Commentary Magazine


Posts For: August 4, 2010

Iran and the S-300: Recycling Old News for Effect

Iran’s announcement this week that it has four batteries of the Russian S-300 air-defense missile system is a media ploy. The Iranian statement mirrors precisely a line of speculation pursued by the open-source intelligence industry back in 2006. After Russia transferred S-300 systems to Belarus that year, Jane’s Defense Weekly suggested that Belarus might forward some S-300s to Iran. The deliveries to Iran were supposed to include two of the Russian batteries transferred to Belarus, along with two additional batteries from an undetermined source, which were reportedly being refurbished in Belarus.

Belarus has consistently denied that this transfer ever took place. If there was such a transfer, it almost certainly occurred several years ago. But it’s more likely that Iran has received no S-300 batteries from Belarus and is merely recycling some old speculative analysis that sounds particularly plausible. The perfect match between the August 4 announcement and the scenario postulated in 2006 is suspicious: if Iran did have S-300s today, the leadership would be much more likely to make only vague references to it, if it made any. But the Iranians come off instead as if they are trying to bolster the credibility of their claim with unnecessary details, added because they seem to bear out previous speculation.

The S-300 is a mobile system, but if the Iranians do have the opportunity to deploy it around their most important facilities, it will be very hard to hide. It’s extremely unlikely that U.S. and Israeli intelligence have missed that very detectable event. Nor is it probable that Iran has had the system for four years and done nothing with it.

Iran seems to be waging information warfare with this announcement, which appeared on Iranian TV and was probably made as much for domestic consumption as for its foreign impact. Whether it’s a bluff or a dare, it’s not what the Iranians would be most likely to do if they really did have operational S-300 batteries in place.

Iran’s announcement this week that it has four batteries of the Russian S-300 air-defense missile system is a media ploy. The Iranian statement mirrors precisely a line of speculation pursued by the open-source intelligence industry back in 2006. After Russia transferred S-300 systems to Belarus that year, Jane’s Defense Weekly suggested that Belarus might forward some S-300s to Iran. The deliveries to Iran were supposed to include two of the Russian batteries transferred to Belarus, along with two additional batteries from an undetermined source, which were reportedly being refurbished in Belarus.

Belarus has consistently denied that this transfer ever took place. If there was such a transfer, it almost certainly occurred several years ago. But it’s more likely that Iran has received no S-300 batteries from Belarus and is merely recycling some old speculative analysis that sounds particularly plausible. The perfect match between the August 4 announcement and the scenario postulated in 2006 is suspicious: if Iran did have S-300s today, the leadership would be much more likely to make only vague references to it, if it made any. But the Iranians come off instead as if they are trying to bolster the credibility of their claim with unnecessary details, added because they seem to bear out previous speculation.

The S-300 is a mobile system, but if the Iranians do have the opportunity to deploy it around their most important facilities, it will be very hard to hide. It’s extremely unlikely that U.S. and Israeli intelligence have missed that very detectable event. Nor is it probable that Iran has had the system for four years and done nothing with it.

Iran seems to be waging information warfare with this announcement, which appeared on Iranian TV and was probably made as much for domestic consumption as for its foreign impact. Whether it’s a bluff or a dare, it’s not what the Iranians would be most likely to do if they really did have operational S-300 batteries in place.

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ObamaCare, Missouri, and the Coming Inflection Point

What happened in Missouri yesterday is quite remarkable. By nearly a 3-to-1 margin, voters rejected a key provision of President Obama’s health-care law. More than 70 percent of Missouri voters backed a ballot measure, Proposition C, that would prohibit the government from requiring people to have health insurance or from penalizing them for not having it.

“It is likely to give Republicans a chance to brag about the unpopularity of ObamaCare,” Karen Ball of Time reports, “but the vote will be largely symbolic.” (Courts will decide whether Missouri and other states can legally trump federal law and exempt citizens from the mandate to buy insurance.)

Symbolic is one way to describe Tuesday’s vote; ominous (for the Democrats) is another.

This is yet one more electoral manifestation of the dismal polling numbers the Democrats have been facing for many months now. We saw rising popular opposition to ObamaCare throughout last summer, which many liberals ignored or ridiculed. Then came the gubernatorial elections in Virginia and New Jersey and the Senate election Massachusetts. Since then the opposition to ObamaCare specifically, and to Obama more generally, has increased; as a result we saw the 40-plus point trouncing in Missouri, a margin far higher than most people anticipated.

It is hard to overstate the toxicity of the Obama agenda. Losing a net total of 65 or more Democratic House seats is now possible (if not yet likely). We are less than 100 days away from what looks to be an inflection point, one of those rare mid-term elections that alter the trajectory of American politics.

What happened in Missouri yesterday is quite remarkable. By nearly a 3-to-1 margin, voters rejected a key provision of President Obama’s health-care law. More than 70 percent of Missouri voters backed a ballot measure, Proposition C, that would prohibit the government from requiring people to have health insurance or from penalizing them for not having it.

“It is likely to give Republicans a chance to brag about the unpopularity of ObamaCare,” Karen Ball of Time reports, “but the vote will be largely symbolic.” (Courts will decide whether Missouri and other states can legally trump federal law and exempt citizens from the mandate to buy insurance.)

Symbolic is one way to describe Tuesday’s vote; ominous (for the Democrats) is another.

This is yet one more electoral manifestation of the dismal polling numbers the Democrats have been facing for many months now. We saw rising popular opposition to ObamaCare throughout last summer, which many liberals ignored or ridiculed. Then came the gubernatorial elections in Virginia and New Jersey and the Senate election Massachusetts. Since then the opposition to ObamaCare specifically, and to Obama more generally, has increased; as a result we saw the 40-plus point trouncing in Missouri, a margin far higher than most people anticipated.

It is hard to overstate the toxicity of the Obama agenda. Losing a net total of 65 or more Democratic House seats is now possible (if not yet likely). We are less than 100 days away from what looks to be an inflection point, one of those rare mid-term elections that alter the trajectory of American politics.

