Commentary Magazine


Posts For: August 9, 2010

RE: Western Inaction on Lebanon

Kudos to Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY) — who, as Jonathan noted, used her post as head of the House appropriations subcommittee on foreign aid today to put a hold on $100 million in American assistance to the Lebanese Armed Forces, which was approved for 2010 but not yet disbursed — and to House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Howard Berman (D-CA), who had applied a hold on the aid even before last Tuesday’s deadly border incident, out of concern about reported Hezbollah influence on the LAF. It’s encouraging that Congress recognizes the dangers, which I had outlined here earlier, of not responding to Lebanon’s naked aggression against Israel last week.

Nevertheless, it’s worrying that the administration clearly doesn’t share this understanding. The 2009 aid that remained in the pipeline is still being handed over as scheduled, because, a State Department official told the Jerusalem Post, the U.S. is still trying to determine the facts of the incident.

Yet on Wednesday, a day after the incident occurred, UNIFIL — an organization not known for its pro-Israel bias — had already confirmed that the Lebanese soldiers fired first, without provocation, and that no Israeli soldiers had strayed into Lebanese territory, contrary to Lebanon’s claim. Moreover, the Lebanese government has vociferously endorsed the attack and, as I noted earlier, even justified it on the grounds that Beirut no longer recognizes the UN-demarcated international border. Are any other facts really necessary to grasp that this is not behavior Washington should be encouraging by making it cost-free?

But it gets even worse. The official also told the Post, “we continue to believe that our support to the LAF and ISF [Internal Security Forces] will contribute toward improving regional security.” How exactly does supporting an army that has just launched an unprovoked, deadly, cross-border attack on a neighbor — and whose government has just announced that it no longer recognizes the international border, thereby implying that more such attacks are likely to follow — “contribute toward improving regional security”?

Continuing the pretense that Lebanon’s government is the West’s ally against Hezbollah won’t make it true. It will merely make it easier for Beirut to launch additional attacks against Israel by sparing it any need to consider the costs.

Kudos to Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY) — who, as Jonathan noted, used her post as head of the House appropriations subcommittee on foreign aid today to put a hold on $100 million in American assistance to the Lebanese Armed Forces, which was approved for 2010 but not yet disbursed — and to House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Howard Berman (D-CA), who had applied a hold on the aid even before last Tuesday’s deadly border incident, out of concern about reported Hezbollah influence on the LAF. It’s encouraging that Congress recognizes the dangers, which I had outlined here earlier, of not responding to Lebanon’s naked aggression against Israel last week.

Nevertheless, it’s worrying that the administration clearly doesn’t share this understanding. The 2009 aid that remained in the pipeline is still being handed over as scheduled, because, a State Department official told the Jerusalem Post, the U.S. is still trying to determine the facts of the incident.

Yet on Wednesday, a day after the incident occurred, UNIFIL — an organization not known for its pro-Israel bias — had already confirmed that the Lebanese soldiers fired first, without provocation, and that no Israeli soldiers had strayed into Lebanese territory, contrary to Lebanon’s claim. Moreover, the Lebanese government has vociferously endorsed the attack and, as I noted earlier, even justified it on the grounds that Beirut no longer recognizes the UN-demarcated international border. Are any other facts really necessary to grasp that this is not behavior Washington should be encouraging by making it cost-free?

But it gets even worse. The official also told the Post, “we continue to believe that our support to the LAF and ISF [Internal Security Forces] will contribute toward improving regional security.” How exactly does supporting an army that has just launched an unprovoked, deadly, cross-border attack on a neighbor — and whose government has just announced that it no longer recognizes the international border, thereby implying that more such attacks are likely to follow — “contribute toward improving regional security”?

Continuing the pretense that Lebanon’s government is the West’s ally against Hezbollah won’t make it true. It will merely make it easier for Beirut to launch additional attacks against Israel by sparing it any need to consider the costs.

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Blumenthal May Be Pulling for Simmons After All in CT GOP Primary

Tomorrow’s Connecticut Senate Republican primary poses an interesting dilemma for the voters. Back when the story broke of Richard Blumenthal’s serial lies about serving in Vietnam, the thinking here was that the obvious beneficiary ought to be former Republican congressman Rob Simmons, a decorated Vietnam vet who had been the favorite for the GOP nomination for the Senate seat being vacated by Chris Dodd. But I was ignoring the fact that Nutmeg State Republicans were more impressed by the fact that the revelation was the work of Simmons’s rival, pro-wrestling mogul Linda McMahon.

In the face of McMahon’s huge money advantage and the fact that the party establishment had abandoned him, Simmons withdrew, although it was too late to take his name off the ballot. But after a couple of weeks, unhappy about his decision, Simmons resumed his candidacy, albeit in a halfhearted sort of way. Perhaps he thought that in a primary with what will probably be a small turnout, he still ought to have a decent chance of upsetting McMahon. Her record as the head of the deeply unsavory WWE ought to provide enough fodder for Democratic opposition researchers. But the story this week isn’t the chance for Republicans to rethink their embrace of a candidate with no chance to win. Rather it is the way the dynamic of the race has been changed by her early and massive media campaign, which put very effective commercials on air, showing upscale women talking about Blumenthal’s shortcomings and McMahon’s strengths.

As Reuters noted yesterday, the $50 million of her own money that she is prepared to spend has done more than turn the heads of Republican bigwigs. The television ads aired so far have helped lower Blumenthal’s lead to 10 points in a recent Quinnipiac poll. So rather than the absurdity of a WWE exec in the Senate — with all the related questions about violence, vulgarity, fraud, and steroids, which pro wrestling conjures up — it may be that Blumenthal’s problems will still be the big story this fall. As the New York Times reported in April, even before he was humiliated by the reporting of his Vietnam lies, Connecticut Democrats were so unimpressed with his campaign that they were calling him “Martha Coakley in pants.” If Blumenthal, rather than McMahon, is being viewed as the problem candidate today, it is only because the latter’s money has helped keep the bull’s-eye on his back rather than on her own.

That means that even though McMahon’s wrestling record arguably ought to disqualify her for high office, her energy and determination to win (literally) at all costs make her the obvious Republican choice, as well as a woman with a more than reasonable chance of being sworn into the Senate in January. Back in the spring, Democrats might have been hoping to have the scandalous McMahon to run against. But today, Blumenthal may be saying a silent and hopeless prayer that the lackluster, though better qualified, Simmons pulls off a monumental upset tomorrow.

