Commentary Magazine


Posts For: July 20, 2010

Stopping Iran’s Nuclear Program: The Think Tanks Speak Out

Two high-profile think-tanks, the Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington, D.C., and the Oxford Research Group of London, have put out updates this summer to their earlier assessments (from 2008 and 2006, respectively) of the options for preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons. Both of them conclude that, given the limitations of Israel’s military capabilities, the backlash from Iran in the event of an Israeli attack would outweigh the significance of the damage done to Iran’s nuclear program. Both assessments effectively assume there is no possibility of a U.S. attack. They ultimately draw different conclusions about what policies are suggested by their analyses. But it’s of equal importance, in July 2010, that their treatments of the factors in an Israeli strike are almost certainly outdated.

The Oxford Research Group (ORG) assessment builds up to the well-worn punch line that the world’s leaders need to redouble their efforts to secure an Israeli-Palestinian settlement, which could inaugurate “the beginning of a prospect of a regional nuclear-free zone.” This is the paper’s principal policy recommendation; its alternative is accepting Iran’s development of nuclear weapons and using that “as the start of a process of balanced regional denuclearization.” No serious justification is presented for either idea.

The Bipartisan Policy Center’s (BPC’s) approach is more realistic, recognizing the exceptional threat posed by a nuclear-armed Iran. BPC urges on national leaders a three-track policy of unified diplomacy, sanctions, and a military build-up to show force and determination. The discussion of Iran’s imperviousness to nuclear deterrence (pp. 30-33) is particularly good; in general, I recommend the more analytically detailed BPC paper as a thinking aid over the terser ORG product. (The latter does have a useful section on the possibility of unexpected incidents provoked by Hezbollah, which could incite an exchange between Israel and Iran.)

I urge skepticism, however, in evaluating the main conclusion of each paper about Israel’s likely effectiveness in a military attack. Both assessments are pessimistic, but they appear to be based on outdated assumptions – two, in particular, that involve very basic perspectives. One is the idea that in attacking Iran, Israel’s sole objective would be to destroy as much of the nuclear program as possible. Although the ORG paper cautions against seeing a prospective attack on Iran in the same narrow light as the previous strikes on single sites in Iraq and Syria, the author tacitly adopts a view of the objective that is precisely that narrow. He assumes, for example, that Israel would prioritize attacking the offices and living quarters of scientists and technicians, on the theory that reconstituting that expertise would be especially time-consuming for Iran.

I disagree with that assumption. The BPC analysis seems to share it in the abstract, but I suspect that Israeli planners, knowing their force limitations, have moved beyond such linear thinking at this point. It would be a much higher-payoff approach to concentrate on taking out the senior ranks of the Revolutionary Guard, including the Pasdaran leadership and the paramilitary Qods Force. The most important nuclear sites – Natanz, Esfahan, Arak, key facilities in Tehran – would have to be struck, but given the IDF’s limits, it would pay off better to use scarce assets against the regime’s power base (and its ability to organize and command its military) than against its scientific experts.

The other assumption that may well be outdated is that, given the operational constraints on an Israeli air strike, the IDF could achieve only an unsatisfactory level of damage to the Iranian nuclear program. Israel now wields the same airborne-attack weapons the U.S. brought to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, and would be far more effective with each attacking aircraft than the Coalition was against Iraq in 1991 (or the U.S. against Serbia in 1999). Meanwhile, Israel’s other options – extremely capable Special Forces, an advanced armed-drone program, and the ability to attack with ballistic missiles and submarine-launched cruise missiles – are treated too dismissively in both the U.S. and European analyses. The truth is that we don’t have any state-of-the-art examples to go by in judging the probable effectiveness of this weapons combination. We are more likely to learn from a coordinated Israeli attack featuring these weapons than to see all our worst-case predictions borne out.

Writing off an Israeli attack as quixotic and operationally valueless is a political posture more than an expert conclusion. There is a cost-benefit boundary for the IDF, but it’s not the hardening of Iranian targets or the proliferation of uranium-enrichment sites: it’s whether Iran can implement a modern air-defense system, like the (for now) cancelled S-300. An effective air defense for Iran would inevitably increase the cost of an Israeli attack and reduce its success.

But for Israel’s security situation, every delay imposed on Iran’s nuclear-weapons program has value. The U.S. should act on its own initiative rather than waiting to be driven to action by a fait accompli from Jerusalem; the BPC document’s perspective is realistic and helpful in that regard. No one, however, should entertain the theme that it’s too late now for an Israeli attack to achieve useful effects. For Israel – and for the U.S., with our much greater military capabilities – there are still options other than acceptance of a nuclear-armed Iran.

Two high-profile think-tanks, the Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington, D.C., and the Oxford Research Group of London, have put out updates this summer to their earlier assessments (from 2008 and 2006, respectively) of the options for preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons. Both of them conclude that, given the limitations of Israel’s military capabilities, the backlash from Iran in the event of an Israeli attack would outweigh the significance of the damage done to Iran’s nuclear program. Both assessments effectively assume there is no possibility of a U.S. attack. They ultimately draw different conclusions about what policies are suggested by their analyses. But it’s of equal importance, in July 2010, that their treatments of the factors in an Israeli strike are almost certainly outdated.

The Oxford Research Group (ORG) assessment builds up to the well-worn punch line that the world’s leaders need to redouble their efforts to secure an Israeli-Palestinian settlement, which could inaugurate “the beginning of a prospect of a regional nuclear-free zone.” This is the paper’s principal policy recommendation; its alternative is accepting Iran’s development of nuclear weapons and using that “as the start of a process of balanced regional denuclearization.” No serious justification is presented for either idea.

The Bipartisan Policy Center’s (BPC’s) approach is more realistic, recognizing the exceptional threat posed by a nuclear-armed Iran. BPC urges on national leaders a three-track policy of unified diplomacy, sanctions, and a military build-up to show force and determination. The discussion of Iran’s imperviousness to nuclear deterrence (pp. 30-33) is particularly good; in general, I recommend the more analytically detailed BPC paper as a thinking aid over the terser ORG product. (The latter does have a useful section on the possibility of unexpected incidents provoked by Hezbollah, which could incite an exchange between Israel and Iran.)

I urge skepticism, however, in evaluating the main conclusion of each paper about Israel’s likely effectiveness in a military attack. Both assessments are pessimistic, but they appear to be based on outdated assumptions – two, in particular, that involve very basic perspectives. One is the idea that in attacking Iran, Israel’s sole objective would be to destroy as much of the nuclear program as possible. Although the ORG paper cautions against seeing a prospective attack on Iran in the same narrow light as the previous strikes on single sites in Iraq and Syria, the author tacitly adopts a view of the objective that is precisely that narrow. He assumes, for example, that Israel would prioritize attacking the offices and living quarters of scientists and technicians, on the theory that reconstituting that expertise would be especially time-consuming for Iran.

I disagree with that assumption. The BPC analysis seems to share it in the abstract, but I suspect that Israeli planners, knowing their force limitations, have moved beyond such linear thinking at this point. It would be a much higher-payoff approach to concentrate on taking out the senior ranks of the Revolutionary Guard, including the Pasdaran leadership and the paramilitary Qods Force. The most important nuclear sites – Natanz, Esfahan, Arak, key facilities in Tehran – would have to be struck, but given the IDF’s limits, it would pay off better to use scarce assets against the regime’s power base (and its ability to organize and command its military) than against its scientific experts.

The other assumption that may well be outdated is that, given the operational constraints on an Israeli air strike, the IDF could achieve only an unsatisfactory level of damage to the Iranian nuclear program. Israel now wields the same airborne-attack weapons the U.S. brought to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, and would be far more effective with each attacking aircraft than the Coalition was against Iraq in 1991 (or the U.S. against Serbia in 1999). Meanwhile, Israel’s other options – extremely capable Special Forces, an advanced armed-drone program, and the ability to attack with ballistic missiles and submarine-launched cruise missiles – are treated too dismissively in both the U.S. and European analyses. The truth is that we don’t have any state-of-the-art examples to go by in judging the probable effectiveness of this weapons combination. We are more likely to learn from a coordinated Israeli attack featuring these weapons than to see all our worst-case predictions borne out.

Writing off an Israeli attack as quixotic and operationally valueless is a political posture more than an expert conclusion. There is a cost-benefit boundary for the IDF, but it’s not the hardening of Iranian targets or the proliferation of uranium-enrichment sites: it’s whether Iran can implement a modern air-defense system, like the (for now) cancelled S-300. An effective air defense for Iran would inevitably increase the cost of an Israeli attack and reduce its success.

But for Israel’s security situation, every delay imposed on Iran’s nuclear-weapons program has value. The U.S. should act on its own initiative rather than waiting to be driven to action by a fait accompli from Jerusalem; the BPC document’s perspective is realistic and helpful in that regard. No one, however, should entertain the theme that it’s too late now for an Israeli attack to achieve useful effects. For Israel – and for the U.S., with our much greater military capabilities – there are still options other than acceptance of a nuclear-armed Iran.

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Misinformation, Disinformation, and ObamaCare

In a recent story in the New York Times, we learned this:

When Congress required most Americans to obtain health insurance or pay a penalty, Democrats denied that they were creating a new tax. But in court, the Obama administration and its allies now defend the requirement as an exercise of the government’s “power to lay and collect taxes.”

And that power, they say, is even more sweeping than the federal power to regulate interstate commerce.

Administration officials say the tax argument is a linchpin of their legal case in defense of the health care overhaul and its individual mandate, now being challenged in court by more than 20 states and several private organizations.

The story goes on to explain that under the legislation signed by President Obama in March, most Americans will have to maintain “minimum essential coverage” starting in 2014. In a brief defending the law, the Justice Department says the requirement for people to carry insurance or pay the penalty is “a valid exercise” of Congress’s power to impose taxes.

DOJ argues that the penalty is a tax because it will raise substantial revenue: $4 billion a year by 2017, according to the Congressional Budget Office. And according to the Times, the penalty is imposed and collected under the Internal Revenue Code, and people must report it on their tax returns “as an addition to income tax liability.” Because the penalty is a tax, the department says, no one can challenge it in court before paying it and seeking a refund.

Well, well, well, this does pose a problem for our president, doesn’t it?

In addition to being yet one more violation of his pledge not to tax families making less than $250,000, Obama, during the health-care debate, insisted that a mandate to buy insurance, enforced by financial penalties, was not a tax.

In an exchange with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos last September (h/t Ed Morrisey), Stephanopoulos pressed Obama on admitting that what he was advocating was a tax increase. “For us to say that you’ve got to take a responsibility to get health insurance is absolutely not a tax increase,” Obama assured us. Elsewhere in the interview, Obama said, “George, you — you can’t just make up that language and decide that that’s called a tax increase.” And when Stephanopoulos read the definition of a tax increase from Merriam Webster’s Dictionary, Obama came back with this condescending and foolish response:

George, the fact that you looked up Merriam’s Dictionary, the definition of tax increase, indicates to me that you’re stretching a little bit right now. Otherwise, you wouldn’t have gone to the dictionary to check on the definition.

It turns out the truth is exactly the opposite of what Obama said. Jack M. Balkin, a professor at Yale Law School who supports the new health-care law, stated the obvious at a meeting last month: “[Mr. Obama] has not been honest with the American people about the nature of this bill. This bill is a tax.”

