Commentary Magazine


Posts For: August 2, 2010

RE: J Street Defends Ground Zero Mosque

In case you thought my comparison of J Street to CAIR was a rhetorical flourish, get a load of this concerning the ADL’s statement condemning the Ground Zero mosque: “The Council on American-Islamic Relations, a Muslim civil rights group, urged ADL to retract its statement.”

Umm. This might explain why J Street had no problem backing and raising money for the Senate candidate who keynoted at CAIR, Joe Sestak. You see, the two groups have much in common. As for the ADL, Abe Foxman explained the group’s opposition:

In a phone interview, he compared the idea of a mosque near ground zero to the Roman Catholic Carmelite nuns who had a convent at the Auschwitz death camp. In 1993, Pope John Paul II responded to Jewish protests by ordering the nuns to move. “We’re saying if your purpose is to heal differences, it’s the wrong place,” Foxman said of the mosque. “Don’t do it. The symbolism is wrong.”

But the symbolism is exactly right for the likes of J Street and CAIR. That sort of tells you all you need to know about the former’s false billing as a “pro-Israel” group.

In case you thought my comparison of J Street to CAIR was a rhetorical flourish, get a load of this concerning the ADL’s statement condemning the Ground Zero mosque: “The Council on American-Islamic Relations, a Muslim civil rights group, urged ADL to retract its statement.”

Umm. This might explain why J Street had no problem backing and raising money for the Senate candidate who keynoted at CAIR, Joe Sestak. You see, the two groups have much in common. As for the ADL, Abe Foxman explained the group’s opposition:

In a phone interview, he compared the idea of a mosque near ground zero to the Roman Catholic Carmelite nuns who had a convent at the Auschwitz death camp. In 1993, Pope John Paul II responded to Jewish protests by ordering the nuns to move. “We’re saying if your purpose is to heal differences, it’s the wrong place,” Foxman said of the mosque. “Don’t do it. The symbolism is wrong.”

But the symbolism is exactly right for the likes of J Street and CAIR. That sort of tells you all you need to know about the former’s false billing as a “pro-Israel” group.

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Bring Back Jake!

Tom Shales suffered through the debut of Christiane Amanpour as host for This Week:

It’s not that Amanpour seemed personally uncomfortable or constrained in her weekend debut — opening night was Sunday morning — but rather that she proved that she’s miscast for the role, her highly touted global orientation coming across as inappropriate and contrived on a broadcast that for three decades has dealt primarily with domestic politics, policies and culture.

So what was wrong with interim host Jake Tapper — too unbiased? Too prepared? Too knowledgeable about U.S. politics? You got me. While screaming poverty and laying off more employees, ABC News shelled out a reported $2M on a woman whom conservatives revile for her anti-U.S. and anti-Israel bias and record of playing fast and loose with the facts.

But even liberals have to shudder over this:

Amanpour didn’t stick to discussing news of the week with the show’s estimable, exceptional panelists — among them George F. Will and Donna Brazile — but instead brought in a foreign journalist seen earlier in the program, Ahmed Rashid (momentarily stationed in Madrid), for his views via satellite. It was awkward in form and proved negligible in content. In fact, it became ludicrous when, near the end of the segment, the U.S. economy was discussed and Amanpour called upon Rashid, the Taliban expert, again even though he seemed of dubious relevance and authority to the topic at hand.

Sometimes (OK, a lot of the time) network execs blow it. (Think the Jay Leno–Conan O’Brien debacle.) The trick is to cut your losses. Tapper, I’m certain, is a good sport and would be happy to take over the gig when and if ABC comes to its senses.

Tom Shales suffered through the debut of Christiane Amanpour as host for This Week:

It’s not that Amanpour seemed personally uncomfortable or constrained in her weekend debut — opening night was Sunday morning — but rather that she proved that she’s miscast for the role, her highly touted global orientation coming across as inappropriate and contrived on a broadcast that for three decades has dealt primarily with domestic politics, policies and culture.

So what was wrong with interim host Jake Tapper — too unbiased? Too prepared? Too knowledgeable about U.S. politics? You got me. While screaming poverty and laying off more employees, ABC News shelled out a reported $2M on a woman whom conservatives revile for her anti-U.S. and anti-Israel bias and record of playing fast and loose with the facts.

But even liberals have to shudder over this:

Amanpour didn’t stick to discussing news of the week with the show’s estimable, exceptional panelists — among them George F. Will and Donna Brazile — but instead brought in a foreign journalist seen earlier in the program, Ahmed Rashid (momentarily stationed in Madrid), for his views via satellite. It was awkward in form and proved negligible in content. In fact, it became ludicrous when, near the end of the segment, the U.S. economy was discussed and Amanpour called upon Rashid, the Taliban expert, again even though he seemed of dubious relevance and authority to the topic at hand.

Sometimes (OK, a lot of the time) network execs blow it. (Think the Jay Leno–Conan O’Brien debacle.) The trick is to cut your losses. Tapper, I’m certain, is a good sport and would be happy to take over the gig when and if ABC comes to its senses.

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ObamaCare Lawsuit Clears First Hurdle

There was a significant development in the ObamaCare lawsuit today. The attorney general of Virginia Ken Cuccinelli put out the following statement:

A federal judge ruled today that Virginia does indeed have standing to bring its lawsuit seeking to invalidate the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.  The judge also ruled that Virginia had stated a legally sufficient claim in its complaint.  In doing so, federal district court judge Henry E. Hudson denied the federal government’s motion to dismiss the commonwealth’s suit. …

The U.S. Department of Justice argued that Virginia lacked the standing to bring a suit, that the suit is premature, and that the federal government had the power under the U.S. Constitution to mandate that citizens must be covered by government-approved health insurance or pay a monetary penalty.

In denying the motion to dismiss, Judge Hudson found that Virginia had alleged a legally recognized injury to its sovereignty, given the government’s assertion that the federal law invalidates a Virginia law, the Health Care Freedom Act. …

The Court recognized that the federal health care law and its associated penalty were literally unprecedented. Specifically, the Court wrote that “[n]o reported case from any federal appellate court has extended the Commerce Clause or Tax Clause to include the regulation of a person’s decision not to purchase a product, notwithstanding its effect on interstate commerce.”

Well, well. It seems that the conservative scholars were right, and those arguing a legal challenge was frivolous were wrong. Moreover, it is not simply a procedural ruling on standing or “ripeness” (that is, whether there is an actual case at present). Todd Gaziano of the Heritage Foundation explains:

On the merits, we are surprised the judge took as much space to conclude that Virginia stated a valid cause of action, namely, that Congress had exceeded its constitutional authority with the individual mandate.  At this stage in the litigation and on the particular motion that was filed (a Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss for the legal wonks), the judge need not and could not rule on who will win or even if one side is more likely to win.  The only question is whether Virginia stated a legal cause of action (or legal theory) that is cognizable in law.  Virginia certainly has at least a valid substantive theory to challenge the law, because someone with standing is always able to challenge the constitutionality of a statute on the ground that Congress has no constitutional authority to enact it, QED. … Judge Hudson’s discussion of the constitutional issues is somewhat instructive.  It shows he is not hostile or dismissive of Virginia’s claims, which is surely good for liberty.

Obama’s “historic” accomplishment is both legally and politically vulnerable. (Republicans aren’t waiting for the courts to rule it unconstitutional and are thinking up ways to defund ObamaCare.) It seems there really are limits to the left’s statist ambitions.