Tomorrow’s Connecticut Senate Republican primary poses an interesting dilemma for the voters. Back when the story broke of Richard Blumenthal’s serial lies about serving in Vietnam, the thinking here was that the obvious beneficiary ought to be former Republican congressman Rob Simmons, a decorated Vietnam vet who had been the favorite for the GOP nomination for the Senate seat being vacated by Chris Dodd. But I was ignoring the fact that Nutmeg State Republicans were more impressed by the fact that the revelation was the work of Simmons’s rival, pro-wrestling mogul Linda McMahon.

In the face of McMahon’s huge money advantage and the fact that the party establishment had abandoned him, Simmons withdrew, although it was too late to take his name off the ballot. But after a couple of weeks, unhappy about his decision, Simmons resumed his candidacy, albeit in a halfhearted sort of way. Perhaps he thought that in a primary with what will probably be a small turnout, he still ought to have a decent chance of upsetting McMahon. Her record as the head of the deeply unsavory WWE ought to provide enough fodder for Democratic opposition researchers. But the story this week isn’t the chance for Republicans to rethink their embrace of a candidate with no chance to win. Rather it is the way the dynamic of the race has been changed by her early and massive media campaign, which put very effective commercials on air, showing upscale women talking about Blumenthal’s shortcomings and McMahon’s strengths.

As Reuters noted yesterday, the $50 million of her own money that she is prepared to spend has done more than turn the heads of Republican bigwigs. The television ads aired so far have helped lower Blumenthal’s lead to 10 points in a recent Quinnipiac poll. So rather than the absurdity of a WWE exec in the Senate — with all the related questions about violence, vulgarity, fraud, and steroids, which pro wrestling conjures up — it may be that Blumenthal’s problems will still be the big story this fall. As the New York Times reported in April, even before he was humiliated by the reporting of his Vietnam lies, Connecticut Democrats were so unimpressed with his campaign that they were calling him “Martha Coakley in pants.” If Blumenthal, rather than McMahon, is being viewed as the problem candidate today, it is only because the latter’s money has helped keep the bull’s-eye on his back rather than on her own.

That means that even though McMahon’s wrestling record arguably ought to disqualify her for high office, her energy and determination to win (literally) at all costs make her the obvious Republican choice, as well as a woman with a more than reasonable chance of being sworn into the Senate in January. Back in the spring, Democrats might have been hoping to have the scandalous McMahon to run against. But today, Blumenthal may be saying a silent and hopeless prayer that the lackluster, though better qualified, Simmons pulls off a monumental upset tomorrow.

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Sanctions on Iran: A Tale of Two Narratives

In a session with journalists at the White House last week, President Obama reportedly “made the case that his Iran policy is working.” He also hedged his bets by acknowledging that the “Iranians may be impervious to sanctions.” Friendly journalists being a quiescent filter, the Obama narrative comes through quite well: our president, earnest and competent, is doggedly wielding every tool in his toolbox. He sees some progress — reportedly in the form of “rumblings” that sanctions are prodding Iran to rethink its nuclear ambitions — but he recognizes the recalcitrant character of the Iranian leadership. He’s no fool, but this is, after all, a big problem.

That’s one narrative. It’s not a narrative about what Iran wants or is going to get, or what kind of threat that might pose to the Middle East or the U.S. It’s a narrative about what Obama is doing and how he sees the problem. We can call this one the Narrative of Obama.

The other narrative running in parallel with it is what we might call the Narrative of Events. Its elements are brought to our attention primarily by nontraditional media. The Obama administration simply ignores them in formulating its media themes, focusing instead on what Obama is doing and what he might have to do. Three developments in particular have cropped up in the last week.

One is the confirmation by IAEA inspectors that Iran has begun enriching uranium more efficiently. It’s a technical point, but it shortens the timeline to a weapon. As the Institute for Science and International Security observes, the procedure Iran has inaugurated mirrors the steps to a nuclear weapon outlined in the A.Q. Khan plans recovered from Libya. The Khan method essentially allows Iran to squeeze the most medium-enriched uranium possible from a given amount of low-enriched uranium, accelerating its progress toward the high-enriched uranium needed for a bomb. As the Reuters report notes, analysts say Iran “could advance to weapons-grade level in months.”

The other developments are interrelated and concern the economic sanctions themselves. One is the extent to which China — along with Turkey, India, and Russia — is stepping into the void created by tightened Western sanctions. This article from the new-right journal Il Foglio (available only in Italian) summarizes a number of mutually reinforcing factors, from Iran’s significance in China’s petroleum strategy to the dramatic increase in trade between the two countries and India’s determination not to be sidelined. According to Il Foglio, Turkey has proposed that Iran use major Turkish ports — rather than Dubai — as hubs for its foreign business. As I wrote in July, the rail lines are in place to make this a reality, allowing Iran to simply bypass the Strait of Hormuz for much of its trade.

Worrying about the danger it might create to inspect cargo ships in the Persian Gulf may soon be an outdated concern. Meanwhile, the third development reported in the last week is South Korea’s dilemma over the sanctions. This editorial reflects the significant concerns in Seoul about oil imports and the impact on medium-size businesses; Il Foglio points out, moreover, that if South Korea cooperates fully on sanctions, it will be abandoning one of its fastest-growing foreign markets to China. South Korean enthusiasm for effective cooperation is by no means assured.

Indeed, we are reaching the point at which it’s just as likely that patterns of trade and regional power will shift as it is that nations will continue to respond reflexively to American requests. Rick’s piece today is a timely reminder that the Narrative of Obama is an especially verbose one. It is also increasingly divorced from the Narrative of Events.

In a session with journalists at the White House last week, President Obama reportedly “made the case that his Iran policy is working.” He also hedged his bets by acknowledging that the “Iranians may be impervious to sanctions.” Friendly journalists being a quiescent filter, the Obama narrative comes through quite well: our president, earnest and competent, is doggedly wielding every tool in his toolbox. He sees some progress — reportedly in the form of “rumblings” that sanctions are prodding Iran to rethink its nuclear ambitions — but he recognizes the recalcitrant character of the Iranian leadership. He’s no fool, but this is, after all, a big problem.

That’s one narrative. It’s not a narrative about what Iran wants or is going to get, or what kind of threat that might pose to the Middle East or the U.S. It’s a narrative about what Obama is doing and how he sees the problem. We can call this one the Narrative of Obama.

The other narrative running in parallel with it is what we might call the Narrative of Events. Its elements are brought to our attention primarily by nontraditional media. The Obama administration simply ignores them in formulating its media themes, focusing instead on what Obama is doing and what he might have to do. Three developments in particular have cropped up in the last week.