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A Party and a Movement in the Process of Collapsing

Here are the latest findings from Democracy Corp, the group headed by James Carville and Stanley Greenberg:

Monthly tracking from Citizen Opinion shows troubling trends in the public’s experience, perceptions and conclusions. Virtually every personal measure has returned to the lowest point on our seven months of tracking and macro-expectations have darkened too. These shifts coincide with news in July of slower job growth, persistently high unemployment and weaker than expected 2nd quarter GNP growth.

These darkening perceptions have consequences: Democrats are lagging further behind Republicans on which party can best deal with the economy.

The analysis goes on to claim this:

Voters now give the Republicans a 49 to 36 percent advantage on handling the economy, the worst for Democrats in all of our polling.

For the first time in our tracking, a majority of 54 percent believes that President Obama’s economic policies have done nothing to relieve the recession and run up a record deficit; just 39 percent that believe his administration’s efforts averted a worse crisis. This is not consistent with the administration’s argument about economic success.

When asked about the vote in November, 52 percent plan to vote Republican to protest the direction of the economy — 11 points more than voting Democratic to not jeopardize the recovery.

These are terrible numbers for Democrats, of course. What is so striking, though, is how commonplace they all seem — just another drop of bad news in an ocean of bad news.

We are seeing a party (Democratic) and movement (liberalism) in the process of collapsing. That doesn’t mean the ruin will be permanent and irreversible; but it is happening at a remarkable speed. And it is somewhat astonishing to witness.

Call it the collateral effects of the Obama presidency.

Here are the latest findings from Democracy Corp, the group headed by James Carville and Stanley Greenberg:

Monthly tracking from Citizen Opinion shows troubling trends in the public’s experience, perceptions and conclusions. Virtually every personal measure has returned to the lowest point on our seven months of tracking and macro-expectations have darkened too. These shifts coincide with news in July of slower job growth, persistently high unemployment and weaker than expected 2nd quarter GNP growth.

These darkening perceptions have consequences: Democrats are lagging further behind Republicans on which party can best deal with the economy.

The analysis goes on to claim this:

Voters now give the Republicans a 49 to 36 percent advantage on handling the economy, the worst for Democrats in all of our polling.

For the first time in our tracking, a majority of 54 percent believes that President Obama’s economic policies have done nothing to relieve the recession and run up a record deficit; just 39 percent that believe his administration’s efforts averted a worse crisis. This is not consistent with the administration’s argument about economic success.

When asked about the vote in November, 52 percent plan to vote Republican to protest the direction of the economy — 11 points more than voting Democratic to not jeopardize the recovery.

These are terrible numbers for Democrats, of course. What is so striking, though, is how commonplace they all seem — just another drop of bad news in an ocean of bad news.

We are seeing a party (Democratic) and movement (liberalism) in the process of collapsing. That doesn’t mean the ruin will be permanent and irreversible; but it is happening at a remarkable speed. And it is somewhat astonishing to witness.

Call it the collateral effects of the Obama presidency.

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UN Acknowledges Lebanon’s Culpability in Border Clash

Miracles will never cease. The United Nations, of all organizations, is actually backing Israel’s account of the border clash with Lebanese troops:

The United Nations peacekeeping force in South Lebanon, Unifil, said on Wednesday it had concluded that Israeli forces were cutting trees that lay within their own territory before a lethal exchange of fire with Lebanese Army troops on Tuesday, largely vindicating Israel’s account of how the fighting started.

A Lebanese Army spokesman had said on Tuesday that the skirmishes started after Israeli soldiers crossed into Lebanese territory to cut down a tree. Israel said that its forces were clearing brush, as part of routine maintenance work, in a gap between the so-called Blue Line, the internationally recognized border, and its security fence, and that it had coordinated its actions in advance with Unifil.

That should settle the issue of culpability, but it still leaves open the question of why this happened — why did the Lebanese army open fire? I hesitate to contribute to the incessant conspiracy-theorizing in the Middle East, but it does strike me that this incident has happened just as Hezbollah has raised fears that some of its members might be indicted by a UN prosecutor investigating the murder of Lebanese leader Rafik Hariri in 2005. The Lebanese army is amply infiltrated by Hezbollah.

One wonders if this provocation isn’t designed to distract attention from what Hezbollah fears will be a real legal problem.

Miracles will never cease. The United Nations, of all organizations, is actually backing Israel’s account of the border clash with Lebanese troops:

The United Nations peacekeeping force in South Lebanon, Unifil, said on Wednesday it had concluded that Israeli forces were cutting trees that lay within their own territory before a lethal exchange of fire with Lebanese Army troops on Tuesday, largely vindicating Israel’s account of how the fighting started.

A Lebanese Army spokesman had said on Tuesday that the skirmishes started after Israeli soldiers crossed into Lebanese territory to cut down a tree. Israel said that its forces were clearing brush, as part of routine maintenance work, in a gap between the so-called Blue Line, the internationally recognized border, and its security fence, and that it had coordinated its actions in advance with Unifil.

That should settle the issue of culpability, but it still leaves open the question of why this happened — why did the Lebanese army open fire? I hesitate to contribute to the incessant conspiracy-theorizing in the Middle East, but it does strike me that this incident has happened just as Hezbollah has raised fears that some of its members might be indicted by a UN prosecutor investigating the murder of Lebanese leader Rafik Hariri in 2005. The Lebanese army is amply infiltrated by Hezbollah.

One wonders if this provocation isn’t designed to distract attention from what Hezbollah fears will be a real legal problem.

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How Petraeus Is Conducting Counterinsurgency in Afghanistan

Quietly, without a lot of hype or fanfare, General David Petraeus is putting his stamp on operations in Afghanistan. A few indications of his approach have emerged in the past week.

