Commentary Magazine


Posts For: August 5, 2010

Post Cartoonist Should Read His Own Paper

There is a difference between the ordinary distortions of news stories that fail to take into account the history of the Middle East conflict and published material that spreads out-and-out lies. And there is no other way to describe the editorial cartoon drawn by Tom Toles in Monday’s Washington Post than as a lie. Toles portrays a three-way meeting between President Obama, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas taking place without a table in front of the trio. Obama listens as Abbas says “Okay. … Everything is on the table.” Netanyahu — labeled “Bibi” — replies, “But we refuse to sit at that table.” This leaves the reader with the idea that Israeli intransigence that is foiling the peace process.

Cartoons are not the same thing as a news article and Toles is entitled to his opinion about the Middle East. But he is not, as they say, entitled to his own facts. You needn’t be a supporter of Israel to understand that the reason direct talks between the parties aren’t being held is because the Palestinians have, quite vocally, refused to sit at the same table as the Israelis. One just has to follow the news about the Middle East to know this. Indeed, just the day before Toles’s cartoon was published, the Post ran a story that directly discussed President Obama’s displeasure with Abbas and his flat refusal to sit at the same table with the Israelis.

So the problem with the cartoon is not that it is biased against Israel or that it puts forward a premise about Netanyahu’s policies that is out of context. It is that it is ignorant. Toles may think whatever he likes about Israel, and he may draw anti-Israeli cartoons as long as the Post is willing to publish them. But surely there is some obligation on the part of a person who works for a newspaper to stay abreast of the news that is published within its own pages. You also have to wonder what the editorial page editor was thinking while signing off on a page that includes Toles’s cartoon, which flatly contradicts well-known facts about the peace process.

Is the problem here that Toles and his editor just don’t read the Middle East news published in the Post or elsewhere? Or is it just that Toles’s bias against Israel is so profound that he is unwilling to adjust the tone of his scribbling to accommodate the actual facts about the conflict? Either way, this cartoon raises some serious questions about the judgment of Toles and the editors, which the newspaper needs to answer.

(Hat tip to Eric Rozenman, Washington director of CAMERA.)

There is a difference between the ordinary distortions of news stories that fail to take into account the history of the Middle East conflict and published material that spreads out-and-out lies. And there is no other way to describe the editorial cartoon drawn by Tom Toles in Monday’s Washington Post than as a lie. Toles portrays a three-way meeting between President Obama, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas taking place without a table in front of the trio. Obama listens as Abbas says “Okay. … Everything is on the table.” Netanyahu — labeled “Bibi” — replies, “But we refuse to sit at that table.” This leaves the reader with the idea that Israeli intransigence that is foiling the peace process.

Cartoons are not the same thing as a news article and Toles is entitled to his opinion about the Middle East. But he is not, as they say, entitled to his own facts. You needn’t be a supporter of Israel to understand that the reason direct talks between the parties aren’t being held is because the Palestinians have, quite vocally, refused to sit at the same table as the Israelis. One just has to follow the news about the Middle East to know this. Indeed, just the day before Toles’s cartoon was published, the Post ran a story that directly discussed President Obama’s displeasure with Abbas and his flat refusal to sit at the same table with the Israelis.

So the problem with the cartoon is not that it is biased against Israel or that it puts forward a premise about Netanyahu’s policies that is out of context. It is that it is ignorant. Toles may think whatever he likes about Israel, and he may draw anti-Israeli cartoons as long as the Post is willing to publish them. But surely there is some obligation on the part of a person who works for a newspaper to stay abreast of the news that is published within its own pages. You also have to wonder what the editorial page editor was thinking while signing off on a page that includes Toles’s cartoon, which flatly contradicts well-known facts about the peace process.

Is the problem here that Toles and his editor just don’t read the Middle East news published in the Post or elsewhere? Or is it just that Toles’s bias against Israel is so profound that he is unwilling to adjust the tone of his scribbling to accommodate the actual facts about the conflict? Either way, this cartoon raises some serious questions about the judgment of Toles and the editors, which the newspaper needs to answer.

(Hat tip to Eric Rozenman, Washington director of CAMERA.)