One is the confirmation by IAEA inspectors that Iran has begun enriching uranium more efficiently. It’s a technical point, but it shortens the timeline to a weapon. As the Institute for Science and International Security observes, the procedure Iran has inaugurated mirrors the steps to a nuclear weapon outlined in the A.Q. Khan plans recovered from Libya. The Khan method essentially allows Iran to squeeze the most medium-enriched uranium possible from a given amount of low-enriched uranium, accelerating its progress toward the high-enriched uranium needed for a bomb. As the Reuters report notes, analysts say Iran “could advance to weapons-grade level in months.”

The other developments are interrelated and concern the economic sanctions themselves. One is the extent to which China — along with Turkey, India, and Russia — is stepping into the void created by tightened Western sanctions. This article from the new-right journal Il Foglio (available only in Italian) summarizes a number of mutually reinforcing factors, from Iran’s significance in China’s petroleum strategy to the dramatic increase in trade between the two countries and India’s determination not to be sidelined. According to Il Foglio, Turkey has proposed that Iran use major Turkish ports — rather than Dubai — as hubs for its foreign business. As I wrote in July, the rail lines are in place to make this a reality, allowing Iran to simply bypass the Strait of Hormuz for much of its trade.

Worrying about the danger it might create to inspect cargo ships in the Persian Gulf may soon be an outdated concern. Meanwhile, the third development reported in the last week is South Korea’s dilemma over the sanctions. This editorial reflects the significant concerns in Seoul about oil imports and the impact on medium-size businesses; Il Foglio points out, moreover, that if South Korea cooperates fully on sanctions, it will be abandoning one of its fastest-growing foreign markets to China. South Korean enthusiasm for effective cooperation is by no means assured.

Indeed, we are reaching the point at which it’s just as likely that patterns of trade and regional power will shift as it is that nations will continue to respond reflexively to American requests. Rick’s piece today is a timely reminder that the Narrative of Obama is an especially verbose one. It is also increasingly divorced from the Narrative of Events.

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The Increasingly Self-Pitying Obama White House

According to the preview offered by Vanity Fair:

[Todd] Purdum spends a day inside the West Wing and talks to Obama’s top aides, who tell him about the challenges of playing the Beltway game, ugly as it has become, even as their boss insists they find a way to transcend it.

“There’s a relentlessness to this that’s unlike anything else, especially when you come into office in a time of crisis,” says Obama senior adviser David Axelrod. “We did not exactly ease into the tub. The world is so much smaller, and events reverberate much more quickly, and one person can create an event so quickly from one computer terminal.”

Larry Summers, who served as Clinton’s Treasury secretary for the last 18 months of his term, says, “It used to be there was a kind of rhythm to the day” with the tempo picking up after the markets closed and as newspaper deadlines approached, between four and seven P.M. “That’s gone.” And, according to Rahm Emanuel, C.I.A. director Leon Panetta thinks “it’s a huge problem” that Washington runs at such “a highly caffeinated speed.”

Emanuel calls it “F***nutsville,” and Valerie Jarrett says she looks back wistfully to a time when credible people could put a stamp of reliability on information and opinion: “Walter Cronkite would get on and say the truth, and people believed the media,” she says.

It got so bad last December that President Obama and Emanuel would joke that, when it was all over, they were going to open a T-shirt stand on a beach in Hawaii. It would face the ocean and sell only one color and one size. “We didn’t want to make another decision, or choice, or judgment,” Emanuel tells Purdum. They took to beginning staff meetings with Obama smiling at Emanuel and simply saying “White,” and Emanuel nodding back and replying “Medium.”

I’ll reserve final judgment until I read the entire piece. But based on these excerpts — which presumably reflect the thrust of the 10,000-word article — what is striking is the degree of self-pity we find in Obama’s advisers, which is reflected in the president’s words and attitude as well. Team Obama sounds nothing so much as overmatched and overwhelmed, unable to understand what has gone wrong, and increasingly bitter toward the nation’s capital and the pace and nature of politics.

What we are seeing, I think, is a group of supremely arrogant people humbled by events. They are turning out to be a good deal more incompetent than they (and many Americans) ever imagined. They see impending political doom in the form of the midterm elections. Yet this is not leading them toward any apparent serious self-reflection; rather, they are engaging in an extraordinary degree of whining, finger-pointing, and self-indulgence.

It was said of President Kennedy that he was a happy president. “Happiness, [Kennedy] often said, paraphrasing Aristotle, is the full use of one’s faculties along lines of excellence, and to him the Presidency offered the ideal opportunity to pursue excellence,” Theodore Sorenson wrote in Kennedy. “He liked the job, he thrived on its pressures.”

One doesn’t get that sense with Obama or his key advisers. In 18 months they appear to have developed deep grievances and an increasing unhappiness and frustration with the duties of governing.

Life in the White House is challenging; anyone who has worked there can testify to that. And Washington, D.C., is certainly an imperfect city, as all are. But the impression Team Obama is trying to create — that no group has ever faced more challenges, more difficulties, or more hardships — is silly and somewhat pathetic. Politics is the worthiest ambition, wrote John Buchan (the author of JFK’s favorite book, Pilgrim’s Way); it is the greatest and most honorable adventure.

If Obama and his aides don’t see that or anything like that — if they view politics and governing only through a lens tinted by bitterness, frustration, and resentment — then it is time for them to step aside. If not, then they should man up. Self-pity is a terribly unattractive quality.

According to the preview offered by Vanity Fair:

[Todd] Purdum spends a day inside the West Wing and talks to Obama’s top aides, who tell him about the challenges of playing the Beltway game, ugly as it has become, even as their boss insists they find a way to transcend it.

“There’s a relentlessness to this that’s unlike anything else, especially when you come into office in a time of crisis,” says Obama senior adviser David Axelrod. “We did not exactly ease into the tub. The world is so much smaller, and events reverberate much more quickly, and one person can create an event so quickly from one computer terminal.”

Larry Summers, who served as Clinton’s Treasury secretary for the last 18 months of his term, says, “It used to be there was a kind of rhythm to the day” with the tempo picking up after the markets closed and as newspaper deadlines approached, between four and seven P.M. “That’s gone.” And, according to Rahm Emanuel, C.I.A. director Leon Panetta thinks “it’s a huge problem” that Washington runs at such “a highly caffeinated speed.”

Emanuel calls it “F***nutsville,” and Valerie Jarrett says she looks back wistfully to a time when credible people could put a stamp of reliability on information and opinion: “Walter Cronkite would get on and say the truth, and people believed the media,” she says.