First, there was the Counterinsurgency Guidance he issued to the troops. In many ways it echoes the guidance from McChrystal and the guidance Petraeus himself had issued in Iraq. For instance, it begins with an injunction to “secure and serve the population” and to “live among the people,” both classic precepts of “population-centric counterinsurgency.”

But the new COIN Guidance also emphasizes the need to “help confront the culture of impunity” — which is to say the rampant corruption which alienates the people of Afghanistan from their government and drives them into the arms of the Taliban. In a similar vein, Petraeus tells the troops to “help Afghans build accountable governance” and to “identify corrupt officials.” One of the biggest problems in Afghanistan has been that too often Western money is inadvertently fueling corruption — so Petraeus instructs his command: “Money is ammunition; don’t put it in the wrong hands.”

The Wall Street Journal reports that, to help ensure that the coalition does a better job of fighting corruption, Petraeus is assigning Brigadier General H.R. McMaster — one of the brightest and most famous officers in the entire army — to spearhead a new task force dealing with this problem. That’s very good news, because, while corruption has long been on NATO’s radar screen as an important issue, it has not gotten the resources or attention that it deserves. With McMaster on the case, it’s safe to say that the visibility of this issue will be elevated — as it should be.

Petraeus has also issued a new “tactical directive” governing the use of force. This has been a hot-button issue with some troops and their families (and a few commentators in the States), who have claimed that McChrystal had issued overly restrictive rules of engagement, which made it impossible for troops in combat to call in badly needed air support. Those who hoped that Petraeus would lift the restrictions will be disappointed; but those who realize that the heart of successful counterinsurgency is to win over the people will be cheered by Petraeus’s directive, which slightly adjusts, but does not repudiate, McChrystal’s approach. The directive instructs the troops: “[W]e must remember that it is a moral imperative both to protect Afghan civilians and to bring all assets to bear to protect our men and women in uniform and the Afghan security forces with whom we are fighting shoulder-to-shoulder when they are in a tough spot.” That’s exactly the right balance that any smart commander in a counterinsurgency must strike.

These are not massive changes from the McChrystal approach. But then again, massive changes aren’t needed because McChrystal was basically on the right path — and Petraeus, as Central Command chief, had been guiding McChrystal along. These are the kinds of course adjustments that any prudent commander will make when faced with a thinking, adaptive foe. We should not make too much of these initial moves by Petraeus but they do indicate the kind of counterinsurgency effort he is conducting — one that tries to protect the population not only from the Taliban but also from corrupt and predatory government officials.

Quietly, without a lot of hype or fanfare, General David Petraeus is putting his stamp on operations in Afghanistan. A few indications of his approach have emerged in the past week.

First, there was the Counterinsurgency Guidance he issued to the troops. In many ways it echoes the guidance from McChrystal and the guidance Petraeus himself had issued in Iraq. For instance, it begins with an injunction to “secure and serve the population” and to “live among the people,” both classic precepts of “population-centric counterinsurgency.”

But the new COIN Guidance also emphasizes the need to “help confront the culture of impunity” — which is to say the rampant corruption which alienates the people of Afghanistan from their government and drives them into the arms of the Taliban. In a similar vein, Petraeus tells the troops to “help Afghans build accountable governance” and to “identify corrupt officials.” One of the biggest problems in Afghanistan has been that too often Western money is inadvertently fueling corruption — so Petraeus instructs his command: “Money is ammunition; don’t put it in the wrong hands.”

The Wall Street Journal reports that, to help ensure that the coalition does a better job of fighting corruption, Petraeus is assigning Brigadier General H.R. McMaster — one of the brightest and most famous officers in the entire army — to spearhead a new task force dealing with this problem. That’s very good news, because, while corruption has long been on NATO’s radar screen as an important issue, it has not gotten the resources or attention that it deserves. With McMaster on the case, it’s safe to say that the visibility of this issue will be elevated — as it should be.

Petraeus has also issued a new “tactical directive” governing the use of force. This has been a hot-button issue with some troops and their families (and a few commentators in the States), who have claimed that McChrystal had issued overly restrictive rules of engagement, which made it impossible for troops in combat to call in badly needed air support. Those who hoped that Petraeus would lift the restrictions will be disappointed; but those who realize that the heart of successful counterinsurgency is to win over the people will be cheered by Petraeus’s directive, which slightly adjusts, but does not repudiate, McChrystal’s approach. The directive instructs the troops: “[W]e must remember that it is a moral imperative both to protect Afghan civilians and to bring all assets to bear to protect our men and women in uniform and the Afghan security forces with whom we are fighting shoulder-to-shoulder when they are in a tough spot.” That’s exactly the right balance that any smart commander in a counterinsurgency must strike.

These are not massive changes from the McChrystal approach. But then again, massive changes aren’t needed because McChrystal was basically on the right path — and Petraeus, as Central Command chief, had been guiding McChrystal along. These are the kinds of course adjustments that any prudent commander will make when faced with a thinking, adaptive foe. We should not make too much of these initial moves by Petraeus but they do indicate the kind of counterinsurgency effort he is conducting — one that tries to protect the population not only from the Taliban but also from corrupt and predatory government officials.

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Senator John McCain’s U-Turn on Immigration

According to Politico, Senator John McCain has added his voice to GOP calls for congressional hearings into altering the Constitution’s 14th Amendment, which grants citizenship to U.S.-born children of illegal immigrants. This just about completes a stunning turnabout by McCain (and by his friend and colleague Lindsey Graham) on immigration. As Politico reports, McCain was a champion in 2007 of a comprehensive immigration bill which would have provided a pathway to citizenship to illegal immigrants. But he has taken an increasingly hard-line position on the issue as he faces a conservative primary challenger, J.D. Hayworth, in a state that has become the epicenter for the nation’s battle over immigration reform.