There was a significant development in the ObamaCare lawsuit today. The attorney general of Virginia Ken Cuccinelli put out the following statement:

A federal judge ruled today that Virginia does indeed have standing to bring its lawsuit seeking to invalidate the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.  The judge also ruled that Virginia had stated a legally sufficient claim in its complaint.  In doing so, federal district court judge Henry E. Hudson denied the federal government’s motion to dismiss the commonwealth’s suit. …

The U.S. Department of Justice argued that Virginia lacked the standing to bring a suit, that the suit is premature, and that the federal government had the power under the U.S. Constitution to mandate that citizens must be covered by government-approved health insurance or pay a monetary penalty.

In denying the motion to dismiss, Judge Hudson found that Virginia had alleged a legally recognized injury to its sovereignty, given the government’s assertion that the federal law invalidates a Virginia law, the Health Care Freedom Act. …

The Court recognized that the federal health care law and its associated penalty were literally unprecedented. Specifically, the Court wrote that “[n]o reported case from any federal appellate court has extended the Commerce Clause or Tax Clause to include the regulation of a person’s decision not to purchase a product, notwithstanding its effect on interstate commerce.”

Well, well. It seems that the conservative scholars were right, and those arguing a legal challenge was frivolous were wrong. Moreover, it is not simply a procedural ruling on standing or “ripeness” (that is, whether there is an actual case at present). Todd Gaziano of the Heritage Foundation explains:

On the merits, we are surprised the judge took as much space to conclude that Virginia stated a valid cause of action, namely, that Congress had exceeded its constitutional authority with the individual mandate.  At this stage in the litigation and on the particular motion that was filed (a Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss for the legal wonks), the judge need not and could not rule on who will win or even if one side is more likely to win.  The only question is whether Virginia stated a legal cause of action (or legal theory) that is cognizable in law.  Virginia certainly has at least a valid substantive theory to challenge the law, because someone with standing is always able to challenge the constitutionality of a statute on the ground that Congress has no constitutional authority to enact it, QED. … Judge Hudson’s discussion of the constitutional issues is somewhat instructive.  It shows he is not hostile or dismissive of Virginia’s claims, which is surely good for liberty.

Obama’s “historic” accomplishment is both legally and politically vulnerable. (Republicans aren’t waiting for the courts to rule it unconstitutional and are thinking up ways to defund ObamaCare.) It seems there really are limits to the left’s statist ambitions.

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A Political Crybaby

Sen. John Kerry told CNN’s Fareed Zakaria this:

I think what’s happened is, Fareed, in the last six months I think there was an article even in the paper this week about people no longer blaming Bush. They’re beginning to target this White House. That’s a natural course of events as you go through any administration, but I don’t think it is fair to the President… I think that part of the problem is that a lot has been accomplished, but the story has not been sufficiently told, and we need to go out with some passion, and energy, and a little bit of anger even and make sure people understand how difficult this road has been against constant, non-stop Republican obstructionism.

Kerry’s short answer reveals a lot.

For one thing, it reminds people that Sen. Kerry, like others in his party, is a chronic political crybaby.

Whether the Massachusetts senior senator understands it or not, the public is right to hold the president of the United States responsible for his policies more than 18 months after he’s been in office. That is doubly true in the case of President Obama, whose administration made certain guarantees in advance about what its policies would produce. (For example, passing the stimulus package would keep unemployment from rising above 8 percent; it topped 10 percent and is currently well above 9 percent.)

In addition, Kerry (like many other liberals) insists that the major difficulty facing the Obama administration is a “communication problem.” This is a risible explanation, given that Obama has at his disposal the largest bully pulpit in the world, to say nothing of Democratic control of both branches of Congress and a largely sympathetic media (at least compared to what a Republican president faces).

The problems facing Obama and the Democrats don’t have to do with a failure to communicate; they have to do with a failure to even begin to meet the expectations they set – from a flourishing economy to the dawning of a new age of effective diplomacy to the most ethical Congress ever, and much else.

The strategy Mr. Kerry is advocating is essentially this: Democrats should: (a) complain more than they are; (b) point fingers at Obama’s predecessor even beyond what they already have (which is very nearly impossible); and (c) become even angrier when making the case that they are overmatched by events.

That this counsel is the best that the Democratic Party’s 2004 presidential nominee has to offer underscores what a difficult bind Democrats find themselves in these days.

Sen. John Kerry told CNN’s Fareed Zakaria this:

I think what’s happened is, Fareed, in the last six months I think there was an article even in the paper this week about people no longer blaming Bush. They’re beginning to target this White House. That’s a natural course of events as you go through any administration, but I don’t think it is fair to the President… I think that part of the problem is that a lot has been accomplished, but the story has not been sufficiently told, and we need to go out with some passion, and energy, and a little bit of anger even and make sure people understand how difficult this road has been against constant, non-stop Republican obstructionism.

Kerry’s short answer reveals a lot.

For one thing, it reminds people that Sen. Kerry, like others in his party, is a chronic political crybaby.

Whether the Massachusetts senior senator understands it or not, the public is right to hold the president of the United States responsible for his policies more than 18 months after he’s been in office. That is doubly true in the case of President Obama, whose administration made certain guarantees in advance about what its policies would produce. (For example, passing the stimulus package would keep unemployment from rising above 8 percent; it topped 10 percent and is currently well above 9 percent.)

In addition, Kerry (like many other liberals) insists that the major difficulty facing the Obama administration is a “communication problem.” This is a risible explanation, given that Obama has at his disposal the largest bully pulpit in the world, to say nothing of Democratic control of both branches of Congress and a largely sympathetic media (at least compared to what a Republican president faces).

The problems facing Obama and the Democrats don’t have to do with a failure to communicate; they have to do with a failure to even begin to meet the expectations they set – from a flourishing economy to the dawning of a new age of effective diplomacy to the most ethical Congress ever, and much else.

The strategy Mr. Kerry is advocating is essentially this: Democrats should: (a) complain more than they are; (b) point fingers at Obama’s predecessor even beyond what they already have (which is very nearly impossible); and (c) become even angrier when making the case that they are overmatched by events.

That this counsel is the best that the Democratic Party’s 2004 presidential nominee has to offer underscores what a difficult bind Democrats find themselves in these days.

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J Street Defends Ground Zero Mosque

It’s been obvious for some time now that J Street is neither pro-peace nor pro-Israel. Its rhetoric and ideology tell us it is pro-Obama and pro-anti-Israel. The latest proof comes from a statement released by Jeremy Ben-Ami, which has nothing to do with Israel:

The principle at stake in the Cordoba House controversy goes to the heart of American democracy and the value we place on freedom of religion. Should one religious group in this country be treated differently than another? We believe the answer is no.

As Mayor Bloomberg has said, proposing a church or a synagogue for that site would raise no questions. The Muslim community has an equal right to build a community center wherever it is legal to do so. We would hope the American Jewish community would be at the forefront of standing up for the freedom and equality of a religious minority looking to exercise its legal rights in the United States, rather than casting aspersions on its funders and giving in to the fear-mongerers and pandering politicians urging it to relocate.

What better ammunition to feed the Osama bin Ladens of the world and their claim of anti-Muslim bias in the United States as they seek to whip up global jihad than to hold this proposal for a Muslim religious center to a different and tougher standard than other religious institutions would be.

This is daft. We are going to annoy Osama bin Laden if we don’t let them have the mosque steps from where his followers incinerated 3,000 Americans? I think they were annoyed before. They don’t need an excuse to whip up global jihadism. Moreover, the J Streeters refuse to acknowledge the legitimate concerns — it’s just casting aspersions, you see — of Jews and non-Jews about the associations and identity of the mosque builders.