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Democrats and the Benighted American People

“I think we’re on a different kind of a news cycle than what I’ve been used to. … And a lot of that commentary is very inflammatory,” Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin, a Democrat who supports Obama, told Politico:

It appeals to the emotional distress that people may have. Now, we’ve had people like that in the past, don’t get me wrong. We had our Huey Longs and our Father Coughlins and our Joe McCarthys — there has always been somebody like that — but they never had a big pulpit. They never had a big audience. Now, the Glenn Becks have a big audience. And so they stir up these passions in people. And if you’re hurting, you’re out of work, sometimes they can appeal to people like that, that are anxious and worried about their future.

This quote by Sen. Harkin reveals several things. The first is that there really is no end to the self-pity of many Democrats. I’m not great fan of Glenn Beck; in fact, I’ve criticized him several times. But are liberals really that obsessed with him? And have they forgotten that Democrats have control of the presidency, the House, and the Senate? Or that the media voted overwhelmingly for Obama?

Senator Harkin is offering a variation of the “we have a communication problem” excuse Democrats use all the time. It is frankly absurd — though it’s probably reassuring to Republicans, assuming Democrats like Harkin actually believe this narrative.

Beyond that, Harkin’s quote echoes Obama’s off-the-record comment made during the 2008 campaign about people in small towns in Pennsylvania and the Midwest who are frustrated by their economic conditions. “It’s not surprising then that they get bitter,” Obama told a group of wealthy donors in San Francisco on April 6. “They cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.”

It turns out these liberals really are elitist, and they really do look down their noses at a citizenry they consider benighted, childish, and bigoted. And they honestly believe that in times of difficulty, ordinary Americans cling to their Bibles, their guns, their antipathy toward immigrants and those who aren’t like them — and Glenn Beck.

This analysis is not only wrong; it’s politically stupid. The public doesn’t much like being viewed in such condescending and paternalistic terms. But better they know about it than not.

“I think we’re on a different kind of a news cycle than what I’ve been used to. … And a lot of that commentary is very inflammatory,” Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin, a Democrat who supports Obama, told Politico:

It appeals to the emotional distress that people may have. Now, we’ve had people like that in the past, don’t get me wrong. We had our Huey Longs and our Father Coughlins and our Joe McCarthys — there has always been somebody like that — but they never had a big pulpit. They never had a big audience. Now, the Glenn Becks have a big audience. And so they stir up these passions in people. And if you’re hurting, you’re out of work, sometimes they can appeal to people like that, that are anxious and worried about their future.

This quote by Sen. Harkin reveals several things. The first is that there really is no end to the self-pity of many Democrats. I’m not great fan of Glenn Beck; in fact, I’ve criticized him several times. But are liberals really that obsessed with him? And have they forgotten that Democrats have control of the presidency, the House, and the Senate? Or that the media voted overwhelmingly for Obama?

Senator Harkin is offering a variation of the “we have a communication problem” excuse Democrats use all the time. It is frankly absurd — though it’s probably reassuring to Republicans, assuming Democrats like Harkin actually believe this narrative.

Beyond that, Harkin’s quote echoes Obama’s off-the-record comment made during the 2008 campaign about people in small towns in Pennsylvania and the Midwest who are frustrated by their economic conditions. “It’s not surprising then that they get bitter,” Obama told a group of wealthy donors in San Francisco on April 6. “They cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.”

It turns out these liberals really are elitist, and they really do look down their noses at a citizenry they consider benighted, childish, and bigoted. And they honestly believe that in times of difficulty, ordinary Americans cling to their Bibles, their guns, their antipathy toward immigrants and those who aren’t like them — and Glenn Beck.

This analysis is not only wrong; it’s politically stupid. The public doesn’t much like being viewed in such condescending and paternalistic terms. But better they know about it than not.

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Tough on Iran?

This morning, I took President Obama and his senior staff to task for expressing unwarranted optimism about the prospects of negotiations with Iran. It seems I might have been mislead by news accounts of a meeting between the president and some columnists at the White House.

Robert Kagan, one of the best analysts and historians in the foreign-policy business, was present at the meeting and writes that it was called because “the administration wanted everyone to know how tough it was being on Iran. … What was striking was the president’s sobriety about the issue,” Kagan writes, “his evident pride in the global diplomatic efforts that produced the latest resolution and his determination to pressure the Tehran regime as much as possible.”