On the merits of McCain’s position: As a general matter, the conservative starting point should be opposition to Constitutional amendments, especially as regards the 14th amendment (the so-called “citizenship clause” refers to the first sentence of Section 1 in the 14th amendment, which reversed the part of Chief Justice Taney’s decision in Dred Scott v. Sandford that declared that even free blacks like Dred Scott were not citizens of the United States and could never become so). Opposition to Constitutional amendments shouldn’t be absolute by any means; but it is, I think, a prudent predisposition.

Beyond that, though, McCain’s stand strikes me as political posturing — something that has no chance of passage and which may end up being distracting from the real problems we face and that we can far more easily address, including the reduction of the large number of illegal immigrants crossing our borders.

There is an argument according to which, if we were starting from scratch, children of illegal immigrants should not be granted automatic citizenship; after all, this was clearly not the use of the 14th amendment intended by its architects. But we’re not beginning from scratch — and revoking birthright citizenship now would, as Michael Gerson has written, “turn hundreds of thousands of infants into ‘criminals’ — arriving, not across a border, but crying in a hospital.”

Senator McCain’s U-turn is certainly not without precedent in American politics. But it is nevertheless fairly dramatic — and for a man who has long fancied himself a person of unusual political courage and independence, it is discouraging.

According to Politico, Senator John McCain has added his voice to GOP calls for congressional hearings into altering the Constitution’s 14th Amendment, which grants citizenship to U.S.-born children of illegal immigrants. This just about completes a stunning turnabout by McCain (and by his friend and colleague Lindsey Graham) on immigration. As Politico reports, McCain was a champion in 2007 of a comprehensive immigration bill which would have provided a pathway to citizenship to illegal immigrants. But he has taken an increasingly hard-line position on the issue as he faces a conservative primary challenger, J.D. Hayworth, in a state that has become the epicenter for the nation’s battle over immigration reform.

On the merits of McCain’s position: As a general matter, the conservative starting point should be opposition to Constitutional amendments, especially as regards the 14th amendment (the so-called “citizenship clause” refers to the first sentence of Section 1 in the 14th amendment, which reversed the part of Chief Justice Taney’s decision in Dred Scott v. Sandford that declared that even free blacks like Dred Scott were not citizens of the United States and could never become so). Opposition to Constitutional amendments shouldn’t be absolute by any means; but it is, I think, a prudent predisposition.

Beyond that, though, McCain’s stand strikes me as political posturing — something that has no chance of passage and which may end up being distracting from the real problems we face and that we can far more easily address, including the reduction of the large number of illegal immigrants crossing our borders.

There is an argument according to which, if we were starting from scratch, children of illegal immigrants should not be granted automatic citizenship; after all, this was clearly not the use of the 14th amendment intended by its architects. But we’re not beginning from scratch — and revoking birthright citizenship now would, as Michael Gerson has written, “turn hundreds of thousands of infants into ‘criminals’ — arriving, not across a border, but crying in a hospital.”

Senator McCain’s U-turn is certainly not without precedent in American politics. But it is nevertheless fairly dramatic — and for a man who has long fancied himself a person of unusual political courage and independence, it is discouraging.

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President Obama, You’re No Abraham Lincoln

According to a new Rasumussen Reports survey, more likely voters now believe Barack Obama’s policies are to blame for the continuing bad economy than blame President Bush (48 vs. 47 percent). That gap will, I think, widen in the months ahead. In addition, the effort by Obama to blame his predecessor for everything from traffic congestion to nasal congestion is backfiring on Obama. The president’s incessant whining makes him look small-minded and petty, and also weak and overmatched by events.

The feeling one gets in watching Obama is not that he is engaged or energized or feels joy in his job; it is that he thinks things are just so darn hard and that the hand he’s been dealt is so darn unfair. He is therefore always in search of scapegoats. Given his habitual complaining, Obama might consider looking for guidance from Lincoln, who faced problems that make what Obama faces look like a stroll in the park. “He did not deal in blame,” William Lee Miller writes of Lincoln in President Lincoln: The Duty of a Statesman. Lincoln didn’t pin blame on James Buchanan even though, unlike Obama (whose actions as senator, when he joined in the effort to stop the reform of Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, contributed to the financial crisis in 2008), Lincoln had plenty of grounds for doing so. America’s 16th president instead “grappled with what to do … in the terms that the issue[s] came to him.”

Now no one, aside from the New Yorker and a few other liberal magazines and commentators, ever mistook Obama as the second coming of Lincoln. But the degree to which Obama embodies the opposite qualities of Lincoln is fairly striking. Lincoln was a man of unusual grace, large spirited, without self-pity, a man who did not demean or demonize others. Obama is the antithesis of all that. The public sees it, and they aren’t terribly impressed by it.

According to a new Rasumussen Reports survey, more likely voters now believe Barack Obama’s policies are to blame for the continuing bad economy than blame President Bush (48 vs. 47 percent). That gap will, I think, widen in the months ahead. In addition, the effort by Obama to blame his predecessor for everything from traffic congestion to nasal congestion is backfiring on Obama. The president’s incessant whining makes him look small-minded and petty, and also weak and overmatched by events.

The feeling one gets in watching Obama is not that he is engaged or energized or feels joy in his job; it is that he thinks things are just so darn hard and that the hand he’s been dealt is so darn unfair. He is therefore always in search of scapegoats. Given his habitual complaining, Obama might consider looking for guidance from Lincoln, who faced problems that make what Obama faces look like a stroll in the park. “He did not deal in blame,” William Lee Miller writes of Lincoln in President Lincoln: The Duty of a Statesman. Lincoln didn’t pin blame on James Buchanan even though, unlike Obama (whose actions as senator, when he joined in the effort to stop the reform of Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, contributed to the financial crisis in 2008), Lincoln had plenty of grounds for doing so. America’s 16th president instead “grappled with what to do … in the terms that the issue[s] came to him.”

