Commentary Magazine


Posts For: July 6, 2010

Beinart at It Again

Last month, Pete Wehner demolished Peter Beinart for his attack on Charles Krauthammer, pointing out that it was based on a date error. Pete warned Beinart: “I have some advice for liberals in general, but most especially for those who formerly edited the New Republic. First, learn to read dates on essays and columns before you attack them. Second, don’t impugn a person’s motives when your charges can so easily be shown to be false.”

Apparently, Beinart did not take it to heart. In a scrawl for the Daily Beast, Beinart attacks Bibi for “wasting” Obama’s time at the White House meeting. He begins with this:

Don’t listen to what Benjamin Netanyahu and Barack Obama said at their buddy, buddy press conference Tuesday afternoon. Listen to what they didn’t say. Netanyahu volunteered that “I very much appreciate the President’s statement that he is determined to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.” The only problem: Obama didn’t say that. He said Iran must “cease the kinds of provocative behavior that has made it a threat to its neighbors and the international community.” That’s a whole lot vaguer, and it points to the crux of the dispute between the two men. Netanyahu wants Obama to do whatever it takes to prevent an Iranian nuke, including going to war. Obama doesn’t want to box himself into that corner. But putting Obama in a box is exactly Netanyahu was trying to do.

Actually, neither of them said anything of the sort. The transcript and the quotes come from the May 18, 2009, press conference. It says it at the top. One more piece of advice: if Pete Wehner gives you advice, take it.

Last month, Pete Wehner demolished Peter Beinart for his attack on Charles Krauthammer, pointing out that it was based on a date error. Pete warned Beinart: “I have some advice for liberals in general, but most especially for those who formerly edited the New Republic. First, learn to read dates on essays and columns before you attack them. Second, don’t impugn a person’s motives when your charges can so easily be shown to be false.”

Apparently, Beinart did not take it to heart. In a scrawl for the Daily Beast, Beinart attacks Bibi for “wasting” Obama’s time at the White House meeting. He begins with this:

Don’t listen to what Benjamin Netanyahu and Barack Obama said at their buddy, buddy press conference Tuesday afternoon. Listen to what they didn’t say. Netanyahu volunteered that “I very much appreciate the President’s statement that he is determined to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.” The only problem: Obama didn’t say that. He said Iran must “cease the kinds of provocative behavior that has made it a threat to its neighbors and the international community.” That’s a whole lot vaguer, and it points to the crux of the dispute between the two men. Netanyahu wants Obama to do whatever it takes to prevent an Iranian nuke, including going to war. Obama doesn’t want to box himself into that corner. But putting Obama in a box is exactly Netanyahu was trying to do.

Actually, neither of them said anything of the sort. The transcript and the quotes come from the May 18, 2009, press conference. It says it at the top. One more piece of advice: if Pete Wehner gives you advice, take it.

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Jews and Iran and Israel and Obama and America and Pipes and Frum and Medved and I

If you have an hour and a half, you can watch me, Daniel Pipes, David Frum, and Michael Medved at a Jewish Policy Center event in Dallas. I haven’t watched it. The audience seemed to like it. Maybe you will too. Who knows? It’s hot. You’re inside. What are you going to do instead, watch “Dancing with the Stars”? Give it a shot.

If you have an hour and a half, you can watch me, Daniel Pipes, David Frum, and Michael Medved at a Jewish Policy Center event in Dallas. I haven’t watched it. The audience seemed to like it. Maybe you will too. Who knows? It’s hot. You’re inside. What are you going to do instead, watch “Dancing with the Stars”? Give it a shot.

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Bibi-Obama Presser

The presser was long on platitudes and short on specifics. To reaffirm the “special relationship” (actually a term generally used for the U.S.-British relationship, which is less than special these days) is nice. Obama disputed that he had tried to distance the U.S. from Israel — entirely disingenuous but generally a good idea to close the public distance between the two countries. As the New York Times reports:

The two leaders were not specific about what “concrete steps” Mr. Netanyahu could take to move the peace talks along, though Mr. Obama seemed to suggest a timetable when he said it was his hope that direct talks would begin “well before” a moratorium on settlement construction expires this fall. The president said he believed that Mr. Netanyahu was “willing to take risks for peace.”

Informed observers really aren’t buying that much has changed:

Even so, Aaron David Miller, a longtime Middle East peace negotiator, said that Tuesday’s session at the White House reflected a “false calm” in the relationship.

“It’s symptomatic of the fact that neither man right now has a stake in a fight, a crisis, and both in fact have stakes in wanting to demonstrate that this relationship is functional,” Mr. Miller said, adding that he saw a “fundamental expectations gap” between the two leaders.

Netanyahu seemed pleased about the progress on sanctions against Iran, but there was not much new on that most critical issue:

Obama also asked Iran to “cease its provocative behavior,” and said that “as a consequence of hard work, internationally the toughest sanctions ever have been put on Iran, in addition to [the US’s] robust sanctions.”

“We will continue to pressure Iran,” Obama added.

“We will work together against new threats,” Netanyahu said. “The biggest threat is Iran acquiring nuclear weapons. I appreciate the president’s work. I urge other leaders to follow the U.S. and pass tougher sanctions, especially in the energy sector.”

It’s never a bad thing for the U.S. president and the Israeli prime minister to be chummy in public. Nevertheless, it’s apparent that whenever Israel is the topic, Obama’s focus is on the “peace process” and not on the mullahs’ nuclear program. That is a central, but certainly not the only, failing in Obama’s Middle East policy.

The presser was long on platitudes and short on specifics. To reaffirm the “special relationship” (actually a term generally used for the U.S.-British relationship, which is less than special these days) is nice. Obama disputed that he had tried to distance the U.S. from Israel — entirely disingenuous but generally a good idea to close the public distance between the two countries. As the New York Times reports:

The two leaders were not specific about what “concrete steps” Mr. Netanyahu could take to move the peace talks along, though Mr. Obama seemed to suggest a timetable when he said it was his hope that direct talks would begin “well before” a moratorium on settlement construction expires this fall. The president said he believed that Mr. Netanyahu was “willing to take risks for peace.”

Informed observers really aren’t buying that much has changed:

Even so, Aaron David Miller, a longtime Middle East peace negotiator, said that Tuesday’s session at the White House reflected a “false calm” in the relationship.

“It’s symptomatic of the fact that neither man right now has a stake in a fight, a crisis, and both in fact have stakes in wanting to demonstrate that this relationship is functional,” Mr. Miller said, adding that he saw a “fundamental expectations gap” between the two leaders.

Netanyahu seemed pleased about the progress on sanctions against Iran, but there was not much new on that most critical issue:

Obama also asked Iran to “cease its provocative behavior,” and said that “as a consequence of hard work, internationally the toughest sanctions ever have been put on Iran, in addition to [the US’s] robust sanctions.”

“We will continue to pressure Iran,” Obama added.

“We will work together against new threats,” Netanyahu said. “The biggest threat is Iran acquiring nuclear weapons. I appreciate the president’s work. I urge other leaders to follow the U.S. and pass tougher sanctions, especially in the energy sector.”

It’s never a bad thing for the U.S. president and the Israeli prime minister to be chummy in public. Nevertheless, it’s apparent that whenever Israel is the topic, Obama’s focus is on the “peace process” and not on the mullahs’ nuclear program. That is a central, but certainly not the only, failing in Obama’s Middle East policy.

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Quick Reaction to the Obama-Netanyahu Meeting

With all the normal caveats — we don’t know what was said in private, etc. — there are a few takeaways from the just-concluded news conference.

1. It was noteworthy that Obama explicitly affirmed in his opening remarks that Israel and the United States share “national security interests [and] our strategic interests.” One of the worst aspects of the recent drama was the inference by administration officials that Israeli and U.S. strategic interests were diverging or even in conflict. It wasn’t very long ago that President Obama was saying that the Israeli-Arab conflict is costing American “blood and treasure.” For now, at least, the administration is avoiding such rhetoric and instead emphasizing the traditional features of the U.S.-Israel alliance.