That wasn’t the message that go out, however. As Kagan explains:

[Obama] did make clear that the door was, of course, open to the Iranians to change their minds, that sanctions did not preclude diplomacy and engagement, and that if the Iranians ever decide they wanted to “behave responsibly” by complying with the demands of the international community, then the United States was prepared to welcome them.

It is here that this very straightforward briefing took a bizarre and amusing turn. Some of the journalists present, upon hearing the president’s last point about the door still being open to Iran, decided that he was signaling a brand-new diplomatic initiative. They started peppering Obama with questions to ferret out exactly what “new” diplomatic actions he was talking about and, after the president left, they continued probing the senior officials. This put the officials in an awkward position: They didn’t want to say flat out that the administration was not pursuing a new diplomatic initiative because this might suggest that the administration was not interested in diplomacy at all. But they made perfectly clear — in a half-dozen artful formulations — that, no, there was no new diplomatic initiative in the offing.

So it seems the president and his top aides have learned something in the past year and a half about the futility of reaching out to the Iranians. I apologize for mischaracterizing their views. But I still remain highly skeptical that the sanctions they’ve pushed through will cause Iran to give up its nuclear program. I am still concerned that the administration has not done enough to help the Green Movement and that it has done too much to take the military option of the table, thereby removing our best leverage against Iran. Bottom line: the administration is still failing to stop a major threat — the Iranian nuclear program. In fairness, as I’ve said before, the Bush administration also failed to stop the Iranians. But  it is Obama who is now in office, and time is running out.

This morning, I took President Obama and his senior staff to task for expressing unwarranted optimism about the prospects of negotiations with Iran. It seems I might have been mislead by news accounts of a meeting between the president and some columnists at the White House.

Robert Kagan, one of the best analysts and historians in the foreign-policy business, was present at the meeting and writes that it was called because “the administration wanted everyone to know how tough it was being on Iran. … What was striking was the president’s sobriety about the issue,” Kagan writes, “his evident pride in the global diplomatic efforts that produced the latest resolution and his determination to pressure the Tehran regime as much as possible.”

That wasn’t the message that go out, however. As Kagan explains:

[Obama] did make clear that the door was, of course, open to the Iranians to change their minds, that sanctions did not preclude diplomacy and engagement, and that if the Iranians ever decide they wanted to “behave responsibly” by complying with the demands of the international community, then the United States was prepared to welcome them.

It is here that this very straightforward briefing took a bizarre and amusing turn. Some of the journalists present, upon hearing the president’s last point about the door still being open to Iran, decided that he was signaling a brand-new diplomatic initiative. They started peppering Obama with questions to ferret out exactly what “new” diplomatic actions he was talking about and, after the president left, they continued probing the senior officials. This put the officials in an awkward position: They didn’t want to say flat out that the administration was not pursuing a new diplomatic initiative because this might suggest that the administration was not interested in diplomacy at all. But they made perfectly clear — in a half-dozen artful formulations — that, no, there was no new diplomatic initiative in the offing.

So it seems the president and his top aides have learned something in the past year and a half about the futility of reaching out to the Iranians. I apologize for mischaracterizing their views. But I still remain highly skeptical that the sanctions they’ve pushed through will cause Iran to give up its nuclear program. I am still concerned that the administration has not done enough to help the Green Movement and that it has done too much to take the military option of the table, thereby removing our best leverage against Iran. Bottom line: the administration is still failing to stop a major threat — the Iranian nuclear program. In fairness, as I’ve said before, the Bush administration also failed to stop the Iranians. But  it is Obama who is now in office, and time is running out.

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Obama Doesn’t Credit His Predecessor

Glenn Thrush of Politico wrote a story on President Obama’s “summer of no love.” It includes this analysis:

On Monday, President Barack Obama recommitted to ending the combat mission in Iraq by the end of this month, a milestone that seemed nearly unattainable in 2008 — and seems nearly unnoticed in 2010.

Ending the war in Iraq was Obama’s central campaign promise two years ago, so the announcement should have been a huge deal. But by mid-Monday, the story drooped like a limp flag on news websites, sliding below obituaries of bandleader Mitch Miller.

Let’s see if we can sort through some of what’s wrong with these two paragraphs.