Now no one, aside from the New Yorker and a few other liberal magazines and commentators, ever mistook Obama as the second coming of Lincoln. But the degree to which Obama embodies the opposite qualities of Lincoln is fairly striking. Lincoln was a man of unusual grace, large spirited, without self-pity, a man who did not demean or demonize others. Obama is the antithesis of all that. The public sees it, and they aren’t terribly impressed by it.

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START Grinds to a Halt

The votes in the Senate aren’t there for the crowning glory of Obama’s “reset” strategy with Russia:

The treaty, called New Start, was supposed to be the relatively quick and easy first step leading to a series of much harder and more sweeping moves to stop the spread of nuclear weapons. Instead, a Senate committee on Tuesday shelved the treaty until fall, when it faces an uncertain future in the midst of a hotly contested election season.

The White House remains confident that it will get the pact approved eventually, possibly in a postelection lame-duck session, and it accepted the delay as a way to win over Republican senators who asked for more time to address their concerns. But even if the treaty does pass in the end, the long process of negotiation and ratification has pushed back the rest of Mr. Obama’s program and has raised obstacles to the more controversial measures.

This is a major embarrassment for the president, and yet another sign that he is losing political capital at a frightful pace. Moreover, it’s one more indication that lawmakers will become increasingly resistant to the president’s agenda, as regards both domestic and foreign policy (the Senate already blocked the confirmation of his ambassador to Syria).

It also highlights how inept is his foreign policy team, and how inapt is the administration’s “jam it through” strategy when it comes to national security:

Some conservatives said that Mr. Obama’s agenda was never all that realistic and that he would be wise to seek a broader consensus. “Trying to do treaties and national security policy as if they’re health care is a bad call,” said one such critic, Henry D. Sokolski, executive director of the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center. “You don’t do this by one vote. You do this by overwhelming majority. They need to learn to work with the other side.”

And at least for now, the Obama team concedes that its dream of a second arms treaty with Russia is kaput.

As a substantive matter, this is a positive development. In addition to the treaty’s other infirmities (most glaring, the impact on our ability to proceed with missile-defense development), there are real constitutional concerns about a treaty that embodies Obama’s fetish for multilateral institutions. Jack Goldsmith and Jeremy Rabkin explain:

[New START creates] a Bilateral Consultative Commission with power to approve “additional measures as may be necessary to improve the viability and effectiveness of the treaty.” The U.S. and Russian executive branches can implement these measures and thus amend U.S. treaty obligations — without returning to the U.S. Senate or the Russian Duma.

Could the commission constrain missile defense? It is empowered to “resolve questions related to the applicability of provisions of the Treaty to a new kind of strategic offensive arm.” The treaty’s preamble recognizes “the interrelationship between strategic offensive arms and strategic defensive arms.” The commission might have jurisdiction over missile defense through this interrelationship. Russia has already warned that it might withdraw from the treaty if the United States develops missile defenses. Limits on missile defense systems thus might be “necessary to improve the viability and effectiveness of the Treaty.”

In short, the Senate should not only be wary of what damage the treaty does to our national security; it should also be concerned about what it does to the Constitution and the Senate’s own powers (“as more authority for making international agreements is transferred to the executive branch and international organizations, the cumulative effect of these arrangements becomes increasingly hard to square with the Senate’s constitutional role in the treaty-making process and, more generally, with separation of powers”).

START is a microcosm of many of the shortcomings of the Obama administration — excessive deference to international rivals, disrespect shown the other branches of government, and political tone-deafness (the Obami really thought this would glide through the Senate?). With lawmakers increasingly willing to flex their own political muscle, the first two of these ailments may be minimized. Unfortunately for the Obami, there’s no magic cure for the third.

The votes in the Senate aren’t there for the crowning glory of Obama’s “reset” strategy with Russia:

The treaty, called New Start, was supposed to be the relatively quick and easy first step leading to a series of much harder and more sweeping moves to stop the spread of nuclear weapons. Instead, a Senate committee on Tuesday shelved the treaty until fall, when it faces an uncertain future in the midst of a hotly contested election season.

The White House remains confident that it will get the pact approved eventually, possibly in a postelection lame-duck session, and it accepted the delay as a way to win over Republican senators who asked for more time to address their concerns. But even if the treaty does pass in the end, the long process of negotiation and ratification has pushed back the rest of Mr. Obama’s program and has raised obstacles to the more controversial measures.

This is a major embarrassment for the president, and yet another sign that he is losing political capital at a frightful pace. Moreover, it’s one more indication that lawmakers will become increasingly resistant to the president’s agenda, as regards both domestic and foreign policy (the Senate already blocked the confirmation of his ambassador to Syria).

It also highlights how inept is his foreign policy team, and how inapt is the administration’s “jam it through” strategy when it comes to national security:

Some conservatives said that Mr. Obama’s agenda was never all that realistic and that he would be wise to seek a broader consensus. “Trying to do treaties and national security policy as if they’re health care is a bad call,” said one such critic, Henry D. Sokolski, executive director of the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center. “You don’t do this by one vote. You do this by overwhelming majority. They need to learn to work with the other side.”

And at least for now, the Obama team concedes that its dream of a second arms treaty with Russia is kaput.

As a substantive matter, this is a positive development. In addition to the treaty’s other infirmities (most glaring, the impact on our ability to proceed with missile-defense development), there are real constitutional concerns about a treaty that embodies Obama’s fetish for multilateral institutions. Jack Goldsmith and Jeremy Rabkin explain:

[New START creates] a Bilateral Consultative Commission with power to approve “additional measures as may be necessary to improve the viability and effectiveness of the treaty.” The U.S. and Russian executive branches can implement these measures and thus amend U.S. treaty obligations — without returning to the U.S. Senate or the Russian Duma.

Could the commission constrain missile defense? It is empowered to “resolve questions related to the applicability of provisions of the Treaty to a new kind of strategic offensive arm.” The treaty’s preamble recognizes “the interrelationship between strategic offensive arms and strategic defensive arms.” The commission might have jurisdiction over missile defense through this interrelationship. Russia has already warned that it might withdraw from the treaty if the United States develops missile defenses. Limits on missile defense systems thus might be “necessary to improve the viability and effectiveness of the Treaty.”