2. At least publicly, Obama appears to be trying to put the nuclear non-proliferation treaty controversy to bed. As reported a long time ago by Eli Lake, and then finally over the weekend (finally) by the New York Times, the administration has been following what could be called a policy of strategic ambiguity regarding Israeli nukes. After apparently promising the Israelis he would not do so, Obama recently endorsed the goal of a nuclear-free Middle East, raising the prospect — it’s a little mind-blowing to think about it — that Israel’s nukes, rather than the Iranian nuclear program, would become a focal point of international attention. Today, Obama said the following in an obvious attempt to repair the damage and reassure the Israelis:

I reiterated to the Prime Minister that there is no change in U.S. policy when it comes to these issues [of Israel and the NPT]. … We strongly believe that given its size, its history, the region that it’s in, and the threats that are leveled against it, that Israel has unique security requirements. It’s got to be able to respond to threats or any combination of threats in the region…the U.S. will never ask Israel to take any steps that would undermine their security interests.

The test will be what the administration does about all of this when its nuclear conference takes place.

3. Regarding the peace process: for starters, Obama endorsed Netanyahu as a partner for peace (yes, the president has set a very low standard): “I believe that Prime Minister Netanyahu wants peace, I think he’s willing to take risks for peace. … I think that Prime Minister Netanyahu is prepared to do so.” More important, he endorsed the commencement of direct Israeli-Palestinian talks before the settlement freeze expires in September. This is not a small issue. The Israelis want to move beyond proximity talks for several reasons, primarily because proximity talks prevent the Palestinians’ bluff from being called. So long as the administration plays the role of mediator, the peace process remains focused on settlements and Israel rather than Palestinian intransigence, incitement, etc.

There is no expectation that the Palestinians are prepared to make the big moves that would allow something like a two-state solution to happen; in fact, the Palestinians aren’t even prepared to make the small ones. Over the weekend, it was leaked to an Israeli paper that Mahmoud Abbas had agreed that Israel should maintain control over the Western Wall and the Jewish Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem. The next day, Saeb Erekat announced that nothing of the sort had been offered. To anyone who follows the “peace process,” this is a familiar Palestinian dance.

And it is a dance that the proximity talks keep hidden. Move to direct talks, and the Palestinian position — rejectionism, inflexibility, political fractiousness, and paralysis — will come into stark relief. The fact that Obama endorsed moving to direct talks this summer should make Mahmoud Abbas and Salam Fayyad very nervous.

4. There was no mention of the Turkish demand that Obama ask Israel to apologize over the flotilla ambush. Presumably, Obama was wise enough to realize that this is something he should just stay out of.

5. All of this is smart politics for Obama. His hostility toward Israel over the past year and a half earned him nothing and alienated many of his Jewish and pro-Israel supporters. Obviously Obama would like this entire issue to move to the back burner in the run-up to the midterms.

With all the normal caveats — we don’t know what was said in private, etc. — there are a few takeaways from the just-concluded news conference.

1. It was noteworthy that Obama explicitly affirmed in his opening remarks that Israel and the United States share “national security interests [and] our strategic interests.” One of the worst aspects of the recent drama was the inference by administration officials that Israeli and U.S. strategic interests were diverging or even in conflict. It wasn’t very long ago that President Obama was saying that the Israeli-Arab conflict is costing American “blood and treasure.” For now, at least, the administration is avoiding such rhetoric and instead emphasizing the traditional features of the U.S.-Israel alliance.

2. At least publicly, Obama appears to be trying to put the nuclear non-proliferation treaty controversy to bed. As reported a long time ago by Eli Lake, and then finally over the weekend (finally) by the New York Times, the administration has been following what could be called a policy of strategic ambiguity regarding Israeli nukes. After apparently promising the Israelis he would not do so, Obama recently endorsed the goal of a nuclear-free Middle East, raising the prospect — it’s a little mind-blowing to think about it — that Israel’s nukes, rather than the Iranian nuclear program, would become a focal point of international attention. Today, Obama said the following in an obvious attempt to repair the damage and reassure the Israelis:

I reiterated to the Prime Minister that there is no change in U.S. policy when it comes to these issues [of Israel and the NPT]. … We strongly believe that given its size, its history, the region that it’s in, and the threats that are leveled against it, that Israel has unique security requirements. It’s got to be able to respond to threats or any combination of threats in the region…the U.S. will never ask Israel to take any steps that would undermine their security interests.

The test will be what the administration does about all of this when its nuclear conference takes place.

3. Regarding the peace process: for starters, Obama endorsed Netanyahu as a partner for peace (yes, the president has set a very low standard): “I believe that Prime Minister Netanyahu wants peace, I think he’s willing to take risks for peace. … I think that Prime Minister Netanyahu is prepared to do so.” More important, he endorsed the commencement of direct Israeli-Palestinian talks before the settlement freeze expires in September. This is not a small issue. The Israelis want to move beyond proximity talks for several reasons, primarily because proximity talks prevent the Palestinians’ bluff from being called. So long as the administration plays the role of mediator, the peace process remains focused on settlements and Israel rather than Palestinian intransigence, incitement, etc.

There is no expectation that the Palestinians are prepared to make the big moves that would allow something like a two-state solution to happen; in fact, the Palestinians aren’t even prepared to make the small ones. Over the weekend, it was leaked to an Israeli paper that Mahmoud Abbas had agreed that Israel should maintain control over the Western Wall and the Jewish Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem. The next day, Saeb Erekat announced that nothing of the sort had been offered. To anyone who follows the “peace process,” this is a familiar Palestinian dance.

And it is a dance that the proximity talks keep hidden. Move to direct talks, and the Palestinian position — rejectionism, inflexibility, political fractiousness, and paralysis — will come into stark relief. The fact that Obama endorsed moving to direct talks this summer should make Mahmoud Abbas and Salam Fayyad very nervous.

4. There was no mention of the Turkish demand that Obama ask Israel to apologize over the flotilla ambush. Presumably, Obama was wise enough to realize that this is something he should just stay out of.

5. All of this is smart politics for Obama. His hostility toward Israel over the past year and a half earned him nothing and alienated many of his Jewish and pro-Israel supporters. Obviously Obama would like this entire issue to move to the back burner in the run-up to the midterms.

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An Extraordinary American Achievement

About a month ago, while traveling in northern Iraq, I happened to visit in the same afternoon what my co-traveler Reuel Gerecht called “the best thing I’ve seen in the Middle East in 25 years,” as well as traces of the worst thing that happened there in the same period of time. Those two things are, respectively, the American University of Iraq at Sulaimani and the memorial erected in Halabja, where some 5,000 Kurds were killed with chemical weapons.  At the best, university students sport American-flag t-shirts and talk enthusiastically about political ideology. At the worst, the names of the dead are etched into black marble walls. At the best, Kurdish and Arab Iraqi girls play basketball together during breaks from comparative-religion class. At the worst, pictures of melted faces line a dark hallway. The best is the product of American courage, American generosity of spirit, and American imagination. The worst was accomplished by Saddam Hussein, from whom American soldiers delivered a long-suffering country.

So it was with supreme satisfaction that I recently learned of the American Academy for Liberal Education’s decision to grant the University “all the rights and privileges of American accreditation.” In a time of global democracy recession, the following quote from the letter of accreditation serves as the best July 4 statement you could hope for:

The challenge you have accepted — to develop leaders of a free and democratic Iraq, citizens with an understanding of human history, of science and the natural world, of literature and human nature, of different religions and contending cultures, and who are able to think and to know — is laudable and impressive.

The Board views the American University of Iraq – Sulaimani as attempting to do something that can only be described as singularly ‘American,’ forging together in one substantial program of study the two things on which America has always prided itself – practicality in training and liberality in learning.

May the best serve as an inoculation against the worst. It would be nice if the “books not bombs” crowd took note of the educational miracle birthed by Americans in the heart of the Muslim world. Everyone should visit the University’s website and look around. What you’ll find is as well suited to the term “shock and awe” as any bombing campaign, and even more bold and determinative.

About a month ago, while traveling in northern Iraq, I happened to visit in the same afternoon what my co-traveler Reuel Gerecht called “the best thing I’ve seen in the Middle East in 25 years,” as well as traces of the worst thing that happened there in the same period of time. Those two things are, respectively, the American University of Iraq at Sulaimani and the memorial erected in Halabja, where some 5,000 Kurds were killed with chemical weapons.  At the best, university students sport American-flag t-shirts and talk enthusiastically about political ideology. At the worst, the names of the dead are etched into black marble walls. At the best, Kurdish and Arab Iraqi girls play basketball together during breaks from comparative-religion class. At the worst, pictures of melted faces line a dark hallway. The best is the product of American courage, American generosity of spirit, and American imagination. The worst was accomplished by Saddam Hussein, from whom American soldiers delivered a long-suffering country.

