Commentary Magazine


Posts For: July 1, 2010

Obama Tries to Put the Immigration Onus on GOP

While the ostensible purpose of President Obama’s speech at American University this morning on immigration reform was to put forward a realistic proposal, it was clear that his main intent was to try and put Republicans on the spot.

Calling, as he is fond of doing on every issue, for others to put aside politics, he specifically challenged the GOP to support his rather loosely defined plan that called for giving illegal immigrants a path to citizenship, an attempt to control the border as well as rationalizing the complex and largely unfair existing immigration statutes. He claimed that he was merely being forced to clean up the mess left behind by others since he “won’t just kick the can down the road” on this issue. Asserting that the Democrats are behind him, he said the whole question of reform would rest on whether Republicans would join him on the issue. It was only toward the end of the speech that he acknowledged in passing that his “predecessor” had “shown courage” on the issue. In fact, George W. Bush put forward a not dissimilar package of immigration reform in 2005.

It’s no secret that the chances of passage of any such bill in the current Congress are less than nil. Far from a stark partisan division on the issue, many Democrats have indulged in the same sort of “demagoguery” on immigration that Obama seemed to imply was limited to Republicans. In fact, had the Democrats in Congress been united and passionate advocates of this cause, President Bush would have succeeded in his attempt to do more or less what Obama says he wants to accomplish. It is a testament to Obama’s knowledge of this political reality that he did not spend much of his speech bashing the controversial Arizona law enabling law-enforcement personnel to inquire about the immigration status of a person already in trouble with the law. Nor did he follow Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s lead when she recently told a South American journalist that Obama would order the Justice Department to sue Arizona to stop the measure’s enforcement. Indeed, the worst he said of the law was that it was “divisive.”

It is an unfortunate fact that many on the right have boxed themselves in on immigration to the point where any position on it other than a call for a draconian crackdown on illegals and mass deportation (which Obama rightly claims is unrealistic) is considered akin to amnesty. While the president attempted to pose somewhat disingenuously as the man between two extremes, by offering those here illegally a path to citizenship (preceded by paying a fine, waiting in line behind those who have applied via the legal apparatus, and learning English), he is unlikely to get much support from many conservatives or moderates from either party. That’s a shame, since Obama’s proposals, like those of Bush before him, constitute nothing more than recognition of reality in terms of both law enforcement and the undeniable demand that exists here for low-wage foreign workers. While neither this Congress nor its successor is likely to pass such a bill, that does not mean that it shouldn’t.

But unlike Bush, who unveiled his immigration plan at the start of his second term hoping (in vain, as it turned out) to cash in some of his political capital on an issue he cared about, Obama’s purpose here seems to be about politics, not principle, as he is hoping that Hispanics will blame Republicans for the inevitable failure of this proposal. While this may ratchet up the Hispanic vote for the Democrats, it’s hard to see how this will work in a midterm election in which many Democrats around the country are just as likely to resent illegal immigrants as Republicans.

While the ostensible purpose of President Obama’s speech at American University this morning on immigration reform was to put forward a realistic proposal, it was clear that his main intent was to try and put Republicans on the spot.

Calling, as he is fond of doing on every issue, for others to put aside politics, he specifically challenged the GOP to support his rather loosely defined plan that called for giving illegal immigrants a path to citizenship, an attempt to control the border as well as rationalizing the complex and largely unfair existing immigration statutes. He claimed that he was merely being forced to clean up the mess left behind by others since he “won’t just kick the can down the road” on this issue. Asserting that the Democrats are behind him, he said the whole question of reform would rest on whether Republicans would join him on the issue. It was only toward the end of the speech that he acknowledged in passing that his “predecessor” had “shown courage” on the issue. In fact, George W. Bush put forward a not dissimilar package of immigration reform in 2005.

It’s no secret that the chances of passage of any such bill in the current Congress are less than nil. Far from a stark partisan division on the issue, many Democrats have indulged in the same sort of “demagoguery” on immigration that Obama seemed to imply was limited to Republicans. In fact, had the Democrats in Congress been united and passionate advocates of this cause, President Bush would have succeeded in his attempt to do more or less what Obama says he wants to accomplish. It is a testament to Obama’s knowledge of this political reality that he did not spend much of his speech bashing the controversial Arizona law enabling law-enforcement personnel to inquire about the immigration status of a person already in trouble with the law. Nor did he follow Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s lead when she recently told a South American journalist that Obama would order the Justice Department to sue Arizona to stop the measure’s enforcement. Indeed, the worst he said of the law was that it was “divisive.”

It is an unfortunate fact that many on the right have boxed themselves in on immigration to the point where any position on it other than a call for a draconian crackdown on illegals and mass deportation (which Obama rightly claims is unrealistic) is considered akin to amnesty. While the president attempted to pose somewhat disingenuously as the man between two extremes, by offering those here illegally a path to citizenship (preceded by paying a fine, waiting in line behind those who have applied via the legal apparatus, and learning English), he is unlikely to get much support from many conservatives or moderates from either party. That’s a shame, since Obama’s proposals, like those of Bush before him, constitute nothing more than recognition of reality in terms of both law enforcement and the undeniable demand that exists here for low-wage foreign workers. While neither this Congress nor its successor is likely to pass such a bill, that does not mean that it shouldn’t.

But unlike Bush, who unveiled his immigration plan at the start of his second term hoping (in vain, as it turned out) to cash in some of his political capital on an issue he cared about, Obama’s purpose here seems to be about politics, not principle, as he is hoping that Hispanics will blame Republicans for the inevitable failure of this proposal. While this may ratchet up the Hispanic vote for the Democrats, it’s hard to see how this will work in a midterm election in which many Democrats around the country are just as likely to resent illegal immigrants as Republicans.

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RE: CENTCOM’s ‘Red Team’ Hearts Hamas and Hezbollah

Jonathan Tobin is right to be concerned about the thinking evinced by the CENTCOM Red Team about Hezbollah and Hamas. But it doesn’t surprise me that much. It’s a natural outgrowth of the operational situation CENTCOM has been in since 9/11, fighting ground wars in two Muslim nations, establishing new bases in others, and maintaining military-to-military relations with every Muslim nation in the region except Iran and Syria. CENTCOM’s daily foreign contacts in the “AOR” — area of responsibility — are with Muslims, virtually all of whom are, in the context of their personal and professional lives, politically moderate and pragmatic. When they shake their heads over the problem of Israel, they don’t foam at the mouth or burn flags in the street. It becomes natural to accept that their view of things governs their behavior and requires accommodation, even if we don’t hold that view.

This is especially true because the one nation CENTCOM does not interact with is Israel. Israel is in the European Command’s (EUCOM’s) AOR. This separation between AORs is deliberate. It’s not unique: CENTCOM and the Pacific Command (PACOM) also divide Pakistan and India between them. Both AOR divisions were undertaken for the purpose of easing U.S. relations with the nations in confrontation on either side of the divide. In the case of CENTCOM, the influence of the Muslim side in each confrontation is the one our officials engage with daily. CENTCOM is tasked with maintaining effective military relations and getting a set of jobs done — and in its AOR, that means working with Muslim militaries and populations.