Compare that pronouncement with Rudy Giuliani’s, who issued his first blast on the subject:

“It sends a particularly bad message, particularly (because) of the background of the Imam who is supporting this. This is an Imam who has supported radical causes, who has not been forthright in condemning Islamic (terrorism) and the worst instincts that that brings about. So it not only is exactly the wrong place, right at Ground Zero, but it’s a mosque supported by an Imam who has a record of support for causes that were sympathetic with terrorism. Come on! We’re gonna allow that at Ground Zero?

“This is a desecration,” he added. “Nobody would allow something like that at Pearl Harbor. Let’s have some respect for who died there and why they died there. Let’s not put this off on some kind of politically correct theory.

“I mean, they died there because of Islamic extremist terrorism. They are our enemy, we can say that, the world will not end when we say that. And the reality is it will not and should not insult any decent Muslim because decent Muslims should be as opposed to Islamic extremism as you and I are.”

Well, yeah.

But returning to J Street, how is this related to their ostensible mission? It seems — shocking, I know! — that it is indistinguishable from the leftist party line and the pro-CAIR message. Maybe they’ve given up trying to disguise themselves as liberal pro-Zionists (whatever that is). If so, it would introduce some refreshing honesty into the debate as to just which groups are “pro-Israel” and which are pro-Israel’s enemies.

But here’s the thing: is there a market for pro–Ground Zero mosque-building in American Jewry? I think not, and I think even the J Streeters get that. Their audience — yeah, another shocker — seems to be not pro-Israel Jews but leftist pro-Muslims.

It’s been obvious for some time now that J Street is neither pro-peace nor pro-Israel. Its rhetoric and ideology tell us it is pro-Obama and pro-anti-Israel. The latest proof comes from a statement released by Jeremy Ben-Ami, which has nothing to do with Israel:

The principle at stake in the Cordoba House controversy goes to the heart of American democracy and the value we place on freedom of religion. Should one religious group in this country be treated differently than another? We believe the answer is no.

As Mayor Bloomberg has said, proposing a church or a synagogue for that site would raise no questions. The Muslim community has an equal right to build a community center wherever it is legal to do so. We would hope the American Jewish community would be at the forefront of standing up for the freedom and equality of a religious minority looking to exercise its legal rights in the United States, rather than casting aspersions on its funders and giving in to the fear-mongerers and pandering politicians urging it to relocate.

What better ammunition to feed the Osama bin Ladens of the world and their claim of anti-Muslim bias in the United States as they seek to whip up global jihad than to hold this proposal for a Muslim religious center to a different and tougher standard than other religious institutions would be.

This is daft. We are going to annoy Osama bin Laden if we don’t let them have the mosque steps from where his followers incinerated 3,000 Americans? I think they were annoyed before. They don’t need an excuse to whip up global jihadism. Moreover, the J Streeters refuse to acknowledge the legitimate concerns — it’s just casting aspersions, you see — of Jews and non-Jews about the associations and identity of the mosque builders.

Compare that pronouncement with Rudy Giuliani’s, who issued his first blast on the subject:

“It sends a particularly bad message, particularly (because) of the background of the Imam who is supporting this. This is an Imam who has supported radical causes, who has not been forthright in condemning Islamic (terrorism) and the worst instincts that that brings about. So it not only is exactly the wrong place, right at Ground Zero, but it’s a mosque supported by an Imam who has a record of support for causes that were sympathetic with terrorism. Come on! We’re gonna allow that at Ground Zero?

“This is a desecration,” he added. “Nobody would allow something like that at Pearl Harbor. Let’s have some respect for who died there and why they died there. Let’s not put this off on some kind of politically correct theory.

“I mean, they died there because of Islamic extremist terrorism. They are our enemy, we can say that, the world will not end when we say that. And the reality is it will not and should not insult any decent Muslim because decent Muslims should be as opposed to Islamic extremism as you and I are.”

Well, yeah.

But returning to J Street, how is this related to their ostensible mission? It seems — shocking, I know! — that it is indistinguishable from the leftist party line and the pro-CAIR message. Maybe they’ve given up trying to disguise themselves as liberal pro-Zionists (whatever that is). If so, it would introduce some refreshing honesty into the debate as to just which groups are “pro-Israel” and which are pro-Israel’s enemies.

But here’s the thing: is there a market for pro–Ground Zero mosque-building in American Jewry? I think not, and I think even the J Streeters get that. Their audience — yeah, another shocker — seems to be not pro-Israel Jews but leftist pro-Muslims.

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Obama’s Economy

Obama has been using and overusing the Blame Bush gambit for his entire presidency. To the extent it ever “worked,” it was with regard to the economy. For a very long time, voters have accepted the argument that Obama could not be responsible for the economic collapse that began before he took office. No more:

For the first time since President Obama took office, voters see his policies as equally to blame as those of President George W. Bush for the country’s current economic problems.

A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that 48% of Likely U.S. Voters now think Obama’s policies are to blame for the continuing bad economy, up three points from last month. Forty-seven percent (47%) say the recession that began under Bush is at fault.

With voters across the country expressing stronger belief that the economy is getting worse rather than better, these new findings spell potential bad news for Democratic candidates this fall. The president is already planning to limit his campaign appearances with candidates because of potential voter backlash.

In June and last October, 45% blamed Obama’s policies for the country’s ongoing economic woes, the previous high finding on this question. The number who blame Bush is down from 62% in May 2009 when Rasmussen Reports first began tracking the question regularly. Only 27% faulted Obama at that time.

That’s quite a reversal and altogether fitting. Obama has been president for 18 months now. It’s time he acknowledged what the voters have — that he must stop blaming everyone else for his own shortcomings.

Obama has been using and overusing the Blame Bush gambit for his entire presidency. To the extent it ever “worked,” it was with regard to the economy. For a very long time, voters have accepted the argument that Obama could not be responsible for the economic collapse that began before he took office. No more:

For the first time since President Obama took office, voters see his policies as equally to blame as those of President George W. Bush for the country’s current economic problems.

A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that 48% of Likely U.S. Voters now think Obama’s policies are to blame for the continuing bad economy, up three points from last month. Forty-seven percent (47%) say the recession that began under Bush is at fault.

With voters across the country expressing stronger belief that the economy is getting worse rather than better, these new findings spell potential bad news for Democratic candidates this fall. The president is already planning to limit his campaign appearances with candidates because of potential voter backlash.

In June and last October, 45% blamed Obama’s policies for the country’s ongoing economic woes, the previous high finding on this question. The number who blame Bush is down from 62% in May 2009 when Rasmussen Reports first began tracking the question regularly. Only 27% faulted Obama at that time.

That’s quite a reversal and altogether fitting. Obama has been president for 18 months now. It’s time he acknowledged what the voters have — that he must stop blaming everyone else for his own shortcomings.

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No Victory Laps in Iraq — Yet

President Obama delivers a speech today marking the end of combat operations in Iraq as the number of U.S. troops falls to 50,000 by the end of the month. Politico describes this as “the first steps of a U.S. victory lap on the war.” Meanwhile, Iraq continues to suffer from chronic electricity shortages, terrorists have stepped up their attacks this summer, and, most worrying of all, Iraqi politicos agree there is no chance of a government being formed before the fall. These worrisome trends on the ground shouldn’t obscure the amazing progress that has been made since 2007, but they should warn us against the kind of complacency the administration has fallen prey to in the past.