So it was with supreme satisfaction that I recently learned of the American Academy for Liberal Education’s decision to grant the University “all the rights and privileges of American accreditation.” In a time of global democracy recession, the following quote from the letter of accreditation serves as the best July 4 statement you could hope for:

The challenge you have accepted — to develop leaders of a free and democratic Iraq, citizens with an understanding of human history, of science and the natural world, of literature and human nature, of different religions and contending cultures, and who are able to think and to know — is laudable and impressive.

The Board views the American University of Iraq – Sulaimani as attempting to do something that can only be described as singularly ‘American,’ forging together in one substantial program of study the two things on which America has always prided itself – practicality in training and liberality in learning.

May the best serve as an inoculation against the worst. It would be nice if the “books not bombs” crowd took note of the educational miracle birthed by Americans in the heart of the Muslim world. Everyone should visit the University’s website and look around. What you’ll find is as well suited to the term “shock and awe” as any bombing campaign, and even more bold and determinative.

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Rand Paul Sinking?

Public Policy Polling is a Democratic outfit, but its polls are generally well regarded and haven’t been out of whack in the primary races. So Republicans should perk up over the latest poll on the Kentucky Senate race:

[Rand] Paul and Jack Conway are getting 43% each. The more Kentucky voters get to know Rand Paul, the less they like him. When PPP first polled the race in December Paul’s favorability was a +3 spread at 26/23. By May it was a -7 spread at 28/35. Now it’s a -8 spread at 34/42. The national media attention Paul has received has hurt his cause with voters in the state- 38% say it has made them less likely to support Paul while 29% say it has made them more inclined to vote for him and 33% say it hasn’t had an impact on their attitude toward Paul one way or the other.

As other polls are released, we’ll see if this is an outlier. But Paul has a problem. Since his civil rights debacle, he’s largely been hiding from the media. As a result, he’s not giving voters anything positive to counter the overwhelmingly negative media coverage he’s received. He needs to explain his views and assure voters that he’s not an extremist. And if he really does hold extreme views on a variety of topics or can’t articulate what views he does have, the GOP primary voters will have made a big mistake, and a relatively “easy” seat may slip through their fingers.

Public Policy Polling is a Democratic outfit, but its polls are generally well regarded and haven’t been out of whack in the primary races. So Republicans should perk up over the latest poll on the Kentucky Senate race:

[Rand] Paul and Jack Conway are getting 43% each. The more Kentucky voters get to know Rand Paul, the less they like him. When PPP first polled the race in December Paul’s favorability was a +3 spread at 26/23. By May it was a -7 spread at 28/35. Now it’s a -8 spread at 34/42. The national media attention Paul has received has hurt his cause with voters in the state- 38% say it has made them less likely to support Paul while 29% say it has made them more inclined to vote for him and 33% say it hasn’t had an impact on their attitude toward Paul one way or the other.

As other polls are released, we’ll see if this is an outlier. But Paul has a problem. Since his civil rights debacle, he’s largely been hiding from the media. As a result, he’s not giving voters anything positive to counter the overwhelmingly negative media coverage he’s received. He needs to explain his views and assure voters that he’s not an extremist. And if he really does hold extreme views on a variety of topics or can’t articulate what views he does have, the GOP primary voters will have made a big mistake, and a relatively “easy” seat may slip through their fingers.

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Re: Bibi’s Visit

It looks like the White House is keeping things cool. Two updates (here and here) from the West Wing Report on Twitter:

The pool will go into the Oval Office for a few minutes w/Obama & Netanyahu, but no East Room event as was the case w/other leaders

Latest apparent sign of the U.S.-Israeli diplomatic chill: the Pentagon’s honor cordon for PM Netanyahu cancelled. No reason given.

UPDATE: The Pentagon says that Gates will meet Netanyahu at Blair House, at Netanyahu’s request.

It looks like the White House is keeping things cool. Two updates (here and here) from the West Wing Report on Twitter:

The pool will go into the Oval Office for a few minutes w/Obama & Netanyahu, but no East Room event as was the case w/other leaders

Latest apparent sign of the U.S.-Israeli diplomatic chill: the Pentagon’s honor cordon for PM Netanyahu cancelled. No reason given.

UPDATE: The Pentagon says that Gates will meet Netanyahu at Blair House, at Netanyahu’s request.

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Man Bites Dog: Frank Talk About Islamist Hate in the Times

So much is wrong about the New York Times’s coverage of Jewish issues and Israel in particular. As John points out, this morning’s broadside against the funding of Jewish charities in the West Bank is an especially egregious example of the way this newspaper’s editorial agenda on Israel is allowed to distort the news pages.

But along with the avalanche of the bad, there is, every now and then, some good, such as Edward Rothstein’s column in today’s Arts section. Given the way things usually go at the Times, one might expect his essay reviewing two new books on anti-Semitism to stick to deploring the anti-Semites of the past while leaving out of the argument contemporary Jew-haters, especially those in the Muslim world and others who single Israel out for special treatment. But to Rothstein’s great credit, he hones in on the way criticisms of the state of Israel veer into traditional anti-Semitism: “There is a wildly exaggerated scale of condemnation, in which extremes of contempt confront a country caricatured as the world’s worst enemy of peace; such attacks (and the use of Nazi analogies) are beyond evidence and beyond pragmatic political debate or protest. Israel’s autonomy — its very presence — is the problem.”

Even better, after rightly analogizing the upsurge in anti-Semitism in the Islamic world to the history of the Nazis, Rothstein goes after Hannah Rosenthal, President Obama’s special envoy to combat anti-Semitism. Last week in a speech in Kazakhstan, Rosenthal claimed that anti-Semitism and Islamophobia were similar straits of hatred. But, as Rothstein points out, not only are they not the same thing, the latter is a concept invented to defend Islamists against the consequences of the hatred that they have propagated:

Islamophobia is a concept developed within the last two decades by those who wish to elevate Islam’s reputation in the West; anti-Semitism was a concept eagerly embraced and expanded by haters of Jews. One was constructed by a group’s supporters, the other by a group’s enemies. Moreover, much of what is characterized as Islamophobia today arises out of taking seriously the impassioned claims of doctrinal allegiance made by Islamic terrorist groups and their supporters. Anti-Semitism, though, has nothing to do with any claims at all.

Wisdom and frank talk about Islamist hate are rare these days. They are even more so at the Times.

So much is wrong about the New York Times’s coverage of Jewish issues and Israel in particular. As John points out, this morning’s broadside against the funding of Jewish charities in the West Bank is an especially egregious example of the way this newspaper’s editorial agenda on Israel is allowed to distort the news pages.

But along with the avalanche of the bad, there is, every now and then, some good, such as Edward Rothstein’s column in today’s Arts section. Given the way things usually go at the Times, one might expect his essay reviewing two new books on anti-Semitism to stick to deploring the anti-Semites of the past while leaving out of the argument contemporary Jew-haters, especially those in the Muslim world and others who single Israel out for special treatment. But to Rothstein’s great credit, he hones in on the way criticisms of the state of Israel veer into traditional anti-Semitism: “There is a wildly exaggerated scale of condemnation, in which extremes of contempt confront a country caricatured as the world’s worst enemy of peace; such attacks (and the use of Nazi analogies) are beyond evidence and beyond pragmatic political debate or protest. Israel’s autonomy — its very presence — is the problem.”

Even better, after rightly analogizing the upsurge in anti-Semitism in the Islamic world to the history of the Nazis, Rothstein goes after Hannah Rosenthal, President Obama’s special envoy to combat anti-Semitism. Last week in a speech in Kazakhstan, Rosenthal claimed that anti-Semitism and Islamophobia were similar straits of hatred. But, as Rothstein points out, not only are they not the same thing, the latter is a concept invented to defend Islamists against the consequences of the hatred that they have propagated:

Islamophobia is a concept developed within the last two decades by those who wish to elevate Islam’s reputation in the West; anti-Semitism was a concept eagerly embraced and expanded by haters of Jews. One was constructed by a group’s supporters, the other by a group’s enemies. Moreover, much of what is characterized as Islamophobia today arises out of taking seriously the impassioned claims of doctrinal allegiance made by Islamic terrorist groups and their supporters. Anti-Semitism, though, has nothing to do with any claims at all.

Wisdom and frank talk about Islamist hate are rare these days. They are even more so at the Times.

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The Worst Mistake

In a Washington Post op-ed, Mitt Romney contends that the new START agreement “could be his worst foreign policy mistake yet.” He makes a powerful case against the treaty, pointing out that its most grievous flaw is that “America must effectively get Russia’s permission for any missile-defense expansion.”