For a number of reasons, I have long favored the arrangement that keeps Israel in the EUCOM AOR. For one thing, Israel is a Western nation with strong cultural ties to Europe and the U.S. There are reasons remaining, which prevent us from putting together an effective AOR that includes both Israel and all the Muslim nations of the Middle East. Our ability to engage with Israel should not be subject to de facto vetoes by the Muslim nations that would deal with our officials in the same regional headquarters.

But during the flap earlier this year over General Petraeus’s comments about Israel and the Palestinians, one key point got little play outside of the foreign-policy wonkosphere, and that is that Petraeus actually requested the transfer of the West Bank and Gaza to the CENTCOM AOR. The reasoning was that doing so would improve the appearance of the U.S. engaging with the problem dearest to the hearts of the region’s Muslims. The reasons not to do this are, of course, obvious: the U.S. has endorsed no division of Israel and should not do anything to imply such an endorsement while a solution for the Palestinian Arabs remains to be negotiated.

Israel is a foreign-policy issue that requires top-level national thinking — like Russia, China, global terrorism, and nuclear proliferation. Even so sound a tactical thinker as David Petraeus took a limited regional view of Israel and the Palestinians when he weighed in on CENTCOM’s preferences. This isn’t surprising, really — and if we asked EUCOM to address Hezbollah and Hamas, we could probably expect a different answer from the one advanced by CENTCOM’s Red Team.

Jonathan Tobin is right to be concerned about the thinking evinced by the CENTCOM Red Team about Hezbollah and Hamas. But it doesn’t surprise me that much. It’s a natural outgrowth of the operational situation CENTCOM has been in since 9/11, fighting ground wars in two Muslim nations, establishing new bases in others, and maintaining military-to-military relations with every Muslim nation in the region except Iran and Syria. CENTCOM’s daily foreign contacts in the “AOR” — area of responsibility — are with Muslims, virtually all of whom are, in the context of their personal and professional lives, politically moderate and pragmatic. When they shake their heads over the problem of Israel, they don’t foam at the mouth or burn flags in the street. It becomes natural to accept that their view of things governs their behavior and requires accommodation, even if we don’t hold that view.

This is especially true because the one nation CENTCOM does not interact with is Israel. Israel is in the European Command’s (EUCOM’s) AOR. This separation between AORs is deliberate. It’s not unique: CENTCOM and the Pacific Command (PACOM) also divide Pakistan and India between them. Both AOR divisions were undertaken for the purpose of easing U.S. relations with the nations in confrontation on either side of the divide. In the case of CENTCOM, the influence of the Muslim side in each confrontation is the one our officials engage with daily. CENTCOM is tasked with maintaining effective military relations and getting a set of jobs done — and in its AOR, that means working with Muslim militaries and populations.

For a number of reasons, I have long favored the arrangement that keeps Israel in the EUCOM AOR. For one thing, Israel is a Western nation with strong cultural ties to Europe and the U.S. There are reasons remaining, which prevent us from putting together an effective AOR that includes both Israel and all the Muslim nations of the Middle East. Our ability to engage with Israel should not be subject to de facto vetoes by the Muslim nations that would deal with our officials in the same regional headquarters.

But during the flap earlier this year over General Petraeus’s comments about Israel and the Palestinians, one key point got little play outside of the foreign-policy wonkosphere, and that is that Petraeus actually requested the transfer of the West Bank and Gaza to the CENTCOM AOR. The reasoning was that doing so would improve the appearance of the U.S. engaging with the problem dearest to the hearts of the region’s Muslims. The reasons not to do this are, of course, obvious: the U.S. has endorsed no division of Israel and should not do anything to imply such an endorsement while a solution for the Palestinian Arabs remains to be negotiated.

Israel is a foreign-policy issue that requires top-level national thinking — like Russia, China, global terrorism, and nuclear proliferation. Even so sound a tactical thinker as David Petraeus took a limited regional view of Israel and the Palestinians when he weighed in on CENTCOM’s preferences. This isn’t surprising, really — and if we asked EUCOM to address Hezbollah and Hamas, we could probably expect a different answer from the one advanced by CENTCOM’s Red Team.

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Obama’s Faulty Middle East Vision

Lee Smith has a two-part series featuring different takes on the Middle East. I previously highlighted Elliott Abrams’s concise summary in part one of Obama’s multiple failings. Martin Kramer offers this insight on the region more generally:

In the Middle East, power is a zero-sum game, domination by a benevolent hegemon creates order, and the regional balance of power is the foundation of peace. It’s the pax Americana, and while it may be stressful to uphold it, the alternative is more stressful still. And as the impression of American power wanes, we are getting a foretaste of “post-American” disorder. A struggle has begun among the middle powers—Iran, Turkey, and Israel—to fill the vacuum. Iran floods Lebanon with rockets, Turkey sends a flotilla to Gaza, Israel sends an assassination squad to Dubai—these are all the signs of an accelerating regional cold war. Each middle power seeks to demonstrate its reach, around, above, and behind the fading superpower.

The response in Washington is to huff and puff, imposing settlement “freezes” and “crippling” sanctions. This is the illusion of power, not its substance. The Obama Administration is bringing the United States out of the Middle East, to a position from which it believes it can “contain” threats with diplomacy, deterrence, and drones. As the United States decamps, its allies will feel insecure, its enemies emboldened. The Middle East’s stress test has begun.

It is a zero-sum game that Obama understands not at all, for his strategy — give the aggressors more respect and our ally Israel more grief — is one that will encourage our enemies. And Obama and his advisers have missed the importance of the Iranian Green movement. Ramin Ahmadi, founder of the Iran Human Rights Documentation Center (which the Obama team defunded), observes:

The administration had looked at Iran’s democratic revolution as an inconvenience, and yet it didn’t seem wise to make concessions to an appalling regime that was falling apart. The Green Revolution is a powerful display of “people’s power,” and yet it has not toppled the regime after a full year, effectively putting all the possible rapprochement initiatives on hold. It exposed the brutality and corruption of the regime in Tehran and the lack of a cohesive Iran policy here in Washington. It took Obama some time to voice any support for the Green Revolution and when he finally did, it was too little too late.

Obama fancies himself a sort of Muslim expert, a far more informed observer of the region that was his predecessor. But it turns out that the Obama Middle East policy has been operating with ideological blinders, oblivious to the realities on the ground. You can’t practice “smart” diplomacy if you haven’t a clue what’s going on. And so America’s influence recedes, and the region becomes more dangerous and unstable.

Lee Smith has a two-part series featuring different takes on the Middle East. I previously highlighted Elliott Abrams’s concise summary in part one of Obama’s multiple failings. Martin Kramer offers this insight on the region more generally:

In the Middle East, power is a zero-sum game, domination by a benevolent hegemon creates order, and the regional balance of power is the foundation of peace. It’s the pax Americana, and while it may be stressful to uphold it, the alternative is more stressful still. And as the impression of American power wanes, we are getting a foretaste of “post-American” disorder. A struggle has begun among the middle powers—Iran, Turkey, and Israel—to fill the vacuum. Iran floods Lebanon with rockets, Turkey sends a flotilla to Gaza, Israel sends an assassination squad to Dubai—these are all the signs of an accelerating regional cold war. Each middle power seeks to demonstrate its reach, around, above, and behind the fading superpower.