For one thing, the milestone didn’t seem “nearly unattainable in 2008” — since 2008 is when the Status of Forces agreement was signed. The SOFA — which was signed during the Bush administration — established that U.S. combat forces would withdraw from Iraqi cities by June 30, 2009, and all U.S. forces will be completely out of Iraq by Dec. 31, 2011.

For another, Obama’s plan to end the war wasn’t based on a return on success; it was a plan to leave despite the awful consequences of an American defeat. Remember: when Obama announced his run for the presidency on Feb. 10, 2007, he said: “It’s time to start bringing our troops home. That’s why I have a plan that will bring our combat troops home by March of 2008.” And in May 2007, Obama voted against funding for combat operations. He was also a constant critic of the surge.

If Obama had his way, the Iraq war would have been lost, that nation would be engulfed in a civil war and possibly genocide, militant Islamists would have scored their greatest victory, and America would have suffered a defeat worse than in Vietnam.

Obama’s central campaign promise, contrary to the Thrush article, wasn’t to end America’s involvement in Iraq in a way anything like what we’re doing now (the SOFA agreement was responsible and carefully crafted); it was to cut and run and lose.

What President Obama was doing on Monday was claiming credit for the success and foresight of George W. Bush. Maybe that’s one explanation for why the story drooped like a limp flag. The reason Obama is not getting more credit for this achievement is because most of the credit belongs to his predecessor, which is something Obama simply cannot admit.

Glenn Thrush of Politico wrote a story on President Obama’s “summer of no love.” It includes this analysis:

On Monday, President Barack Obama recommitted to ending the combat mission in Iraq by the end of this month, a milestone that seemed nearly unattainable in 2008 — and seems nearly unnoticed in 2010.

Ending the war in Iraq was Obama’s central campaign promise two years ago, so the announcement should have been a huge deal. But by mid-Monday, the story drooped like a limp flag on news websites, sliding below obituaries of bandleader Mitch Miller.

Let’s see if we can sort through some of what’s wrong with these two paragraphs.

For one thing, the milestone didn’t seem “nearly unattainable in 2008” — since 2008 is when the Status of Forces agreement was signed. The SOFA — which was signed during the Bush administration — established that U.S. combat forces would withdraw from Iraqi cities by June 30, 2009, and all U.S. forces will be completely out of Iraq by Dec. 31, 2011.

For another, Obama’s plan to end the war wasn’t based on a return on success; it was a plan to leave despite the awful consequences of an American defeat. Remember: when Obama announced his run for the presidency on Feb. 10, 2007, he said: “It’s time to start bringing our troops home. That’s why I have a plan that will bring our combat troops home by March of 2008.” And in May 2007, Obama voted against funding for combat operations. He was also a constant critic of the surge.

If Obama had his way, the Iraq war would have been lost, that nation would be engulfed in a civil war and possibly genocide, militant Islamists would have scored their greatest victory, and America would have suffered a defeat worse than in Vietnam.

Obama’s central campaign promise, contrary to the Thrush article, wasn’t to end America’s involvement in Iraq in a way anything like what we’re doing now (the SOFA agreement was responsible and carefully crafted); it was to cut and run and lose.

What President Obama was doing on Monday was claiming credit for the success and foresight of George W. Bush. Maybe that’s one explanation for why the story drooped like a limp flag. The reason Obama is not getting more credit for this achievement is because most of the credit belongs to his predecessor, which is something Obama simply cannot admit.

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David Axelrod’s Latest Spin

David Axelrod had a very bad morning on television. Let’s briefly consider why.

Barack Obama opposed California’s Proposition 8 at the time of the vote, Axelrod said, because it was “divisive” and “mean-spirited.” But Obama also opposes same-sex marriage, even thought that was exactly the purpose of Proposition 8 — to stop court-ordered same-sex marriage. Axelrod’s argument is simply incoherent. Nor can Mr. Axelrod explain why Obama — who insists that he embraces something called “pay-go” — won’t pay for tax cuts for families earning under $250,000 or won’t extend unemployment benefits. And Axelrod is apparently no longer content with blaming just George W. Bush and the Republicans for the lack of hiring by the private sector; the reason has to do with the “problems in Europe … and Greece.” Of course it does.

Everyone is to blame, you see, except the president. This appears to be the grand strategy that Obama and the Democrats are going to run on for the mid-term elections.

It turns out that this White House is unusually inept, both in the policies it pursues and in the arguments it advances.