This is just one example of a systematic pattern of misinformation and disinformation related to the health-care campaign. We have seen similarly dishonest claims related to funding abortion (ObamaCare is doing exactly that), bending the cost curve down (it will bend it up), lowering premiums (they will rise), and to allowing Americans to keep the coverage they currently have (many won’t).

In many respects, the Obama administration has shown itself to be thoroughly postmodern; words have no objective meaning. Reality can be molded to the whims of the most powerful. We can each construct our own narrative.

In the case of the president, the narrative is fairly simply: whatever advances his own aims and objectives is defensible. The ends justify the means. If false claims have to be used to advance a larger truth, so be it.

This attitude pervades the Obama administration and appears to be especially concentrated in the chief executive. He thinks he can get away with almost anything, including the corruption of language. He can’t, and if he isn’t careful, this kind of distortion of truth and reality is going to cost him a very great deal.

In a recent story in the New York Times, we learned this:

When Congress required most Americans to obtain health insurance or pay a penalty, Democrats denied that they were creating a new tax. But in court, the Obama administration and its allies now defend the requirement as an exercise of the government’s “power to lay and collect taxes.”

And that power, they say, is even more sweeping than the federal power to regulate interstate commerce.

Administration officials say the tax argument is a linchpin of their legal case in defense of the health care overhaul and its individual mandate, now being challenged in court by more than 20 states and several private organizations.

The story goes on to explain that under the legislation signed by President Obama in March, most Americans will have to maintain “minimum essential coverage” starting in 2014. In a brief defending the law, the Justice Department says the requirement for people to carry insurance or pay the penalty is “a valid exercise” of Congress’s power to impose taxes.

DOJ argues that the penalty is a tax because it will raise substantial revenue: $4 billion a year by 2017, according to the Congressional Budget Office. And according to the Times, the penalty is imposed and collected under the Internal Revenue Code, and people must report it on their tax returns “as an addition to income tax liability.” Because the penalty is a tax, the department says, no one can challenge it in court before paying it and seeking a refund.

Well, well, well, this does pose a problem for our president, doesn’t it?

In addition to being yet one more violation of his pledge not to tax families making less than $250,000, Obama, during the health-care debate, insisted that a mandate to buy insurance, enforced by financial penalties, was not a tax.

In an exchange with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos last September (h/t Ed Morrisey), Stephanopoulos pressed Obama on admitting that what he was advocating was a tax increase. “For us to say that you’ve got to take a responsibility to get health insurance is absolutely not a tax increase,” Obama assured us. Elsewhere in the interview, Obama said, “George, you — you can’t just make up that language and decide that that’s called a tax increase.” And when Stephanopoulos read the definition of a tax increase from Merriam Webster’s Dictionary, Obama came back with this condescending and foolish response:

George, the fact that you looked up Merriam’s Dictionary, the definition of tax increase, indicates to me that you’re stretching a little bit right now. Otherwise, you wouldn’t have gone to the dictionary to check on the definition.

It turns out the truth is exactly the opposite of what Obama said. Jack M. Balkin, a professor at Yale Law School who supports the new health-care law, stated the obvious at a meeting last month: “[Mr. Obama] has not been honest with the American people about the nature of this bill. This bill is a tax.”

This is just one example of a systematic pattern of misinformation and disinformation related to the health-care campaign. We have seen similarly dishonest claims related to funding abortion (ObamaCare is doing exactly that), bending the cost curve down (it will bend it up), lowering premiums (they will rise), and to allowing Americans to keep the coverage they currently have (many won’t).

In many respects, the Obama administration has shown itself to be thoroughly postmodern; words have no objective meaning. Reality can be molded to the whims of the most powerful. We can each construct our own narrative.

In the case of the president, the narrative is fairly simply: whatever advances his own aims and objectives is defensible. The ends justify the means. If false claims have to be used to advance a larger truth, so be it.

This attitude pervades the Obama administration and appears to be especially concentrated in the chief executive. He thinks he can get away with almost anything, including the corruption of language. He can’t, and if he isn’t careful, this kind of distortion of truth and reality is going to cost him a very great deal.

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J Street Rides to the Rescue — Sort Of (UPDATED)

The Emergency Committee for Israel and the ensuing coverage have set Joe Sestak back on his heels. His campaign, no doubt, is nervous — where is the J Street rescue squad? Hey, he signed their Gaza 54 letter and what does he have to show for it — an attack ad that’s playing all over the state (and on MSNBC as well) and a slew of negative press on Israel, which he keeps insisting isn’t the main issue of his campaign. It’s not! So J Street emphasizes the not-main issue with an ad of its own. But the ad is peculiar.

It features such mind-numbingly silly quotes, like this from the Washington Post: “President Obama’s new Middle East course has promise.” Umm. It didn’t quite work out, did it? Moreover, the ad ties Sestak to Obama — complete with a shot of Obama speaking at the UN. What? Did the ECI footage get mixed in? Guys, Obama’s Israel problem is the problem with Jewish voters. Now, J Street is busy transferring that antipathy, if not down right hostility, to Sestak.

Oh, in Politics 101 they teach not to be on the defensive (“The far right is attacking Joe Sestak over Israel”). Anyway, it’s good to know this really is a major issue in the race. Look at all Sestak has done today — an MSNBC appearance, a letter to the UN Human Rights Council, and a J Street ad. You don’t think the Toomey camp is behind all this, do you?

UPDATE: ECI has released a statement that reads:

The Emergency Committee for Israel was created in order to help American voters focus on important issues surrounding Middle East policy and the vital need for a strong US-Israel relationship, based on shared values and common challenges, in order to advance US interests in the region. Israel is a democratic ally that faces profound security threats ranging from terrorist groups like Hamas and Hezbollah to rogue regimes like Iran and Syria that support them.

ECI recently began airing an ad in Pennsylvania highlighting Rep. Joe Sestak’s failure to stand with Israel as well as his ties to CAIR, an anti-Israel organization that the FBI labeled a front group for Hamas. This ad remains on the air in Pennsylvania despite the Sestak campaign’s efforts to silence debate and intimidate broadcasters into pulling the ad through threats of legal action.

Today, another group began airing an ad highlighting Rep. Sestak’s support for President Obama’s stance towards Israel. We welcome this debate, and intend to participate in it, in Pennsylvania and elsewhere.  We will do our best to ensure that Americans have all the information they need in order to send a clear message to Congress and this administration that the American people expect their leaders to support Israel in our shared fight against Islamic terrorism.

I think this means: game on!

The Emergency Committee for Israel and the ensuing coverage have set Joe Sestak back on his heels. His campaign, no doubt, is nervous — where is the J Street rescue squad? Hey, he signed their Gaza 54 letter and what does he have to show for it — an attack ad that’s playing all over the state (and on MSNBC as well) and a slew of negative press on Israel, which he keeps insisting isn’t the main issue of his campaign. It’s not! So J Street emphasizes the not-main issue with an ad of its own. But the ad is peculiar.

It features such mind-numbingly silly quotes, like this from the Washington Post: “President Obama’s new Middle East course has promise.” Umm. It didn’t quite work out, did it? Moreover, the ad ties Sestak to Obama — complete with a shot of Obama speaking at the UN. What? Did the ECI footage get mixed in? Guys, Obama’s Israel problem is the problem with Jewish voters. Now, J Street is busy transferring that antipathy, if not down right hostility, to Sestak.

Oh, in Politics 101 they teach not to be on the defensive (“The far right is attacking Joe Sestak over Israel”). Anyway, it’s good to know this really is a major issue in the race. Look at all Sestak has done today — an MSNBC appearance, a letter to the UN Human Rights Council, and a J Street ad. You don’t think the Toomey camp is behind all this, do you?

UPDATE: ECI has released a statement that reads:

The Emergency Committee for Israel was created in order to help American voters focus on important issues surrounding Middle East policy and the vital need for a strong US-Israel relationship, based on shared values and common challenges, in order to advance US interests in the region. Israel is a democratic ally that faces profound security threats ranging from terrorist groups like Hamas and Hezbollah to rogue regimes like Iran and Syria that support them.

ECI recently began airing an ad in Pennsylvania highlighting Rep. Joe Sestak’s failure to stand with Israel as well as his ties to CAIR, an anti-Israel organization that the FBI labeled a front group for Hamas. This ad remains on the air in Pennsylvania despite the Sestak campaign’s efforts to silence debate and intimidate broadcasters into pulling the ad through threats of legal action.

Today, another group began airing an ad highlighting Rep. Sestak’s support for President Obama’s stance towards Israel. We welcome this debate, and intend to participate in it, in Pennsylvania and elsewhere.  We will do our best to ensure that Americans have all the information they need in order to send a clear message to Congress and this administration that the American people expect their leaders to support Israel in our shared fight against Islamic terrorism.

I think this means: game on!

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You Think Democrats Aren’t Depressed?

Over at the American Prospect, they have a big box of Kleenex out. It, snivel, wasn’t, sob, “supposed to be this way.” Paul Waldman grouses:

Every presidency has its ups and downs. But this is one seriously rough period not only for the current inhabitant of the Oval Office but for the people who put him there. The economy continues to struggle along, with millions unemployed. There seems no way out of the mire of Afghanistan. The Gulf of Mexico is befouled and will be for years to come. Republican senators — with the cooperation of a couple of Democrats who know no pleasure greater than screwing up their party’s agenda — have taken advantage of the chamber’s legislative rules to make action all but impossible. And it looks like they will take back the House.

There is more, but you get the drift. All that remains is for them to scare voters: “the unfortunate result of Obama’s missteps, trials, and victories too ambiguous for the taste of many could be that progressives end up where they were with Bill Clinton in 1998: only willing to defend the president by pointing to the extremism of the opposition.” The system is “rigged” against them, you see (wait — don’t they control both Houses of Congress and the White House?), and the Supreme Court is on a tear. (Like when Justice Kennedy voted with the liberals on habeas corpus rights for terrorists and  on defending a public university’s right to force religious groups to take nonbelievers.)

These people are certainly down in the dumps. (“All over the country, progressives are gripped by gloom.”) It is not so much Obama that they appear angry at but rather the American people and the Constitution. If constituents weren’t so loud and the Senate weren’t designed to slow down intemperate legislation, then they’d have their wish list fulfilled.

Well, if this is any indication, I think the polling models are way off. They haven’t begun to explore the depths of Democratic disaffection and the potential for a really miserable Democratic turnout.

Over at the American Prospect, they have a big box of Kleenex out. It, snivel, wasn’t, sob, “supposed to be this way.” Paul Waldman grouses:

Every presidency has its ups and downs. But this is one seriously rough period not only for the current inhabitant of the Oval Office but for the people who put him there. The economy continues to struggle along, with millions unemployed. There seems no way out of the mire of Afghanistan. The Gulf of Mexico is befouled and will be for years to come. Republican senators — with the cooperation of a couple of Democrats who know no pleasure greater than screwing up their party’s agenda — have taken advantage of the chamber’s legislative rules to make action all but impossible. And it looks like they will take back the House.

There is more, but you get the drift. All that remains is for them to scare voters: “the unfortunate result of Obama’s missteps, trials, and victories too ambiguous for the taste of many could be that progressives end up where they were with Bill Clinton in 1998: only willing to defend the president by pointing to the extremism of the opposition.” The system is “rigged” against them, you see (wait — don’t they control both Houses of Congress and the White House?), and the Supreme Court is on a tear. (Like when Justice Kennedy voted with the liberals on habeas corpus rights for terrorists and  on defending a public university’s right to force religious groups to take nonbelievers.)