The response in Washington is to huff and puff, imposing settlement “freezes” and “crippling” sanctions. This is the illusion of power, not its substance. The Obama Administration is bringing the United States out of the Middle East, to a position from which it believes it can “contain” threats with diplomacy, deterrence, and drones. As the United States decamps, its allies will feel insecure, its enemies emboldened. The Middle East’s stress test has begun.

It is a zero-sum game that Obama understands not at all, for his strategy — give the aggressors more respect and our ally Israel more grief — is one that will encourage our enemies. And Obama and his advisers have missed the importance of the Iranian Green movement. Ramin Ahmadi, founder of the Iran Human Rights Documentation Center (which the Obama team defunded), observes:

The administration had looked at Iran’s democratic revolution as an inconvenience, and yet it didn’t seem wise to make concessions to an appalling regime that was falling apart. The Green Revolution is a powerful display of “people’s power,” and yet it has not toppled the regime after a full year, effectively putting all the possible rapprochement initiatives on hold. It exposed the brutality and corruption of the regime in Tehran and the lack of a cohesive Iran policy here in Washington. It took Obama some time to voice any support for the Green Revolution and when he finally did, it was too little too late.

Obama fancies himself a sort of Muslim expert, a far more informed observer of the region that was his predecessor. But it turns out that the Obama Middle East policy has been operating with ideological blinders, oblivious to the realities on the ground. You can’t practice “smart” diplomacy if you haven’t a clue what’s going on. And so America’s influence recedes, and the region becomes more dangerous and unstable.

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Kristof Defames Another Country

As reflexively hostile and uniformed as Nicholas Kristof is regarding Israel, his bile-filled columns on the topic are a model of impartial scholarship compared to his take on Morocco. In the midst of another dreary rant on Israel and the West Bank (Does he think we don’t know that Israel has repeatedly tried to give the Palestinians their own state or that the West Bank is a model of economic development in the Middle East?), he throws this in from left field: “After all, the biggest theft of Arab land in the Middle East has nothing to do with Palestinians: It is Morocco’s robbery of the resource-rich Western Sahara from the people who live there.”

Huh? Without recounting the entire history of the region, suffice it to say that the Western Sahara was not “stolen” from anyone. (Spain ceded it to Morocco.) The Moroccans have proposed — with the enthusiastic bipartisan cheers from Congress and the Obama administration — to afford the people living there autonomy. However, the Polisario Front, a 1970′s leftover pro-Soviet liberation group, and the Algerian government have blocked that plan. Instead, in Algeria, the Sahrawi people are kept warehoused in camps and a humanitarian crisis is perpetuated.

Come to think of it, Morocco is a lot like Israel. Both are the targets of leftists’ slander, and both suffer the unfortunate fate of a diverse, open, and tolerant society whose presence is an anathema to Islamic fundamentalists.

As reflexively hostile and uniformed as Nicholas Kristof is regarding Israel, his bile-filled columns on the topic are a model of impartial scholarship compared to his take on Morocco. In the midst of another dreary rant on Israel and the West Bank (Does he think we don’t know that Israel has repeatedly tried to give the Palestinians their own state or that the West Bank is a model of economic development in the Middle East?), he throws this in from left field: “After all, the biggest theft of Arab land in the Middle East has nothing to do with Palestinians: It is Morocco’s robbery of the resource-rich Western Sahara from the people who live there.”

Huh? Without recounting the entire history of the region, suffice it to say that the Western Sahara was not “stolen” from anyone. (Spain ceded it to Morocco.) The Moroccans have proposed — with the enthusiastic bipartisan cheers from Congress and the Obama administration — to afford the people living there autonomy. However, the Polisario Front, a 1970′s leftover pro-Soviet liberation group, and the Algerian government have blocked that plan. Instead, in Algeria, the Sahrawi people are kept warehoused in camps and a humanitarian crisis is perpetuated.

Come to think of it, Morocco is a lot like Israel. Both are the targets of leftists’ slander, and both suffer the unfortunate fate of a diverse, open, and tolerant society whose presence is an anathema to Islamic fundamentalists.

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Pennsylvania Swings Red

The latest Rasmussen poll shows that Pat Toomey has a 45-to-39 percent lead over Joe Sestak. The pollster explains:

This is the seventh Rasmussen Reports survey of the race in 2010, and a review of prior results highlights just how stable it’s been to date. Toomey’s support has stayed in a very narrow range of 42% to 47%.

Sestak’s support has showed more movement, ranging from a low of 36% to a high of 46%. However, most of that movement came as he surged to victory over Specter in the Democratic primary. Other than polling conducted just before and just after the primary election, the Democratic nominee’s support has remained between 36% and 38%.

Eighty-one percent (81%) of Republicans support Toomey, while 70% of Democrats say they’re voting for Sestak. Among voters not affiliated with either major party, the Republican has a nine-point advantage.

Recall that Obama carried the state in 2008 by a margin of 54.7-to-44.3 percent. Obama, in other words, has presided over a 16-point swing in the electorate in that state. And it’s not just Sestak.

Politico reports:

Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell is well aware that the Democrat who wants to succeed him is facing an uphill battle. The two-term Democratic governor said in an interview Wednesday that while he supports nominee Dan Onorato, he knows he’s the “underdog” in the race and the GOP nominee, Attorney General Tom Corbett, “ is still a “tough candidate to beat.” …

Rendell wasn’t shy about listing those home-state House members he believes will have tough elections this fall. In the 2006 and 2008 cycles, Pennsylvania Democrats made remarkable gains by picking up five House seats. In the 2010 cycle, Rendell cited the top five Democratic incumbents he believes are in competitive races: Patrick Murphy, Chris Carney, Kathy Dahlkemper, Jason Altmire and Tim Holden.

As in many states that had of late voted strongly Democratic, the Obama era is forcing the electorate in Pennsylvania to rethink its partisan preferences. Having seen Obama and a Democratic Congress in action, Pennsylvania voters are more than willing to let the Republicans have a shot. It will now be up to the GOP contenders in all these race to make the case for themselves, but the first argument for their re-election will be: look what the Democrats have done.

The latest Rasmussen poll shows that Pat Toomey has a 45-to-39 percent lead over Joe Sestak. The pollster explains:

This is the seventh Rasmussen Reports survey of the race in 2010, and a review of prior results highlights just how stable it’s been to date. Toomey’s support has stayed in a very narrow range of 42% to 47%.

Sestak’s support has showed more movement, ranging from a low of 36% to a high of 46%. However, most of that movement came as he surged to victory over Specter in the Democratic primary. Other than polling conducted just before and just after the primary election, the Democratic nominee’s support has remained between 36% and 38%.

Eighty-one percent (81%) of Republicans support Toomey, while 70% of Democrats say they’re voting for Sestak. Among voters not affiliated with either major party, the Republican has a nine-point advantage.

Recall that Obama carried the state in 2008 by a margin of 54.7-to-44.3 percent. Obama, in other words, has presided over a 16-point swing in the electorate in that state. And it’s not just Sestak.