In short, the Senate should not only be wary of what damage the treaty does to our national security; it should also be concerned about what it does to the Constitution and the Senate’s own powers (“as more authority for making international agreements is transferred to the executive branch and international organizations, the cumulative effect of these arrangements becomes increasingly hard to square with the Senate’s constitutional role in the treaty-making process and, more generally, with separation of powers”).

START is a microcosm of many of the shortcomings of the Obama administration — excessive deference to international rivals, disrespect shown the other branches of government, and political tone-deafness (the Obami really thought this would glide through the Senate?). With lawmakers increasingly willing to flex their own political muscle, the first two of these ailments may be minimized. Unfortunately for the Obami, there’s no magic cure for the third.

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Terrorists’ Goal Is Not “Foiling Peace Process”

After Monday’s rocket attack on Eilat and Aqaba, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu mouthed the de riguer platitude: the attack was perpetrated “by terrorist groups who want to foil the peace process.” Eliot Jager of Jewish Ideas Daily echoed this yesterday. Yet the sequence of events that Jager himself described — and of which Netanyahu is surely aware — strongly suggests the opposite: that the recent spate of attacks on Israel’s south are meant not to keep Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas “from pursuing genuine give-and-take bargaining with Israel,” as Jager put it, but to help him in wringing concessions from Israel.

That Abbas has no interest in direct talks with Israel is impossible to miss. He himself has said so repeatedly, as have other senior PA officials: he begged the Arab League (unsuccessfully) to back him in refusing direct talks just last week, and PA officials have complained bitterly of the pressure they are under to begin the talks. So if Hamas’s recent escalation — and whether or not the Eilat/Aqaba strike came from Hamas-controlled Gaza, as Egypt claims, the weekend’s Grad and Qassam rocket strikes on southern Israel definitely did — provoked an Israeli retaliation that Abbas could paint as an “atrocity” and use as an excuse for nixing talks, nobody would be happier than Abbas.

But why would Hamas, which is embroiled in vicious rivalry with Abbas’s Fatah faction, want to cooperate with him? Because despite their mutual loathing, they have a common interest in wresting more concessions from Israel. Hamas has proved this over and over.

For instance, it clamped down on rocket and mortar attacks on Israel in August 2005 — a 75 percent drop from the previous month — to avoid disrupting the month’s scheduled unilateral withdrawal from Gaza. Then, after the pullout, the rocket fire gradually escalated again.

Similarly, the year after May 1999, when Ehud Barak became prime minister on a platform of signing a final-status deal with the PA, was the first since the Oslo Accords were signed without a single suicide bombing inside Israel. Hamas wanted to see what Barak might give. But after Hamas and Fatah both deemed Barak’s offer at the July 2000 Camp David summit insufficient, they collaborated in launching a new terror war (the second intifada) to pressure Israel for more concessions. And it worked: in 2005, Israel uprooted 25 settlements and withdrew its army from Gaza without the Palestinians giving anything in exchange.

The problem with resuming direct talks now, from the standpoint of both Fatah and Hamas, is that Israel has made no new upfront concessions. Yet Abbas can no longer refuse without incurring blame.

The solution is obvious: shift the blame to Israel by provoking a military retaliation that Abbas could use as an excuse. Then the world would instead pressure Israel to offer new concessions to get him to the table.

It’s a scheme that has worked well many times before. And it will continue working until the world grasps that terrorists’ primary goal is not “foiling peace processes” but defeating their enemies piecemeal by wresting ever more concessions from them.

After Monday’s rocket attack on Eilat and Aqaba, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu mouthed the de riguer platitude: the attack was perpetrated “by terrorist groups who want to foil the peace process.” Eliot Jager of Jewish Ideas Daily echoed this yesterday. Yet the sequence of events that Jager himself described — and of which Netanyahu is surely aware — strongly suggests the opposite: that the recent spate of attacks on Israel’s south are meant not to keep Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas “from pursuing genuine give-and-take bargaining with Israel,” as Jager put it, but to help him in wringing concessions from Israel.

That Abbas has no interest in direct talks with Israel is impossible to miss. He himself has said so repeatedly, as have other senior PA officials: he begged the Arab League (unsuccessfully) to back him in refusing direct talks just last week, and PA officials have complained bitterly of the pressure they are under to begin the talks. So if Hamas’s recent escalation — and whether or not the Eilat/Aqaba strike came from Hamas-controlled Gaza, as Egypt claims, the weekend’s Grad and Qassam rocket strikes on southern Israel definitely did — provoked an Israeli retaliation that Abbas could paint as an “atrocity” and use as an excuse for nixing talks, nobody would be happier than Abbas.

But why would Hamas, which is embroiled in vicious rivalry with Abbas’s Fatah faction, want to cooperate with him? Because despite their mutual loathing, they have a common interest in wresting more concessions from Israel. Hamas has proved this over and over.

For instance, it clamped down on rocket and mortar attacks on Israel in August 2005 — a 75 percent drop from the previous month — to avoid disrupting the month’s scheduled unilateral withdrawal from Gaza. Then, after the pullout, the rocket fire gradually escalated again.

Similarly, the year after May 1999, when Ehud Barak became prime minister on a platform of signing a final-status deal with the PA, was the first since the Oslo Accords were signed without a single suicide bombing inside Israel. Hamas wanted to see what Barak might give. But after Hamas and Fatah both deemed Barak’s offer at the July 2000 Camp David summit insufficient, they collaborated in launching a new terror war (the second intifada) to pressure Israel for more concessions. And it worked: in 2005, Israel uprooted 25 settlements and withdrew its army from Gaza without the Palestinians giving anything in exchange.

The problem with resuming direct talks now, from the standpoint of both Fatah and Hamas, is that Israel has made no new upfront concessions. Yet Abbas can no longer refuse without incurring blame.