These people are certainly down in the dumps. (“All over the country, progressives are gripped by gloom.”) It is not so much Obama that they appear angry at but rather the American people and the Constitution. If constituents weren’t so loud and the Senate weren’t designed to slow down intemperate legislation, then they’d have their wish list fulfilled.

Well, if this is any indication, I think the polling models are way off. They haven’t begun to explore the depths of Democratic disaffection and the potential for a really miserable Democratic turnout.

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Afghanistan: July 2011 Psychosis

Joe Biden has long been seen as the administration’s leading advocate of a “small footprint” approach to Afghanistan. But on ABC’s This Week program on Sunday, he was at pains to downplay the July 2011 withdrawal deadline. There will be a “transition,” he said, but not necessarily a massive withdrawal of forces — “It could be as few as a couple thousand troops.”

That puts Biden effectively on the same page as Bob Gates, Hillary Clinton, Mike Mullen, David Petraeus, and other senior administration and military figures who have been stressing that we aren’t headed for the exists come next summer. That’s an important and welcome clarification of the ambiguous policy laid out by President Obama at West Point last fall. But I doubt that the message has reached the region where the perception of American fickleness continues to encourage our foes and discourage our friends.

In Kabul recently, I had dinner with several Afghan politicians and bureaucrats. They were, to a man, horrified by the July 2011 deadline, which feeds into recurring Afghan fears of abandonment by the West — something that happened as recently as the 1990s. They were not mollified when I and other visiting scholars tried to explain that the appointment of General Petraeus suggested that Obama was in the war to win. They actually claimed that Petraeus had been sent to offer a “face-saving way” for the U.S. to withdraw — as he supposedly had done in Iraq. I and the other visitors spent hours trying to mollify these worried Afghans, but without success. As one of them acknowledged, “We’ve developed July 2011 psychosis.”

I am not sure anything can shake their concerns about a premature American departure but at the very least it would be helpful for Obama himself to clarify where he stands. There is a widespread perception in Washington that he has done a sotto voce walk-back from the exit deadline but he needs to be more explicit to convey the message across 7,000 miles of geography and an even wider gap of understanding and perception.

Paradoxically, the more that Obama makes it clear that we will stay in Afghanistan long enough to win, the more he hastens our departure by increasing the pressure on the Taliban. And the more he equivocates, the harder he makes it for NATO forces to make the kind of progress needed to begin a responsible, conditions-based drawdown.

Joe Biden has long been seen as the administration’s leading advocate of a “small footprint” approach to Afghanistan. But on ABC’s This Week program on Sunday, he was at pains to downplay the July 2011 withdrawal deadline. There will be a “transition,” he said, but not necessarily a massive withdrawal of forces — “It could be as few as a couple thousand troops.”

That puts Biden effectively on the same page as Bob Gates, Hillary Clinton, Mike Mullen, David Petraeus, and other senior administration and military figures who have been stressing that we aren’t headed for the exists come next summer. That’s an important and welcome clarification of the ambiguous policy laid out by President Obama at West Point last fall. But I doubt that the message has reached the region where the perception of American fickleness continues to encourage our foes and discourage our friends.

In Kabul recently, I had dinner with several Afghan politicians and bureaucrats. They were, to a man, horrified by the July 2011 deadline, which feeds into recurring Afghan fears of abandonment by the West — something that happened as recently as the 1990s. They were not mollified when I and other visiting scholars tried to explain that the appointment of General Petraeus suggested that Obama was in the war to win. They actually claimed that Petraeus had been sent to offer a “face-saving way” for the U.S. to withdraw — as he supposedly had done in Iraq. I and the other visitors spent hours trying to mollify these worried Afghans, but without success. As one of them acknowledged, “We’ve developed July 2011 psychosis.”

I am not sure anything can shake their concerns about a premature American departure but at the very least it would be helpful for Obama himself to clarify where he stands. There is a widespread perception in Washington that he has done a sotto voce walk-back from the exit deadline but he needs to be more explicit to convey the message across 7,000 miles of geography and an even wider gap of understanding and perception.

Paradoxically, the more that Obama makes it clear that we will stay in Afghanistan long enough to win, the more he hastens our departure by increasing the pressure on the Taliban. And the more he equivocates, the harder he makes it for NATO forces to make the kind of progress needed to begin a responsible, conditions-based drawdown.

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Bipartisan on Israel Means Accountability, Not Silence

The uproar over the efforts of the new Emergency Committee for Israel to highlight the record of Rep. Joe Sestak, the Democratic candidate for the Senate in Pennsylvania, is getting nasty. Sestak and his supporters are hoping to manufacture a backlash against the congressman’s critics that will not only change the subject from his record but will also cause Pennsylvania Jews to rally around the Democrats as the victims of what they are calling a sleazy smear campaign that is wrongly politicizing the issue of support for Israel.

The notion that the Republicans are trying to politicize Israel played a part in the previous two election cycles, during which large-scale efforts by the Republican Jewish Coalition to raise the issue of left-wing disaffection from Israel were treated with similar scorn. In 2006 and 2008, Republican ads highlighted the anti-Israel records of various prominent Democrats, such as Jimmy Carter, and left-wing activist groups, such as Moveon.org. As with the reaction to the ECI campaign, those comments seemed to center less on complaints about the content of the ads than on the premise that judging a Democratic candidate on his stand on Israel was itself illegitimate. They argued then, as they do now, that any effort that uses Israel as a wedge issue turns it into a political football and that this process undermines the broad coalition that has made the U.S.-Israel alliance a fact of American political life.

But this is a false argument that has more to do with the needs of partisanship than it does with maintaining a pro-Israel consensus. What the Democrats want is not more civility but rather to remove Israel from political debate. Given their existing advantage among Jewish voters, who are already overwhelmingly Democratic, this would certainly be to their advantage — especially because the greatest current threat to the pro-Israel consensus is the rising tide of hostility to Jewish self-defense and Zionism on the political left. But in doing so, Democrats are effectively relieving our politicians of any accountability on Middle East issues.

If we can’t judge politicians like Sestak on their positions concerning Israel and related issues, then it is the Democratic argument that Israel is off-limits for discussion — and not the anti-Sestak or Republican Jewish Coalition ads — that signals the end of the pro-Israel consensus. If a member of Congress can, with impunity, speak at a CAIR fundraiser without confronting that group over its origins and positions, or if he can sign letters aimed at heightening pressure on Israel and undermining its right of self-defense, then advocacy groups might as well close up shop; no one will have any reason to believe that the pro-Israel community means what it says when it seeks — as any group in a democracy will do — to support its friends and oppose its foes.

So long as the parties and candidates are actively competing for pro-Israel votes — and one suspects that there are more Christian pro-Israel votes in play here than Jewish ones because for many of the latter, partisan loyalty trumps their affection for Zionism — then we have reason to believe that the bipartisan pro-Israel consensus is safe. That means that both Democrats and Republicans must confront members of their party who are unsupportive or lukewarm toward Israel instead of giving them blanket immunity on the issue.

It is certainly legitimate for Sestak to spin his record or to argue that we must judge him by other things he has done in an attempt to prove his pro-Israel bona fides. But it is not legitimate for Sestak or any Democrat — or any Republican, for that matter — to say that their record on Israel is off-limits for discussion.

The uproar over the efforts of the new Emergency Committee for Israel to highlight the record of Rep. Joe Sestak, the Democratic candidate for the Senate in Pennsylvania, is getting nasty. Sestak and his supporters are hoping to manufacture a backlash against the congressman’s critics that will not only change the subject from his record but will also cause Pennsylvania Jews to rally around the Democrats as the victims of what they are calling a sleazy smear campaign that is wrongly politicizing the issue of support for Israel.

The notion that the Republicans are trying to politicize Israel played a part in the previous two election cycles, during which large-scale efforts by the Republican Jewish Coalition to raise the issue of left-wing disaffection from Israel were treated with similar scorn. In 2006 and 2008, Republican ads highlighted the anti-Israel records of various prominent Democrats, such as Jimmy Carter, and left-wing activist groups, such as Moveon.org. As with the reaction to the ECI campaign, those comments seemed to center less on complaints about the content of the ads than on the premise that judging a Democratic candidate on his stand on Israel was itself illegitimate. They argued then, as they do now, that any effort that uses Israel as a wedge issue turns it into a political football and that this process undermines the broad coalition that has made the U.S.-Israel alliance a fact of American political life.

But this is a false argument that has more to do with the needs of partisanship than it does with maintaining a pro-Israel consensus. What the Democrats want is not more civility but rather to remove Israel from political debate. Given their existing advantage among Jewish voters, who are already overwhelmingly Democratic, this would certainly be to their advantage — especially because the greatest current threat to the pro-Israel consensus is the rising tide of hostility to Jewish self-defense and Zionism on the political left. But in doing so, Democrats are effectively relieving our politicians of any accountability on Middle East issues.

If we can’t judge politicians like Sestak on their positions concerning Israel and related issues, then it is the Democratic argument that Israel is off-limits for discussion — and not the anti-Sestak or Republican Jewish Coalition ads — that signals the end of the pro-Israel consensus. If a member of Congress can, with impunity, speak at a CAIR fundraiser without confronting that group over its origins and positions, or if he can sign letters aimed at heightening pressure on Israel and undermining its right of self-defense, then advocacy groups might as well close up shop; no one will have any reason to believe that the pro-Israel community means what it says when it seeks — as any group in a democracy will do — to support its friends and oppose its foes.

So long as the parties and candidates are actively competing for pro-Israel votes — and one suspects that there are more Christian pro-Israel votes in play here than Jewish ones because for many of the latter, partisan loyalty trumps their affection for Zionism — then we have reason to believe that the bipartisan pro-Israel consensus is safe. That means that both Democrats and Republicans must confront members of their party who are unsupportive or lukewarm toward Israel instead of giving them blanket immunity on the issue.

It is certainly legitimate for Sestak to spin his record or to argue that we must judge him by other things he has done in an attempt to prove his pro-Israel bona fides. But it is not legitimate for Sestak or any Democrat — or any Republican, for that matter — to say that their record on Israel is off-limits for discussion.

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What Was Sestak Thinking When He Wrote to UN Human Rights Council?

If Joe Sestak was hoping to shore up his pro-Israel bona fides, he badly miscalculated with his “please be impartial” letter to the UN Human Rights Council. Dan Senor of the Council on Foreign Relations had this response, pointing to Israel’s own investigation:

The investigation is already taking place. If Sestak was genuinely concerned, he could have written the UNHRC and called it out for existing and operating in a blizzard of double-standards, and make it clear that he would not support any UNHRC investigation of Israel under any circumstances until the Council repudiates the Goldstone Report and stops singling out Israel time after time. That would have been praiseworthy. Instead he endorsed the investigation.

The American Jewish Committee, a rather liberal outfit, had this to say in early June:

“The UN Human Rights Council remains a kangaroo court, in which repressive and authoritarian states like Cuba, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan can indulge their obsession with Israel, while ignoring serial violators such as Iran and North Korea,” said AJC Executive Director David Harris. “Fresh from convicting Israel through the notoriously biased Goldstone Report into the war in Gaza, which presumed Israel’s ‘guilt’ before launching a fact-finding mission, the Council is now embarking on a new attempt to vilify Israel.”