Politico reports:

Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell is well aware that the Democrat who wants to succeed him is facing an uphill battle. The two-term Democratic governor said in an interview Wednesday that while he supports nominee Dan Onorato, he knows he’s the “underdog” in the race and the GOP nominee, Attorney General Tom Corbett, “ is still a “tough candidate to beat.” …

Rendell wasn’t shy about listing those home-state House members he believes will have tough elections this fall. In the 2006 and 2008 cycles, Pennsylvania Democrats made remarkable gains by picking up five House seats. In the 2010 cycle, Rendell cited the top five Democratic incumbents he believes are in competitive races: Patrick Murphy, Chris Carney, Kathy Dahlkemper, Jason Altmire and Tim Holden.

As in many states that had of late voted strongly Democratic, the Obama era is forcing the electorate in Pennsylvania to rethink its partisan preferences. Having seen Obama and a Democratic Congress in action, Pennsylvania voters are more than willing to let the Republicans have a shot. It will now be up to the GOP contenders in all these race to make the case for themselves, but the first argument for their re-election will be: look what the Democrats have done.

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The Humbling of an American President

My, how the mighty have fallen.

In a speech in Wisconsin yesterday, President Obama, promoting the “merits” of his stimulus bill, said this:

Now, every economist who’s looked at it said that the Recovery [Act] did its job. … The problem is, number one, it’s hard to argue sometimes, “Things would have been a lot worse.” Right? So people kind of say, “Yeah, but unemployment’s still at 9.6 percent.” Yes, but it’s not 12 or 13 or 15. People say, “Well, you know, the stock market didn’t fully recover.” Yeah, but it’s recovered more than people expected last year. So part of the challenge in delivering this message about all the Recovery Act accomplished is that things are still tough, they just aren’t as bad as they could have been. They could have been a catastrophe. In that sense [the stimulus] worked.

There is a lot to say in response, starting with the fact that some of these statements are flatly untrue. It is simply not correct that “every economist” who has looked at the stimulus bill says it did its job. In yesterday’s Wall Street Journal, for example — on the very day Obama claimed universal support among economists for his stimulus package — Allan Meltzer, a professor of economics at Carnegie Mellon University, began his op-ed this way: “The administration’ s stimulus program has failed.” There are even Keynesian economists, like Harvard’s Jeffrey Sachs, who are critical of the Recovery Act [h/t: Ed Morrissey].

But the problem for Obama goes deeper than simply this false claim. The Obama administration itself said that if the Recovery Act passed, unemployment would not exceed 8 percent. In fact, unemployment has exceeded what the Obama administration said would happen were the stimulus bill not passed. President Obama is the one who set the standard — and he’s now rightfully being held to it.

Beyond even that, though, it is interesting to see how much reality has humbled this president. He came into office not only promising to create jobs, restore prosperity, open doors of opportunity, cut health-care costs, and reduce our “mounting debt” but also to end divisions in our politics, transcend partisanship, put an end to the blame game, provide unprecedented transparency, stop the rise of the oceans, and heal the planet. Those were his words, his claims, his commitments. And now he has been reduced to saying: “Things are still tough; they just aren’t as bad as they could have been.” His strongest case in his defense is that unemployment is almost 10 percent — but it’s not 12 or 13 or 15 percent.

Talk about defining success down.

It is a remarkable and, in some ways, poignant thing to witness. No candidate in our lifetime rode the wave of hope and change quite like Barack Obama did. His campaign was, at its core, less about ideas than about aesthetics, about a narrative, about capturing an American moment. “This is our moment. This is our time,” he would say again and again. He entered office with an enormous reservoir of good will — and with huge majorities in the House and Senate. So much seemed possible to his supporters. But bad policies, arrogance, and events have caused him to come crashing down to earth. The president’s popularity is sinking, the mood of the country is souring, and his party is heading for an epic mid-term election defeat. Obama looks inept and, at times, overwhelmed — at the mercy of events rather than in control of them. He doesn’t seem up to the challenge. He looks, in fact, very much like a community organizer who was thrust into the job of the presidency.

Back in February 2007, during his announcement speech — when hopes were so high and the sky seemed the limit — Barack Obama uttered words that would haunt him if he ever thought back on them:

I know there are those who don’t believe we can do all these things. I understand the skepticism. After all, every four years, candidates from both parties make similar promises, and I expect this year will be no different. All of us running for president will travel around the country offering ten-point plans and making grand speeches; all of us will trumpet those qualities we believe make us uniquely qualified to lead the country. But too many times, after the election is over, and the confetti is swept away, all those promises fade from memory, and the lobbyists and the special interests move in, and people turn away, disappointed as before, left to struggle on their own.

Today the election is over. The confetti has been swept away. The promises are fading from memory. And the people are turning away, too — more disappointed than before, once again left to struggle on their own.

My, how the mighty have fallen.

In a speech in Wisconsin yesterday, President Obama, promoting the “merits” of his stimulus bill, said this:

Now, every economist who’s looked at it said that the Recovery [Act] did its job. … The problem is, number one, it’s hard to argue sometimes, “Things would have been a lot worse.” Right? So people kind of say, “Yeah, but unemployment’s still at 9.6 percent.” Yes, but it’s not 12 or 13 or 15. People say, “Well, you know, the stock market didn’t fully recover.” Yeah, but it’s recovered more than people expected last year. So part of the challenge in delivering this message about all the Recovery Act accomplished is that things are still tough, they just aren’t as bad as they could have been. They could have been a catastrophe. In that sense [the stimulus] worked.

There is a lot to say in response, starting with the fact that some of these statements are flatly untrue. It is simply not correct that “every economist” who has looked at the stimulus bill says it did its job. In yesterday’s Wall Street Journal, for example — on the very day Obama claimed universal support among economists for his stimulus package — Allan Meltzer, a professor of economics at Carnegie Mellon University, began his op-ed this way: “The administration’ s stimulus program has failed.” There are even Keynesian economists, like Harvard’s Jeffrey Sachs, who are critical of the Recovery Act [h/t: Ed Morrissey].

But the problem for Obama goes deeper than simply this false claim. The Obama administration itself said that if the Recovery Act passed, unemployment would not exceed 8 percent. In fact, unemployment has exceeded what the Obama administration said would happen were the stimulus bill not passed. President Obama is the one who set the standard — and he’s now rightfully being held to it.

Beyond even that, though, it is interesting to see how much reality has humbled this president. He came into office not only promising to create jobs, restore prosperity, open doors of opportunity, cut health-care costs, and reduce our “mounting debt” but also to end divisions in our politics, transcend partisanship, put an end to the blame game, provide unprecedented transparency, stop the rise of the oceans, and heal the planet. Those were his words, his claims, his commitments. And now he has been reduced to saying: “Things are still tough; they just aren’t as bad as they could have been.” His strongest case in his defense is that unemployment is almost 10 percent — but it’s not 12 or 13 or 15 percent.

Talk about defining success down.

It is a remarkable and, in some ways, poignant thing to witness. No candidate in our lifetime rode the wave of hope and change quite like Barack Obama did. His campaign was, at its core, less about ideas than about aesthetics, about a narrative, about capturing an American moment. “This is our moment. This is our time,” he would say again and again. He entered office with an enormous reservoir of good will — and with huge majorities in the House and Senate. So much seemed possible to his supporters. But bad policies, arrogance, and events have caused him to come crashing down to earth. The president’s popularity is sinking, the mood of the country is souring, and his party is heading for an epic mid-term election defeat. Obama looks inept and, at times, overwhelmed — at the mercy of events rather than in control of them. He doesn’t seem up to the challenge. He looks, in fact, very much like a community organizer who was thrust into the job of the presidency.