David Axelrod had a very bad morning on television. Let’s briefly consider why.

Barack Obama opposed California’s Proposition 8 at the time of the vote, Axelrod said, because it was “divisive” and “mean-spirited.” But Obama also opposes same-sex marriage, even thought that was exactly the purpose of Proposition 8 — to stop court-ordered same-sex marriage. Axelrod’s argument is simply incoherent. Nor can Mr. Axelrod explain why Obama — who insists that he embraces something called “pay-go” — won’t pay for tax cuts for families earning under $250,000 or won’t extend unemployment benefits. And Axelrod is apparently no longer content with blaming just George W. Bush and the Republicans for the lack of hiring by the private sector; the reason has to do with the “problems in Europe … and Greece.” Of course it does.

Everyone is to blame, you see, except the president. This appears to be the grand strategy that Obama and the Democrats are going to run on for the mid-term elections.

It turns out that this White House is unusually inept, both in the policies it pursues and in the arguments it advances.

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Israel Needs to Face Facts About Turkey

Israel’s effort to adjust to the new reality of a hostile Islamist Turkey often seems like “one step forward, two steps back.” This week was a giant step back. Yet even so, progress has been made.

This week’s setback was Israel’s decision to participate in a UN probe of May’s raid on a Turkish-sponsored flotilla to Gaza. Several leading Israeli ministers said the decision was made partly “to restore ties with Turkey.” As one senior official put it, “Hopefully the combination of lifting the siege on the Gaza Strip and establishing an international investigation will meet the Turkish demands and lead to a restoration of ties.”

This is appeasement of the worst kind. In order to “restore ties” with a government that has made its hostility crystal-clear, Israel for the first time gave its imprimatur to an investigation by one of the world’s most anti-Israel bodies, which has never sought to probe similar incidents in other countries. That sets a dangerous precedent.

Even worse, this decision comes just days after Defense Minister Ehud Barak voiced concern over the new Turkish intelligence chief’s close ties with Iran. Noting that years of military cooperation had left many Israeli secrets in Turkish hands, he worried that Hakan Fidan might pass them to Tehran. What normal country seeks a closer relationship with a government it suspects of sharing its secrets with its worst enemy?

Yet in its soberer moments, the government has, with considerable success, begun reaching out to some of Turkey’s traditional opponents. Last month, Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou paid an official visit to Israel, becoming the first Greek leader to do so in over 30 years. And in May, the Greek and Israeli air forces conducted joint exercises over the Aegean Sea. Turkey used to be a major venue for such exercises, but lately, it has canceled them repeatedly. And these exercises are vital because they enable pilots to train over longer distances and different terrain than Israel offers.

Ties with Cyprus have also warmed. In May, for instance, Cyprus said it would stop letting Gaza-bound flotillas use its ports, and in June, the Free Gaza movement, which has organized several such flotillas, said this decision had forced it to relocate its headquarters from the island.

But Israel’s schizophrenic behavior is damaging — something even Foreign Ministry professionals, trained to favor diplomacy above all, have recognized. When Industry Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer met Turkey’s foreign minister in June in a bid to mend ties, one senior Foreign Ministry professional told Haaretz (Hebrew only):

The American government is giving Turkey the cold shoulder, Jewish organizations are boycotting it and the whole world is uncomfortable with Turkey’s behavior. Amid all this, we’re the ones who want to embrace them. So how will we be able to object to the world [doing the same] afterward?

This week’s decision shows the damage is only getting worse. It’s time for Jerusalem to face facts: as long as Recep Tayyip Erdogan is in power, Turkey will never again be an ally. Better to cut its losses and focus on building other more fruitful relationships.

Israel’s effort to adjust to the new reality of a hostile Islamist Turkey often seems like “one step forward, two steps back.” This week was a giant step back. Yet even so, progress has been made.

This week’s setback was Israel’s decision to participate in a UN probe of May’s raid on a Turkish-sponsored flotilla to Gaza. Several leading Israeli ministers said the decision was made partly “to restore ties with Turkey.” As one senior official put it, “Hopefully the combination of lifting the siege on the Gaza Strip and establishing an international investigation will meet the Turkish demands and lead to a restoration of ties.”