I don’t dispute his conclusion (that “it must not be ratified”), but I’m more intrigued by the debate it raises: what is Obama’s worst foreign-policy mistake? I’d posit it definitely isn’t START, because that will not be ratified. But if not START, then what?

There are the appalling episodes (e.g., condemning Israel for progress on a building permit in its capital). There are the nearly inexplicable goofs (e.g., backing Hugo Chavez’s pawn in Honduras and then having to wriggle out once it became apparent that he was a raving anti-Semite and the whole country was behind the “coup”). There are the etiquette errors – iPod for the Queen, bows for the Saudi king, no cameras for the first Bibi visit, etc. There are the cringe-inducing apologies. (Which was worse: the video valentine to the Iranians in 2009, or remorse for dropping an atomic bomb on Japan that saved over a million lives?) There are the serial assaults on our allies (e.g., Poland and the Czech Republic over missile defense, Israel over everything). There is the shameful abandonment of human rights and democracy promotion. (Some incidents fit multiple categories, like snubbing the Dalai Lama.)

But all of those pale in comparison to the failure to devise a credible plan for thwarting a nuclear-armed Iran. Really, nothing comes close. Yes, he’s appeased Russia, but we’ve recovered from presidents who came up short against the Russian bear. And almost every other gaffe, error, and oversight can be repaired over time. However, a nuclear-armed Iran likely is forever. Not only will it pose an existential threat to Israel, unleash a nuclear-arms race, and embolden all of Iran’s terrorist surrogates, but it will also mark the epic failure of American power. We said “unacceptable,” but we let it happen. How’s that going to come across?

It’s still feasible to correct even this error, provided Obama is willing to use the threat of force and, if need be, force itself. However, if you doubt that Obama is capable and willing to do that, then his Iran policy becomes not only the worst foreign-policy mistake of his presidency, but arguably ever.

In a Washington Post op-ed, Mitt Romney contends that the new START agreement “could be his worst foreign policy mistake yet.” He makes a powerful case against the treaty, pointing out that its most grievous flaw is that “America must effectively get Russia’s permission for any missile-defense expansion.”

I don’t dispute his conclusion (that “it must not be ratified”), but I’m more intrigued by the debate it raises: what is Obama’s worst foreign-policy mistake? I’d posit it definitely isn’t START, because that will not be ratified. But if not START, then what?

There are the appalling episodes (e.g., condemning Israel for progress on a building permit in its capital). There are the nearly inexplicable goofs (e.g., backing Hugo Chavez’s pawn in Honduras and then having to wriggle out once it became apparent that he was a raving anti-Semite and the whole country was behind the “coup”). There are the etiquette errors – iPod for the Queen, bows for the Saudi king, no cameras for the first Bibi visit, etc. There are the cringe-inducing apologies. (Which was worse: the video valentine to the Iranians in 2009, or remorse for dropping an atomic bomb on Japan that saved over a million lives?) There are the serial assaults on our allies (e.g., Poland and the Czech Republic over missile defense, Israel over everything). There is the shameful abandonment of human rights and democracy promotion. (Some incidents fit multiple categories, like snubbing the Dalai Lama.)

But all of those pale in comparison to the failure to devise a credible plan for thwarting a nuclear-armed Iran. Really, nothing comes close. Yes, he’s appeased Russia, but we’ve recovered from presidents who came up short against the Russian bear. And almost every other gaffe, error, and oversight can be repaired over time. However, a nuclear-armed Iran likely is forever. Not only will it pose an existential threat to Israel, unleash a nuclear-arms race, and embolden all of Iran’s terrorist surrogates, but it will also mark the epic failure of American power. We said “unacceptable,” but we let it happen. How’s that going to come across?

It’s still feasible to correct even this error, provided Obama is willing to use the threat of force and, if need be, force itself. However, if you doubt that Obama is capable and willing to do that, then his Iran policy becomes not only the worst foreign-policy mistake of his presidency, but arguably ever.

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Re: NYTimes on Tax Exemption, Obama, and Israel

Ira Stoll has more on the article that led to my earlier post.

Ira Stoll has more on the article that led to my earlier post.

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Obama Can Set a Course Correction with Israel Today

Dan Senor, an adjunct senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, has a noteworthy piece in the Daily Beast on Prime Minister Netanyahu’s visit to the White House today.

Senor dilates on the convergence of four issues — relations with the Palestinians, Iran’s progress in gaining nuclear weapons, the UN, and Israeli politics — to underscore what a crucial moment this is for Israel as well as for Israeli-U.S. relations. In Senor’s (wise) words:

If Obama wants to head off what could be a September train wreck for Middle East diplomacy, he must first cement his partnership with Netanyahu today, and explain it in no uncertain terms to Israel’s friends and adversaries around the world.

This should be both unnecessary and self-evident — but given how badly the Obama administration has handled our relationship with Israel, to the point of causing a near-rupture, nothing should be assumed. The Obama administration has set back relationships with many allies around the world, but he has handled none worse that our relationship with Israel. It has been, on every level, a debacle. Let’s hope Obama begins to correct things soon. Today he can start.

Dan Senor, an adjunct senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, has a noteworthy piece in the Daily Beast on Prime Minister Netanyahu’s visit to the White House today.

Senor dilates on the convergence of four issues — relations with the Palestinians, Iran’s progress in gaining nuclear weapons, the UN, and Israeli politics — to underscore what a crucial moment this is for Israel as well as for Israeli-U.S. relations. In Senor’s (wise) words:

If Obama wants to head off what could be a September train wreck for Middle East diplomacy, he must first cement his partnership with Netanyahu today, and explain it in no uncertain terms to Israel’s friends and adversaries around the world.

This should be both unnecessary and self-evident — but given how badly the Obama administration has handled our relationship with Israel, to the point of causing a near-rupture, nothing should be assumed. The Obama administration has set back relationships with many allies around the world, but he has handled none worse that our relationship with Israel. It has been, on every level, a debacle. Let’s hope Obama begins to correct things soon. Today he can start.

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Bibi’s Visit

The do-over White House get-together between Obama and Bibi is set for today. The White House is strenuously denying that there has been any “rift” between the two countries. (But will it admit to a “shift,” as Michael Oren called it?) So there will be smiles and cameras — but what will change?

There are many ways in which the relationship can be repaired and in which Obama can rescue his Middle East policy from disarray. First, rule out any international investigation of the flotilla incident; Israel is a functioning democracy and can look after itself. Second, pull out of the UN Human Rights Council (in an op-ed, Min. Whip Eric Cantor and Rep. Peter Roskam call for that — but, alas, the letter to the president following the flotilla incident, which the AIPAC backed, left that request out). Third, insist that the PA meet face to face with Bibi, and refuse to do the Palestinians’ negotiating for them through proximity talks. Fourth, affirm that a nuclear-armed Iran will be prevented by American military action, if it comes to that. Fifth, confirm that Israel has the right to self-defense and the right to maintain a naval blockade, and that attempts by “activists” and/or state sponsors to break it are acts of aggression, which Israel, with the full support of the U.S., is entitled to counter.

These items would repair the actual rift between the two countries, which is grounded not in conflicting personalities but rather in differences in outlook and vision. You say Obama can’t do any of these things? Of course not; there is a chasm between the two governments that nothing short of a full-scale policy reversal or the 2012 election will resolve. Yeah, it’s going to have to be the latter.

The do-over White House get-together between Obama and Bibi is set for today. The White House is strenuously denying that there has been any “rift” between the two countries. (But will it admit to a “shift,” as Michael Oren called it?) So there will be smiles and cameras — but what will change?

There are many ways in which the relationship can be repaired and in which Obama can rescue his Middle East policy from disarray. First, rule out any international investigation of the flotilla incident; Israel is a functioning democracy and can look after itself. Second, pull out of the UN Human Rights Council (in an op-ed, Min. Whip Eric Cantor and Rep. Peter Roskam call for that — but, alas, the letter to the president following the flotilla incident, which the AIPAC backed, left that request out). Third, insist that the PA meet face to face with Bibi, and refuse to do the Palestinians’ negotiating for them through proximity talks. Fourth, affirm that a nuclear-armed Iran will be prevented by American military action, if it comes to that. Fifth, confirm that Israel has the right to self-defense and the right to maintain a naval blockade, and that attempts by “activists” and/or state sponsors to break it are acts of aggression, which Israel, with the full support of the U.S., is entitled to counter.