Having 50,000 troops remain in Iraq for at least another year still gives us considerable leverage to influence events in a more positive direction — if we have smart representatives capable of doing that and if they have the support they need in Washington. General Ray Odierno, the senior military commander (who, unfortunately, is about to depart), has done a tremendous job, but he has been let down by his diplomatic partner, Ambassador Chris Hill, who had never served in the Arab world before being appointed last year and has taken a curiously hands-off attitude toward the Iraqi political process.

The good news is that Hill is on the way out and a more experienced ambassador, Jim Jeffrey, who has served in Iraq before, is due to arrive soon. He is smart enough to bring back a few key staff members from the “Dream Team” that helped General Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker manage the surge:

Brett McGurk, an Iraq adviser to then-President George W. Bush who was among the key negotiators of a 2008 bilateral agreement, recently arrived in Baghdad. Sadi Othman, who was Gen. David H. Petraeus’s main interlocutor with Iraqi politicians during the surge, has been asked to return to work for the incoming U.S. commander, Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III. Ali Khedery, who was an adviser to then-U.S. Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker, will work temporarily for the next ambassador, James F. Jeffrey.

General Austin, the new military commander, doesn’t have the same level of experience in Iraq as Odierno, but overall this is a big upgrade of the American presence. Still, it’s not enough to have better representatives on the ground; success in Iraq will also require high-level engagement of the sort that the White House has conducted only intermittently. President Obama needs to pay closer attention and not simply hand Iraq off to Vice President Biden. It is still possible for our hard-won achievements in Iraq to be dissipated if the president is more interested in taking victory laps than in pushing the country forward.

President Obama delivers a speech today marking the end of combat operations in Iraq as the number of U.S. troops falls to 50,000 by the end of the month. Politico describes this as “the first steps of a U.S. victory lap on the war.” Meanwhile, Iraq continues to suffer from chronic electricity shortages, terrorists have stepped up their attacks this summer, and, most worrying of all, Iraqi politicos agree there is no chance of a government being formed before the fall. These worrisome trends on the ground shouldn’t obscure the amazing progress that has been made since 2007, but they should warn us against the kind of complacency the administration has fallen prey to in the past.

Having 50,000 troops remain in Iraq for at least another year still gives us considerable leverage to influence events in a more positive direction — if we have smart representatives capable of doing that and if they have the support they need in Washington. General Ray Odierno, the senior military commander (who, unfortunately, is about to depart), has done a tremendous job, but he has been let down by his diplomatic partner, Ambassador Chris Hill, who had never served in the Arab world before being appointed last year and has taken a curiously hands-off attitude toward the Iraqi political process.

The good news is that Hill is on the way out and a more experienced ambassador, Jim Jeffrey, who has served in Iraq before, is due to arrive soon. He is smart enough to bring back a few key staff members from the “Dream Team” that helped General Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker manage the surge:

Brett McGurk, an Iraq adviser to then-President George W. Bush who was among the key negotiators of a 2008 bilateral agreement, recently arrived in Baghdad. Sadi Othman, who was Gen. David H. Petraeus’s main interlocutor with Iraqi politicians during the surge, has been asked to return to work for the incoming U.S. commander, Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III. Ali Khedery, who was an adviser to then-U.S. Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker, will work temporarily for the next ambassador, James F. Jeffrey.

General Austin, the new military commander, doesn’t have the same level of experience in Iraq as Odierno, but overall this is a big upgrade of the American presence. Still, it’s not enough to have better representatives on the ground; success in Iraq will also require high-level engagement of the sort that the White House has conducted only intermittently. President Obama needs to pay closer attention and not simply hand Iraq off to Vice President Biden. It is still possible for our hard-won achievements in Iraq to be dissipated if the president is more interested in taking victory laps than in pushing the country forward.

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Obama’s Slide Continues

Obama’s poll numbers are worsening — rather significantly. In the RealClearPolitics poll average, his approval is at a new low — 45% — and his disapproval at a new high — 49.7%. (With a slightly different mix of surveys, Pollster.com tells the same story and has Obama’s disapproval just over 50%.) Was it something he did?

Well, the Gulf oil spill debacle is subsiding (bonus points for those who thought the “worst environmental crisis ever” wasn’t). Congress passed the “stick it to Wall Street” financial-reform bill. And yet the president’s poll numbers continue to tumble. It seems as though neither was a significant factor in the public’s opinion of his performance. What is significant is the economy, which the headlines warn us is not rebounding as promised. Obama insists, however, that things are looking up — cementing voters’ sense that he is divorced from reality.

It seems that voters’ impression of Obama is hardening and increasingly negative. They have long since tuned out his spin and remain anxious if not angry about the economy. With his hyper-partisanship and personal aloofness, Obama has sacrificed a personal connection with the public, which now refuses to give him and his spin squad the benefit of the doubt.

Meanwhile, the culture of corruption — the Joe Sestak and Andrew Romanoff job deals, Charlie Rangel and now Maxine Waters — is on full display, evidence that Obama has failed to change the ethical environment inside the Beltway. The combination of sleeziness, incompetence, and fiscal irresponsibility is deadly — just ask the Republicans who lost their seats in 2006.

In sum, Obama and his party are heading for an electoral thumping. The blame game on the left will be vicious. The only questions that remain are the extent of the damage Obama has inflicted on his party and whether he is capable of rescuing the remainder of his presidency.

Obama’s poll numbers are worsening — rather significantly. In the RealClearPolitics poll average, his approval is at a new low — 45% — and his disapproval at a new high — 49.7%. (With a slightly different mix of surveys, Pollster.com tells the same story and has Obama’s disapproval just over 50%.) Was it something he did?

Well, the Gulf oil spill debacle is subsiding (bonus points for those who thought the “worst environmental crisis ever” wasn’t). Congress passed the “stick it to Wall Street” financial-reform bill. And yet the president’s poll numbers continue to tumble. It seems as though neither was a significant factor in the public’s opinion of his performance. What is significant is the economy, which the headlines warn us is not rebounding as promised. Obama insists, however, that things are looking up — cementing voters’ sense that he is divorced from reality.

It seems that voters’ impression of Obama is hardening and increasingly negative. They have long since tuned out his spin and remain anxious if not angry about the economy. With his hyper-partisanship and personal aloofness, Obama has sacrificed a personal connection with the public, which now refuses to give him and his spin squad the benefit of the doubt.

Meanwhile, the culture of corruption — the Joe Sestak and Andrew Romanoff job deals, Charlie Rangel and now Maxine Waters — is on full display, evidence that Obama has failed to change the ethical environment inside the Beltway. The combination of sleeziness, incompetence, and fiscal irresponsibility is deadly — just ask the Republicans who lost their seats in 2006.

In sum, Obama and his party are heading for an electoral thumping. The blame game on the left will be vicious. The only questions that remain are the extent of the damage Obama has inflicted on his party and whether he is capable of rescuing the remainder of his presidency.

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Susan Rice Is Doing Something at the UN: Targeting Israel

It turns out Susan Rice is doing something as America’s UN ambassador after all. As Jennifer noted on Friday, she isn’t attending vital negotiations on Iran’s nuclear program or protesting bizarre appointments, like Libya’s to the Human Rights Council and Iran’s to the Commission on the Status of Women.