This is appeasement of the worst kind. In order to “restore ties” with a government that has made its hostility crystal-clear, Israel for the first time gave its imprimatur to an investigation by one of the world’s most anti-Israel bodies, which has never sought to probe similar incidents in other countries. That sets a dangerous precedent.

Even worse, this decision comes just days after Defense Minister Ehud Barak voiced concern over the new Turkish intelligence chief’s close ties with Iran. Noting that years of military cooperation had left many Israeli secrets in Turkish hands, he worried that Hakan Fidan might pass them to Tehran. What normal country seeks a closer relationship with a government it suspects of sharing its secrets with its worst enemy?

Yet in its soberer moments, the government has, with considerable success, begun reaching out to some of Turkey’s traditional opponents. Last month, Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou paid an official visit to Israel, becoming the first Greek leader to do so in over 30 years. And in May, the Greek and Israeli air forces conducted joint exercises over the Aegean Sea. Turkey used to be a major venue for such exercises, but lately, it has canceled them repeatedly. And these exercises are vital because they enable pilots to train over longer distances and different terrain than Israel offers.

Ties with Cyprus have also warmed. In May, for instance, Cyprus said it would stop letting Gaza-bound flotillas use its ports, and in June, the Free Gaza movement, which has organized several such flotillas, said this decision had forced it to relocate its headquarters from the island.

But Israel’s schizophrenic behavior is damaging — something even Foreign Ministry professionals, trained to favor diplomacy above all, have recognized. When Industry Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer met Turkey’s foreign minister in June in a bid to mend ties, one senior Foreign Ministry professional told Haaretz (Hebrew only):

The American government is giving Turkey the cold shoulder, Jewish organizations are boycotting it and the whole world is uncomfortable with Turkey’s behavior. Amid all this, we’re the ones who want to embrace them. So how will we be able to object to the world [doing the same] afterward?

This week’s decision shows the damage is only getting worse. It’s time for Jerusalem to face facts: as long as Recep Tayyip Erdogan is in power, Turkey will never again be an ally. Better to cut its losses and focus on building other more fruitful relationships.

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By Christopher Hitchens

If you haven’t read Christopher Hitchens’s Vanity Fair article on his battle with cancer, you should. It’s a remarkable article, really — honest and raw, in parts poignant and quite moving. It ends this way:

I am quietly resolved to resist bodily as best I can, even if only passively, and to seek the most advanced advice. My heart and blood pressure and many other registers are now strong again: indeed, it occurs to me that if I didn’t have such a stout constitution I might have led a much healthier life thus far. Against me is the blind, emotionless alien, cheered on by some who have long wished me ill. But on the side of my continued life is a group of brilliant and selfless physicians plus an astonishing number of prayer groups. On both of these I hope to write next time if — as my father invariably said — I am spared.

If you haven’t read Christopher Hitchens’s Vanity Fair article on his battle with cancer, you should. It’s a remarkable article, really — honest and raw, in parts poignant and quite moving. It ends this way:

I am quietly resolved to resist bodily as best I can, even if only passively, and to seek the most advanced advice. My heart and blood pressure and many other registers are now strong again: indeed, it occurs to me that if I didn’t have such a stout constitution I might have led a much healthier life thus far. Against me is the blind, emotionless alien, cheered on by some who have long wished me ill. But on the side of my continued life is a group of brilliant and selfless physicians plus an astonishing number of prayer groups. On both of these I hope to write next time if — as my father invariably said — I am spared.

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“Victory Lap” Failure

Another “victory lap”? Really? Earlier this week, President Obama gave a speech on Iraq that was supposed to be part of a “victory lap” on making good his withdrawal from that country. Of course, we’ve seen before the problem with premature declarations of “Mission Accomplished” in Iraq. The situation is obviously much more stable now than it was in 2003, but it could still unravel if the U.S. doesn’t stay committed. Why take a “victory lap” now, when all indications of American disengagement weaken our leverage in Baghdad?

The question becomes even more acute in the case of Iran. The president held a White House meeting with some friendly columnists to discuss Iran. Jeff Goldberg, who was there, describes the session, as, yes, another “victory lap.” Marc Ambinder, also present, summed it up this way: “President Obama has detected ‘rumblings’ that global sanctions against Iran are slowly prodding the country to rethink its nuclear ambitions, though he conceded that Iran continues to pursue a fully-fledged nuclear weapons program.”