(Well, before Harris got to the National Jewish Democratic Council, he was a bit more candid.)

Early last month, AIPAC also went after the UNHRC, urging that the Obama administration “maintain its longstanding position not to allow the Security Council and other U.N. organs such as the U.N. Human Rights Council to exploit unfortunate incidents by passing biased, anti-Israel resolutions that obscure the truth and accomplish nothing.”

What activist, lawmaker, or pro-Israel advocacy group (J Street, not you) genuinely concerned about the bile-drenched UNHRC and its serial attacks on the Jewish state would have sent a letter like Sestak’s? I’m going out on a limb: none.

Rep. Peter King gets it. He e-mails: “We should have no contact whatsoever with the UN Human Rights Council. It is impossible for that Council to even begin a fair investigation.”

CORRECTION: David Harris of the AJC and David Harris of the NDJC are not one and the same. David Harris of the AJC remains as candid as ever. I regret the error.

If Joe Sestak was hoping to shore up his pro-Israel bona fides, he badly miscalculated with his “please be impartial” letter to the UN Human Rights Council. Dan Senor of the Council on Foreign Relations had this response, pointing to Israel’s own investigation:

The investigation is already taking place. If Sestak was genuinely concerned, he could have written the UNHRC and called it out for existing and operating in a blizzard of double-standards, and make it clear that he would not support any UNHRC investigation of Israel under any circumstances until the Council repudiates the Goldstone Report and stops singling out Israel time after time. That would have been praiseworthy. Instead he endorsed the investigation.

The American Jewish Committee, a rather liberal outfit, had this to say in early June:

“The UN Human Rights Council remains a kangaroo court, in which repressive and authoritarian states like Cuba, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan can indulge their obsession with Israel, while ignoring serial violators such as Iran and North Korea,” said AJC Executive Director David Harris. “Fresh from convicting Israel through the notoriously biased Goldstone Report into the war in Gaza, which presumed Israel’s ‘guilt’ before launching a fact-finding mission, the Council is now embarking on a new attempt to vilify Israel.”

(Well, before Harris got to the National Jewish Democratic Council, he was a bit more candid.)

Early last month, AIPAC also went after the UNHRC, urging that the Obama administration “maintain its longstanding position not to allow the Security Council and other U.N. organs such as the U.N. Human Rights Council to exploit unfortunate incidents by passing biased, anti-Israel resolutions that obscure the truth and accomplish nothing.”

What activist, lawmaker, or pro-Israel advocacy group (J Street, not you) genuinely concerned about the bile-drenched UNHRC and its serial attacks on the Jewish state would have sent a letter like Sestak’s? I’m going out on a limb: none.

Rep. Peter King gets it. He e-mails: “We should have no contact whatsoever with the UN Human Rights Council. It is impossible for that Council to even begin a fair investigation.”

CORRECTION: David Harris of the AJC and David Harris of the NDJC are not one and the same. David Harris of the AJC remains as candid as ever. I regret the error.

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Jim Mattis: New Head of Central Command

The New York Times has a nice article on the general chosen to head Central Command — Jim Mattis. I’ve known Mattis since the summer of 2003, when I spent some time in Iraq while he was commander of the 1st Marine Division. I was struck by how quickly and seamlessly he made the transition from conventional operations to what the military calls “stability operations” in the Shiite heartland of central Iraq. His methods were similar to those being employed in northern Iraq by another divisional commander — David Petraeus, of the 101st Airborne Division. (For my report on their efforts see this article.)

I’ve often wondered since then: whatever happened to those guys? Just kidding.

Petraeus’s stratospheric and well deserved rise to become the most celebrated American general since Eisenhower has already become legend. Mattis has not gotten the same degree of attention, but he completed another tour of duty in Iraq, helped co-author the Army/Marine Field Manual on Counterinsurgency with Petraeus, and went on to head the U.S. Joint Forces Command.

His many admirers, of whom I am one, were puzzled by his failure to be appointed to one of the truly plum jobs, such as that of Marine Commandant or Central Command chief. This was generally attributed to his salty tongue; he got into hot water in 2005 for saying at a public forum: “You go into Afghanistan, you got guys who slap around women for five years because they didn’t wear a veil. You know guys like that ain’t got no manhood left anyway, so it’s a hell of a lot of fun to shoot them.” This was seen as a cardinal violation of the rules of political correctness, which hold that soldiers are only supposed to talk about the anguish, trauma, and post-traumatic stress disorder they experience; they are never supposed to comment on the thrill of the kill.

Defense Secretary Bob Gates and President Obama deserve considerable credit for not letting this minor fracas stop them from appointing Mattis as Petraeus’s successor at Centcom. What they undoubtedly know, and what the rest of the world will discover, is that Mattis is not only a “warrior’s warrior” (as he is described in the Times) but also a “diplomat’s diplomat.” In his JFCOM role, he was for a while responsible for NATO force transformation, which required him to press NATO officials to do more to upgrade their armed forces. He was not always successful (who would be?), but he was by all accounts a compelling and persuasive diplomat. He has become known for sending everyone he meets a personal “thank you” note — not a standard-issue form but rather a letter that reflects on the substance of the conversation.

I got one myself after hosting Mattis for an off-the-record roundtable at the Council on Foreign Relations. Given the ground rules, I can’t discuss what he said, but I can mention the impression he made on some jaded Council members in New York. He wowed them by combining the erudition of a Harvard professor with a combat grunt’s gift for aphorism. He showed why he is revered not only as a combat leader but also as an intellectual whose personal library of military works runs to thousands of volumes. It is hard to imagine a better choice to head Central Command. I trust he will enjoy smooth sailing in the Senate confirmation process.

The New York Times has a nice article on the general chosen to head Central Command — Jim Mattis. I’ve known Mattis since the summer of 2003, when I spent some time in Iraq while he was commander of the 1st Marine Division. I was struck by how quickly and seamlessly he made the transition from conventional operations to what the military calls “stability operations” in the Shiite heartland of central Iraq. His methods were similar to those being employed in northern Iraq by another divisional commander — David Petraeus, of the 101st Airborne Division. (For my report on their efforts see this article.)

I’ve often wondered since then: whatever happened to those guys? Just kidding.

Petraeus’s stratospheric and well deserved rise to become the most celebrated American general since Eisenhower has already become legend. Mattis has not gotten the same degree of attention, but he completed another tour of duty in Iraq, helped co-author the Army/Marine Field Manual on Counterinsurgency with Petraeus, and went on to head the U.S. Joint Forces Command.

His many admirers, of whom I am one, were puzzled by his failure to be appointed to one of the truly plum jobs, such as that of Marine Commandant or Central Command chief. This was generally attributed to his salty tongue; he got into hot water in 2005 for saying at a public forum: “You go into Afghanistan, you got guys who slap around women for five years because they didn’t wear a veil. You know guys like that ain’t got no manhood left anyway, so it’s a hell of a lot of fun to shoot them.” This was seen as a cardinal violation of the rules of political correctness, which hold that soldiers are only supposed to talk about the anguish, trauma, and post-traumatic stress disorder they experience; they are never supposed to comment on the thrill of the kill.

Defense Secretary Bob Gates and President Obama deserve considerable credit for not letting this minor fracas stop them from appointing Mattis as Petraeus’s successor at Centcom. What they undoubtedly know, and what the rest of the world will discover, is that Mattis is not only a “warrior’s warrior” (as he is described in the Times) but also a “diplomat’s diplomat.” In his JFCOM role, he was for a while responsible for NATO force transformation, which required him to press NATO officials to do more to upgrade their armed forces. He was not always successful (who would be?), but he was by all accounts a compelling and persuasive diplomat. He has become known for sending everyone he meets a personal “thank you” note — not a standard-issue form but rather a letter that reflects on the substance of the conversation.

I got one myself after hosting Mattis for an off-the-record roundtable at the Council on Foreign Relations. Given the ground rules, I can’t discuss what he said, but I can mention the impression he made on some jaded Council members in New York. He wowed them by combining the erudition of a Harvard professor with a combat grunt’s gift for aphorism. He showed why he is revered not only as a combat leader but also as an intellectual whose personal library of military works runs to thousands of volumes. It is hard to imagine a better choice to head Central Command. I trust he will enjoy smooth sailing in the Senate confirmation process.

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Sestak Asks the Israel-Haters to Be Fair

Today, Joe Sestak sent a letter to the Goldstone Report fan club — the Israel-hating UN Council on Human Rights. Its track record of insidious attacks on Israel is well known, and many of Sestak’s colleagues have called for the U.S. to leave the UN Council on Human Rights altogether. What did Sestak say? Be more fair. No, really:

Today, Congressman Joe Sestak (PA-07) sent a letter to the President of the UN Human Rights Council insisting that, if an investigation is conducted, only impartial, unbiased panelists be appointed to review the facts surrounding the May 31 flotilla incident off the coast of Gaza.

He’s joking, right? I suppose he doesn’t know — or care — that the fix is already in. He writes to the Council’s president:

Shortly after the incident, the Human Rights Council wrongly condemned Israel’s actions in extremely harsh terms. I believe that such actions, when taken before the facts are even known, lead to an interpretation of anti-Israeli bias and fail to provide the necessary objectivity. Because of this flawed condemnation, it is important that you ensure that the panelists who investigate the incident do not have preconceived notions of the events.

I am further concerned that a biased report would derail the proximity peace talks that recently reconvened. I strongly support direct talks between the parties, encouraged by the United States, in order to bring about a sustainable two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It would be a tragedy if the United Nations report interfered with encouraging progress towards this most important end.

That’s it. He is apparently even less supportive of Israel than the Obama administration, which is sort of trying to stave off an international witch hunt. He is either hopelessly naive or constrained by his J Street patrons, who — of course — wouldn’t stand for a full-throated repudiation of the UN Human Rights Council or an emphatic defense of Israel’s right to oversee its own national security.

What is shocking is that this comes after Sestak has been bashed for being unsupportive of Israel. So if this is the best he can do when he’s playing defense, can you imagine what he’ll do if he is elected?

Today, Joe Sestak sent a letter to the Goldstone Report fan club — the Israel-hating UN Council on Human Rights. Its track record of insidious attacks on Israel is well known, and many of Sestak’s colleagues have called for the U.S. to leave the UN Council on Human Rights altogether. What did Sestak say? Be more fair. No, really:

Today, Congressman Joe Sestak (PA-07) sent a letter to the President of the UN Human Rights Council insisting that, if an investigation is conducted, only impartial, unbiased panelists be appointed to review the facts surrounding the May 31 flotilla incident off the coast of Gaza.

He’s joking, right? I suppose he doesn’t know — or care — that the fix is already in. He writes to the Council’s president:

Shortly after the incident, the Human Rights Council wrongly condemned Israel’s actions in extremely harsh terms. I believe that such actions, when taken before the facts are even known, lead to an interpretation of anti-Israeli bias and fail to provide the necessary objectivity. Because of this flawed condemnation, it is important that you ensure that the panelists who investigate the incident do not have preconceived notions of the events.