But Haaretz reported yesterday that she has found time to do one crucial thing: lobby Barack Obama to put heavy pressure on Israel to agree to a UN probe of its May raid on a Turkish-sponsored flotilla. And today the Jerusalem Post reported that Israel has indeed capitulated: Defense Minister Ehud Barak informed UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon last week that “in principle,” it’s willing to participate in the probe he is organizing.

One can only hope the Post is wrong, because this would be an atrocious precedent. As Haaretz noted, it would be the first time Israel has ever agreed to a UN probe of an Israel Defense Forces operation. As such, it would legitimize the UN’s insane obsession with Israel.

After all, I haven’t noticed Ban suggesting UN probes of any other country’s military operations — say, Turkish operations against the Kurds, Iran’s attacks on its own citizens, coalition operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, or African Union forces in Somalia, to name just a few of the dozens of armies engaged in combat worldwide every single day. Many of these operations result in far more civilian casualties than Israel’s flotilla raid did — even if you deny the evidence provided by video footage of the raid and assume these casualties actually were civilians rather than combatants.

But aside from setting a terrible precedent, this probe clearly has one, and only one, purpose: to excoriate Israel. Ban’s proposed format is one representative each from Israel and Turkey, one from a traditional Israeli ally (the U.S.), and one from a country traditionally hostile to Israel (New Zealand), plus one UN representative. Since the UN representative will certainly be in the anti-Israel camp, Israel would be outnumbered even if the U.S. representative took its side.

But in reality, the U.S. representative will almost certainly join the anti-Israel camp — because Rice’s view, as reported by the unnamed senior diplomats Haaretz cited, is that facilitating Ban’s probe is “critical to U.S. interests at the UN.”

Granted, it’s hard to imagine what U.S. interest such a probe could possibly serve (Rice couldn’t protest Iran’s inclusion on the women’s commission without it?). But whatever this alleged interest is, if furthering it requires investigating Israel alone, of all the countries engaged in military activity worldwide, it clearly also requires the probe to conclude that Israel was guilty of some heinous crime. Any goal that requires singling Israel out as uniquely suspect clearly can’t be served by ultimately acquitting it.

This is first and foremost Israel’s problem: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu needs to develop a spine. But American supporters of Israel have a role to play as well. They must make it clear to Obama that putting Israel in the UN dock is a red line.

It turns out Susan Rice is doing something as America’s UN ambassador after all. As Jennifer noted on Friday, she isn’t attending vital negotiations on Iran’s nuclear program or protesting bizarre appointments, like Libya’s to the Human Rights Council and Iran’s to the Commission on the Status of Women.

But Haaretz reported yesterday that she has found time to do one crucial thing: lobby Barack Obama to put heavy pressure on Israel to agree to a UN probe of its May raid on a Turkish-sponsored flotilla. And today the Jerusalem Post reported that Israel has indeed capitulated: Defense Minister Ehud Barak informed UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon last week that “in principle,” it’s willing to participate in the probe he is organizing.

One can only hope the Post is wrong, because this would be an atrocious precedent. As Haaretz noted, it would be the first time Israel has ever agreed to a UN probe of an Israel Defense Forces operation. As such, it would legitimize the UN’s insane obsession with Israel.

After all, I haven’t noticed Ban suggesting UN probes of any other country’s military operations — say, Turkish operations against the Kurds, Iran’s attacks on its own citizens, coalition operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, or African Union forces in Somalia, to name just a few of the dozens of armies engaged in combat worldwide every single day. Many of these operations result in far more civilian casualties than Israel’s flotilla raid did — even if you deny the evidence provided by video footage of the raid and assume these casualties actually were civilians rather than combatants.

But aside from setting a terrible precedent, this probe clearly has one, and only one, purpose: to excoriate Israel. Ban’s proposed format is one representative each from Israel and Turkey, one from a traditional Israeli ally (the U.S.), and one from a country traditionally hostile to Israel (New Zealand), plus one UN representative. Since the UN representative will certainly be in the anti-Israel camp, Israel would be outnumbered even if the U.S. representative took its side.

But in reality, the U.S. representative will almost certainly join the anti-Israel camp — because Rice’s view, as reported by the unnamed senior diplomats Haaretz cited, is that facilitating Ban’s probe is “critical to U.S. interests at the UN.”

Granted, it’s hard to imagine what U.S. interest such a probe could possibly serve (Rice couldn’t protest Iran’s inclusion on the women’s commission without it?). But whatever this alleged interest is, if furthering it requires investigating Israel alone, of all the countries engaged in military activity worldwide, it clearly also requires the probe to conclude that Israel was guilty of some heinous crime. Any goal that requires singling Israel out as uniquely suspect clearly can’t be served by ultimately acquitting it.

This is first and foremost Israel’s problem: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu needs to develop a spine. But American supporters of Israel have a role to play as well. They must make it clear to Obama that putting Israel in the UN dock is a red line.

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Forget the Rule Book

Ross Douthat looks at the pre-positioning for the 2012 Republican presidential primary. He explains that there are the populists — Sarah Palin and Mike Huckabee — with devoted followers and equally devoted detractors, and that there is the “next in line” Republican — Mitt Romney. The name of the game, Douthat suggests, for establishment Republicans (the geniuses who preferred Charlie Crist to Marco Rubio?) is to stage “a kind of intra-establishment coup, in which Romney is knocked from his perch as the safe, sober choice and a fresher figure takes his place.” Douthat throws out some contenders: Tim Pawlenty, Jeb Bush, John Thune, Mitch Daniels, and Haley Barbour. Douthat advises Romney to “co-opt some of the populist zeal that a Palin or a Huckabee” exhibit without alienating the establishment.

What’s wrong with this analysis? It has no context, and Douthat treats the contenders as archetypes (“sober reformer,” “unpredictable populist,” etc.) rather than as actual contenders with personalities and histories. Romney’s biggest problem isn’t Palin or Huckabee or any other Republican; it is that he championed a health-care bill that looks very similar to ObamaCare, which is the object of the entire party’s ire. Oh, yes — that.

If we learned anything in 2008 it was that context matters. The “unbeatable” Hillary Clinton ran precisely the wrong campaign (“experience”) in a “change” election year. Obama never looked back after the financial meltdown, because the context had changed — wariness of George W. Bush had been transformed into fury over the economic collapse. So, yes, the GOP has a habit of giving the nod to the “runner-up” from the previous year; but we’ve had a political earthquake, and the past is not much of a guide to the new political landscape.

Moreover, if Romney or any candidate is banking on establishment Republicans, as Douthat explains, “to rally around him once the primary voting starts — not out of love or admiration, but out of fear of the populist alternative,” he really has not been paying attention. The “establishment” isn’t really in charge of much of anything any more. The party elders, for better or worse, are being ignored. Ask Rubio, Rand Paul, Nikki Haley, Sharon Angle, and the rest if endorsements by the establishment and big-name donors are the key to victory. The old rules for picking presidential nominees (No congressmen! Must be a household name!) and the creaky campaign customs (The former governor of Maryland endorses candidate X!) have been blown up — first by Obama and then by the Obama backlash.

Maybe Romney four years after his first run can close the sale and figure out a way to deal with RomneyCare. But he won’t do it by splitting the difference between the Tea Party and the Beltway or by ingratiating himself with insiders (the ones who took more than a year to figure out what the Tea Partiers were all about). That sort of thinking is so 2008. The context has changed. The rules — if there are any — are different.

It’s not clear whether outsiderness or executive acumen will carry the day. The only thing for certain is that the old rule book is of absolutely no help.