Back in February 2007, during his announcement speech — when hopes were so high and the sky seemed the limit — Barack Obama uttered words that would haunt him if he ever thought back on them:

I know there are those who don’t believe we can do all these things. I understand the skepticism. After all, every four years, candidates from both parties make similar promises, and I expect this year will be no different. All of us running for president will travel around the country offering ten-point plans and making grand speeches; all of us will trumpet those qualities we believe make us uniquely qualified to lead the country. But too many times, after the election is over, and the confetti is swept away, all those promises fade from memory, and the lobbyists and the special interests move in, and people turn away, disappointed as before, left to struggle on their own.

Today the election is over. The confetti has been swept away. The promises are fading from memory. And the people are turning away, too — more disappointed than before, once again left to struggle on their own.

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It’s the Security Arrangements, Stupid

If U.S. envoy George Mitchell is truly “frustrated” by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s refusal to give “clear answers on the borders of the future Palestinian state,” as Haaretz reported this week, then Washington needs a new envoy — because this one clearly doesn’t understand the most basic requirements of an Israeli-Palestinian deal.

Mitchell apparently views Netanyahu’s behavior as sheer obstructionism; Jennifer cited it as an encouraging sign of Netanyahu’s unwillingness to “knuckle under to Obama.” But the truth is that Netanyahu genuinely doesn’t know how much territory he might be willing to cede — and cannot know until he receives the answer to another critical question: what security arrangements will be put in place in the vacated territory? The more robust these arrangements are, the more territory Israel could concede without endangering itself.

That is precisely why Netanyahu urged that security arrangements be one of the first two items discussed in the indirect talks Mitchell is mediating (he proposed water as the other). Mitchell, however, wanted borders to come first, in the bizarre belief that borders should have nothing to do with security arrangements. In his view, the latter is a secondary issue that can be dealt with later.

But having seen what happened when his predecessor, Ehud Olmert, did exactly that, Netanyahu is rightly wary of falling into this trap. Olmert, trusting in his strong relationship with former president George W. Bush, made generous territorial concessions up front, offering the Palestinians some 93 percent of the territories with 1:1 swaps to compensate for the rest. But when he then presented the extensive security arrangements that he deemed necessary to mitigate the risks of these concessions, he discovered that not only did the Palestinians reject them but so did Washington. And the Obama administration is not likely to be more supportive of Israel’s security concerns than Bush was.

Former British prime minister Tony Blair, currently the Quartet’s special envoy to the Middle East, hit the nail on the head in an interview with the Jerusalem Post last week, in which he explained his response to people who ask whether Netanyahu is “prepared for a Palestinian state.”

“I say, ‘yes, in the right circumstances.’ And they say, ‘Well, you’re qualifying it.’ And I say, ‘You’ve got to qualify it.’

The truth is that if the circumstances are right – and those circumstances, from the point of view of Israel, are about their long-term security – then yes, I think people are prepared to recognize that a Palestinian state is the right solution.

But if you can’t deal with the security issue, the circumstances aren’t right.”

Mitchell, however, has evidently not grasped this salient fact. It’s not clear whether he actually thinks there’s no need to take Israel’s security concerns into account or whether, despite the rampant terror that every previous Israeli withdrawal has spawned, he still hasn’t realized that withdrawals entail real risks and that therefore Israel must know what security arrangements will be put in place before it can decide how much additional territory to vacate. Either way, he is clearly unfit for his job.

If U.S. envoy George Mitchell is truly “frustrated” by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s refusal to give “clear answers on the borders of the future Palestinian state,” as Haaretz reported this week, then Washington needs a new envoy — because this one clearly doesn’t understand the most basic requirements of an Israeli-Palestinian deal.

Mitchell apparently views Netanyahu’s behavior as sheer obstructionism; Jennifer cited it as an encouraging sign of Netanyahu’s unwillingness to “knuckle under to Obama.” But the truth is that Netanyahu genuinely doesn’t know how much territory he might be willing to cede — and cannot know until he receives the answer to another critical question: what security arrangements will be put in place in the vacated territory? The more robust these arrangements are, the more territory Israel could concede without endangering itself.

That is precisely why Netanyahu urged that security arrangements be one of the first two items discussed in the indirect talks Mitchell is mediating (he proposed water as the other). Mitchell, however, wanted borders to come first, in the bizarre belief that borders should have nothing to do with security arrangements. In his view, the latter is a secondary issue that can be dealt with later.

But having seen what happened when his predecessor, Ehud Olmert, did exactly that, Netanyahu is rightly wary of falling into this trap. Olmert, trusting in his strong relationship with former president George W. Bush, made generous territorial concessions up front, offering the Palestinians some 93 percent of the territories with 1:1 swaps to compensate for the rest. But when he then presented the extensive security arrangements that he deemed necessary to mitigate the risks of these concessions, he discovered that not only did the Palestinians reject them but so did Washington. And the Obama administration is not likely to be more supportive of Israel’s security concerns than Bush was.

Former British prime minister Tony Blair, currently the Quartet’s special envoy to the Middle East, hit the nail on the head in an interview with the Jerusalem Post last week, in which he explained his response to people who ask whether Netanyahu is “prepared for a Palestinian state.”

“I say, ‘yes, in the right circumstances.’ And they say, ‘Well, you’re qualifying it.’ And I say, ‘You’ve got to qualify it.’

The truth is that if the circumstances are right – and those circumstances, from the point of view of Israel, are about their long-term security – then yes, I think people are prepared to recognize that a Palestinian state is the right solution.

But if you can’t deal with the security issue, the circumstances aren’t right.”

Mitchell, however, has evidently not grasped this salient fact. It’s not clear whether he actually thinks there’s no need to take Israel’s security concerns into account or whether, despite the rampant terror that every previous Israeli withdrawal has spawned, he still hasn’t realized that withdrawals entail real risks and that therefore Israel must know what security arrangements will be put in place before it can decide how much additional territory to vacate. Either way, he is clearly unfit for his job.

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Petraeus Takes Charge

This report is promising:

[A]t least one senior White House official suggested using General McChrystal’s exit as an excuse for a housecleaning, according to senior officials. That was rejected as too disruptive during a military campaign that relies heavily on civilian support, these people said.

In recent days, other administration officials have begun floating the idea that Ambassador Eikenberry might be replaced by Ryan C. Crocker, the highly regarded former ambassador in Iraq who forged a close partnership with General Petraeus during the successful Iraq troop increase. Such a prospect is viewed as remote, given Mr. Crocker’s prestigious new post at Texas A&M University.

The problem, of course, is not merely that Holbrooke and Eikenberry have not gotten along with their own military leader — it’s that they’ve failed to do their core function, namely build a productive relationship with Hamid Karzai. It’s not surprising, then, but quite telling that the report reveals the degree to which Petraeus is now calling the shots:

General Petraeus is indisputably the key player, and he has wasted no time asserting his control. On a secure videoconference call last Saturday, a person familiar with the call said, General Petraeus threw his support behind a costly, and controversial, plan to install temporary generators to supply more electricity to Kandahar, the Taliban stronghold that is the next major American military target. Mr. Holbrooke and Ambassador Eikenberry swiftly assented.

