’s not necessary to emphasize that several officers behaved poorly; I think we all got this. And in the grand scheme of things, it’s not the worst thing to happen in the military “in a very long time.” This is a rare instance when it’s worth following Obama’s example. He gave a classy speech in announcing the change from McChrystal to Petraeus and left out the recriminations. Graham should have done the same.

As many conservatives have been urging, Sens. Joe Lieberman, John McCain, and Lindsey Graham are imploring Obama to dump the incompetent civilian team in Afghanistan:

“The civilian side, in my view, is completely dysfunctional,” said Graham.

Lieberman said the magazine article “revealed what we have known, that there is not the kind of unity in Afghanistan between our civilian and military leadership” that is necessary.

Though none of the senators would name specific civilian leaders who should be replaced, McCain suggested “re-uniting the Crocker-Petraeus team,” a reference to former U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker, who served in Baghdad while Petraeus headed up military operations in the country.

It’s going to be hard to make the argument that only the general should change. Petraeus, because of his accomplishment in Iraq, is uniquely situated to give unvarnished advice to Obama and make clear what he needs to achieve victory. In this relationship, Obama needs Petraeus more than Petraeus needs this job.

But alas, Lindsey Graham can never pass up an opportunity to burnish his image with the media, often at the expense of others. He feels it necessary to toss this in:

Graham had particularly harsh words for the other military officers quoted in the piece. “You let yourself and your Army down,” he said. “The language you used, the cavalier attitude, the disrespect … was unacceptable. This was a low point, in my view, for the armed forces in a very long time.”

Oh, good grief. First, it’s not necessary to emphasize that several officers behaved poorly; I think we all got this. And in the grand scheme of things, it’s not the worst thing to happen in the military “in a very long time.” This is a rare instance when it’s worth following Obama’s example. He gave a classy speech in announcing the change from McChrystal to Petraeus and left out the recriminations. Graham should have done the same.

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Delegitimizing the Delegitimizers

In the Knesset, Bibi went after international efforts to delegitimize Israel:

“They want to strip us of the natural right to defend ourselves. When we defend ourselves against rocket attack, we are accused of war crimes. We cannot board sea vessels when our soldiers are being attacked and fired upon, because that is a war crime.”

“They are essentially saying that the Jewish nation does not have the right to defend itself against the most brutal attacks and it doesn’t have the right to prevent additional weapons from entering territories from which it is attacked,” he said.

Netanyahu stressed that Israel has taken steps to push forward a resolution with the Palestinians though they have not reciprocated the gesture.

“The Palestinian side promoted the Goldstone report, organized boycotts, and tried to prevent our entrance into the OECD. The Palestinian Authority has no intentions of engaging in direct talks with us,” Netanyahu exclaimed.

Israel’s enemies have been at this for some time. But the efforts to use international organizations to delegitimize and constrain Israel have accelerated under Obama for at least three reasons.

First, he’s raised the profile of international organizations, conferred on them new prestige, elevated gangs of thugs like the UN Human Rights Council, and made clear that international consensus is near and dear to him, a priority above many other foreign policy goals. This has emboldened Israel’s foes, who now enjoy more respect and more visibility. Because Obama has put such a high price on consensus in these bodies and on internationalizing decisions, he is handing a veto to the more aggressively anti-Israel members.

Second, the U.S. has done nothing to discourage or rebut the delegitimizing. We’ve sat mutely when the UN Human Rights Council has condemned Israel. We haven’t denounced or even chastised the Israel-bashers. When Jeane Kirkpatrick or John Bolton held their posts, you would at least see the Israel-haters’ arguments demolished and their representatives put in their place. No such defense is offered these days by Susan Rice.

And finally, Obama  outside the confines of these bodies, has signaled that it’s fine to slap Israel around. When the American government condemns Israel, others are sure to follow. He’s announced his intention to put daylight between the U.S. and the Jewish state, which tells the Israel-haters they have a green light to take their own swings.