I am further concerned that a biased report would derail the proximity peace talks that recently reconvened. I strongly support direct talks between the parties, encouraged by the United States, in order to bring about a sustainable two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It would be a tragedy if the United Nations report interfered with encouraging progress towards this most important end.

That’s it. He is apparently even less supportive of Israel than the Obama administration, which is sort of trying to stave off an international witch hunt. He is either hopelessly naive or constrained by his J Street patrons, who — of course — wouldn’t stand for a full-throated repudiation of the UN Human Rights Council or an emphatic defense of Israel’s right to oversee its own national security.

What is shocking is that this comes after Sestak has been bashed for being unsupportive of Israel. So if this is the best he can do when he’s playing defense, can you imagine what he’ll do if he is elected?

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Sestak Defends the Gaza 54 Letter and His Keynote for CAIR

Joe Sestak made a trip to Morning Joe to discuss his Senate race. And, sure enough, the ECI ad was played again. (I imagine that the Toomey camp was pretty pleased about that.) He was with quite a sympathetic panel as the likes of Pat Buchanan (really), Bill Press (really), Mike Barnicle (really), and Norah O’Donnell tripped over each other as they rushed to assure Sestak that they too thought the ad was a “cheap shot” or really not important (although important enough to air twice on the show and get Sestak in to defend himself) because the race is all about domestic policy. The panel was so agreeable (or unprepared) that it didn’t challenge Sestak when he tried to explain the Gaza 54 letter (my comments in brackets):

Scarborough: The center of this attack ad says you signed a letter, very I thought good, dramatic lighting on the Sestak signature [but you couldn't see those of the other 53, all Democrats who are among the worst Israel-bashers], asking for an end of the Gaza blockade, saying Israel was out of line ["collective punishment" was the operative phrase], and that the Gaza blockade needed to be ended.

Sestak: I signed a letter that said we have to ensure that Israel has $10 billion every — every year for its military assistance. [Not responsive.] I also signed a letter that said that as I went about the world, we have vital interests. Israel is one. We have important interests. We also have humane interests [which apparently don't include the interest in seeing Israeli children aren't subjected to rockets]. We said in a letter, I said Ms. Clinton, could you see, while not impacting Israel’s security, are we able to get cleaner water to the children there? [Has he seen the photos of the markets and the new Gaza mall?]

Scarborough: And do you support the end of the blockade?

Sestak: No. I think it’s a legal — yes, I’d like to see it end [Tricky when you are trying to recall the varied positions you have taken, isn't it?] but not until we can ensure that there is a two-state solution. [He didn't say that in the Gaza 54 letter -- why?] I think Israel has the right to have a blockade so that arms aren’t flowing into those really causing harm in Gaza, which is Hamas.

You’re not convinced? No, I don’t suppose so.

He also talked about his CAIR appearance. No apology, no regrets. His excuse: Gov. Ed Rendell told him to go and went with him. And it’s important to talk to people with whom you disagree. But then why didn’t he enumerate the areas of disagreement instead of showering CAIR with praise when he spoke at the admission-charging event? Would he have gone to speak to an overtly anti-black or anti-Hispanic group? How about the Muslim Brotherhood?

The remainder of the interview was just plain odd. He declared his support for small business (so no expiration of the Bush tax cuts, which would hit small businesses that file under the individual tax rates?) and said he was going to Washington to stop all the fighting. But he was there. He voted for the Obama agenda, 97.8 percent of the time. I suppose he thinks voters won’t notice.

I suspect there are a lot of Democrats scratching their heads and biting their nails. In this year, the Democrats have to run very smart races to survive the GOP wave. So far, Sestak isn’t.

Joe Sestak made a trip to Morning Joe to discuss his Senate race. And, sure enough, the ECI ad was played again. (I imagine that the Toomey camp was pretty pleased about that.) He was with quite a sympathetic panel as the likes of Pat Buchanan (really), Bill Press (really), Mike Barnicle (really), and Norah O’Donnell tripped over each other as they rushed to assure Sestak that they too thought the ad was a “cheap shot” or really not important (although important enough to air twice on the show and get Sestak in to defend himself) because the race is all about domestic policy. The panel was so agreeable (or unprepared) that it didn’t challenge Sestak when he tried to explain the Gaza 54 letter (my comments in brackets):

Scarborough: The center of this attack ad says you signed a letter, very I thought good, dramatic lighting on the Sestak signature [but you couldn't see those of the other 53, all Democrats who are among the worst Israel-bashers], asking for an end of the Gaza blockade, saying Israel was out of line ["collective punishment" was the operative phrase], and that the Gaza blockade needed to be ended.

Sestak: I signed a letter that said we have to ensure that Israel has $10 billion every — every year for its military assistance. [Not responsive.] I also signed a letter that said that as I went about the world, we have vital interests. Israel is one. We have important interests. We also have humane interests [which apparently don't include the interest in seeing Israeli children aren't subjected to rockets]. We said in a letter, I said Ms. Clinton, could you see, while not impacting Israel’s security, are we able to get cleaner water to the children there? [Has he seen the photos of the markets and the new Gaza mall?]

Scarborough: And do you support the end of the blockade?

Sestak: No. I think it’s a legal — yes, I’d like to see it end [Tricky when you are trying to recall the varied positions you have taken, isn't it?] but not until we can ensure that there is a two-state solution. [He didn't say that in the Gaza 54 letter -- why?] I think Israel has the right to have a blockade so that arms aren’t flowing into those really causing harm in Gaza, which is Hamas.

You’re not convinced? No, I don’t suppose so.

He also talked about his CAIR appearance. No apology, no regrets. His excuse: Gov. Ed Rendell told him to go and went with him. And it’s important to talk to people with whom you disagree. But then why didn’t he enumerate the areas of disagreement instead of showering CAIR with praise when he spoke at the admission-charging event? Would he have gone to speak to an overtly anti-black or anti-Hispanic group? How about the Muslim Brotherhood?

The remainder of the interview was just plain odd. He declared his support for small business (so no expiration of the Bush tax cuts, which would hit small businesses that file under the individual tax rates?) and said he was going to Washington to stop all the fighting. But he was there. He voted for the Obama agenda, 97.8 percent of the time. I suppose he thinks voters won’t notice.

I suspect there are a lot of Democrats scratching their heads and biting their nails. In this year, the Democrats have to run very smart races to survive the GOP wave. So far, Sestak isn’t.

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FROM THE JULY/AUG ISSUE: The Soft-Power Fallacy

In May, Barack Obama delivered the commencement address to West Point’s 2010 graduating class and offered high praise for the accomplishments of the American military—including the most unabashed appreciation of the achievement of U.S. forces in Iraq he has ever put forth. “This is what success looks like,” he said, “an Iraq that provides no safe-haven to terrorists; a democratic Iraq that is sovereign, stable, and self-reliant.” But before an audience of some 1,000 men and women in uniform, the commander in chief chose to focus on the nonmilitary dimension of advancing America’s interests.

To continue reading this article from the July/August issue of COMMENTARY, click here.

In May, Barack Obama delivered the commencement address to West Point’s 2010 graduating class and offered high praise for the accomplishments of the American military—including the most unabashed appreciation of the achievement of U.S. forces in Iraq he has ever put forth. “This is what success looks like,” he said, “an Iraq that provides no safe-haven to terrorists; a democratic Iraq that is sovereign, stable, and self-reliant.” But before an audience of some 1,000 men and women in uniform, the commander in chief chose to focus on the nonmilitary dimension of advancing America’s interests.

To continue reading this article from the July/August issue of COMMENTARY, click here.

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The Kindle Takes Over

If you want to know just how fast the world of the printed word — and thus the intellectual world as a whole — is changing, consider a report in today’s Washington Post.

Amazon is reporting that it is now selling 143 Kindle books for every 100 paper-and-ink books. Kindle books outsold regular books for a while after
Christmas last year, and everyone assumed, doubtlessly correctly, that many people had gotten Kindles for Christmas and were loading them up. But now, half a year later, it seems to be a permanent shift. The recent cut in the price of a Kindle has tripled sales.

“We’ve reached a tipping point with the new price of Kindle,” Bezos said in the statement. “Amazon.com customers now purchase more Kindle books than hardcover books — astonishing when you consider that we’ve been selling hardcover books for 15 years, and Kindle books for 33 months.”

Those of us who love books have to be of two minds about this trend. Books are lovely objects and convey a tactile pleasure along with, hopefully,
cerebral ones. But the horse and buggy was not without its charms too. I’m quite confident that 10 years from now, only a minority, perhaps a small
one, of books will be published in paper-and-ink form. That goes at least equally for magazines and newspapers.

When I first went to work in publishing as a production editor, fresh out of college, books were still being set “hot metal,” i.e., by linotype machines. That makes me feel like I remember the Dark Ages.

If you want to know just how fast the world of the printed word — and thus the intellectual world as a whole — is changing, consider a report in today’s Washington Post.

Amazon is reporting that it is now selling 143 Kindle books for every 100 paper-and-ink books. Kindle books outsold regular books for a while after
Christmas last year, and everyone assumed, doubtlessly correctly, that many people had gotten Kindles for Christmas and were loading them up. But now, half a year later, it seems to be a permanent shift. The recent cut in the price of a Kindle has tripled sales.

“We’ve reached a tipping point with the new price of Kindle,” Bezos said in the statement. “Amazon.com customers now purchase more Kindle books than hardcover books — astonishing when you consider that we’ve been selling hardcover books for 15 years, and Kindle books for 33 months.”

Those of us who love books have to be of two minds about this trend. Books are lovely objects and convey a tactile pleasure along with, hopefully,
cerebral ones. But the horse and buggy was not without its charms too. I’m quite confident that 10 years from now, only a minority, perhaps a small
one, of books will be published in paper-and-ink form. That goes at least equally for magazines and newspapers.

When I first went to work in publishing as a production editor, fresh out of college, books were still being set “hot metal,” i.e., by linotype machines. That makes me feel like I remember the Dark Ages.

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Hype and Reality over Rules of Engagement

Having recently returned from more than two weeks in Afghanistan, I was struck by how overblown the whole debate over “Rules of Engagement” has become. Back home, bloggers are becoming apoplectic, claiming that, as one website put it, “Obama’s Rules of Engagement in Afghanistan Costing Our Troops Lives.” From such hyperbolic reporting, you would think that American soldiers and Marines are routinely being killed in firefights that they might have won had they been able to summon air or artillery support. Not so. The biggest killer of our troops is IEDs, which no amount of bombing can stop. In fact, too much expenditure of firepower can make it harder for our troops to uncover these deadly booby traps, because it alienates the population — the prime source of intelligence.

The National Bureau of Economic Research has just released an interesting paper on the effects of civilian casualties. It is written by four social scientists, one of them a U.S. Army colonel (Joe Felter) currently serving in Afghanistan. Through a careful study of collateral-damage incidents, they determined that every coalition-caused civilian death results in “6 additional violent incidents in an average sized district in the following 6 weeks.” In other words, being too indiscriminate in the application of firepower creates more enemies than our operations can remove. Which is precisely why General Stanley McChrystal — not President Obama — instituted tight limits on the use of force.

His restrictions have been in part responsible for a decline in American air strikes and in Afghan civilian deaths. As CNN notes: “Civilians killed by U.S. and NATO forces ‘reduced considerably’ to 210 during the period [the first half of the year] because of restrictions imposed on the use of airstrikes. … Deaths in airstrikes dropped by more than 50 percent to 94.” That means, in effect, that U.S. troops created fewer enemies for themselves than they have in the past.