It is at least a step in the right direction if Eikenberry and Holbrooke cease being impediments to progress. Now we just need civilian leaders who can contribute to success.

This report is promising:

[A]t least one senior White House official suggested using General McChrystal’s exit as an excuse for a housecleaning, according to senior officials. That was rejected as too disruptive during a military campaign that relies heavily on civilian support, these people said.

In recent days, other administration officials have begun floating the idea that Ambassador Eikenberry might be replaced by Ryan C. Crocker, the highly regarded former ambassador in Iraq who forged a close partnership with General Petraeus during the successful Iraq troop increase. Such a prospect is viewed as remote, given Mr. Crocker’s prestigious new post at Texas A&M University.

The problem, of course, is not merely that Holbrooke and Eikenberry have not gotten along with their own military leader — it’s that they’ve failed to do their core function, namely build a productive relationship with Hamid Karzai. It’s not surprising, then, but quite telling that the report reveals the degree to which Petraeus is now calling the shots:

General Petraeus is indisputably the key player, and he has wasted no time asserting his control. On a secure videoconference call last Saturday, a person familiar with the call said, General Petraeus threw his support behind a costly, and controversial, plan to install temporary generators to supply more electricity to Kandahar, the Taliban stronghold that is the next major American military target. Mr. Holbrooke and Ambassador Eikenberry swiftly assented.

It is at least a step in the right direction if Eikenberry and Holbrooke cease being impediments to progress. Now we just need civilian leaders who can contribute to success.

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Iran Arms Syria

Obama’s efforts to engage Syria continue to produce evidence that Syria wants not to be engaged by us, but to move ever closer to the rising power in the region — Iran. This report explains:

Iran has sent Syria a sophisticated radar system that could threaten Israel’s ability to launch a surprise attack against Iran’s nuclear facilities, say Israeli and U.S. officials, extending an alliance aimed at undermining Israel’s military dominance in the region.

The radar could bolster Syria’s defenses by providing early warning of Israeli air-force sorties. It could also benefit Hezbollah, the Iran-backed militant group based in Lebanon and widely believed to receive arms from Syria. …

The increased sophistication of the weapons transfers and military cooperation among [Iran, Syria and Hezbollah] signal an increased risk of conflict on Israeli’s northern border. U.S. officials worry any new fighting would be more likely to include Syria, which hasn’t directly engaged Israeli in combat since 1974.

The radar transfer could potentially violate a 2007 United Nations Security Council resolution that bans Iran from supplying, selling or transferring “any arms or related materiel.”

You will recall that Syria has already tested our resolve and found it wanting when it comes to rearming Hezbollah — also in violation of the UN resolution. So Syria and its senior partner continue to exploit American weakness and Obama’s overeagerness for engagement. The Syria-Iran-Turkey alliance has figured out there is no price to be paid for threatening Israel.

The recent frolic in Damascus now looks even more absurd:

The radar report is likely to place greater pressure on the Syria strategy of the Obama administration, which has aimed to tamp down tensions with Syria as it tries to rebuild diplomatic ties. U.S. officials including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who sent a high-level trade delegation to Damascus in June, continue to argue that Washington has the best hope of altering Syrian President Bashar Assad’s behavior, and weakening his alliance with Tehran, through diplomatic dialogue.

At some point will the Obami concede that the effort to “pry” Syria away from Iran with concessions and obsequiousness is a failure? Hard to say — no facts to date have made any impression on them.

Obama’s efforts to engage Syria continue to produce evidence that Syria wants not to be engaged by us, but to move ever closer to the rising power in the region — Iran. This report explains:

Iran has sent Syria a sophisticated radar system that could threaten Israel’s ability to launch a surprise attack against Iran’s nuclear facilities, say Israeli and U.S. officials, extending an alliance aimed at undermining Israel’s military dominance in the region.

The radar could bolster Syria’s defenses by providing early warning of Israeli air-force sorties. It could also benefit Hezbollah, the Iran-backed militant group based in Lebanon and widely believed to receive arms from Syria. …

The increased sophistication of the weapons transfers and military cooperation among [Iran, Syria and Hezbollah] signal an increased risk of conflict on Israeli’s northern border. U.S. officials worry any new fighting would be more likely to include Syria, which hasn’t directly engaged Israeli in combat since 1974.

The radar transfer could potentially violate a 2007 United Nations Security Council resolution that bans Iran from supplying, selling or transferring “any arms or related materiel.”

You will recall that Syria has already tested our resolve and found it wanting when it comes to rearming Hezbollah — also in violation of the UN resolution. So Syria and its senior partner continue to exploit American weakness and Obama’s overeagerness for engagement. The Syria-Iran-Turkey alliance has figured out there is no price to be paid for threatening Israel.

The recent frolic in Damascus now looks even more absurd:

The radar report is likely to place greater pressure on the Syria strategy of the Obama administration, which has aimed to tamp down tensions with Syria as it tries to rebuild diplomatic ties. U.S. officials including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who sent a high-level trade delegation to Damascus in June, continue to argue that Washington has the best hope of altering Syrian President Bashar Assad’s behavior, and weakening his alliance with Tehran, through diplomatic dialogue.

At some point will the Obami concede that the effort to “pry” Syria away from Iran with concessions and obsequiousness is a failure? Hard to say — no facts to date have made any impression on them.

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Syria Must Be Contained, Not Engaged

Nibras Kazimi suggests in the pages of the New Republic that the Middle East’s violent Islamists might go after the Syrian government after they’re finished in Iraq and Afghanistan. “On jihadist online discussion forums,” he writes, “they have been authoring what amount to policy papers calling on the jihadist leadership to take the fight to Syria.”

It would make a certain amount of sense if they did decide Syria ought to be next. Most of the country’s leadership is from the Alawite minority sect, which branched off Twelver Shia Islam in the 10th century and became something else almost entirely. Both Sunnis and Shias have long considered them heretics. When French Mandate authorities ruled the area after World War One, many, if not most, Alawites yearned for their own sovereign homeland along the coast of the Mediterranean apart from Damascus and the largely Sunni interior.

“The Alawites refuse to be annexed to Muslim Syria,” Suleiman Assad, grandfather of Syria’s President Bashar Assad, wrote in a petition to France in 1943. “In Syria, the official religion of the state is Islam, and according to Islam, the Alawites are considered infidels. … The spirit of hatred and fanaticism imbedded in the hearts of the Arab Muslims against everything that is non-Muslim has been perpetually nurtured by the Islamic religion. There is no hope that the situation will ever change. Therefore, the abolition of the mandate will expose the minorities in Syria to the dangers of death and annihilation.”

Western foreign-policy analysts rarely seem to take this into account, but the most dangerous people in the Middle East always do. “Islamists arguing for a jihad in Syria believe that they have hit the trifecta,” Kazimi writes. “In the Syrian regime, they have an enemy that is at once tyrannical, secular, and heretical.”