Ross Douthat looks at the pre-positioning for the 2012 Republican presidential primary. He explains that there are the populists — Sarah Palin and Mike Huckabee — with devoted followers and equally devoted detractors, and that there is the “next in line” Republican — Mitt Romney. The name of the game, Douthat suggests, for establishment Republicans (the geniuses who preferred Charlie Crist to Marco Rubio?) is to stage “a kind of intra-establishment coup, in which Romney is knocked from his perch as the safe, sober choice and a fresher figure takes his place.” Douthat throws out some contenders: Tim Pawlenty, Jeb Bush, John Thune, Mitch Daniels, and Haley Barbour. Douthat advises Romney to “co-opt some of the populist zeal that a Palin or a Huckabee” exhibit without alienating the establishment.

What’s wrong with this analysis? It has no context, and Douthat treats the contenders as archetypes (“sober reformer,” “unpredictable populist,” etc.) rather than as actual contenders with personalities and histories. Romney’s biggest problem isn’t Palin or Huckabee or any other Republican; it is that he championed a health-care bill that looks very similar to ObamaCare, which is the object of the entire party’s ire. Oh, yes — that.

If we learned anything in 2008 it was that context matters. The “unbeatable” Hillary Clinton ran precisely the wrong campaign (“experience”) in a “change” election year. Obama never looked back after the financial meltdown, because the context had changed — wariness of George W. Bush had been transformed into fury over the economic collapse. So, yes, the GOP has a habit of giving the nod to the “runner-up” from the previous year; but we’ve had a political earthquake, and the past is not much of a guide to the new political landscape.

Moreover, if Romney or any candidate is banking on establishment Republicans, as Douthat explains, “to rally around him once the primary voting starts — not out of love or admiration, but out of fear of the populist alternative,” he really has not been paying attention. The “establishment” isn’t really in charge of much of anything any more. The party elders, for better or worse, are being ignored. Ask Rubio, Rand Paul, Nikki Haley, Sharon Angle, and the rest if endorsements by the establishment and big-name donors are the key to victory. The old rules for picking presidential nominees (No congressmen! Must be a household name!) and the creaky campaign customs (The former governor of Maryland endorses candidate X!) have been blown up — first by Obama and then by the Obama backlash.

Maybe Romney four years after his first run can close the sale and figure out a way to deal with RomneyCare. But he won’t do it by splitting the difference between the Tea Party and the Beltway or by ingratiating himself with insiders (the ones who took more than a year to figure out what the Tea Partiers were all about). That sort of thinking is so 2008. The context has changed. The rules — if there are any — are different.

It’s not clear whether outsiderness or executive acumen will carry the day. The only thing for certain is that the old rule book is of absolutely no help.

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Grading on a Curve, the Clintons Don’t Look So Bad

I have and will continue to avoid the topic of Chelsea Clinton’s wedding, except to remark upon this from Ben Smith’s comment on the parents of the bride:

[F]riendship with the Clintons has never been an indicator of much, other than perhaps utility to them. Outside a small circle of law school friends and former aides, the Clintons have always been surrounded by a crew of useful billionaires and odd hangers-on, including from time to time the stray felon.

It’s amusing but not unexpected that on both the left and the right, there is so much candor these days about the Clintons, at least about Bill. Democrats no longer feel obliged to defend the former president. (OK, he is an egomaniac. OK, he is a scoundrel.) And Republicans feel inclined to look more charitably on him, especially in comparison with Obama. (OK, he understood ordinary Americans. OK, he championed NAFTA and didn’t harbor animus against Israel.)

In polarized political times and with growing frustration with the Obama administration (liberals dismayed, conservatives gloating), there is something refreshing — and unifying — about the Clinton-watching these days. We can all agree that Clinton was/is a badly flawed character whose presidency fell victim to his own excesses and lack of discipline. And many Americans from the vantage point of the Obama era view the Clinton presidency (like that of George W. Bush’s) much more favorably. Frankly, Obama’s greatest accomplishment to date may be to improve his predecessors’ images and forge a new not-Obama coalition. Not exactly what he had in mind, I grant you.

I have and will continue to avoid the topic of Chelsea Clinton’s wedding, except to remark upon this from Ben Smith’s comment on the parents of the bride:

[F]riendship with the Clintons has never been an indicator of much, other than perhaps utility to them. Outside a small circle of law school friends and former aides, the Clintons have always been surrounded by a crew of useful billionaires and odd hangers-on, including from time to time the stray felon.

It’s amusing but not unexpected that on both the left and the right, there is so much candor these days about the Clintons, at least about Bill. Democrats no longer feel obliged to defend the former president. (OK, he is an egomaniac. OK, he is a scoundrel.) And Republicans feel inclined to look more charitably on him, especially in comparison with Obama. (OK, he understood ordinary Americans. OK, he championed NAFTA and didn’t harbor animus against Israel.)

In polarized political times and with growing frustration with the Obama administration (liberals dismayed, conservatives gloating), there is something refreshing — and unifying — about the Clinton-watching these days. We can all agree that Clinton was/is a badly flawed character whose presidency fell victim to his own excesses and lack of discipline. And many Americans from the vantage point of the Obama era view the Clinton presidency (like that of George W. Bush’s) much more favorably. Frankly, Obama’s greatest accomplishment to date may be to improve his predecessors’ images and forge a new not-Obama coalition. Not exactly what he had in mind, I grant you.

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Don’t Believe Everything You Read in the Times

It is always dismaying to discover how gullible readers of the New York Times can be. I was interviewed on Sunday night by the BBC regarding a “change of strategy” in Afghanistan. What change is that? Why the change from counterinsurgency to targeted killings. I expressed some incredulity about this supposed shift. Having just returned from Afghanistan, I had heard of no such change of focus. What evidence is there that it’s happening? None that I can find beyond this page-one Times article by Helene Cooper and Mark Landler whose headline claims: “Targeted Killing Is New U.S. Focus in Afghanistan.”

The article claims that the “counterinsurgency strategy has shown little success” — hardly surprising since it has only recently begun to be implemented. “Instead,” the article goes on to assert, “what has turned out to work well is an approach American officials have talked much less about: counterterrorism, military-speak for the targeted killings of insurgents from Al Qaeda and the Taliban. Faced with that reality, and the pressure of a self-imposed deadline to begin withdrawing troops by July 2011, the Obama administration is starting to count more heavily on the strategy of hunting down insurgents. The shift could change the nature of the war and potentially, in the view of some officials, hasten a political settlement with the Taliban. ”

I have no idea what Cooper and Landler mean when they write that “the Obama administration is starting to count more heavily on the strategy of hunting down insurgents.” In fact, Vice President Biden had urged a narrow counterterrorism focus for U.S. efforts in Afghanistan — and he lost the internal administration debate. You don’t need 100,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan simply to hunt down terrorist leaders. They are there to carry out a comprehensive counterinsurgency strategy that General David Petraeus is now implementing.

As part of that strategy, there has been a shift of more Special Operations forces to Afghanistan and, as a result, more targeted hits on top Taliban leaders. But Petraeus realizes (as did his predecessor Stan McChrystal, a veteran Special Operations commander) what the Times concedes: “Based on the American military experience in Iraq as well as Afghanistan, it is not clear that killing enemy fighters is sufficient by itself to cripple an insurgency.” In fact, it is clear that targeted killings by themselves will not cripple a determined insurgency. That is precisely why it is extremely unlikely that Petraeus will do what the Times reporters claim — shift to a focused counterterrorism strategy.

Informed consumers of the news — especially those in other news organizations who too often take their cues from the Times — should take such supposed “scoops” with a big grain of salt.