It got so bad last December that President Obama and Emanuel would joke that, when it was all over, they were going to open a T-shirt stand on a beach in Hawaii. It would face the ocean and sell only one color and one size. “We didn’t want to make another decision, or choice, or judgment,” Emanuel tells Purdum. They took to beginning staff meetings with Obama smiling at Emanuel and simply saying “White,” and Emanuel nodding back and replying “Medium.”

I’ll reserve final judgment until I read the entire piece. But based on these excerpts — which presumably reflect the thrust of the 10,000-word article — what is striking is the degree of self-pity we find in Obama’s advisers, which is reflected in the president’s words and attitude as well. Team Obama sounds nothing so much as overmatched and overwhelmed, unable to understand what has gone wrong, and increasingly bitter toward the nation’s capital and the pace and nature of politics.

What we are seeing, I think, is a group of supremely arrogant people humbled by events. They are turning out to be a good deal more incompetent than they (and many Americans) ever imagined. They see impending political doom in the form of the midterm elections. Yet this is not leading them toward any apparent serious self-reflection; rather, they are engaging in an extraordinary degree of whining, finger-pointing, and self-indulgence.

It was said of President Kennedy that he was a happy president. “Happiness, [Kennedy] often said, paraphrasing Aristotle, is the full use of one’s faculties along lines of excellence, and to him the Presidency offered the ideal opportunity to pursue excellence,” Theodore Sorenson wrote in Kennedy. “He liked the job, he thrived on its pressures.”

One doesn’t get that sense with Obama or his key advisers. In 18 months they appear to have developed deep grievances and an increasing unhappiness and frustration with the duties of governing.

Life in the White House is challenging; anyone who has worked there can testify to that. And Washington, D.C., is certainly an imperfect city, as all are. But the impression Team Obama is trying to create — that no group has ever faced more challenges, more difficulties, or more hardships — is silly and somewhat pathetic. Politics is the worthiest ambition, wrote John Buchan (the author of JFK’s favorite book, Pilgrim’s Way); it is the greatest and most honorable adventure.

If Obama and his aides don’t see that or anything like that — if they view politics and governing only through a lens tinted by bitterness, frustration, and resentment — then it is time for them to step aside. If not, then they should man up. Self-pity is a terribly unattractive quality.

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Annals of Smart Diplomacy

President Obama told a group of columnists last week that it is “important to put before the Iranians a clear set of steps that we would consider sufficient to show that they are not pursuing nuclear weapons.” What, one wonders, would those steps be?

On Friday, two New York Times reporters interviewed Hillary Clinton and had a certain amount of difficulty getting her to answer that question:

QUESTION: Let me start with something that the President said to the columnists [quotes Obama’s statement]. Now this is quite different from the way the Bush Administration did where they simply said, you know, “They know what they have to do.” …

So our first question is: Have you put forward to them in recent times a new list of what they would have to do? And if so, can you sort of talk us through that list?

SECRETARY CLINTON: [529-word answer about getting Iran’s attention with sanctions].

QUESTION: Okay, but the question was, have you given them sort of a new list now that you’ve gotten their attention? … [H]ave you now gone back to them and said, okay, now that we’ve got your attention, here is the list of things that you could do right away?

SECRETARY CLINTON: [204-word answer about being committed to engagement].

QUESTION: Okay. But there has not been a specific new missive, the President, you, someone has not sent a letter saying here’s a list of three or four things you could do to get this rolling now?

SECRETARY CLINTON: No, no, but we have certainly sent … very clear messages … And I was very clear in saying that – to tell them that we remain open to engagement. But they do know what they have to do. They have to reassure the international community by words and actions as to what their nuclear program is intended for.

What a refreshing difference from the Bush administration, which “simply said, you know, ‘They know what they have to do.’” The Obama administration says it’s important to tell them what they have to do, but when asked to sort of talk us through it, it responds that they “know what they have to do.”

President Obama told a group of columnists last week that it is “important to put before the Iranians a clear set of steps that we would consider sufficient to show that they are not pursuing nuclear weapons.” What, one wonders, would those steps be?

On Friday, two New York Times reporters interviewed Hillary Clinton and had a certain amount of difficulty getting her to answer that question:

QUESTION: Let me start with something that the President said to the columnists [quotes Obama’s statement]. Now this is quite different from the way the Bush Administration did where they simply said, you know, “They know what they have to do.” …

So our first question is: Have you put forward to them in recent times a new list of what they would have to do? And if so, can you sort of talk us through that list?

SECRETARY CLINTON: [529-word answer about getting Iran’s attention with sanctions].

QUESTION: Okay, but the question was, have you given them sort of a new list now that you’ve gotten their attention? … [H]ave you now gone back to them and said, okay, now that we’ve got your attention, here is the list of things that you could do right away?

SECRETARY CLINTON: [204-word answer about being committed to engagement].

QUESTION: Okay. But there has not been a specific new missive, the President, you, someone has not sent a letter saying here’s a list of three or four things you could do to get this rolling now?

SECRETARY CLINTON: No, no, but we have certainly sent … very clear messages … And I was very clear in saying that – to tell them that we remain open to engagement. But they do know what they have to do. They have to reassure the international community by words and actions as to what their nuclear program is intended for.

What a refreshing difference from the Bush administration, which “simply said, you know, ‘They know what they have to do.’” The Obama administration says it’s important to tell them what they have to do, but when asked to sort of talk us through it, it responds that they “know what they have to do.”

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JFCOM to Be Shut Down?

Defense Secretary Bob Gates has just announced a new round of budget cuts, the major move being the proposed elimination of U.S. Joint Forces Command. JFCOM is one of the newer “combatant commands”; it was created in 1999 to work on “joint” training, doctrine, capabilities, and force generation — all missions that in the past had gone exclusively to the individual military services. The thinking at the time in Congress and at the Pentagon was that a more unified approach was needed to avoid some of the traditional duplication and lack of synchronization.

Apparently, Gates thinks the mission could be done just as well without the existence of a four-star command. Is he right? He may well be. And I say that even though I have been peripherally involved in JFCOM’s operations as a member (unpaid) of its Transformation Advisory Group. Certainly, JFCOM, like all military bureaucracies (indeed all bureaucracies, period), has its share of fat. But it also performed some important functions that will have to be done by someone, whether the command exists or not.