These items would repair the actual rift between the two countries, which is grounded not in conflicting personalities but rather in differences in outlook and vision. You say Obama can’t do any of these things? Of course not; there is a chasm between the two governments that nothing short of a full-scale policy reversal or the 2012 election will resolve. Yeah, it’s going to have to be the latter.

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NY Times: Tax-Exempt Status Only for Groups That Agree with the Administration

In an astonishing (and absurdly long) front-page story today, three New York Times reporters breathlessly offer an account of the fact that West Bank settlements and settlers are supported by nonprofit American organizations despite the fact that the Obama administration, and administrations before it, oppose them (or most of them):

As the American government seeks to end the four-decade Jewish settlement enterprise and foster a Palestinian state in the West Bank, the American Treasury helps sustain the settlements through tax breaks on donations to support them.

A New York Times examination of public records in the United States and Israel identified at least 40 American groups that have collected more than $200 million in tax-deductible gifts for Jewish settlement in the West Bank and East Jerusalem over the last decade. The money goes mostly to schools, synagogues, recreation centers and the like, legitimate expenditures under the tax law. But it has also paid for more legally questionable commodities: housing as well as guard dogs, bulletproof vests, rifle scopes and vehicles to secure outposts deep in occupied areas.

There are three astounding aspects to these paragraphs, and to the story as a whole.

First is the open and explicit suggestion that tax-deductible dollars should only support policies with which the sitting administration agrees or wishes to foster. Taken to its logical conclusion, that would mean pro-choice organizations should not have a tax exemption during an explicitly pro-life administration, like George W. Bush’s, for example — or that an organization opposing the Iraq war or the government’s approach in terrorist interrogation should be stripped of its tax exemption.

Second is the notion that Americans who offer donations to settlers who are using them for self-defense — “guard dogs, bulletproof vests, rifle scopes and vehicles to secure outposts deep in occupied areas” — are doing something that is a) wrong and b) in contravention of U.S. policy. Is it U.S. policy that settlers should take no measures to protect themselves? No, it isn’t, and it is demented of the Times to suggest otherwise.

Third is the notion that tax-exempt dollars belong to the U.S. Treasury and are, in effect, given as a gift by the government to whomever receives them. The general proposition behind it is that any private-sector dollar not confiscated by the government is in essence a gift from the government. This is an idea gaining currency on the left in the United States, especially in regard to philanthropy (see David Billet’s piece on the subject in the magazine from last year), but aside from being wrong and offensive, it is certainly arguable. The Times piece simply asserts it as though it were fact.

The article quotes anonymous Israelis complaining about the U.S. aid, as well as former ambassador Daniel Kurtzer, who didn’t like the fact that Americans with a passionate interest in Israel took steps with their own dollars to upset his attempts to convince Israel and Israelis that the populace of the United States felt as he feels about these matters:

“It drove us crazy,” he said. But “it was a thing you didn’t talk about in polite company.”

Us? Polite company? Which polite company would that have been?

Don’t read the whole thing. Life is too short.

In an astonishing (and absurdly long) front-page story today, three New York Times reporters breathlessly offer an account of the fact that West Bank settlements and settlers are supported by nonprofit American organizations despite the fact that the Obama administration, and administrations before it, oppose them (or most of them):

As the American government seeks to end the four-decade Jewish settlement enterprise and foster a Palestinian state in the West Bank, the American Treasury helps sustain the settlements through tax breaks on donations to support them.

A New York Times examination of public records in the United States and Israel identified at least 40 American groups that have collected more than $200 million in tax-deductible gifts for Jewish settlement in the West Bank and East Jerusalem over the last decade. The money goes mostly to schools, synagogues, recreation centers and the like, legitimate expenditures under the tax law. But it has also paid for more legally questionable commodities: housing as well as guard dogs, bulletproof vests, rifle scopes and vehicles to secure outposts deep in occupied areas.

There are three astounding aspects to these paragraphs, and to the story as a whole.

First is the open and explicit suggestion that tax-deductible dollars should only support policies with which the sitting administration agrees or wishes to foster. Taken to its logical conclusion, that would mean pro-choice organizations should not have a tax exemption during an explicitly pro-life administration, like George W. Bush’s, for example — or that an organization opposing the Iraq war or the government’s approach in terrorist interrogation should be stripped of its tax exemption.

Second is the notion that Americans who offer donations to settlers who are using them for self-defense — “guard dogs, bulletproof vests, rifle scopes and vehicles to secure outposts deep in occupied areas” — are doing something that is a) wrong and b) in contravention of U.S. policy. Is it U.S. policy that settlers should take no measures to protect themselves? No, it isn’t, and it is demented of the Times to suggest otherwise.

Third is the notion that tax-exempt dollars belong to the U.S. Treasury and are, in effect, given as a gift by the government to whomever receives them. The general proposition behind it is that any private-sector dollar not confiscated by the government is in essence a gift from the government. This is an idea gaining currency on the left in the United States, especially in regard to philanthropy (see David Billet’s piece on the subject in the magazine from last year), but aside from being wrong and offensive, it is certainly arguable. The Times piece simply asserts it as though it were fact.

The article quotes anonymous Israelis complaining about the U.S. aid, as well as former ambassador Daniel Kurtzer, who didn’t like the fact that Americans with a passionate interest in Israel took steps with their own dollars to upset his attempts to convince Israel and Israelis that the populace of the United States felt as he feels about these matters:

“It drove us crazy,” he said. But “it was a thing you didn’t talk about in polite company.”

Us? Polite company? Which polite company would that have been?

Don’t read the whole thing. Life is too short.

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CNN Editor Mourns and Respects a Promoter of “Resistance” and Terror

Daniel Halper at the Weekly Standard found a doozy of a Twitter post on the Fourth of July by Octavia Nasr, CNN’s senior editor of Mideast Affairs. “Sad to hear of the passing of Sayyed Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah,” she wrote. “One of Hezbollah’s giants I respect a lot.”

I know enough about Fadlallah, who died at the age of 74 in a Beirut hospital over the weekend, that I can interpret her Twitter post charitably. While once known as the “spiritual leader” of Hezbollah, Fadlallah later moved above and beyond the Party of God and even criticized it once in a while. He supported the Iranian Revolution in 1979 and its leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, but he also criticized Khomeini’s regime of Velayat-e faqih — rule by Islamic jurists — and declared it an inappropriate political system for Lebanon. He supported women’s rights, dismissed their unequal treatment as “backward,” and issued a fatwa condemning “honor” killings.

Most Americans don’t know this about Fadlallah, or have even heard of him. Octavia Nasr surely does, though. It’s common knowledge in Lebanon. She lives in Atlanta, but she was born in Beirut, and covers the Middle East for a living. More likely than not, some or all of the above is what she had in mind when she posted her comment on Twitter.

Still, she’s talking about a man who issued theological justifications for suicide bombings. He threw his support behind hostage-taking in Lebanon during the 1980s and the truck bombings in Beirut that killed more American servicemen than any single attack since World War II. Nasr didn’t mention any of that. It doesn’t even look like she factored it in.

Twitter has a strict limit of 140 characters per “tweet.” It’s hardly the place for a nuanced exposé of a complicated man. There simply isn’t room to write more than one or two sentences at a time. Even so, I suspect the average American consumer of news would find it alarming that a senior editor of Mideast Affairs respects and mourns the loss of a man who supported the kidnapping, murder, and truck bombings of hundreds of her adopted countrymen — and that she said so on the Fourth of July — even if she mourns and respects him for entirely different reasons and does so despite, not because of, his positions on “resistance” and terrorism.

She owes her audience — and perhaps also her employers — a candid explanation at least.

Daniel Halper at the Weekly Standard found a doozy of a Twitter post on the Fourth of July by Octavia Nasr, CNN’s senior editor of Mideast Affairs. “Sad to hear of the passing of Sayyed Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah,” she wrote. “One of Hezbollah’s giants I respect a lot.”

I know enough about Fadlallah, who died at the age of 74 in a Beirut hospital over the weekend, that I can interpret her Twitter post charitably. While once known as the “spiritual leader” of Hezbollah, Fadlallah later moved above and beyond the Party of God and even criticized it once in a while. He supported the Iranian Revolution in 1979 and its leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, but he also criticized Khomeini’s regime of Velayat-e faqih — rule by Islamic jurists — and declared it an inappropriate political system for Lebanon. He supported women’s rights, dismissed their unequal treatment as “backward,” and issued a fatwa condemning “honor” killings.