What rumblings are these? Other administration officials who were present explained “that Iran was recently forced to abandon an effort to develop an oil field because the IRGC didn’t have the expertise and the country could find no subcontractors who were willing to risk the penalties imposed by the sanctions.”

Good to hear that Iran is feeling some pressure, but there is, to put it mildly, no evidence that it is willing to abandon its nuclear ambitions — especially because Obama continues to talk of his burning desire to strike a deal with the mullahs, which only encourages their sense of invulnerability. In fact, in this very meeting, Obama indicated he has not given up his hope for negotiations, something that the Iranians have spurned as undiplomatically as possible. They are sure to see his groveling, continued even after their insulting refusals to talk, as a sign of weakness — as indeed it is.

Goldberg left the meeting unconvinced. His doubts are worth quoting:

I am skeptical, though, about the possibilities of a diplomatic breakthrough, for two reasons, one structural, and one related to the state of Iran’s opposition: The structural reason is simple; one of the pillars of Islamic Republic theology is anti-Americanism, and it would take an ideological earthquake to upend that pillar. And then there’s the problem of the Green Movement. If the Iranian opposition were vibrant and strong, the regime might have good reason to be sensitive to the economic impact of the new sanctions package. But the opposition is weak and divided. The regime has shown itself to be fully capable of suppressing dissent through terror. So I’m not sure how much pressure the regime feels to negotiate with the West.

Goldberg, with whom I don’t always agree, is being realistic. What’s scary is that the illusions about “outreach” in the upper reaches of this administration have still not been dispelled, despite a year and a half of experience (to say nothing of the previous 30 years of experience), which would suggest that the mullahs aren’t misunderstood moderates who are committed to “peaceful co-existence.”

Another “victory lap”? Really? Earlier this week, President Obama gave a speech on Iraq that was supposed to be part of a “victory lap” on making good his withdrawal from that country. Of course, we’ve seen before the problem with premature declarations of “Mission Accomplished” in Iraq. The situation is obviously much more stable now than it was in 2003, but it could still unravel if the U.S. doesn’t stay committed. Why take a “victory lap” now, when all indications of American disengagement weaken our leverage in Baghdad?

The question becomes even more acute in the case of Iran. The president held a White House meeting with some friendly columnists to discuss Iran. Jeff Goldberg, who was there, describes the session, as, yes, another “victory lap.” Marc Ambinder, also present, summed it up this way: “President Obama has detected ‘rumblings’ that global sanctions against Iran are slowly prodding the country to rethink its nuclear ambitions, though he conceded that Iran continues to pursue a fully-fledged nuclear weapons program.”

What rumblings are these? Other administration officials who were present explained “that Iran was recently forced to abandon an effort to develop an oil field because the IRGC didn’t have the expertise and the country could find no subcontractors who were willing to risk the penalties imposed by the sanctions.”

Good to hear that Iran is feeling some pressure, but there is, to put it mildly, no evidence that it is willing to abandon its nuclear ambitions — especially because Obama continues to talk of his burning desire to strike a deal with the mullahs, which only encourages their sense of invulnerability. In fact, in this very meeting, Obama indicated he has not given up his hope for negotiations, something that the Iranians have spurned as undiplomatically as possible. They are sure to see his groveling, continued even after their insulting refusals to talk, as a sign of weakness — as indeed it is.

Goldberg left the meeting unconvinced. His doubts are worth quoting:

I am skeptical, though, about the possibilities of a diplomatic breakthrough, for two reasons, one structural, and one related to the state of Iran’s opposition: The structural reason is simple; one of the pillars of Islamic Republic theology is anti-Americanism, and it would take an ideological earthquake to upend that pillar. And then there’s the problem of the Green Movement. If the Iranian opposition were vibrant and strong, the regime might have good reason to be sensitive to the economic impact of the new sanctions package. But the opposition is weak and divided. The regime has shown itself to be fully capable of suppressing dissent through terror. So I’m not sure how much pressure the regime feels to negotiate with the West.

Goldberg, with whom I don’t always agree, is being realistic. What’s scary is that the illusions about “outreach” in the upper reaches of this administration have still not been dispelled, despite a year and a half of experience (to say nothing of the previous 30 years of experience), which would suggest that the mullahs aren’t misunderstood moderates who are committed to “peaceful co-existence.”

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