The budget savings from this move will hardly do much to reduce the Pentagon’s budget, much less to close the government’s growing budget deficit. As the Associated Press notes, JFCOM has “nearly 4,900 employees and annual salaries of more than $200 million” — a pittance in federal-budget terms. Indeed, you could cut the entire Pentagon budget ($535 billion) and still not eliminate this year’s budget deficit — $1.47 trillion. To say nothing of our federal debt, which is over $13 billion and counting.

I am all in favor of cutting government spending. But we should be careful about cutting defense spending in wartime. Moreover, we should be careful about dumping the burden of “deficit cutting” onto the Department of Defense while ignoring the budget items actually responsible for most federal spending. OK, cut JFCOM. But then cut, too, the entitlement programs, which, with the encouragement and connivance of both the president and Congress, are growing out of control.

A final question concerns the fate of General Ray Odierno, who is about to leave Iraq to assume the command of… JFCOM, a post just vacated by Gen. Jim Mattis, the new Central Command chief. Where will Odierno go now? His services are far too valuable to be lost, but there wouldn’t be an abundance of open four-star jobs if JFCOM were, in fact, eliminated — which would take an act of Congress. My bet would be on him succeeding General George Casey as army chief of staff.

Defense Secretary Bob Gates has just announced a new round of budget cuts, the major move being the proposed elimination of U.S. Joint Forces Command. JFCOM is one of the newer “combatant commands”; it was created in 1999 to work on “joint” training, doctrine, capabilities, and force generation — all missions that in the past had gone exclusively to the individual military services. The thinking at the time in Congress and at the Pentagon was that a more unified approach was needed to avoid some of the traditional duplication and lack of synchronization.

Apparently, Gates thinks the mission could be done just as well without the existence of a four-star command. Is he right? He may well be. And I say that even though I have been peripherally involved in JFCOM’s operations as a member (unpaid) of its Transformation Advisory Group. Certainly, JFCOM, like all military bureaucracies (indeed all bureaucracies, period), has its share of fat. But it also performed some important functions that will have to be done by someone, whether the command exists or not.

The budget savings from this move will hardly do much to reduce the Pentagon’s budget, much less to close the government’s growing budget deficit. As the Associated Press notes, JFCOM has “nearly 4,900 employees and annual salaries of more than $200 million” — a pittance in federal-budget terms. Indeed, you could cut the entire Pentagon budget ($535 billion) and still not eliminate this year’s budget deficit — $1.47 trillion. To say nothing of our federal debt, which is over $13 billion and counting.

I am all in favor of cutting government spending. But we should be careful about cutting defense spending in wartime. Moreover, we should be careful about dumping the burden of “deficit cutting” onto the Department of Defense while ignoring the budget items actually responsible for most federal spending. OK, cut JFCOM. But then cut, too, the entitlement programs, which, with the encouragement and connivance of both the president and Congress, are growing out of control.

A final question concerns the fate of General Ray Odierno, who is about to leave Iraq to assume the command of… JFCOM, a post just vacated by Gen. Jim Mattis, the new Central Command chief. Where will Odierno go now? His services are far too valuable to be lost, but there wouldn’t be an abundance of open four-star jobs if JFCOM were, in fact, eliminated — which would take an act of Congress. My bet would be on him succeeding General George Casey as army chief of staff.

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No U.S. Cash for Hezbollah’s Lebanese Army Allies

Last week, the Lebanese army, apparently acting in concert with Hezbollah terrorists, launched a sneak attack on Israeli soldiers who were clearing away a tree on their own side of the border. One Israeli officer was killed in cold blood, and another was wounded. Israel’s response to this provocation was restrained; it merely returned fire on the Lebanese army, killing two soldiers and one Hezbollah-affiliated “journalist” who had come to the border specifically to observe the hit on the Israelis. But while even the anti-Israel United Nations peacekeeping force Unifil agreed that the Lebanese fired first and attacked Israelis on Israeli soil, the international community had little to say about this incident. Western nations, including the United States, are worried that speaking up about this will undermine the government of Prime Minister Saad Hariri.

Syrian agents murdered Hariri’s father in 2005, and protests against this act led to the Cedar Revolution, in which the Syrians were chucked out of the country. But since that signal victory for the West, the Syrians and their Hezbollah allies have won back control over the country. Hariri is now forced to accept a role that his father rejected: a vassal of Damascus and an ally of Hezbollah, which now has a place in his cabinet. As last week’s incident proved, the Lebanese army, once thought to be the lever by which the country could be pried from the grip of Syria, is now in cahoots with Hezbollah. Yet it is still in line to be the recipient of U.S. aid, approved in the days when Lebanon and its army were thought to be allies of the West against Islamist terrorism.

The State Department says it is still trying to investigate the incident and whether it is true that the Lebanese used weapons sent by the United States to shoot at Israel. But at least some members of Congress are paying attention.

Rep. Nita Lowey, the New York Democrat who chairs the House appropriations subcommittee on foreign aid, announced today that she is putting a hold on the $100 million allocated to be sent to the Lebanese army in 2010 but which has not yet been disbursed. Lowey says she wants to see how Lebanon and the Hariri government respond to the incident before this money or the $100 million Lebanon is supposed to get in 2011 is sent to Beirut. House Republican Whip Rep. Eric Cantor called for the aid pipeline to the Lebanese army to be stopped altogether, noting rightly that the line between that army and the Hezbollah terrorists had become blurred.

Instead of pretending as if the Cedar Revolution had not been annulled while both the Bush and Obama governments slept, the administration should be following the lead of Lowey and Cantor. As Evelyn noted, not only did Hariri falsely claim that Israel fired first but his government is also now not even recognizing the international border with Israel. Rather than playing along with the fiction that U.S. aid to Lebanon would fund an army that would be a check on Hezbollah, under the current arrangement Washington is helping to pay for the terrorist group’s fellow killers. That must end, and Lebanon — and Hariri — must be put on notice that there is a price to be paid for carrying out cross-border murders at Hezbollah’s behest.

Last week, the Lebanese army, apparently acting in concert with Hezbollah terrorists, launched a sneak attack on Israeli soldiers who were clearing away a tree on their own side of the border. One Israeli officer was killed in cold blood, and another was wounded. Israel’s response to this provocation was restrained; it merely returned fire on the Lebanese army, killing two soldiers and one Hezbollah-affiliated “journalist” who had come to the border specifically to observe the hit on the Israelis. But while even the anti-Israel United Nations peacekeeping force Unifil agreed that the Lebanese fired first and attacked Israelis on Israeli soil, the international community had little to say about this incident. Western nations, including the United States, are worried that speaking up about this will undermine the government of Prime Minister Saad Hariri.