So if the goal were to delegitimize the delegitimizers, then we should do the opposite of what the Obama team has been doing. We should try to reduce the importance and prestige of these bodies while elevating that of democratic alliances. We should forcefully refute the arguments and resolutions and wield our veto. We should not participate in, fund, nor countenance assaults on Israel’s legitimacy and right to defend and manage its own affairs. And finally, we should in word and deed stand shoulder to shoulder with Israel, making clear that those who take on Israel will pay a price — financial, diplomatic, or otherwise. None of this will end the attempts at delegitimizing, but it may give those on the fence second thoughts about joining in the efforts and discourage those who now believe they can act with impunity. Right now the incentives are all going in the wrong direction.

In the Knesset, Bibi went after international efforts to delegitimize Israel:

“They want to strip us of the natural right to defend ourselves. When we defend ourselves against rocket attack, we are accused of war crimes. We cannot board sea vessels when our soldiers are being attacked and fired upon, because that is a war crime.”

“They are essentially saying that the Jewish nation does not have the right to defend itself against the most brutal attacks and it doesn’t have the right to prevent additional weapons from entering territories from which it is attacked,” he said.

Netanyahu stressed that Israel has taken steps to push forward a resolution with the Palestinians though they have not reciprocated the gesture.

“The Palestinian side promoted the Goldstone report, organized boycotts, and tried to prevent our entrance into the OECD. The Palestinian Authority has no intentions of engaging in direct talks with us,” Netanyahu exclaimed.

Israel’s enemies have been at this for some time. But the efforts to use international organizations to delegitimize and constrain Israel have accelerated under Obama for at least three reasons.

First, he’s raised the profile of international organizations, conferred on them new prestige, elevated gangs of thugs like the UN Human Rights Council, and made clear that international consensus is near and dear to him, a priority above many other foreign policy goals. This has emboldened Israel’s foes, who now enjoy more respect and more visibility. Because Obama has put such a high price on consensus in these bodies and on internationalizing decisions, he is handing a veto to the more aggressively anti-Israel members.

Second, the U.S. has done nothing to discourage or rebut the delegitimizing. We’ve sat mutely when the UN Human Rights Council has condemned Israel. We haven’t denounced or even chastised the Israel-bashers. When Jeane Kirkpatrick or John Bolton held their posts, you would at least see the Israel-haters’ arguments demolished and their representatives put in their place. No such defense is offered these days by Susan Rice.

And finally, Obama  outside the confines of these bodies, has signaled that it’s fine to slap Israel around. When the American government condemns Israel, others are sure to follow. He’s announced his intention to put daylight between the U.S. and the Jewish state, which tells the Israel-haters they have a green light to take their own swings.

So if the goal were to delegitimize the delegitimizers, then we should do the opposite of what the Obama team has been doing. We should try to reduce the importance and prestige of these bodies while elevating that of democratic alliances. We should forcefully refute the arguments and resolutions and wield our veto. We should not participate in, fund, nor countenance assaults on Israel’s legitimacy and right to defend and manage its own affairs. And finally, we should in word and deed stand shoulder to shoulder with Israel, making clear that those who take on Israel will pay a price — financial, diplomatic, or otherwise. None of this will end the attempts at delegitimizing, but it may give those on the fence second thoughts about joining in the efforts and discourage those who now believe they can act with impunity. Right now the incentives are all going in the wrong direction.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Doesn’t sound kosher: “Decoy Jews.”

Doesn’t sound like a problem easily fixed: Noemie Emery on the oil spill writes, “Initially, the diagnosis was that Mr. Cool perhaps had an emotional deficit — the downside of all that cerebral detachment — but this wasn’t quite accurate: He had, it turned out, a lot of emotion, but most of it (like with Hayward and the rest of the people at British Petroleum) turned more or less on himself.”

Doesn’t sound like a nominee who’s going to be much help to Obama: “Forty-two percent (42%) of U.S. voters now believe Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan should not be confirmed following the Senate hearings scheduled to begin next week. That’s up nine points from the week President Obama announced her nomination and the highest level of opposition to date.” Maybe it’s not Kagan but anything Obama that so many Americans are opposed to.

Doesn’t sound like they are kidding: “Former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer and 2010 Pulitzer Prize winning columnist Kathleen Parker will co-host a new hour long CNN primetime news program starting in the fall as the nation prepares for the 2010 midterm election, the network announced Wednesday morning.” I look forward to Parker’s unbiased take on Sarah Palin’s impact on the races and Spitzer’s insights on morality. Maybe John Edwards can guest-host.