The risks incurred by U.S. troops under this policy are somewhat ameliorated by the fact that their numbers have tripled over the past year. That means they can win more fights without having to call in air support. But there is no doubt that the tight restrictions on air strikes have somewhat increased the risks faced by ground forces, even though McChrystal always made it plain that troops have a right and a duty to act in self-defense.

This has resulted in a handful of highly publicized cases, recycled many times in news accounts, in which troops complain that they were prevented from calling in badly needed air strikes. It appears likely that McChrystal’s broad directives, while well-intentioned, were interpreted too bureaucratically and too narrowly by some units. That is something that General David Petraeus and his operational commander, Lieutenant General David Rodriguez, are now studying to determine whether adjustments are necessary.

But don’t expect Petraeus to declare Afghanistan a free-fire zone. Nor should he. He is mindful, as McChrystal was, that the Soviets killed more than a million Afghans in the 1980s and still lost the war. The “kill them all” approach to counterinsurgency seldom if ever works, and it is certainly not an option for the armed forces of a liberal superpower that must operate under the glare of media scrutiny. Our armed forces must strike a delicate balance between aggressively hunting insurgents and sparing the population among whom the insurgents hide. That is hard to do, and it requires tremendous discipline and fortitude on the part of the troops, but it is the only way to win a war like this one.

Having recently returned from more than two weeks in Afghanistan, I was struck by how overblown the whole debate over “Rules of Engagement” has become. Back home, bloggers are becoming apoplectic, claiming that, as one website put it, “Obama’s Rules of Engagement in Afghanistan Costing Our Troops Lives.” From such hyperbolic reporting, you would think that American soldiers and Marines are routinely being killed in firefights that they might have won had they been able to summon air or artillery support. Not so. The biggest killer of our troops is IEDs, which no amount of bombing can stop. In fact, too much expenditure of firepower can make it harder for our troops to uncover these deadly booby traps, because it alienates the population — the prime source of intelligence.

The National Bureau of Economic Research has just released an interesting paper on the effects of civilian casualties. It is written by four social scientists, one of them a U.S. Army colonel (Joe Felter) currently serving in Afghanistan. Through a careful study of collateral-damage incidents, they determined that every coalition-caused civilian death results in “6 additional violent incidents in an average sized district in the following 6 weeks.” In other words, being too indiscriminate in the application of firepower creates more enemies than our operations can remove. Which is precisely why General Stanley McChrystal — not President Obama — instituted tight limits on the use of force.

His restrictions have been in part responsible for a decline in American air strikes and in Afghan civilian deaths. As CNN notes: “Civilians killed by U.S. and NATO forces ‘reduced considerably’ to 210 during the period [the first half of the year] because of restrictions imposed on the use of airstrikes. … Deaths in airstrikes dropped by more than 50 percent to 94.” That means, in effect, that U.S. troops created fewer enemies for themselves than they have in the past.

The risks incurred by U.S. troops under this policy are somewhat ameliorated by the fact that their numbers have tripled over the past year. That means they can win more fights without having to call in air support. But there is no doubt that the tight restrictions on air strikes have somewhat increased the risks faced by ground forces, even though McChrystal always made it plain that troops have a right and a duty to act in self-defense.

This has resulted in a handful of highly publicized cases, recycled many times in news accounts, in which troops complain that they were prevented from calling in badly needed air strikes. It appears likely that McChrystal’s broad directives, while well-intentioned, were interpreted too bureaucratically and too narrowly by some units. That is something that General David Petraeus and his operational commander, Lieutenant General David Rodriguez, are now studying to determine whether adjustments are necessary.

But don’t expect Petraeus to declare Afghanistan a free-fire zone. Nor should he. He is mindful, as McChrystal was, that the Soviets killed more than a million Afghans in the 1980s and still lost the war. The “kill them all” approach to counterinsurgency seldom if ever works, and it is certainly not an option for the armed forces of a liberal superpower that must operate under the glare of media scrutiny. Our armed forces must strike a delicate balance between aggressively hunting insurgents and sparing the population among whom the insurgents hide. That is hard to do, and it requires tremendous discipline and fortitude on the part of the troops, but it is the only way to win a war like this one.

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From Gitmo to Algeria

Obama’s cockeyed national security policy (which seeks ephemeral PR benefits from releasing terror detainees and handcuffing our own intelligence operatives) and his indifference to human rights have collided in the return of an Algerian Gitmo detainee to his home country — against his will. This report explains:

Aziz Abdul Naji, 35, an Algerian who had been held at Guantanamo for more than eight years, had appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court to remain at the military detention center in Cuba. He argued that he would be tortured or killed in Algeria, either by the government or by terrorist groups that might try to recruit him.

In a unanimous decision, the justices declined late Friday to hear Naji’s appeal, and the Defense Department announced Monday that he had been repatriated.

We are told not to worry about his fate:

The government said that Algeria has provided diplomatic assurances that Naji would not be mistreated, assurances that administration officials say are credible because 10 other detainees have been returned to Algeria without incident.

“We take our human rights responsibilities seriously,” said an administration official.

Attorneys for Naji said they were disappointed by the transfer and vowed to continue to monitor Naji’s treatment.

“We are pretty stunned; you are never prepared,” said Doris Tennant, one of the lawyers. “We hope very much that the Algerian government will protect him. We plan to do everything we can to stay on top of it, and we are working with NGOs to make sure he is well protected.”

Algeria takes its human rights seriously? One doesn’t know whether to laugh or cry. Apparently, the Obami are willing to play along with this farce. Algeria takes many things seriously — prolonging the Western Sahara humanitarian crisis, for example — but not human rights. Don’t take my word for it:

France must not deport a man convicted of terrorist acts to Algeria where he may be at risk of incommunicado detention and torture or other ill-treatment, Amnesty International said on Thursday. According to a European Court of Human Rights’ judgement on Thursday, Kamel Daoudi’s expulsion to Algeria would expose him to inhuman or degrading treatment and would be in violation of the European Convention on Human Rights. “Sending Kamel Daoudi to Algeria would put him at risk of being tortured. As a signatory to the European Convention on Human Rights, France must not carry out the expulsion,” said David Diaz-Jogeix, Amnesty International’s Europe and Central Asia Deputy Programme Director.

That’s a 2009 Amnesty International report. Want a more authoritative source? There is this:

Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

The law prohibits such practices; however, NGO and local human rights activists reported that government officials sometimes employed them to obtain confessions. Government agents can face prison sentences of between 10 and 20 years for committing such acts, and some were tried and convicted in 2008. Nonetheless, impunity remained a problem.

Local human rights lawyers maintained that torture continued to occur in detention facilities, most often against those arrested on “security grounds.” …

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions generally did not meet international standards. Overcrowding was a problem in many prisons. According to human rights lawyers, the problem of overpopulation was partially explained by an abusive recourse to pretrial detention. In 2008 the [National Consultative Commission for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights] conducted 34 prison visits and highlighted concerns with overcrowding, insufficient bed space, as well as poor lighting, ventilation, nutrition, and hygiene.

That’s from our State Department’s 2009 Human Rights Report.

No wonder a total of six Algerians (the other five are nearly certain to be repatriated) didn’t want to go back. But Obama thinks it is important (at least to his own image with international elite) to eject the Algerians from a safe, comfortable detention facility. So back they will go. Good luck to them. Let’s hope the NGOs are able to keep track of them and offer some protection. The United States sure won’t.

Obama’s cockeyed national security policy (which seeks ephemeral PR benefits from releasing terror detainees and handcuffing our own intelligence operatives) and his indifference to human rights have collided in the return of an Algerian Gitmo detainee to his home country — against his will. This report explains:

Aziz Abdul Naji, 35, an Algerian who had been held at Guantanamo for more than eight years, had appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court to remain at the military detention center in Cuba. He argued that he would be tortured or killed in Algeria, either by the government or by terrorist groups that might try to recruit him.

In a unanimous decision, the justices declined late Friday to hear Naji’s appeal, and the Defense Department announced Monday that he had been repatriated.

We are told not to worry about his fate:

The government said that Algeria has provided diplomatic assurances that Naji would not be mistreated, assurances that administration officials say are credible because 10 other detainees have been returned to Algeria without incident.

“We take our human rights responsibilities seriously,” said an administration official.

Attorneys for Naji said they were disappointed by the transfer and vowed to continue to monitor Naji’s treatment.

“We are pretty stunned; you are never prepared,” said Doris Tennant, one of the lawyers. “We hope very much that the Algerian government will protect him. We plan to do everything we can to stay on top of it, and we are working with NGOs to make sure he is well protected.”

Algeria takes its human rights seriously? One doesn’t know whether to laugh or cry. Apparently, the Obami are willing to play along with this farce. Algeria takes many things seriously — prolonging the Western Sahara humanitarian crisis, for example — but not human rights. Don’t take my word for it:

France must not deport a man convicted of terrorist acts to Algeria where he may be at risk of incommunicado detention and torture or other ill-treatment, Amnesty International said on Thursday. According to a European Court of Human Rights’ judgement on Thursday, Kamel Daoudi’s expulsion to Algeria would expose him to inhuman or degrading treatment and would be in violation of the European Convention on Human Rights. “Sending Kamel Daoudi to Algeria would put him at risk of being tortured. As a signatory to the European Convention on Human Rights, France must not carry out the expulsion,” said David Diaz-Jogeix, Amnesty International’s Europe and Central Asia Deputy Programme Director.

That’s a 2009 Amnesty International report. Want a more authoritative source? There is this:

Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

The law prohibits such practices; however, NGO and local human rights activists reported that government officials sometimes employed them to obtain confessions. Government agents can face prison sentences of between 10 and 20 years for committing such acts, and some were tried and convicted in 2008. Nonetheless, impunity remained a problem.

Local human rights lawyers maintained that torture continued to occur in detention facilities, most often against those arrested on “security grounds.” …

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions generally did not meet international standards. Overcrowding was a problem in many prisons. According to human rights lawyers, the problem of overpopulation was partially explained by an abusive recourse to pretrial detention. In 2008 the [National Consultative Commission for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights] conducted 34 prison visits and highlighted concerns with overcrowding, insufficient bed space, as well as poor lighting, ventilation, nutrition, and hygiene.

That’s from our State Department’s 2009 Human Rights Report.

No wonder a total of six Algerians (the other five are nearly certain to be repatriated) didn’t want to go back. But Obama thinks it is important (at least to his own image with international elite) to eject the Algerians from a safe, comfortable detention facility. So back they will go. Good luck to them. Let’s hope the NGOs are able to keep track of them and offer some protection. The United States sure won’t.

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Sestak Doubles Down as ECI Doubles the Ad Buy

The ad by the Emergency Committee for Israel (ECI) and the barrage of negative coverage of Joe Sestak’s record on Israel and his frothy praise for CAIR seem to have struck a nerve. In a hastily arranged presser in Philadelphia, the Sestak camp dragged out four left-leaning Jewish supporters to vouch for him. One, Howard Langer, has already vouched for Sestak with his wallet, by giving him $9,200 since 2008. A second doesn’t even live in Pennsylvania. Another is from the Jewish Social Policy Action Network, which a local Philadelphia activist reminds me “was founded because they felt the American Jewish Congress was too conservative.” Not a very impressive dog-and-pony show. And strangely, Sestak himself did not show. Could he be hiding from the press? (My inquiries to his campaign on his positions on a variety of Israel-related issues have not been answered.) I would think he’d be happy to clear up the “misconceptions” about his views on Israel.