Syrian agents murdered Hariri’s father in 2005, and protests against this act led to the Cedar Revolution, in which the Syrians were chucked out of the country. But since that signal victory for the West, the Syrians and their Hezbollah allies have won back control over the country. Hariri is now forced to accept a role that his father rejected: a vassal of Damascus and an ally of Hezbollah, which now has a place in his cabinet. As last week’s incident proved, the Lebanese army, once thought to be the lever by which the country could be pried from the grip of Syria, is now in cahoots with Hezbollah. Yet it is still in line to be the recipient of U.S. aid, approved in the days when Lebanon and its army were thought to be allies of the West against Islamist terrorism.

The State Department says it is still trying to investigate the incident and whether it is true that the Lebanese used weapons sent by the United States to shoot at Israel. But at least some members of Congress are paying attention.

Rep. Nita Lowey, the New York Democrat who chairs the House appropriations subcommittee on foreign aid, announced today that she is putting a hold on the $100 million allocated to be sent to the Lebanese army in 2010 but which has not yet been disbursed. Lowey says she wants to see how Lebanon and the Hariri government respond to the incident before this money or the $100 million Lebanon is supposed to get in 2011 is sent to Beirut. House Republican Whip Rep. Eric Cantor called for the aid pipeline to the Lebanese army to be stopped altogether, noting rightly that the line between that army and the Hezbollah terrorists had become blurred.

Instead of pretending as if the Cedar Revolution had not been annulled while both the Bush and Obama governments slept, the administration should be following the lead of Lowey and Cantor. As Evelyn noted, not only did Hariri falsely claim that Israel fired first but his government is also now not even recognizing the international border with Israel. Rather than playing along with the fiction that U.S. aid to Lebanon would fund an army that would be a check on Hezbollah, under the current arrangement Washington is helping to pay for the terrorist group’s fellow killers. That must end, and Lebanon — and Hariri — must be put on notice that there is a price to be paid for carrying out cross-border murders at Hezbollah’s behest.

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Eric Cantor v. Mitch Daniels and Paul Ryan

Eric Cantor is asked a perfectly reasonable question in this interview (h/t: Andrew Sullivan): if the entitlement crisis is anything like you argue (which it is), what entitlement cuts are you, Cantor, willing to embrace? He doesn’t give an answer, which is a problem. It comes across as what it is: double-speak and a lack of candor and political courage on the part of the GOP leadership. Cantor wants to paint an apocalyptic scenario — but doesn’t want to speak about any of the tough but inevitable steps we need to embrace. At the same time, Speaker Boehner is chatting up the idea of changing the 14th amendment to deny children of illegal immigrants citizenship, which is at best a distraction and will never see the light of day.

Representative Cantor is usually pretty good on television; this clip, then, exposes what a key GOP vulnerability is.

To his credit, Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels was willing to be specific in his interview on Fox News Sunday regarding entitlement cuts. In addition, Cantor’s colleague Paul Ryan has put out a very specific plan — one’s he’s eager to talk about with just about anyone, anywhere, anytime.

The Daniels-Ryan approach is far better because it’s more honest, more serious, and more responsible. My sense is that in most moments in American politics, that is what the public is longing for.

Republicans won’t get away with this Cantor-like dodge for long. They will lose, and they should lose, credibility with the public if they can’t be far more specific than Mr. Cantor.

Eric Cantor is asked a perfectly reasonable question in this interview (h/t: Andrew Sullivan): if the entitlement crisis is anything like you argue (which it is), what entitlement cuts are you, Cantor, willing to embrace? He doesn’t give an answer, which is a problem. It comes across as what it is: double-speak and a lack of candor and political courage on the part of the GOP leadership. Cantor wants to paint an apocalyptic scenario — but doesn’t want to speak about any of the tough but inevitable steps we need to embrace. At the same time, Speaker Boehner is chatting up the idea of changing the 14th amendment to deny children of illegal immigrants citizenship, which is at best a distraction and will never see the light of day.

Representative Cantor is usually pretty good on television; this clip, then, exposes what a key GOP vulnerability is.

To his credit, Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels was willing to be specific in his interview on Fox News Sunday regarding entitlement cuts. In addition, Cantor’s colleague Paul Ryan has put out a very specific plan — one’s he’s eager to talk about with just about anyone, anywhere, anytime.

The Daniels-Ryan approach is far better because it’s more honest, more serious, and more responsible. My sense is that in most moments in American politics, that is what the public is longing for.

Republicans won’t get away with this Cantor-like dodge for long. They will lose, and they should lose, credibility with the public if they can’t be far more specific than Mr. Cantor.

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Rasmussen Spells Doom for the Democrats

From the Rasmussen Report:

Following release of Friday’s government report on unemployment and job creation, consumer and investor confidence has fallen to the lowest level of 2010. Just 21% of Adults nationwide now believe the economy is getting better. … The number who believe the economy is getting worse is now up to 54%.

So both enthusiasm among Democrats and consumer and investor confidence are at low-points for 2010, with the mid-term election less than 90 days away.

Things continue to move in the wrong direction for the Democratic party. The one advantage it has over the GOP right now is money — but it’s questionable whether any financial advantage is enough for them in this current toxic environment.

From the Rasmussen Report:

Following release of Friday’s government report on unemployment and job creation, consumer and investor confidence has fallen to the lowest level of 2010. Just 21% of Adults nationwide now believe the economy is getting better. … The number who believe the economy is getting worse is now up to 54%.

So both enthusiasm among Democrats and consumer and investor confidence are at low-points for 2010, with the mid-term election less than 90 days away.

Things continue to move in the wrong direction for the Democratic party. The one advantage it has over the GOP right now is money — but it’s questionable whether any financial advantage is enough for them in this current toxic environment.

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From Gallup, More Bad News for Obama

According to Gallup:

Presidents who retain majority job approval from Americans at the time of midterm elections are much less likely to see their party suffer heavy seat losses than are those with sub-50% approval ratings. Since 1946, when presidents are above 50% approval, their party loses an average of 14 seats in the U.S. House in the midterm elections, compared with an average loss of 36 seats when presidents are below that mark. … The clear implication is that the Democrats are vulnerable to losing a significant number of House seats this fall with Barack Obama’s approval rating averaging 45% during the last two full weeks of Gallup Daily tracking. The Republicans would need to gain 40 House seats to retake majority control.

It’s worth bearing in mind that many other political metrics — from voter intensity to the generic congressional vote to Obama’s massive loss of support among Independents to GOP dominance on the issues — are more problematic than the president’s approval rating. But as Gallup points out, that’s problematic enough.