Doesn’t sound like California Democrats are thrilled with their nominee: “California Democrats are starting to worry that gubernatorial nominee Jerry Brown — who hasn’t had a truly competitive election in three decades — isn’t ready for the 21st-century campaign trail. Since the general election kicked off two weeks ago, Brown — the state attorney general and former governor with a well-known penchant for micromanaging all aspects of his campaigns — has made news for all the wrong reasons, while motoring along without any evidence that he is assembling a basic infrastructure for a statewide race.”

Doesn’t sound like government can spend its way out of a recession: “Purchases of U.S. new homes fell in May to the lowest level on record after a tax credit expired, showing the market remains dependent on government support.”

Doesn’t sound like switching generals is going to change things. James Carafano: “It is still the president’s job to win the war and he is the one accountable to the American people. Nothing has really changed: the timeline is bad; by the military’s own estimate there are too few enough troops; and failure is not a good option.”

Doesn’t sound like the family name is an asset: “Nevada gubernatorial candidate Rory Reid (D) is on the air with his first campaign ad and it’s missing one thing: his last name.”

Doesn’t sound like the 17 percent have been paying attention: “New York State government is dysfunctional, 83 percent of voters say, the highest number ever measured in the state, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released today. … ‘New Yorkers are fed up with Albany. The resentment is bigger than we’ve ever measured. Just about half think that the whole Legislature should be voted out of office — even their own state senator and Assembly member,’ said Maurice Carroll, director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute.”

Doesn’t sound kosher: “Decoy Jews.”

Doesn’t sound like a problem easily fixed: Noemie Emery on the oil spill writes, “Initially, the diagnosis was that Mr. Cool perhaps had an emotional deficit — the downside of all that cerebral detachment — but this wasn’t quite accurate: He had, it turned out, a lot of emotion, but most of it (like with Hayward and the rest of the people at British Petroleum) turned more or less on himself.”

Doesn’t sound like a nominee who’s going to be much help to Obama: “Forty-two percent (42%) of U.S. voters now believe Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan should not be confirmed following the Senate hearings scheduled to begin next week. That’s up nine points from the week President Obama announced her nomination and the highest level of opposition to date.” Maybe it’s not Kagan but anything Obama that so many Americans are opposed to.

Doesn’t sound like they are kidding: “Former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer and 2010 Pulitzer Prize winning columnist Kathleen Parker will co-host a new hour long CNN primetime news program starting in the fall as the nation prepares for the 2010 midterm election, the network announced Wednesday morning.” I look forward to Parker’s unbiased take on Sarah Palin’s impact on the races and Spitzer’s insights on morality. Maybe John Edwards can guest-host.

Doesn’t sound like California Democrats are thrilled with their nominee: “California Democrats are starting to worry that gubernatorial nominee Jerry Brown — who hasn’t had a truly competitive election in three decades — isn’t ready for the 21st-century campaign trail. Since the general election kicked off two weeks ago, Brown — the state attorney general and former governor with a well-known penchant for micromanaging all aspects of his campaigns — has made news for all the wrong reasons, while motoring along without any evidence that he is assembling a basic infrastructure for a statewide race.”

Doesn’t sound like government can spend its way out of a recession: “Purchases of U.S. new homes fell in May to the lowest level on record after a tax credit expired, showing the market remains dependent on government support.”

Doesn’t sound like switching generals is going to change things. James Carafano: “It is still the president’s job to win the war and he is the one accountable to the American people. Nothing has really changed: the timeline is bad; by the military’s own estimate there are too few enough troops; and failure is not a good option.”

Doesn’t sound like the family name is an asset: “Nevada gubernatorial candidate Rory Reid (D) is on the air with his first campaign ad and it’s missing one thing: his last name.”

Doesn’t sound like the 17 percent have been paying attention: “New York State government is dysfunctional, 83 percent of voters say, the highest number ever measured in the state, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released today. … ‘New Yorkers are fed up with Albany. The resentment is bigger than we’ve ever measured. Just about half think that the whole Legislature should be voted out of office — even their own state senator and Assembly member,’ said Maurice Carroll, director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute.”

Read Less




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