The solution is obvious: shift the blame to Israel by provoking a military retaliation that Abbas could use as an excuse. Then the world would instead pressure Israel to offer new concessions to get him to the table.

It’s a scheme that has worked well many times before. And it will continue working until the world grasps that terrorists’ primary goal is not “foiling peace processes” but defeating their enemies piecemeal by wresting ever more concessions from them.

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The Incredibly Unpopular Individual Mandate

It doesn’t have the force of law, but this is a telling rebuke of the president:

Missouri voters on Tuesday overwhelmingly rejected a key provision of President Barack Obama’s health care law, sending a clear message of discontent to Washington and Democrats less than 100 days before the midterm elections.

With about 70 percent of the vote counted late Tuesday, nearly three-quarters of voters threw their support behind a ballot measure, Proposition C, that would prohibit the government from requiring people to have health insurance or from penalizing them for not having it. … Tuesday’s vote was seen as largely symbolic because federal law generally trumps state law. But it was also seen as a sign of growing voter disillusionment with federal policies and a show of strength by conservatives and the tea party movement.

Three-quarters? It is astounding, really, in a country divided bitterly over so many things that the most popular and unifying issue may be repeal of ObamaCare’s central feature. Other states have or will pass similar measures. Will all this magically disappear by 2012, or will the Republican nominee — whoever he or she may be (and it won’t be Mitt Romney if he doesn’t get on board) — have a huge, broad coalition of support for ripping out Obama’s “historic achievement”?

The individual mandate is for many on the left (Don’t force me to buy a plan from Big Insurance!) and the right (Don’t force me to buy what I don’t want!) a sore point, a reminder of Obama’s statist-corporatist agenda. We are now seeing just how many Americans across the political spectrum want it abolished before it goes into effect. It’s almost like “Repeal and Reform!” could be a popular campaign slogan.

It doesn’t have the force of law, but this is a telling rebuke of the president:

Missouri voters on Tuesday overwhelmingly rejected a key provision of President Barack Obama’s health care law, sending a clear message of discontent to Washington and Democrats less than 100 days before the midterm elections.

With about 70 percent of the vote counted late Tuesday, nearly three-quarters of voters threw their support behind a ballot measure, Proposition C, that would prohibit the government from requiring people to have health insurance or from penalizing them for not having it. … Tuesday’s vote was seen as largely symbolic because federal law generally trumps state law. But it was also seen as a sign of growing voter disillusionment with federal policies and a show of strength by conservatives and the tea party movement.

Three-quarters? It is astounding, really, in a country divided bitterly over so many things that the most popular and unifying issue may be repeal of ObamaCare’s central feature. Other states have or will pass similar measures. Will all this magically disappear by 2012, or will the Republican nominee — whoever he or she may be (and it won’t be Mitt Romney if he doesn’t get on board) — have a huge, broad coalition of support for ripping out Obama’s “historic achievement”?

The individual mandate is for many on the left (Don’t force me to buy a plan from Big Insurance!) and the right (Don’t force me to buy what I don’t want!) a sore point, a reminder of Obama’s statist-corporatist agenda. We are now seeing just how many Americans across the political spectrum want it abolished before it goes into effect. It’s almost like “Repeal and Reform!” could be a popular campaign slogan.

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The Diffident President

Michael Gerson writes of Obama:

During the primaries, his cool detachment highlighted Sen. John McCain’s alarming excitability. As president, Obama’s rhetorical range runs from lecturing to prickly — the full gamut from A to C. His speeches are symphonies performed entirely with a tin whistle and an accordion. To switch metaphors, Obama is a pitcher with one pitch. He excels only at explanation. Initially this conveyed a chilly competence. But as the impression of competence has faded, we are left only with coldness.

Gerson, I think quite rightly, concludes that this is not a matter of communication skills but of Obama’s core beliefs — or lack of them. (“Obama’s limited rhetorical range raises questions about the content of his deepest beliefs. For this reason among others, the man who doesn’t need the love of crowds is gradually losing it.”)

Take the Ground Zero mosque. The president who has opined on everything from the Cambridge police department to college basketball cannot speak to his fellow citizens on a topic that has convulsed New York and ignited a fierce public debate. Moreover, isn’t it odd that the president — supposedly the explainer in chief on matters of Islam  — voices no opinion? Does he not care? Or are his views so politically unacceptable that they will only reinforce the perception that he stands apart from his countrymen on the most emotional issues of our time?

Honestly, a president can’t govern by “no comment” or practice what Gerson calls “appalling calm” when emotion is required. Obama has not been able to hide his disdain for ordinary Americans (Bible and gun huggers, he labeled them), the media, his political opponents, and a number of our most important allies. He holds himself apart and above it all. It is more than creepy; it’s a dereliction of duty. He was hired to lead, to rally his countrymen, and to — in his own words — bring us together and elevate America’s standing in the world. You don’t do that my mimicking a sullen teenager, contemptuous of those far more experienced and capable. If he doesn’t grow up and into the job, Americans will (maybe they have already) write him off and look for a true leader.

Michael Gerson writes of Obama:

During the primaries, his cool detachment highlighted Sen. John McCain’s alarming excitability. As president, Obama’s rhetorical range runs from lecturing to prickly — the full gamut from A to C. His speeches are symphonies performed entirely with a tin whistle and an accordion. To switch metaphors, Obama is a pitcher with one pitch. He excels only at explanation. Initially this conveyed a chilly competence. But as the impression of competence has faded, we are left only with coldness.

Gerson, I think quite rightly, concludes that this is not a matter of communication skills but of Obama’s core beliefs — or lack of them. (“Obama’s limited rhetorical range raises questions about the content of his deepest beliefs. For this reason among others, the man who doesn’t need the love of crowds is gradually losing it.”)