Most Americans don’t know this about Fadlallah, or have even heard of him. Octavia Nasr surely does, though. It’s common knowledge in Lebanon. She lives in Atlanta, but she was born in Beirut, and covers the Middle East for a living. More likely than not, some or all of the above is what she had in mind when she posted her comment on Twitter.

Still, she’s talking about a man who issued theological justifications for suicide bombings. He threw his support behind hostage-taking in Lebanon during the 1980s and the truck bombings in Beirut that killed more American servicemen than any single attack since World War II. Nasr didn’t mention any of that. It doesn’t even look like she factored it in.

Twitter has a strict limit of 140 characters per “tweet.” It’s hardly the place for a nuanced exposé of a complicated man. There simply isn’t room to write more than one or two sentences at a time. Even so, I suspect the average American consumer of news would find it alarming that a senior editor of Mideast Affairs respects and mourns the loss of a man who supported the kidnapping, murder, and truck bombings of hundreds of her adopted countrymen — and that she said so on the Fourth of July — even if she mourns and respects him for entirely different reasons and does so despite, not because of, his positions on “resistance” and terrorism.

She owes her audience — and perhaps also her employers — a candid explanation at least.

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A Question for Obama Today

By my count, State Department spokesmen have declined 21 times over the past year to answer a straightforward question: does the Obama administration consider itself bound by the 2004 Bush letter given to Israel in exchange for the Gaza disengagement plan? On Friday, a key White House official logged the 22nd refusal to address the question:

The April 14, 2004, letter from Mr. Bush to Mr. Sharon said a final peace settlement between Israel and the Palestinians should reflect “new realities on the ground, including already existing major Israeli population centers,” and that “it is unrealistic to expect that the outcome of final status negotiations will be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949.” …

During a conference call Friday with reporters, Dan Shapiro, the White House National Security Council’s senior director for the Middle East and North Africa, declined to say whether the 2004 letter reflected the Obama administration’s understanding of the parameters or borders of a final settlement to the conflict.

The Bush letter reassured Israel of a “steadfast [U.S.] commitment” to “defensible borders” and to Israel’s ability to “defend itself, by itself” (a coded reference to Israel’s retention of its ultimate means of defense). Such borders require retention of the major settlement blocs, since they are located on the high ground surrounding the center of the country and other militarily significant points in the West Bank. (The 1967 Joint Chiefs of Staff memorandum on defensible borders is summarized here, and a useful video showing the topography of such borders is here.)

In referring to the “realities” on the ground and what is “realistic” for final-status negotiations, the Bush letter set forth the requirements of a serious peace process — since no Israeli government is going to cede territory essential to its strategic defense — and represents in any event a commitment that cannot be repudiated simply by ignoring it (at least not in normal diplomacy).

The reason Shapiro and the State Department spokesman have ducked the question of adherence to the Bush letter may be that they in fact do not know the answer. Michael Oren reportedly said that his access to senior administration officials and advisers of the president is good but that Obama exercises very tight control and “[t]his is a one-man-show.” In the Obama-Netanyahu press conference scheduled for later today, perhaps someone will address the question to the only person in the administration who apparently can answer it.

By my count, State Department spokesmen have declined 21 times over the past year to answer a straightforward question: does the Obama administration consider itself bound by the 2004 Bush letter given to Israel in exchange for the Gaza disengagement plan? On Friday, a key White House official logged the 22nd refusal to address the question:

The April 14, 2004, letter from Mr. Bush to Mr. Sharon said a final peace settlement between Israel and the Palestinians should reflect “new realities on the ground, including already existing major Israeli population centers,” and that “it is unrealistic to expect that the outcome of final status negotiations will be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949.” …

During a conference call Friday with reporters, Dan Shapiro, the White House National Security Council’s senior director for the Middle East and North Africa, declined to say whether the 2004 letter reflected the Obama administration’s understanding of the parameters or borders of a final settlement to the conflict.

The Bush letter reassured Israel of a “steadfast [U.S.] commitment” to “defensible borders” and to Israel’s ability to “defend itself, by itself” (a coded reference to Israel’s retention of its ultimate means of defense). Such borders require retention of the major settlement blocs, since they are located on the high ground surrounding the center of the country and other militarily significant points in the West Bank. (The 1967 Joint Chiefs of Staff memorandum on defensible borders is summarized here, and a useful video showing the topography of such borders is here.)

In referring to the “realities” on the ground and what is “realistic” for final-status negotiations, the Bush letter set forth the requirements of a serious peace process — since no Israeli government is going to cede territory essential to its strategic defense — and represents in any event a commitment that cannot be repudiated simply by ignoring it (at least not in normal diplomacy).

The reason Shapiro and the State Department spokesman have ducked the question of adherence to the Bush letter may be that they in fact do not know the answer. Michael Oren reportedly said that his access to senior administration officials and advisers of the president is good but that Obama exercises very tight control and “[t]his is a one-man-show.” In the Obama-Netanyahu press conference scheduled for later today, perhaps someone will address the question to the only person in the administration who apparently can answer it.

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Democrats’ Jobs Problem: Their Own

Peter Brown, assistant director for the Quinnipiac poll, tells us:

Time may be running out for the Obama administration to convince voters that the economy is recovering quickly enough to merit giving the president’s congressional allies the votes this November that will allow him and them to run the country for the next two years.

Brown argues that the perception of the economy’s progress is what is key (“Do voters believe the president’s policies have reinvigorated the economy enough since he took office in the midst of the financial crisis, or have his actions been responsible for the tepid recovery from what many consider the stiffest recession since the Great Depression?”), but that perception is grounded in an economic reality that is increasingly bleak, especially for job seekers.

The day after the jobs numbers were released, a headline in the Wall Street Journal blared: “U.S. Jobs Picture Darkens.” The report explained:

Nonfarm payrolls fell 125,000, their first month of losses this year, as the government let 225,000 census workers go, the Labor Department said Friday. Private-sector employment grew by a slight 83,000 jobs on a seasonally adjusted basis, and seems to have downshifted from average gains of nearly 200,000 in March and April.

The unemployment rate declined to 9.5% from 9.7% in May, but not because more jobs were available. Instead, 652,000 workers dropped out of the labor force, meaning they weren’t counted as unemployed and looking for work. … The economy shed jobs in June as meager private-sector hiring failed to make up for the end of thousands of temporary census worker jobs, the latest signal that an already-slow recovery might be shifting into an even lower gear.

Moreover, liberals’ favorite Keynesian solution — spend more of the taxpayers’ money (or in this case, borrow to spend more) — is increasingly  “unappealing,” as even Democrats are spooked by mammoth deficits.

A Washington Post headline was similarly gloomy: “Economy lags as job growth remains weak.” Once again, we see that the Democrats are clueless about what to do now:

Voters are frustrated both with high unemployment and high budget deficits, but the Obama administration and congressional Democrats face a catch-22: The deficit won’t come down significantly until the jobless rate decreases, while most of the policies that could improve the employment situation would raise the deficit further, at least in the short run. …

Chronically high unemployment is creating a dilemma for congressional Democrats, particularly sophomores and freshmen from conservative swing districts where voter anger over the government’s bailout of the financial system, and skepticism about last year’s economic stimulus package, run high.

In sum, Obamanomics has proved to be as much of a bust as “smart diplomacy.” The new New Deal has worked as poorly as the original, and the barrage of tax increases, mandates, and uber-regulation has left the private sector reeling. So it is more than an image or perception problem. The Democrats have failed to deliver on their most critical promise: to spur the economic recovery and job growth. The voters will hold them accountable in four months.

Peter Brown, assistant director for the Quinnipiac poll, tells us:

Time may be running out for the Obama administration to convince voters that the economy is recovering quickly enough to merit giving the president’s congressional allies the votes this November that will allow him and them to run the country for the next two years.

Brown argues that the perception of the economy’s progress is what is key (“Do voters believe the president’s policies have reinvigorated the economy enough since he took office in the midst of the financial crisis, or have his actions been responsible for the tepid recovery from what many consider the stiffest recession since the Great Depression?”), but that perception is grounded in an economic reality that is increasingly bleak, especially for job seekers.

The day after the jobs numbers were released, a headline in the Wall Street Journal blared: “U.S. Jobs Picture Darkens.” The report explained:

Nonfarm payrolls fell 125,000, their first month of losses this year, as the government let 225,000 census workers go, the Labor Department said Friday. Private-sector employment grew by a slight 83,000 jobs on a seasonally adjusted basis, and seems to have downshifted from average gains of nearly 200,000 in March and April.