According to Gallup:

Presidents who retain majority job approval from Americans at the time of midterm elections are much less likely to see their party suffer heavy seat losses than are those with sub-50% approval ratings. Since 1946, when presidents are above 50% approval, their party loses an average of 14 seats in the U.S. House in the midterm elections, compared with an average loss of 36 seats when presidents are below that mark. … The clear implication is that the Democrats are vulnerable to losing a significant number of House seats this fall with Barack Obama’s approval rating averaging 45% during the last two full weeks of Gallup Daily tracking. The Republicans would need to gain 40 House seats to retake majority control.

It’s worth bearing in mind that many other political metrics — from voter intensity to the generic congressional vote to Obama’s massive loss of support among Independents to GOP dominance on the issues — are more problematic than the president’s approval rating. But as Gallup points out, that’s problematic enough.

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Hissing in North Korea

North Korea is escalating tensions in response to South Korean military exercises. Especially as the United States seeks Seoul’s help in punishing not only North Korea but also Iran, it’s important that the Obama administration show its commitment to our allies.

Yesterday, North Korea seized a fishing boat with seven sailors aboard, four South Koreans and three Chinese. (It will be interesting to see how the weary patron state, China, responds to its unruly ward.) And today, North Korea shot artillery rounds near the sea border it shares with the South. These acts have been accompanied by the usual North Korean statements of sensationalist vitriol.

All this, of course, underscores a bigger point: neither North Korea nor Iran plans to go gentle into that good night. But by taking a strong line against one aggressor, we send the right message to others. Pyongyang’s aggression follows the robust military drills that South Korea held in response to North Korea’s sinking of the Southern Navy boat the Cheonan. These military drills include one completed recently alongside the United States in the East Sea, one being conducted right now in the Yellow Sea despite Chinese protestations, and more likely to follow.

South Korea’s leadership deserves hefty American support for its tough stance against North Korea, especially as Pyongyang continues troublemaking. The joint military exercise was a good first step, but it should be followed by further displays of American solidarity.

North Korea is escalating tensions in response to South Korean military exercises. Especially as the United States seeks Seoul’s help in punishing not only North Korea but also Iran, it’s important that the Obama administration show its commitment to our allies.

Yesterday, North Korea seized a fishing boat with seven sailors aboard, four South Koreans and three Chinese. (It will be interesting to see how the weary patron state, China, responds to its unruly ward.) And today, North Korea shot artillery rounds near the sea border it shares with the South. These acts have been accompanied by the usual North Korean statements of sensationalist vitriol.

All this, of course, underscores a bigger point: neither North Korea nor Iran plans to go gentle into that good night. But by taking a strong line against one aggressor, we send the right message to others. Pyongyang’s aggression follows the robust military drills that South Korea held in response to North Korea’s sinking of the Southern Navy boat the Cheonan. These military drills include one completed recently alongside the United States in the East Sea, one being conducted right now in the Yellow Sea despite Chinese protestations, and more likely to follow.

South Korea’s leadership deserves hefty American support for its tough stance against North Korea, especially as Pyongyang continues troublemaking. The joint military exercise was a good first step, but it should be followed by further displays of American solidarity.

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The Taliban Must Be Defeated, Not Accommodated

Too often these days we hear the voices of supposed realism suggesting that a Taliban resurgence in Afghanistan wouldn’t be so bad — that it would be possible to live with a Taliban state. Try telling that to the people of Afghanistan and the dedicated charity workers who try to help them. Two incidents in recent days underline the evil of the Taliban and suggest why it is impossible to reach an accommodation with them. First, of course, was the murder of 10 medical workers, including six Americans, who were selflessly providing eye care to indigent Afghans.

Second, there is news that the Taliban have publicly executed a woman — a 48-year-old widow — on charges of adultery. Such barbarism was commonplace during the Taliban’s tenure in power (1996 and 2001) and would be again if the West were to start withdrawing while the Taliban still remain a potent threat. This is not a group that can be reasoned or negotiated with; it must be defeated — not only for our sake but also for the sake of so many Afghans who have counted on all the promises we have made since 2001.

Too often these days we hear the voices of supposed realism suggesting that a Taliban resurgence in Afghanistan wouldn’t be so bad — that it would be possible to live with a Taliban state. Try telling that to the people of Afghanistan and the dedicated charity workers who try to help them. Two incidents in recent days underline the evil of the Taliban and suggest why it is impossible to reach an accommodation with them. First, of course, was the murder of 10 medical workers, including six Americans, who were selflessly providing eye care to indigent Afghans.

Second, there is news that the Taliban have publicly executed a woman — a 48-year-old widow — on charges of adultery. Such barbarism was commonplace during the Taliban’s tenure in power (1996 and 2001) and would be again if the West were to start withdrawing while the Taliban still remain a potent threat. This is not a group that can be reasoned or negotiated with; it must be defeated — not only for our sake but also for the sake of so many Afghans who have counted on all the promises we have made since 2001.

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The Power of Private Security Firms in Afghanistan Must Be Curbed

It’s easy to shake one’s head in dismay at the latest outburst from President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan. “Karzai Slams Foreign Advisers” reads the headline in the Wall Street Journal.

And indeed, part of what’s going on here is dismaying — Karzai is throwing a fit over the recent arrest of Mohammad Zia Saleh, one of his national-security aides, on charges of corruption. The arrest was carried out by the Major Crimes Task Force, an Afghan investigative body that gets considerable assistance from Western law-enforcement agencies. Karzai claims that this is a violation of Afghan sovereignty and the constitution, although it is widely believed that he is simply upset that a member of his patronage network has been caught red-handed. The U.S. government is right to try to protect the Major Crimes Task Force and to keep Saleh in jail, although in the future the law enforcers will have to do a better job of laying the political groundwork for such high-profile takedowns.

But Karzai’s latest eruption contains not only cause for concern but also an opportunity that the West should seize. For he fulminated not only against Western advisers but also against the security firms that protect Western interests in Afghanistan:

“The people who are working in private security companies are against Afghan national interest, and their salaries are illegal money. They are thieves during the day and terrorists during the night,” Mr. Karzai said in Saturday’s speech. “If they want to serve Afghanistan they have to join the Afghan police.”