It is always dismaying to discover how gullible readers of the New York Times can be. I was interviewed on Sunday night by the BBC regarding a “change of strategy” in Afghanistan. What change is that? Why the change from counterinsurgency to targeted killings. I expressed some incredulity about this supposed shift. Having just returned from Afghanistan, I had heard of no such change of focus. What evidence is there that it’s happening? None that I can find beyond this page-one Times article by Helene Cooper and Mark Landler whose headline claims: “Targeted Killing Is New U.S. Focus in Afghanistan.”

The article claims that the “counterinsurgency strategy has shown little success” — hardly surprising since it has only recently begun to be implemented. “Instead,” the article goes on to assert, “what has turned out to work well is an approach American officials have talked much less about: counterterrorism, military-speak for the targeted killings of insurgents from Al Qaeda and the Taliban. Faced with that reality, and the pressure of a self-imposed deadline to begin withdrawing troops by July 2011, the Obama administration is starting to count more heavily on the strategy of hunting down insurgents. The shift could change the nature of the war and potentially, in the view of some officials, hasten a political settlement with the Taliban. ”

I have no idea what Cooper and Landler mean when they write that “the Obama administration is starting to count more heavily on the strategy of hunting down insurgents.” In fact, Vice President Biden had urged a narrow counterterrorism focus for U.S. efforts in Afghanistan — and he lost the internal administration debate. You don’t need 100,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan simply to hunt down terrorist leaders. They are there to carry out a comprehensive counterinsurgency strategy that General David Petraeus is now implementing.

As part of that strategy, there has been a shift of more Special Operations forces to Afghanistan and, as a result, more targeted hits on top Taliban leaders. But Petraeus realizes (as did his predecessor Stan McChrystal, a veteran Special Operations commander) what the Times concedes: “Based on the American military experience in Iraq as well as Afghanistan, it is not clear that killing enemy fighters is sufficient by itself to cripple an insurgency.” In fact, it is clear that targeted killings by themselves will not cripple a determined insurgency. That is precisely why it is extremely unlikely that Petraeus will do what the Times reporters claim — shift to a focused counterterrorism strategy.

Informed consumers of the news — especially those in other news organizations who too often take their cues from the Times — should take such supposed “scoops” with a big grain of salt.

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The UAE No Fan of the Blackberry — or Intellectual Freedom

The link between political freedom and economic prosperity is by now well-established. It is no coincidence that capitalism and democracy developed at roughly the same time and in the same place — 18th-century Great Britain and to a lesser extent the 17th-century Netherlands. It is hard for a country to prosper if it has a political system intolerant of the kind of intellectual freedom needed to generate good ideas and to attract freethinkers.

That news doesn’t seem to have reached the United Arab Emirates, which has announced plans to ban Blackberry e-mails and text messages because the state-security services find them hard to monitor. Perhaps as a Crackberry addict. I’m biased, but I have to say that this is one of the dumber decisions that the UAE could make given that Dubai — its principal city — has built its wealth on its reputation for being freer and more business-friendly than the surrounding Arab states.

If this decision stands, Dubai’s long-term future, already endangered by reckless real-estate speculation, could be further put at risk.

The link between political freedom and economic prosperity is by now well-established. It is no coincidence that capitalism and democracy developed at roughly the same time and in the same place — 18th-century Great Britain and to a lesser extent the 17th-century Netherlands. It is hard for a country to prosper if it has a political system intolerant of the kind of intellectual freedom needed to generate good ideas and to attract freethinkers.

That news doesn’t seem to have reached the United Arab Emirates, which has announced plans to ban Blackberry e-mails and text messages because the state-security services find them hard to monitor. Perhaps as a Crackberry addict. I’m biased, but I have to say that this is one of the dumber decisions that the UAE could make given that Dubai — its principal city — has built its wealth on its reputation for being freer and more business-friendly than the surrounding Arab states.

If this decision stands, Dubai’s long-term future, already endangered by reckless real-estate speculation, could be further put at risk.

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Once More, Admiral Mullen — This Time with Feeling

The administration has been criticized on its approach to Iran for apparently taking the military option off the table. So on Meet the Press, Admiral Mike Mullen was trying, I think, to correct the impression that this was not a viable alternative should sanctions fail. However, he sure didn’t do a good job of making the military option sound credible:

What I try to do when I talk about that is, is identify the space between those two outcomes, which is pretty narrow, in which I think the diplomacy, the kind of sanctions, the kind of international pressure that, that is being applied, I am hopeful works.  I, I, I recognize that there isn’t that much space there.  But, quite frankly, I am extremely concerned about both of those outcomes.” Yeah, it’s virtually unintelligible.

He wasn’t through tripping over his tongue:

None of them are good in a sense that it’s certainly an outcome that I don’t seek, or that, that we wouldn’t seek.  At the same time, and for what I talked about before, is, is not just the consequences of the action itself, but the things that could result after the fact

Finally, grudgingly, he acknowledged that the military does have a plan if, as David Gregory put it, “it should come to that.”

Mullen and especially Obama are going to have to do a whole lot better than that to convince the mullahs that they face an attack if they don’t give up their dream of a nuclear program. One suspects that the Obami at this point — no matter how much they improve their public utterances — aren’t capable of impressing the mullahs’ with their determination to use all available means to thwart Iran’s nuclear ambitions. The administration’s failure to maintain a credible threat of force remains one of the most inexplicable and incompetent aspects of its approach to the most dire national security issue we face.

The administration has been criticized on its approach to Iran for apparently taking the military option off the table. So on Meet the Press, Admiral Mike Mullen was trying, I think, to correct the impression that this was not a viable alternative should sanctions fail. However, he sure didn’t do a good job of making the military option sound credible:

What I try to do when I talk about that is, is identify the space between those two outcomes, which is pretty narrow, in which I think the diplomacy, the kind of sanctions, the kind of international pressure that, that is being applied, I am hopeful works.  I, I, I recognize that there isn’t that much space there.  But, quite frankly, I am extremely concerned about both of those outcomes.” Yeah, it’s virtually unintelligible.

He wasn’t through tripping over his tongue:

None of them are good in a sense that it’s certainly an outcome that I don’t seek, or that, that we wouldn’t seek.  At the same time, and for what I talked about before, is, is not just the consequences of the action itself, but the things that could result after the fact

Finally, grudgingly, he acknowledged that the military does have a plan if, as David Gregory put it, “it should come to that.”

Mullen and especially Obama are going to have to do a whole lot better than that to convince the mullahs that they face an attack if they don’t give up their dream of a nuclear program. One suspects that the Obami at this point — no matter how much they improve their public utterances — aren’t capable of impressing the mullahs’ with their determination to use all available means to thwart Iran’s nuclear ambitions. The administration’s failure to maintain a credible threat of force remains one of the most inexplicable and incompetent aspects of its approach to the most dire national security issue we face.

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Juan Williams vs. the Ground Zero Mosque

On Fox News Sunday, the panelists discussed the Ground Zero mosque. Ceci Connolly supplied the standard liberal line: freedom of religion requires that we allow the mosque to be constructed on the site where the ashes of 3,000 Americans blew through the air like confetti. Bill Kristol and Liz Cheney took the opposite view; Cheney was most concerned about the shadowy funding and the imam’s connection to jihadists (“the same groups that attacked us on 9-11″), while Kristol urged that out of “decency and propriety,” we shouldn’t allow a mosque to “tower over” Ground Zero.