The unemployment rate declined to 9.5% from 9.7% in May, but not because more jobs were available. Instead, 652,000 workers dropped out of the labor force, meaning they weren’t counted as unemployed and looking for work. … The economy shed jobs in June as meager private-sector hiring failed to make up for the end of thousands of temporary census worker jobs, the latest signal that an already-slow recovery might be shifting into an even lower gear.

Moreover, liberals’ favorite Keynesian solution — spend more of the taxpayers’ money (or in this case, borrow to spend more) — is increasingly  “unappealing,” as even Democrats are spooked by mammoth deficits.

A Washington Post headline was similarly gloomy: “Economy lags as job growth remains weak.” Once again, we see that the Democrats are clueless about what to do now:

Voters are frustrated both with high unemployment and high budget deficits, but the Obama administration and congressional Democrats face a catch-22: The deficit won’t come down significantly until the jobless rate decreases, while most of the policies that could improve the employment situation would raise the deficit further, at least in the short run. …

Chronically high unemployment is creating a dilemma for congressional Democrats, particularly sophomores and freshmen from conservative swing districts where voter anger over the government’s bailout of the financial system, and skepticism about last year’s economic stimulus package, run high.

In sum, Obamanomics has proved to be as much of a bust as “smart diplomacy.” The new New Deal has worked as poorly as the original, and the barrage of tax increases, mandates, and uber-regulation has left the private sector reeling. So it is more than an image or perception problem. The Democrats have failed to deliver on their most critical promise: to spur the economic recovery and job growth. The voters will hold them accountable in four months.

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Shut Up, Ban Ki-Moon Explained

The UN’s shameless appeasement of terrorists is a well-worn story, but it’s always instructive to take note when it happens. The UN has issued a report on heightened Israel-Lebanon tensions, and it’s not surprising who gets blamed. What is surprising is the UN’s reasoning: it’s Israeli complaints about Hezbollah’s illegal weapons smuggling — not the smuggling itself — that is risking war:

“Rhetoric escalated rapidly, creating a perception in the public that a resumption of conflict was imminent,” the secretary-general wrote in the report. …

The UN chief wrote in his report that the heightened tensions were stoked by Israel’s claims of Hezbollah’s arms acquisitions. He said this “raised the specter of a miscalculation by either party leading to a resumption of hostilities, with potentially devastating consequences for Lebanon and the region.” …

Israel’s disappointment was compounded by the fact that Ban’s report did not mention Hezbollah’s involvement in a series of attempts by Lebanese in the south to interfere with UNIFIL’s operations over the past month. … In his report, Ban said UNIFIL enjoys “freedom of movement” in all of southern Lebanon. He also cited five unusual incidents in which UNIFIL troops were injured and a UN vehicle was stolen, but he refused to blame Hezbollah.

In other words, the UN secretary-general is saying that if war breaks out — even if Hezbollah starts it — it will not be Hezbollah’s fault, even though the group has been illegally importing massive quantities of rockets, and it will not be Syria’s and Iran’s fault, which have been supplying the weapons. It will be Israel’s fault — for talking about it. This would be merely appalling and ridiculous if it weren’t so dangerous: with the UN having already assured Hezbollah that future hostilities will be blamed on Israel, war has become more likely.

The UN’s shameless appeasement of terrorists is a well-worn story, but it’s always instructive to take note when it happens. The UN has issued a report on heightened Israel-Lebanon tensions, and it’s not surprising who gets blamed. What is surprising is the UN’s reasoning: it’s Israeli complaints about Hezbollah’s illegal weapons smuggling — not the smuggling itself — that is risking war:

“Rhetoric escalated rapidly, creating a perception in the public that a resumption of conflict was imminent,” the secretary-general wrote in the report. …

The UN chief wrote in his report that the heightened tensions were stoked by Israel’s claims of Hezbollah’s arms acquisitions. He said this “raised the specter of a miscalculation by either party leading to a resumption of hostilities, with potentially devastating consequences for Lebanon and the region.” …

Israel’s disappointment was compounded by the fact that Ban’s report did not mention Hezbollah’s involvement in a series of attempts by Lebanese in the south to interfere with UNIFIL’s operations over the past month. … In his report, Ban said UNIFIL enjoys “freedom of movement” in all of southern Lebanon. He also cited five unusual incidents in which UNIFIL troops were injured and a UN vehicle was stolen, but he refused to blame Hezbollah.

In other words, the UN secretary-general is saying that if war breaks out — even if Hezbollah starts it — it will not be Hezbollah’s fault, even though the group has been illegally importing massive quantities of rockets, and it will not be Syria’s and Iran’s fault, which have been supplying the weapons. It will be Israel’s fault — for talking about it. This would be merely appalling and ridiculous if it weren’t so dangerous: with the UN having already assured Hezbollah that future hostilities will be blamed on Israel, war has become more likely.

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The Breaking Point for Steele

As we headed into the Fourth of July weekend, Michael Steele was back in the news with outrageous comments at an RNC gathering, asserting: “Keep in mind again, federal candidates, this was a war of Obama’s choosing. This was not something that the United States had actively prosecuted or wanted to engage in.” He added that Obama has “not understood that, you know, that’s the one thing you don’t do, is engage in a land war in Afghanistan.” A firestorm erupted. Bill Kristol published a letter calling for him to resign, which read in part:

Needless to say, the war in Afghanistan was not “a war of Obama’s choosing.” It has been prosecuted by the United States under Presidents Bush and Obama. Republicans have consistently supported the effort. Indeed, as the DNC Communications Director (of all people) has said, your statement “puts [you] at odds with about 100 percent of the Republican Party.”

And not on a trivial matter. At a time when Gen. Petraeus has just taken over command, when Republicans in Congress are pushing for a clean war funding resolution, when Republicans around the country are doing their best to rally their fellow citizens behind the mission, your comment is more than an embarrassment. It’s an affront, both to the honor of the Republican party and to the commitment of the soldiers fighting to accomplish the mission they’ve been asked to take on by our elected leaders.

There are, of course, those who think we should pull out of Afghanistan, and they’re certainly entitled to make their case. But one of them shouldn’t be the chairman of the Republican party.

Liz Cheney echoed the call for Steele to step down.

Over the weekend, prominent conservatives followed suit. On This Week:

“It’s one thing for him personally to have that point of view, but for the chairman of the party…to advance that point of view, is indefensible,” Dan Senor, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and the former spokesman for the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq, said. “What’s striking about Steele is how fundamentally unserious” he is.

For reasons that escape me, elected officials refrained from demanding Steele’s resignation. Also on This Week, John McCain condemned the remarks but didn’t ask for Steele to leave:

“I think those statements are wildly inaccurate, and there’s no excuse for them. Chairman Steele sent me an e-mail saying that he was — his remarks were misconstrued,” McCain said. “Look, I’m a Ronald Reagan Republican. I believe we have to win here. I believe in freedom. But the fact is that I think that Mr. Steele is going to have to assess as to whether he can still lead the Republican Party as chairman of the Republican National Committee and make an appropriate decision.”

On Face the Nation, Lindsey Graham also stopped short of a call for him to resign, but only barely: “Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) called the statements about the Afghanistan war made by Republican National Committee Chairman ‘uninformed,’ ‘unnecessary’ and ‘unwise.'”

As politicians return to the campaign trail and Congress reconvenes, I suspect there will be greater pressure applied to Steele. His previous gaffes and mismanagement of the RNC have left him with few supporters, and the latest remarks are indefensible and his backtracking entirely insufficient. There is no reason why Republicans would rally to his side, and I predict few will. (No, Rep. Ron Paul’s cheers don’t really count and if anything are a sign that Steele is in deep trouble with a party that rejects Paul’s radical isolationism.) In a sense, this may be a blessing for the RNC, which was struggling to decide whether to dump a chairman who is possibly the worst since Watergate. Now a clean break for reasons all can agree on can be made.

As we headed into the Fourth of July weekend, Michael Steele was back in the news with outrageous comments at an RNC gathering, asserting: “Keep in mind again, federal candidates, this was a war of Obama’s choosing. This was not something that the United States had actively prosecuted or wanted to engage in.” He added that Obama has “not understood that, you know, that’s the one thing you don’t do, is engage in a land war in Afghanistan.” A firestorm erupted. Bill Kristol published a letter calling for him to resign, which read in part:

Needless to say, the war in Afghanistan was not “a war of Obama’s choosing.” It has been prosecuted by the United States under Presidents Bush and Obama. Republicans have consistently supported the effort. Indeed, as the DNC Communications Director (of all people) has said, your statement “puts [you] at odds with about 100 percent of the Republican Party.”