One of the worst massacres in the modern Middle East occurred in 1982 when the Muslim Brotherhood mounted an armed insurgency against the government of Hafez Assad, the father of Syria’s current president. Assad killed thousands in a single weekend in the city of Hama and then boasted about it. Not once since then have the Muslim Brothers declared war on the state, but they’ve been quietly nursing their grievances and patiently waiting for the chance of revenge. The only thing that keeps the Syrian government safe, aside from its demonstrated willingness to respond with the utmost brutality, is its championship of terrorist organizations in Lebanon, Gaza, and Iraq as a way to purchase street cred with its sworn Sunni enemies.

If Assad were to work with the United States by promoting stability instead of terrorism, freelance jihadists all over the region would have every reason to bump him to the top of their to-do list. A secular non-Muslim Arab government at peace with Israel and the West and an enemy of the “resistance” movements would make an obvious next stop for roaming insurgents. That’s why Assad won’t likely ever do what Washington wants unless the region as a whole changes drastically or the United States threatens his survival more than the Islamists do. All we can really do in the meantime is try to contain him.

Nibras Kazimi suggests in the pages of the New Republic that the Middle East’s violent Islamists might go after the Syrian government after they’re finished in Iraq and Afghanistan. “On jihadist online discussion forums,” he writes, “they have been authoring what amount to policy papers calling on the jihadist leadership to take the fight to Syria.”

It would make a certain amount of sense if they did decide Syria ought to be next. Most of the country’s leadership is from the Alawite minority sect, which branched off Twelver Shia Islam in the 10th century and became something else almost entirely. Both Sunnis and Shias have long considered them heretics. When French Mandate authorities ruled the area after World War One, many, if not most, Alawites yearned for their own sovereign homeland along the coast of the Mediterranean apart from Damascus and the largely Sunni interior.

“The Alawites refuse to be annexed to Muslim Syria,” Suleiman Assad, grandfather of Syria’s President Bashar Assad, wrote in a petition to France in 1943. “In Syria, the official religion of the state is Islam, and according to Islam, the Alawites are considered infidels. … The spirit of hatred and fanaticism imbedded in the hearts of the Arab Muslims against everything that is non-Muslim has been perpetually nurtured by the Islamic religion. There is no hope that the situation will ever change. Therefore, the abolition of the mandate will expose the minorities in Syria to the dangers of death and annihilation.”

Western foreign-policy analysts rarely seem to take this into account, but the most dangerous people in the Middle East always do. “Islamists arguing for a jihad in Syria believe that they have hit the trifecta,” Kazimi writes. “In the Syrian regime, they have an enemy that is at once tyrannical, secular, and heretical.”

One of the worst massacres in the modern Middle East occurred in 1982 when the Muslim Brotherhood mounted an armed insurgency against the government of Hafez Assad, the father of Syria’s current president. Assad killed thousands in a single weekend in the city of Hama and then boasted about it. Not once since then have the Muslim Brothers declared war on the state, but they’ve been quietly nursing their grievances and patiently waiting for the chance of revenge. The only thing that keeps the Syrian government safe, aside from its demonstrated willingness to respond with the utmost brutality, is its championship of terrorist organizations in Lebanon, Gaza, and Iraq as a way to purchase street cred with its sworn Sunni enemies.

If Assad were to work with the United States by promoting stability instead of terrorism, freelance jihadists all over the region would have every reason to bump him to the top of their to-do list. A secular non-Muslim Arab government at peace with Israel and the West and an enemy of the “resistance” movements would make an obvious next stop for roaming insurgents. That’s why Assad won’t likely ever do what Washington wants unless the region as a whole changes drastically or the United States threatens his survival more than the Islamists do. All we can really do in the meantime is try to contain him.

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Brilliant No More

How many times has a pundit or Democrat gushed over Obama’s “brilliant” mind? As conservatives pointed out to the swooners on the left, there was very little evidence of it — no inventive Third Wave philosophy of governance in his pre-presidential career, no significant legislative or intellectual achievement — other than writing a self-promoting and somewhat fictional account of himself — and actually very poor people skills (Maureen Dowd has only now figured out that he is thin-skinned and emotionally robotic). But it was heresy to suggest that he was a conventional liberal thinker, less interesting than Bill Clinton and less rigorous than Ronald Reagan.

Now that his presidency is in dire straits, perhaps the mainstream media are more receptive to that perspective. As Noemie Emery writes, to the extent that he was/is “brilliant,” it’s in the mundane task of running meetings:

He does seem a genius at chairing a forum, as at the “nuclear summit” in April, where the Washington Post claimed that he shone as a teacher, “calling on leaders to speak, embellish, oppose, and offer alternatives,” coaxing consensus and forging agreements among 45 countries at hand. The problem was that the value of these things was limited, as the attending countries weren’t menacing anyone, while Iran and Korea, who were not in attendance, went on happily building their bombs. He isn’t a sphinx, he’s a seminar leader who’s out of his element. And more and more out of his depth.

And honestly, he’s not that great at running meetings. His Afghanistan-war seminars dragged on. His health-care summit bombed when Rep. Paul Ryan and others stymied him with facts and figures.

Now that Obama’s policies and political standing are faltering, the media mavens are puzzled, as Emery notes. How can it be that he’s failing when he’s so smart? It never dawns on them that they confused slickness with smarts and urbanity with insight.

Whether it is Obama or Elena Kagan, it’s rather easy to impress the chattering class — an Ivy League degree, poise before the cameras, verbal acuity, and disdain for conservative ideas usually do it. It matters not what these figures have produced (legal opinions, legislation, etc.) but with whom they circulate and where they’ve studied. To a great degree, social elitism has replaced meritocracy as the left’s yardstick.

Unfortunately for Obama, he will be judged by what he does, not how he looks doing it. And frankly, his polish and charisma (conservatives never saw the latter, but others did) are crumbling under the pressure to finally produce something (jobs, a responsible budget, a plan for disarming Iran). There is a reason, as Emery points out, that no president has been “a blogger, a pundit, an editor of the New Yorker, or a writer for Vanity Fair.” It turns out that the rationale for the media’s lovefest — he’s just like me, but better! — was not relevant to the presidency.

How many times has a pundit or Democrat gushed over Obama’s “brilliant” mind? As conservatives pointed out to the swooners on the left, there was very little evidence of it — no inventive Third Wave philosophy of governance in his pre-presidential career, no significant legislative or intellectual achievement — other than writing a self-promoting and somewhat fictional account of himself — and actually very poor people skills (Maureen Dowd has only now figured out that he is thin-skinned and emotionally robotic). But it was heresy to suggest that he was a conventional liberal thinker, less interesting than Bill Clinton and less rigorous than Ronald Reagan.

Now that his presidency is in dire straits, perhaps the mainstream media are more receptive to that perspective. As Noemie Emery writes, to the extent that he was/is “brilliant,” it’s in the mundane task of running meetings:

He does seem a genius at chairing a forum, as at the “nuclear summit” in April, where the Washington Post claimed that he shone as a teacher, “calling on leaders to speak, embellish, oppose, and offer alternatives,” coaxing consensus and forging agreements among 45 countries at hand. The problem was that the value of these things was limited, as the attending countries weren’t menacing anyone, while Iran and Korea, who were not in attendance, went on happily building their bombs. He isn’t a sphinx, he’s a seminar leader who’s out of his element. And more and more out of his depth.