The real surprise in the discussion was Juan Williams, who one expected to take Connolly’s side. Williams, however, didn’t parrot the left’s “tolerance” line. Instead, like Cheney, he criticized the lack of “transparency” in funding. But he did not stop there. He called building the mosque a “thumb in the eye” of those who lost their lives and suffered trauma. He concluded that, contrary to the imam’s claimed intention, the construction is “not promoting dialogue or understanding; in fact it is polarizing.”

Well bravo, Juan! This is the proper and entirely compelling rebuttal to liberals’ fixation with “tolerance.” Liberals assume that we must respect the Muslim group’s sensibilities and refrain from denying them their monument to Islam. (And we certainly can’t question their motives or associations.) But Williams quite rightly doesn’t take the imam’s argument at face value. What about the mosque builders’ tolerance and respect for others? Quite obviously, it is entirely absent.

And there’s the rub. In the left’s vision, “tolerance” and indulgence of aberrant conduct is our burden and obligation, and ours alone. That not only leads to cultural surrender; it also infantilizes Muslims. They can’t be expected  to exercise restraint or respect or even decency, it seems.

The mosque controversy is fascinating not because of what it reveals about radical Muslims. We — or at least those not practicing willful ignorance — have long since figured out what they are up to. No, what’s intriguing, and to a degree horrifying, is what it tells us about the left’s cockeyed view of “tolerance” and its inability to engage and refute the arguments of those who wish to destroy our society and murder our fellow citizens.

On Fox News Sunday, the panelists discussed the Ground Zero mosque. Ceci Connolly supplied the standard liberal line: freedom of religion requires that we allow the mosque to be constructed on the site where the ashes of 3,000 Americans blew through the air like confetti. Bill Kristol and Liz Cheney took the opposite view; Cheney was most concerned about the shadowy funding and the imam’s connection to jihadists (“the same groups that attacked us on 9-11″), while Kristol urged that out of “decency and propriety,” we shouldn’t allow a mosque to “tower over” Ground Zero.

The real surprise in the discussion was Juan Williams, who one expected to take Connolly’s side. Williams, however, didn’t parrot the left’s “tolerance” line. Instead, like Cheney, he criticized the lack of “transparency” in funding. But he did not stop there. He called building the mosque a “thumb in the eye” of those who lost their lives and suffered trauma. He concluded that, contrary to the imam’s claimed intention, the construction is “not promoting dialogue or understanding; in fact it is polarizing.”

Well bravo, Juan! This is the proper and entirely compelling rebuttal to liberals’ fixation with “tolerance.” Liberals assume that we must respect the Muslim group’s sensibilities and refrain from denying them their monument to Islam. (And we certainly can’t question their motives or associations.) But Williams quite rightly doesn’t take the imam’s argument at face value. What about the mosque builders’ tolerance and respect for others? Quite obviously, it is entirely absent.

And there’s the rub. In the left’s vision, “tolerance” and indulgence of aberrant conduct is our burden and obligation, and ours alone. That not only leads to cultural surrender; it also infantilizes Muslims. They can’t be expected  to exercise restraint or respect or even decency, it seems.

The mosque controversy is fascinating not because of what it reveals about radical Muslims. We — or at least those not practicing willful ignorance — have long since figured out what they are up to. No, what’s intriguing, and to a degree horrifying, is what it tells us about the left’s cockeyed view of “tolerance” and its inability to engage and refute the arguments of those who wish to destroy our society and murder our fellow citizens.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Seriously? “Speaker Nancy Pelosi says she’s ‘not nervous at all’ about the possibility that Democrats could lose their House majority after the November elections. She says she feels ‘very confident about where we are’ when it comes to the election. Still, the California Democrat says her party isn’t taking anything for granted.”

Seriously? Not even Chris Matthews thinks Pelosi is right.

Seriously? Eleanor Clift sounds like she’s thrown in the towel on Speaker Pelosi as well: “Two freshman Democrats from Virginia, Tom Perriello and Gerry Connolly, swept into office on the wave of enthusiasm generated by Barack Obama, are now struggling to stay afloat in a sea of discontent about the president. OK, that’s a bit melodramatic, but listening to these lawmakers and what they’re up against in defending their seats is to wonder where all the magic has gone, and what can be done to recapture enough stardust to hold on to the Democratic majorities that are the bulwark of the Obama presidency.”

Seriously? John Kerry wants “Obama to resume his efforts to start a dialogue with Iran. In an interview on CNN’s ‘Fareed Zakaria GPS’ show Sunday, Kerry said a good place to begin with the Iranians would be discussions about the way forward in Afghanistan and that those talks could lead to discussions on other vital topics, such as Iran’s nuclear program. … There are reasons that [the Iranians] would want a stable government there. And I think that we should — you know, diplomacy is the art of playing to everybody’s interests. And everybody has some interests with respect to this outcome.”

Seriously? (snuggling up to Lindsey Graham): “Sen. Jon Kyl, the second-ranking member of the Senate Republican leadership, voiced support Sunday for hearings on whether to deny citizenship to the U.S.-born children of illegal immigrants.”

Seriously? Obama says he’s not getting enough credit for saving us from “the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression.” (Maybe that’s because it’s not the worst downturn since the Great Depression.)

Seriously? ABC headline: “Pelosi and Gates Differ on Expectations for July 2011 Troop Withdrawal.” Yeah, when the president isn’t definitive, everyone fills in the blanks for themselves. That worked to get Obama elected, but it makes for a poor commander in chief.

Seriously? “Speaker Nancy Pelosi says she’s ‘not nervous at all’ about the possibility that Democrats could lose their House majority after the November elections. She says she feels ‘very confident about where we are’ when it comes to the election. Still, the California Democrat says her party isn’t taking anything for granted.”

Seriously? Not even Chris Matthews thinks Pelosi is right.

Seriously? Eleanor Clift sounds like she’s thrown in the towel on Speaker Pelosi as well: “Two freshman Democrats from Virginia, Tom Perriello and Gerry Connolly, swept into office on the wave of enthusiasm generated by Barack Obama, are now struggling to stay afloat in a sea of discontent about the president. OK, that’s a bit melodramatic, but listening to these lawmakers and what they’re up against in defending their seats is to wonder where all the magic has gone, and what can be done to recapture enough stardust to hold on to the Democratic majorities that are the bulwark of the Obama presidency.”

Seriously? John Kerry wants “Obama to resume his efforts to start a dialogue with Iran. In an interview on CNN’s ‘Fareed Zakaria GPS’ show Sunday, Kerry said a good place to begin with the Iranians would be discussions about the way forward in Afghanistan and that those talks could lead to discussions on other vital topics, such as Iran’s nuclear program. … There are reasons that [the Iranians] would want a stable government there. And I think that we should — you know, diplomacy is the art of playing to everybody’s interests. And everybody has some interests with respect to this outcome.”

Seriously? (snuggling up to Lindsey Graham): “Sen. Jon Kyl, the second-ranking member of the Senate Republican leadership, voiced support Sunday for hearings on whether to deny citizenship to the U.S.-born children of illegal immigrants.”

Seriously? Obama says he’s not getting enough credit for saving us from “the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression.” (Maybe that’s because it’s not the worst downturn since the Great Depression.)

Seriously? ABC headline: “Pelosi and Gates Differ on Expectations for July 2011 Troop Withdrawal.” Yeah, when the president isn’t definitive, everyone fills in the blanks for themselves. That worked to get Obama elected, but it makes for a poor commander in chief.

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