Who wasn’t there? AIPAC’s council chair, an informed source in Philadelphia’s Jewish community tells me, was invited but declined to attend. Hmm. Did Sestak imagine such a person would come and say that a keynote speech to CAIR is no big deal? If so, he’s more out to lunch than we imagined.

A Toomey supporter told me, “I am amazed they are sticking with this. ECI’s response [to Sestak's attempt to take down the ad] was rock-solid.” And indeed, once again, Sestak seems only to be re-enforcing a problematic issue for his faltering campaign.

Not surprisingly, ECI isn’t backing down. Greg Sargent reports that ECI’s ad buy has doubled. The Sestak ad will now be on broadcast TV and air during the Phillies game on Friday.

How badly is this hurting Sestak? Well, if the appearance of another lawyer letter is any indication, quite a bit. In his latest missive, Sestak’s lawyer pitches a fit over Comcast’s refusal to take down the ECI ad. One has to marvel at his propensity to restate horrid arguments. Again, he whines that CAIR was only declared a front group for Hamas after Sestak spoke. And he restates Sestak’s own words in the Gaza 54 letter, in which he demanded that an alternative to the Gaza blockade be found so Israel can stop inflicting “collective punishment” on Palestinians. Is the lawyer working for Sestak or for Toomey?

Sestak’s “shut up” campaign has been spectacularly unsuccessful. Soon every voter in the state will know two facts: he voted with Nancy Pelosi 97.8 percent of the time and he keynoted for CAIR, a group that has ties to terrorists. I doubt Sestak’s opponent could have been so effective.

The ad by the Emergency Committee for Israel (ECI) and the barrage of negative coverage of Joe Sestak’s record on Israel and his frothy praise for CAIR seem to have struck a nerve. In a hastily arranged presser in Philadelphia, the Sestak camp dragged out four left-leaning Jewish supporters to vouch for him. One, Howard Langer, has already vouched for Sestak with his wallet, by giving him $9,200 since 2008. A second doesn’t even live in Pennsylvania. Another is from the Jewish Social Policy Action Network, which a local Philadelphia activist reminds me “was founded because they felt the American Jewish Congress was too conservative.” Not a very impressive dog-and-pony show. And strangely, Sestak himself did not show. Could he be hiding from the press? (My inquiries to his campaign on his positions on a variety of Israel-related issues have not been answered.) I would think he’d be happy to clear up the “misconceptions” about his views on Israel.

Who wasn’t there? AIPAC’s council chair, an informed source in Philadelphia’s Jewish community tells me, was invited but declined to attend. Hmm. Did Sestak imagine such a person would come and say that a keynote speech to CAIR is no big deal? If so, he’s more out to lunch than we imagined.

A Toomey supporter told me, “I am amazed they are sticking with this. ECI’s response [to Sestak's attempt to take down the ad] was rock-solid.” And indeed, once again, Sestak seems only to be re-enforcing a problematic issue for his faltering campaign.

Not surprisingly, ECI isn’t backing down. Greg Sargent reports that ECI’s ad buy has doubled. The Sestak ad will now be on broadcast TV and air during the Phillies game on Friday.

How badly is this hurting Sestak? Well, if the appearance of another lawyer letter is any indication, quite a bit. In his latest missive, Sestak’s lawyer pitches a fit over Comcast’s refusal to take down the ECI ad. One has to marvel at his propensity to restate horrid arguments. Again, he whines that CAIR was only declared a front group for Hamas after Sestak spoke. And he restates Sestak’s own words in the Gaza 54 letter, in which he demanded that an alternative to the Gaza blockade be found so Israel can stop inflicting “collective punishment” on Palestinians. Is the lawyer working for Sestak or for Toomey?

Sestak’s “shut up” campaign has been spectacularly unsuccessful. Soon every voter in the state will know two facts: he voted with Nancy Pelosi 97.8 percent of the time and he keynoted for CAIR, a group that has ties to terrorists. I doubt Sestak’s opponent could have been so effective.

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Obama Tips His Hand: No Reform, Just an Issue

The Obama team would rather fuel racial tensions than pass comprehensive immigration reform. That is the upshot of this Washington Post report:

West Wing strategists argue that the president’s call for legislation that acknowledges the role of immigrants and goes beyond punishing undocumented workers will help cement a permanent political relationship between Democrats and Hispanics — much as civil rights and voting rights legislation did for the party and African Americans in the 1960s.

As a result, although the president is unlikely to press for comprehensive immigration reform this year, he has urged his allies to keep up the pressure on Republican lawmakers. [emphasis added]

Because, you see, if he passed a bill, the issue would go away. And then Hispanics wouldn’t be mad at the GOP. It is quite a buried lede. The story here is not as the Post‘s headline reads: “Republican immigration position likely to alienate Latinos, Obama officials say.” It is, instead, “Obama Wants Divisive Racial Issue, Not Immigration Reform.”

Hispanic activists actually wanted the president to work on comprehensive immigration reform. But during a White House meeting, they learned that’s not the game here:

The activists came away from their presidential audience still convinced that he could be doing more to push the issue. But their discussion with Obama — and a lengthier one with adviser Valerie Jarrett after he left the room — made one thing clear to them: The White House plans to use the immigration debate to punish the GOP and aggressively seek the Latino vote in 2012.

“The president fundamentally understands that this is about the longer term,” said Janet Murguia, president and chief executive of the National Council of La Raza, who attended the White House meeting. “This issue goes deeper than any list of needs. Your answer on this question will reveal to us whether you do or don’t understand our community.”

“Deeper” than the need to address immigration reform is the need to keep Democrats in power. It seems Obama is not the only one playing a dangerous game of racial politics.

The Obama team would rather fuel racial tensions than pass comprehensive immigration reform. That is the upshot of this Washington Post report:

West Wing strategists argue that the president’s call for legislation that acknowledges the role of immigrants and goes beyond punishing undocumented workers will help cement a permanent political relationship between Democrats and Hispanics — much as civil rights and voting rights legislation did for the party and African Americans in the 1960s.

As a result, although the president is unlikely to press for comprehensive immigration reform this year, he has urged his allies to keep up the pressure on Republican lawmakers. [emphasis added]

Because, you see, if he passed a bill, the issue would go away. And then Hispanics wouldn’t be mad at the GOP. It is quite a buried lede. The story here is not as the Post‘s headline reads: “Republican immigration position likely to alienate Latinos, Obama officials say.” It is, instead, “Obama Wants Divisive Racial Issue, Not Immigration Reform.”

Hispanic activists actually wanted the president to work on comprehensive immigration reform. But during a White House meeting, they learned that’s not the game here:

The activists came away from their presidential audience still convinced that he could be doing more to push the issue. But their discussion with Obama — and a lengthier one with adviser Valerie Jarrett after he left the room — made one thing clear to them: The White House plans to use the immigration debate to punish the GOP and aggressively seek the Latino vote in 2012.

“The president fundamentally understands that this is about the longer term,” said Janet Murguia, president and chief executive of the National Council of La Raza, who attended the White House meeting. “This issue goes deeper than any list of needs. Your answer on this question will reveal to us whether you do or don’t understand our community.”

“Deeper” than the need to address immigration reform is the need to keep Democrats in power. It seems Obama is not the only one playing a dangerous game of racial politics.

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More Constructive than George Mitchell and J Street

Yes, that’s a low bar to hop over when it comes to the Middle East. But if the constructive force is none other than Libya, specifically  the son of  Muammar and president of the Gaddafi Foundation, that is reason to take note.

We learn that he’s urging that the Palestinians and their violence-inciting allies cut out the blockade-running and off-load humanitarian aid through approved crossings. Gaddafi the Younger’s advice includes such pearls of wisdom as this: “There are conflicts between them taking place at the expense of ordinary Palestinians; everybody wants to see a show or spectacle or confrontation, rather than help … they all want to kill the vineyard guard at the expense of getting the grapes.”

Isn’t this the craziest thing? I mean, he’s more constructive than J Street, which wants Jewish charitable donors investigated ( they might be supporting settlements on the West Bank) and Israel bashed. His advice is certainly more helpful than another round of useless proximity talks. And it’s hard to quibble with the following:

Interesting point that, about the exploitation by “Palestinian” parties of the suffering of their own people to serve their own political agendas. Of course one has heard such stuff before, most notably and often from members of the great neocon-Zionist conspiracy—but from the lips of an Arab actually in a position to do something to help? In public? Rarely, if ever at all. As for help, $50 million is a nice little tip—Mr. Gaddafi says it’s just a start—out of the abundant Muammarian coffers, but what of the riyals and dinars and dirhams in the hoards of the oil-drenched Saudi “king,” the gassy al-Thanis of Qatar, and the rest of the members of the Arab League who routinely shed crocodile tears over the fate of those same suffering people?

Maybe the Obami could take a break from the fruitless peace process and figure out how to spread Gaddafi’s message throughout the “Muslim World.” For all his “engagement” efforts, Obama has spent precious little time saying anything as insightful as Gaddafi. He seems rather to be fixated on telling his Muslim audience what they want to hear.

And if the Obama team breaks free of the peace-process vortex, it might discuss the most important national security issue of our time with Israel’s neighbors – and it’s not the faux Gaza humanitarian issue (take a look here at the newest Gaza mall). It’s allowing an Islamic fundamentalist state to get the bomb.

Yes, that’s a low bar to hop over when it comes to the Middle East. But if the constructive force is none other than Libya, specifically  the son of  Muammar and president of the Gaddafi Foundation, that is reason to take note.

We learn that he’s urging that the Palestinians and their violence-inciting allies cut out the blockade-running and off-load humanitarian aid through approved crossings. Gaddafi the Younger’s advice includes such pearls of wisdom as this: “There are conflicts between them taking place at the expense of ordinary Palestinians; everybody wants to see a show or spectacle or confrontation, rather than help … they all want to kill the vineyard guard at the expense of getting the grapes.”

Isn’t this the craziest thing? I mean, he’s more constructive than J Street, which wants Jewish charitable donors investigated ( they might be supporting settlements on the West Bank) and Israel bashed. His advice is certainly more helpful than another round of useless proximity talks. And it’s hard to quibble with the following:

Interesting point that, about the exploitation by “Palestinian” parties of the suffering of their own people to serve their own political agendas. Of course one has heard such stuff before, most notably and often from members of the great neocon-Zionist conspiracy—but from the lips of an Arab actually in a position to do something to help? In public? Rarely, if ever at all. As for help, $50 million is a nice little tip—Mr. Gaddafi says it’s just a start—out of the abundant Muammarian coffers, but what of the riyals and dinars and dirhams in the hoards of the oil-drenched Saudi “king,” the gassy al-Thanis of Qatar, and the rest of the members of the Arab League who routinely shed crocodile tears over the fate of those same suffering people?

Maybe the Obami could take a break from the fruitless peace process and figure out how to spread Gaddafi’s message throughout the “Muslim World.” For all his “engagement” efforts, Obama has spent precious little time saying anything as insightful as Gaddafi. He seems rather to be fixated on telling his Muslim audience what they want to hear.