And not on a trivial matter. At a time when Gen. Petraeus has just taken over command, when Republicans in Congress are pushing for a clean war funding resolution, when Republicans around the country are doing their best to rally their fellow citizens behind the mission, your comment is more than an embarrassment. It’s an affront, both to the honor of the Republican party and to the commitment of the soldiers fighting to accomplish the mission they’ve been asked to take on by our elected leaders.

There are, of course, those who think we should pull out of Afghanistan, and they’re certainly entitled to make their case. But one of them shouldn’t be the chairman of the Republican party.

Liz Cheney echoed the call for Steele to step down.

Over the weekend, prominent conservatives followed suit. On This Week:

“It’s one thing for him personally to have that point of view, but for the chairman of the party…to advance that point of view, is indefensible,” Dan Senor, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and the former spokesman for the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq, said. “What’s striking about Steele is how fundamentally unserious” he is.

For reasons that escape me, elected officials refrained from demanding Steele’s resignation. Also on This Week, John McCain condemned the remarks but didn’t ask for Steele to leave:

“I think those statements are wildly inaccurate, and there’s no excuse for them. Chairman Steele sent me an e-mail saying that he was — his remarks were misconstrued,” McCain said. “Look, I’m a Ronald Reagan Republican. I believe we have to win here. I believe in freedom. But the fact is that I think that Mr. Steele is going to have to assess as to whether he can still lead the Republican Party as chairman of the Republican National Committee and make an appropriate decision.”

On Face the Nation, Lindsey Graham also stopped short of a call for him to resign, but only barely: “Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) called the statements about the Afghanistan war made by Republican National Committee Chairman ‘uninformed,’ ‘unnecessary’ and ‘unwise.'”

As politicians return to the campaign trail and Congress reconvenes, I suspect there will be greater pressure applied to Steele. His previous gaffes and mismanagement of the RNC have left him with few supporters, and the latest remarks are indefensible and his backtracking entirely insufficient. There is no reason why Republicans would rally to his side, and I predict few will. (No, Rep. Ron Paul’s cheers don’t really count and if anything are a sign that Steele is in deep trouble with a party that rejects Paul’s radical isolationism.) In a sense, this may be a blessing for the RNC, which was struggling to decide whether to dump a chairman who is possibly the worst since Watergate. Now a clean break for reasons all can agree on can be made.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

So much for honoring America’s commitments: “As Israel’s prime minister prepares for his fifth official meeting with President Obama this week, the White House has declined to publicly affirm commitments made by President Bush to Israel in 2004 on the final borders of the Jewish state.”

So much for walking back the Afghanistan troop-withdrawal deadline. Joe Biden says, “This is the policy.”

So much for the Democratic 2010 strategy. Chis Cillizza writes: “the Democratic National Committee has committed to spending tens of millions of dollars to re-create (or come somewhere near re-creating) the 2008 election model, in which Democrats relied heavily on higher-than-normal turnout from young people and strong support from African American and Hispanic voters. The DNC’s plan is ambitious, to say the least: In the space of a few months, the strategists hope to change the composition of a midterm electorate that, if history is any guide, tends to be older and whiter than in a presidential-election year. Put that way, it sounds crazy — and it has drawn considerable skepticism from independent observers.”

So much for Obama’s salesmanship: “Sixty percent (60%) of voters nationwide favor repeal of the recently passed health care law, including 49% who Strongly Favor repeal. … This is the 16th weekly poll conducted on repeal since the health care law was passed. A majority of voters has favored repeal each and every week. Support for repeal has ranged from a low of 52% to a high of 63%.”

So much for the “permanent” Democratic majority. Charlie Cook writes: “Among all voters, there has been a significant swing since 2008 when Democrats took their new majority won in 2006 to an even higher level. But when you home in on those people in this survey who are most likely to vote, the numbers are devastating. … Make no mistake about it: There is a wave out there, and for Democrats, the House is, at best, teetering on the edge. To be sure, things could change in the four months between now and November 2. … Still, the potential is here for a result that is proportional to some of the bigger postwar midterm wave elections.”

So much for Obama’s Syrian engagement. The headline reads, “Assad: US administration is weak.” Well, he’s a brutal despot, but he’s not a bad political analyst.

So much for Obamanomics: “Just when they might be needed the most, the rescue ropes that hauled the nation out of the Great Recession have become badly frayed. A much-feared ‘double dip’ economic downturn would find interest rates already slashed to near zero by the Federal Reserve and lawmakers leery of voting for billions of stimulus dollars as they face re-election.”

So much for the prospects of a two-state solution. Barry Rubin: “Why should Israel give up territory and security to the PA merely because it prosecutes corrupt leaders (don’t hold your breath) and is more prosperous? What it needs to know is that the conflict won’t continue, that there won’t be cross-border raids, that Hamas won’t take over and that Palestine won’t invite in Syrian or Iranian military forces, to cite some examples.” And other than the deluded Obami, who really thinks that is happening any time soon?

So much for the notion that Fareed Zakaria is to be taken seriously (even by the Obama administration): “Fareed Zakaria criticized the Afghanistan war in unusually harsh terms on his CNN program Sunday, saying that ‘the whole enterprise in Afghanistan feels disproportionate, a very expensive solution to what is turning out to be a small but real problem.'”

So much for honoring America’s commitments: “As Israel’s prime minister prepares for his fifth official meeting with President Obama this week, the White House has declined to publicly affirm commitments made by President Bush to Israel in 2004 on the final borders of the Jewish state.”

So much for walking back the Afghanistan troop-withdrawal deadline. Joe Biden says, “This is the policy.”

So much for the Democratic 2010 strategy. Chis Cillizza writes: “the Democratic National Committee has committed to spending tens of millions of dollars to re-create (or come somewhere near re-creating) the 2008 election model, in which Democrats relied heavily on higher-than-normal turnout from young people and strong support from African American and Hispanic voters. The DNC’s plan is ambitious, to say the least: In the space of a few months, the strategists hope to change the composition of a midterm electorate that, if history is any guide, tends to be older and whiter than in a presidential-election year. Put that way, it sounds crazy — and it has drawn considerable skepticism from independent observers.”

So much for Obama’s salesmanship: “Sixty percent (60%) of voters nationwide favor repeal of the recently passed health care law, including 49% who Strongly Favor repeal. … This is the 16th weekly poll conducted on repeal since the health care law was passed. A majority of voters has favored repeal each and every week. Support for repeal has ranged from a low of 52% to a high of 63%.”

So much for the “permanent” Democratic majority. Charlie Cook writes: “Among all voters, there has been a significant swing since 2008 when Democrats took their new majority won in 2006 to an even higher level. But when you home in on those people in this survey who are most likely to vote, the numbers are devastating. … Make no mistake about it: There is a wave out there, and for Democrats, the House is, at best, teetering on the edge. To be sure, things could change in the four months between now and November 2. … Still, the potential is here for a result that is proportional to some of the bigger postwar midterm wave elections.”

So much for Obama’s Syrian engagement. The headline reads, “Assad: US administration is weak.” Well, he’s a brutal despot, but he’s not a bad political analyst.

So much for Obamanomics: “Just when they might be needed the most, the rescue ropes that hauled the nation out of the Great Recession have become badly frayed. A much-feared ‘double dip’ economic downturn would find interest rates already slashed to near zero by the Federal Reserve and lawmakers leery of voting for billions of stimulus dollars as they face re-election.”

So much for the prospects of a two-state solution. Barry Rubin: “Why should Israel give up territory and security to the PA merely because it prosecutes corrupt leaders (don’t hold your breath) and is more prosperous? What it needs to know is that the conflict won’t continue, that there won’t be cross-border raids, that Hamas won’t take over and that Palestine won’t invite in Syrian or Iranian military forces, to cite some examples.” And other than the deluded Obami, who really thinks that is happening any time soon?

So much for the notion that Fareed Zakaria is to be taken seriously (even by the Obama administration): “Fareed Zakaria criticized the Afghanistan war in unusually harsh terms on his CNN program Sunday, saying that ‘the whole enterprise in Afghanistan feels disproportionate, a very expensive solution to what is turning out to be a small but real problem.'”

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