And honestly, he’s not that great at running meetings. His Afghanistan-war seminars dragged on. His health-care summit bombed when Rep. Paul Ryan and others stymied him with facts and figures.

Now that Obama’s policies and political standing are faltering, the media mavens are puzzled, as Emery notes. How can it be that he’s failing when he’s so smart? It never dawns on them that they confused slickness with smarts and urbanity with insight.

Whether it is Obama or Elena Kagan, it’s rather easy to impress the chattering class — an Ivy League degree, poise before the cameras, verbal acuity, and disdain for conservative ideas usually do it. It matters not what these figures have produced (legal opinions, legislation, etc.) but with whom they circulate and where they’ve studied. To a great degree, social elitism has replaced meritocracy as the left’s yardstick.

Unfortunately for Obama, he will be judged by what he does, not how he looks doing it. And frankly, his polish and charisma (conservatives never saw the latter, but others did) are crumbling under the pressure to finally produce something (jobs, a responsible budget, a plan for disarming Iran). There is a reason, as Emery points out, that no president has been “a blogger, a pundit, an editor of the New Yorker, or a writer for Vanity Fair.” It turns out that the rationale for the media’s lovefest — he’s just like me, but better! — was not relevant to the presidency.

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RE: Does Obama Know that Elena Kagan Is Pro-Israel?

Noah, she’s not remotely qualified to be a Supreme Court justice.  She played fast and loose with the partial-birth-abortion memo, and she hasn’t come clean on barring military recruiters from Harvard. I do, however, give her points for this:

Sen. Graham: Where were you on Christmas?

Elena Kagan: Like most Jews, I was probably in a Chinese restaurant.

That in a nutshell is how Kagan got to where she is — she’s a nice, funny lady with great people skills. But that isn’t — well, it shouldn’t be — the standard for a lifetime appointment.

Noah, she’s not remotely qualified to be a Supreme Court justice.  She played fast and loose with the partial-birth-abortion memo, and she hasn’t come clean on barring military recruiters from Harvard. I do, however, give her points for this:

Sen. Graham: Where were you on Christmas?

Elena Kagan: Like most Jews, I was probably in a Chinese restaurant.

That in a nutshell is how Kagan got to where she is — she’s a nice, funny lady with great people skills. But that isn’t — well, it shouldn’t be — the standard for a lifetime appointment.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

No joke: Mother Jones has an excellent expose on the al-Qaeda lawyers’ antics in showing terrorists photos of CIA officials.

No news network except Fox has picked up on the New Black Panther Party scandal.

No meltdown (yet): “The U.S. Senate race in Kentucky is little changed from earlier this month, with Republican Rand Paul continuing to hold a modest lead over Democrat Jack Conway. The latest Rasmussen Reports statewide telephone survey of Likely Voters shows Paul picking up 49% support to Conway’s 42%.”

No good news for the Democrats. Stuart Rothenberg: “The news on joblessness and the U.S. economy, combined with growing concerns over the federal deficit, Europe’s financial health (particularly growing debt), the lack of progress of the war in Afghanistan and the damage resulting from the BP oil gusher in the Gulf of Mexico, are burying the president and his party in an avalanche of public dissatisfaction.”

No answers (from Elena Kagan): “Republicans and Democrats alike expressed frustration that she wasn’t willing to answer more questions despite having once written a book review saying Supreme Court nominees needed to do just that.”

No “shift” or “rift” between Israel and the U.S., says Yoram Ettinger. It’s worse: “Obama is an ideologue, determined to change the US and the world, irrespective of his declining fortunes internally and externally.” The result is an “unbridgeable gap” between the two countries.

No better distillation of Obama’s flawed Middle East policy than this from Elliott Abrams: “The Obama Administration appears to have three basic premises about the Middle East. The first is that the key issue in the entire Middle East is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The second is that it is a territorial conflict that can be resolved in essence by Israeli concessions. The third is that the central function of the United States is to serve as the PLO’s lawyer to broker those concessions so that an agreement can be signed.”

No cloture vote. With senators’ newfound concern for fiscal responsibility (it’s an election year), Harry Reid can’t round up enough votes to pass unemployment benefits. “Reid intends to call a vote Thursday evening on the smaller benefits bill — now paired with a homebuyer’s credit provision that may help garner more support. But the majority leader conceded he might not be able to clear the bill before the July recess. A more comprehensive tax extenders and unemployment benefits bill failed to pass the procedural block on three consecutive tries.”

No timeline on immigration reform: “President Barack Obama will talk about the urgency of the need for immigration reform in a major speech on Thursday, but will not give a timeline for action.” (It would be nice if he felt the same about a troop pullout from Afghanistan.) Makes you almost think he’s not serious about doing something, only making a campaign issue out of it.

No joke: Mother Jones has an excellent expose on the al-Qaeda lawyers’ antics in showing terrorists photos of CIA officials.

No news network except Fox has picked up on the New Black Panther Party scandal.

No meltdown (yet): “The U.S. Senate race in Kentucky is little changed from earlier this month, with Republican Rand Paul continuing to hold a modest lead over Democrat Jack Conway. The latest Rasmussen Reports statewide telephone survey of Likely Voters shows Paul picking up 49% support to Conway’s 42%.”

No good news for the Democrats. Stuart Rothenberg: “The news on joblessness and the U.S. economy, combined with growing concerns over the federal deficit, Europe’s financial health (particularly growing debt), the lack of progress of the war in Afghanistan and the damage resulting from the BP oil gusher in the Gulf of Mexico, are burying the president and his party in an avalanche of public dissatisfaction.”

No answers (from Elena Kagan): “Republicans and Democrats alike expressed frustration that she wasn’t willing to answer more questions despite having once written a book review saying Supreme Court nominees needed to do just that.”

No “shift” or “rift” between Israel and the U.S., says Yoram Ettinger. It’s worse: “Obama is an ideologue, determined to change the US and the world, irrespective of his declining fortunes internally and externally.” The result is an “unbridgeable gap” between the two countries.

No better distillation of Obama’s flawed Middle East policy than this from Elliott Abrams: “The Obama Administration appears to have three basic premises about the Middle East. The first is that the key issue in the entire Middle East is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The second is that it is a territorial conflict that can be resolved in essence by Israeli concessions. The third is that the central function of the United States is to serve as the PLO’s lawyer to broker those concessions so that an agreement can be signed.”

No cloture vote. With senators’ newfound concern for fiscal responsibility (it’s an election year), Harry Reid can’t round up enough votes to pass unemployment benefits. “Reid intends to call a vote Thursday evening on the smaller benefits bill — now paired with a homebuyer’s credit provision that may help garner more support. But the majority leader conceded he might not be able to clear the bill before the July recess. A more comprehensive tax extenders and unemployment benefits bill failed to pass the procedural block on three consecutive tries.”

No timeline on immigration reform: “President Barack Obama will talk about the urgency of the need for immigration reform in a major speech on Thursday, but will not give a timeline for action.” (It would be nice if he felt the same about a troop pullout from Afghanistan.) Makes you almost think he’s not serious about doing something, only making a campaign issue out of it.

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