And if the Obama team breaks free of the peace-process vortex, it might discuss the most important national security issue of our time with Israel’s neighbors – and it’s not the faux Gaza humanitarian issue (take a look here at the newest Gaza mall). It’s allowing an Islamic fundamentalist state to get the bomb.

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Richard Cohen: Obama Is No Reagan

My how the bloom is off the Obama rose. Richard Cohen sounds, well, like a CONTENTIONS blogger:

No one is accusing Obama of being likable. He is not unlikable, but he lacks Reagan’s (or Bill Clinton’s) warmth. What’s more, his career has been brief. He led no movement, was spokesman for no ideology and campaigned like a Nike sneaker — change instead of swoosh. He seems distant. No Irish jokes from him. For the average voter, he casts no shadow.

Reagan, by contrast, had been around forever. He was not defined solely by gauzy campaign ads but by countless speeches, two contentious and highly controversial terms as California governor, and a previous race for the presidency. There was never a question about who Reagan was and what he stood for. Not so Obama. About all he shares with Reagan at this point are low ratings.

I confess I am always baffled when pundits and voters say they like Obama but not his policies. What has been ingratiating about him? He’s thin-skinned, prickly, and robotic. He’s unduly nasty to political opponents. He doesn’t seem to like us (especially ordinary Americans who have taken to the streets and town halls), so why should we like him?

I suspect the canned response (“Oh sure, we like him, just not his handling of [fill in the blank]“) is a form of politeness, perhaps even wariness of expressing personal distaste for our first African American president. The idea of Obama has proved infinitely more attractive than the reality. Not even liberals like him anymore.

But Cohen’s not done:

What has come to be called the Obama Paradox is not a paradox at all. Voters lack faith in him making the right economic decisions because, as far as they’re concerned, he hasn’t. He went for health-care reform, not jobs. He supported the public option, then he didn’t. He’s been cold to Israel’s Binyamin Netanyahu and then all over him like a cheap suit. Americans know Obama is smart. But we still don’t know him. Before Americans can give him credit for what he’s done, they have to know who he is. We’re waiting.

Or perhaps they know who he is (the prototypical Ivy League leftist) and still don’t like him. I will leave to others to debate whether he is “smart” or merely glib. (At the health-care summit, did he seem as smart as Paul Ryan?) What we do know is that he hasn’t been smart on politics (ask Nancy Pelosi), on the economy, or on the war on terror (how smart is it to excise the name of our enemy?).

The degree to which the entire debate has shifted is striking. We know how he has enraged and motivated conservatives. But now the left makes little or no effort to defend their once-messianic figure and seems to parrot many of the right’s complaints. If this is how Cohen, a rather reliable liberal voice, feels about Obama, imagine what independent voters in Ohio and Indiana and California must be thinking. We’ll get a hint this November.

My how the bloom is off the Obama rose. Richard Cohen sounds, well, like a CONTENTIONS blogger:

No one is accusing Obama of being likable. He is not unlikable, but he lacks Reagan’s (or Bill Clinton’s) warmth. What’s more, his career has been brief. He led no movement, was spokesman for no ideology and campaigned like a Nike sneaker — change instead of swoosh. He seems distant. No Irish jokes from him. For the average voter, he casts no shadow.

Reagan, by contrast, had been around forever. He was not defined solely by gauzy campaign ads but by countless speeches, two contentious and highly controversial terms as California governor, and a previous race for the presidency. There was never a question about who Reagan was and what he stood for. Not so Obama. About all he shares with Reagan at this point are low ratings.

I confess I am always baffled when pundits and voters say they like Obama but not his policies. What has been ingratiating about him? He’s thin-skinned, prickly, and robotic. He’s unduly nasty to political opponents. He doesn’t seem to like us (especially ordinary Americans who have taken to the streets and town halls), so why should we like him?

I suspect the canned response (“Oh sure, we like him, just not his handling of [fill in the blank]“) is a form of politeness, perhaps even wariness of expressing personal distaste for our first African American president. The idea of Obama has proved infinitely more attractive than the reality. Not even liberals like him anymore.

But Cohen’s not done:

What has come to be called the Obama Paradox is not a paradox at all. Voters lack faith in him making the right economic decisions because, as far as they’re concerned, he hasn’t. He went for health-care reform, not jobs. He supported the public option, then he didn’t. He’s been cold to Israel’s Binyamin Netanyahu and then all over him like a cheap suit. Americans know Obama is smart. But we still don’t know him. Before Americans can give him credit for what he’s done, they have to know who he is. We’re waiting.

Or perhaps they know who he is (the prototypical Ivy League leftist) and still don’t like him. I will leave to others to debate whether he is “smart” or merely glib. (At the health-care summit, did he seem as smart as Paul Ryan?) What we do know is that he hasn’t been smart on politics (ask Nancy Pelosi), on the economy, or on the war on terror (how smart is it to excise the name of our enemy?).

The degree to which the entire debate has shifted is striking. We know how he has enraged and motivated conservatives. But now the left makes little or no effort to defend their once-messianic figure and seems to parrot many of the right’s complaints. If this is how Cohen, a rather reliable liberal voice, feels about Obama, imagine what independent voters in Ohio and Indiana and California must be thinking. We’ll get a hint this November.

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UN Still Corrupt

Those infatuated with multilateral institutions — which are lauded as occupying the high moral ground (as opposed to all those grubby democracies) — are continually embarrassed (well, they should be embarrassed) when these bodies prove to be entirely corrupt and dysfunctional. This report explains:

The outgoing chief of a U.N. office charged with combating corruption at the United Nations has issued a stinging rebuke of Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, charging him with undermining her efforts and leading the global institution into an era of decline, according to a confidential end-of-assignment report. …

“Your actions are not only deplorable, but seriously reprehensible. … Your action is without precedent and in my opinion seriously embarrassing for yourself,” Ahlenius wrote in the 50-page memo to Ban, a copy of which was obtained by The Washington Post. “I regret to say that the secretariat now is in a process of decay.”

Well, it seems the UN has improved not at all from the oil-for-food scandal days.

It remains a mystery why Obama has bestowed upon the UN new respect and importance in his foreign policy schemes. What exactly is it about this body — corrupt, filled with haters of Israel and the West, incapable of enforcing its endless resolutions against rogue states — that captures Obama’s fancy? In grasping for consensus and turning a blind eye to the UN’s bad behavior, Obama has diminished his and our moral authority.

It seems that now is precisely the time to diminish the UN’s importance and make clear the limits of our patience with a body that does far more harm than good.

Those infatuated with multilateral institutions — which are lauded as occupying the high moral ground (as opposed to all those grubby democracies) — are continually embarrassed (well, they should be embarrassed) when these bodies prove to be entirely corrupt and dysfunctional. This report explains:

The outgoing chief of a U.N. office charged with combating corruption at the United Nations has issued a stinging rebuke of Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, charging him with undermining her efforts and leading the global institution into an era of decline, according to a confidential end-of-assignment report. …

“Your actions are not only deplorable, but seriously reprehensible. … Your action is without precedent and in my opinion seriously embarrassing for yourself,” Ahlenius wrote in the 50-page memo to Ban, a copy of which was obtained by The Washington Post. “I regret to say that the secretariat now is in a process of decay.”

Well, it seems the UN has improved not at all from the oil-for-food scandal days.

It remains a mystery why Obama has bestowed upon the UN new respect and importance in his foreign policy schemes. What exactly is it about this body — corrupt, filled with haters of Israel and the West, incapable of enforcing its endless resolutions against rogue states — that captures Obama’s fancy? In grasping for consensus and turning a blind eye to the UN’s bad behavior, Obama has diminished his and our moral authority.

It seems that now is precisely the time to diminish the UN’s importance and make clear the limits of our patience with a body that does far more harm than good.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

RomneyCare is a bust: “If you want a preview of President Obama’s health-care ‘reform,’ take a look at Massachusetts. In 2006, it enacted a “reform” that became a model for Obama. What’s happened since isn’t encouraging. The state did the easy part: expanding state-subsidized insurance coverage. It evaded the hard part: controlling costs and ensuring that spending improves people’s health. … What’s occurring in Massachusetts is the plausible future: Unchecked health spending shapes government priorities and inflates budget deficits and taxes, with small health gains. And they call this ‘reform’?”

Blanche Lincoln is sinking. A new poll shows her 25 points behind.

Panic is rising among Democrats for good reason: “Republican candidates now hold a nine-point lead over Democrats on the Generic Congressional Ballot for the week ending Sunday, July 18, the widest gap between the two parties in several weeks.”

Rep. Paul Ryan is ruling out 2012. His reason is very compelling.

Ben Smith is upset. Chris Wallace didn’t ask Sen. David Vitter a question about his new GOP challenger. Fair criticism. Imagine if Bob Schieffer hadn’t asked Eric Holder about the New  Black Panther case. Oh, right.

Kathy Dahlkemper is in trouble. Even apart from her knee-jerk anti-Israel voting record (and J Street stamp of approval), her votes on domestic issues are a killer. She “won a seat in Congress on a pledge to do something about the national debt. Then she went to Washington — and immediately voted to jack up borrowing by nearly $1 trillion. … Democratic pollster Mark Mellman said disgust with the stimulus and anxiety about the deficit is ‘really a metaphor for wasteful government spending.’ From the perspective of many voters, ‘a lot of their money has gone out the door to bail out big banks and big corporations while their jobs have been lost.’” That’s what the Democratic pollster is saying.

Chris Christie is a rock star among conservatives. Maybe the 2012 contenders should start gaining weight.

RomneyCare is a bust: “If you want a preview of President Obama’s health-care ‘reform,’ take a look at Massachusetts. In 2006, it enacted a “reform” that became a model for Obama. What’s happened since isn’t encouraging. The state did the easy part: expanding state-subsidized insurance coverage. It evaded the hard part: controlling costs and ensuring that spending improves people’s health. … What’s occurring in Massachusetts is the plausible future: Unchecked health spending shapes government priorities and inflates budget deficits and taxes, with small health gains. And they call this ‘reform’?”

Blanche Lincoln is sinking. A new poll shows her 25 points behind.

Panic is rising among Democrats for good reason: “Republican candidates now hold a nine-point lead over Democrats on the Generic Congressional Ballot for the week ending Sunday, July 18, the widest gap between the two parties in several weeks.”

Rep. Paul Ryan is ruling out 2012. His reason is very compelling.

Ben Smith is upset. Chris Wallace didn’t ask Sen. David Vitter a question about his new GOP challenger. Fair criticism. Imagine if Bob Schieffer hadn’t asked Eric Holder about the New  Black Panther case. Oh, right.

Kathy Dahlkemper is in trouble. Even apart from her knee-jerk anti-Israel voting record (and J Street stamp of approval), her votes on domestic issues are a killer. She “won a seat in Congress on a pledge to do something about the national debt. Then she went to Washington — and immediately voted to jack up borrowing by nearly $1 trillion. … Democratic pollster Mark Mellman said disgust with the stimulus and anxiety about the deficit is ‘really a metaphor for wasteful government spending.’ From the perspective of many voters, ‘a lot of their money has gone out the door to bail out big banks and big corporations while their jobs have been lost.’” That’s what the Democratic pollster is saying.

Chris Christie is a rock star among conservatives. Maybe the 2012 contenders should start gaining weight.

Read Less




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