Take the Ground Zero mosque. The president who has opined on everything from the Cambridge police department to college basketball cannot speak to his fellow citizens on a topic that has convulsed New York and ignited a fierce public debate. Moreover, isn’t it odd that the president — supposedly the explainer in chief on matters of Islam  — voices no opinion? Does he not care? Or are his views so politically unacceptable that they will only reinforce the perception that he stands apart from his countrymen on the most emotional issues of our time?

Honestly, a president can’t govern by “no comment” or practice what Gerson calls “appalling calm” when emotion is required. Obama has not been able to hide his disdain for ordinary Americans (Bible and gun huggers, he labeled them), the media, his political opponents, and a number of our most important allies. He holds himself apart and above it all. It is more than creepy; it’s a dereliction of duty. He was hired to lead, to rally his countrymen, and to — in his own words — bring us together and elevate America’s standing in the world. You don’t do that my mimicking a sullen teenager, contemptuous of those far more experienced and capable. If he doesn’t grow up and into the job, Americans will (maybe they have already) write him off and look for a true leader.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Dorothy Rabinowitz isn’t snowed by the liberal claptrap over the Ground Zero mosque: “[H]ow is it that the planners, who have presented this effort as a grand design for the advancement of healing and interfaith understanding, have refused all consideration of the impact such a center will have near Ground Zero? Why have they insisted, despite intense resistance, on making the center an assertive presence in this place of haunted memory? It is an insistence that calls to mind the Flying Imams, whose ostentatious prayers—apparently designed to call attention to themselves on a U.S. Airways flight to Phoenix in November 2006—ended in a lawsuit. The imams sued. The airlines paid.”

Obama’s Iraq speech left Peter Feaver cold: “President Obama’s speech on Iraq was a disappointment. Not a surprise, but a disappointment. It was disappointing because it was yet another missed opportunity. He could have shown real statesmanship by acknowledging he was wrong about the surge. He could have reached across the aisle and credited Republicans who backed the policy he vigorously opposed and tried to thwart, a policy that has made it possible (but by no means certain) to hope for a responsible end to the Iraq war. … Instead of giving such a speech, Obama gave a campaign address trying to claim credit for anything that is going well in Iraq and trying to avoid blame for anything that is going poorly.”

An avalanche of bad polling for Obama: “President Obama’s job approval numbers fell to a new low Tuesday as the White House struggles to convince voters it is leading the economy out of recession. Unemployment stands at 9.5 percent but is widely expected to rise in the coming months, starting with the monthly report for July, set for release on Friday. … Such numbers are trouble for House and Senate Democrats, because low presidential approval ratings are generally disastrous for the president’s party in a midterm election.”

Marc Ambinder, however, is still shoveling White House hooey (not to mention playing the race card): “So Obama’s net effect on congressional races might just turn about to be a big ‘meh.’ As skeptical as white people are about Obama’s policy agenda, enough still want him to succeed.” If all the polling is wrong, this would be a reasonable argument.

It’s not the first time the media made a mountain out of a molehill: “The government is expected to announce on Wednesday that three-quarters of the oil from the Deepwater Horizon leak has already evaporated, dispersed, been captured or otherwise eliminated — and that much of the rest is so diluted that it does not seem to pose much additional risk of harm.”

Shouldn’t Fox give Glenn Beck the cold shoulder? He’s up to his old, noxious tricks — tossing around Holocaust comparisons again.

Bravo! Senate Republicans freeze confirmation of new DNI until the Obama administration releases threat-assessment data on Gitmo detainees.

Dorothy Rabinowitz isn’t snowed by the liberal claptrap over the Ground Zero mosque: “[H]ow is it that the planners, who have presented this effort as a grand design for the advancement of healing and interfaith understanding, have refused all consideration of the impact such a center will have near Ground Zero? Why have they insisted, despite intense resistance, on making the center an assertive presence in this place of haunted memory? It is an insistence that calls to mind the Flying Imams, whose ostentatious prayers—apparently designed to call attention to themselves on a U.S. Airways flight to Phoenix in November 2006—ended in a lawsuit. The imams sued. The airlines paid.”

Obama’s Iraq speech left Peter Feaver cold: “President Obama’s speech on Iraq was a disappointment. Not a surprise, but a disappointment. It was disappointing because it was yet another missed opportunity. He could have shown real statesmanship by acknowledging he was wrong about the surge. He could have reached across the aisle and credited Republicans who backed the policy he vigorously opposed and tried to thwart, a policy that has made it possible (but by no means certain) to hope for a responsible end to the Iraq war. … Instead of giving such a speech, Obama gave a campaign address trying to claim credit for anything that is going well in Iraq and trying to avoid blame for anything that is going poorly.”

An avalanche of bad polling for Obama: “President Obama’s job approval numbers fell to a new low Tuesday as the White House struggles to convince voters it is leading the economy out of recession. Unemployment stands at 9.5 percent but is widely expected to rise in the coming months, starting with the monthly report for July, set for release on Friday. … Such numbers are trouble for House and Senate Democrats, because low presidential approval ratings are generally disastrous for the president’s party in a midterm election.”

Marc Ambinder, however, is still shoveling White House hooey (not to mention playing the race card): “So Obama’s net effect on congressional races might just turn about to be a big ‘meh.’ As skeptical as white people are about Obama’s policy agenda, enough still want him to succeed.” If all the polling is wrong, this would be a reasonable argument.

It’s not the first time the media made a mountain out of a molehill: “The government is expected to announce on Wednesday that three-quarters of the oil from the Deepwater Horizon leak has already evaporated, dispersed, been captured or otherwise eliminated — and that much of the rest is so diluted that it does not seem to pose much additional risk of harm.”

Shouldn’t Fox give Glenn Beck the cold shoulder? He’s up to his old, noxious tricks — tossing around Holocaust comparisons again.

Bravo! Senate Republicans freeze confirmation of new DNI until the Obama administration releases threat-assessment data on Gitmo detainees.

Read Less




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