As the Wall Street Journal notes, the proximate cause of this outburst was a road accident in Kabul involving a DynCorp convoy that led to anti-American rioting. But most private security contractors aren’t foreigners. They’re Afghans who work for private security firms that are closely connected to the power structure. Indeed, as this study from the Institute for the Study of War notes, President Karzai’s half-brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai, head of the Kandahar Provincial Council, is one of the largest employers of private security forces in the country thanks to his control over firms such as Watan Risk Management and Asia Security Group, which are paid to safeguard NATO supplies.

The gunmen employed by Watan and its ilk routinely terrorize Afghans in ways far more corrosive than anything done by DynCorp; they are also implicated in payoffs to the Taliban. If NATO is going to bring more security to southern Afghanistan, it will have to curb the power of these firms and give more control of the roads to Afghanistan’s lawful security forces. President Karzai’s statements provide a perfect opening to do just that.

It’s easy to shake one’s head in dismay at the latest outburst from President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan. “Karzai Slams Foreign Advisers” reads the headline in the Wall Street Journal.

And indeed, part of what’s going on here is dismaying — Karzai is throwing a fit over the recent arrest of Mohammad Zia Saleh, one of his national-security aides, on charges of corruption. The arrest was carried out by the Major Crimes Task Force, an Afghan investigative body that gets considerable assistance from Western law-enforcement agencies. Karzai claims that this is a violation of Afghan sovereignty and the constitution, although it is widely believed that he is simply upset that a member of his patronage network has been caught red-handed. The U.S. government is right to try to protect the Major Crimes Task Force and to keep Saleh in jail, although in the future the law enforcers will have to do a better job of laying the political groundwork for such high-profile takedowns.

But Karzai’s latest eruption contains not only cause for concern but also an opportunity that the West should seize. For he fulminated not only against Western advisers but also against the security firms that protect Western interests in Afghanistan:

“The people who are working in private security companies are against Afghan national interest, and their salaries are illegal money. They are thieves during the day and terrorists during the night,” Mr. Karzai said in Saturday’s speech. “If they want to serve Afghanistan they have to join the Afghan police.”

As the Wall Street Journal notes, the proximate cause of this outburst was a road accident in Kabul involving a DynCorp convoy that led to anti-American rioting. But most private security contractors aren’t foreigners. They’re Afghans who work for private security firms that are closely connected to the power structure. Indeed, as this study from the Institute for the Study of War notes, President Karzai’s half-brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai, head of the Kandahar Provincial Council, is one of the largest employers of private security forces in the country thanks to his control over firms such as Watan Risk Management and Asia Security Group, which are paid to safeguard NATO supplies.

The gunmen employed by Watan and its ilk routinely terrorize Afghans in ways far more corrosive than anything done by DynCorp; they are also implicated in payoffs to the Taliban. If NATO is going to bring more security to southern Afghanistan, it will have to curb the power of these firms and give more control of the roads to Afghanistan’s lawful security forces. President Karzai’s statements provide a perfect opening to do just that.

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Republicans Fumble Immigration

When asked about changing the Constitution to bar children of illegal immigrants from becoming U.S. citizens, House Minority Leader John Boehner said, “I think it’s worth considering.”

No it’s not.

I’ve previously laid out my reasons why this is a very bad idea. It’s worth adding that children must turn 21 before they can sponsor their parents for legal residency. It is simply not the magnet that people like Boehner and Sens. Lindsey Graham, John McCain, Jeff Sessions, and Jon Kyl insist. They are manufacturing an argument to create an issue.

There is plenty policymakers can do to curb illegal immigration (including securing the southern border, toughening enforcement policies, and expediting the legal process to cut the average deportation time) and improve our overall approach to immigration (including narrowing the scope of the family-reunification privilege to the nuclear family, adjusting upward our quotas for high-skilled labor, and making assimilation a central national priority). Pushing for altering the 14th amendment, though, is worse than unhelpful; it is substantively unwise and politically harmful.

Republicans are practicing the politics of symbolism in the worst way possible. They are embracing a policy that doesn’t have any realistic chance of becoming law, that will be unnecessarily divisive and inflammatory, and that, in the long term, will be politically counterproductive.

It is an approach that is, among other things, wholly at odds with the one embraced by the last two Republican presidents to win reelection, George W. Bush and Ronald Reagan (see here).

Why Republicans continue to travel down this road is a mystery to me. This is not what the party of Lincoln should stand for.

When asked about changing the Constitution to bar children of illegal immigrants from becoming U.S. citizens, House Minority Leader John Boehner said, “I think it’s worth considering.”

No it’s not.

I’ve previously laid out my reasons why this is a very bad idea. It’s worth adding that children must turn 21 before they can sponsor their parents for legal residency. It is simply not the magnet that people like Boehner and Sens. Lindsey Graham, John McCain, Jeff Sessions, and Jon Kyl insist. They are manufacturing an argument to create an issue.

There is plenty policymakers can do to curb illegal immigration (including securing the southern border, toughening enforcement policies, and expediting the legal process to cut the average deportation time) and improve our overall approach to immigration (including narrowing the scope of the family-reunification privilege to the nuclear family, adjusting upward our quotas for high-skilled labor, and making assimilation a central national priority). Pushing for altering the 14th amendment, though, is worse than unhelpful; it is substantively unwise and politically harmful.

Republicans are practicing the politics of symbolism in the worst way possible. They are embracing a policy that doesn’t have any realistic chance of becoming law, that will be unnecessarily divisive and inflammatory, and that, in the long term, will be politically counterproductive.

It is an approach that is, among other things, wholly at odds with the one embraced by the last two Republican presidents to win reelection, George W. Bush and Ronald Reagan (see here).

Why Republicans continue to travel down this road is a mystery to me. This is not what the party of Lincoln should stand for.

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Western Inaction Makes Another Israel-Lebanon War More Likely

After last Tuesday’s incident on the Israeli-Lebanese border, Western states hastened to call for calm and restraint on both sides. The implicit message was that the West sought to avoid another Israel-Lebanon war. Yet war is precisely where Western inaction is inexorably leading.

By Wednesday, UNIFIL had already announced its unequivocal findings: not only did the Lebanese shoot first, with no provocation, but the Israeli soldiers they targeted — killing one and seriously wounding another — were all on Israel’s side of the border. At no point did any Israelis stray, as Lebanon had claimed, into Lebanese territory. Moreover, the attackers were regular Lebanese Army soldiers, not Hezbollah terrorists for whom the government could disclaim responsibility.

But the border is unmarked at that point, lying some 70 meters north of the fence Israel built, and the Israelis were clearing vegetation between the fence and the border. So had Lebanon simply apologized and said it was an honest mistake — that its soldiers erroneously thought the Israelis were violating its sovereignty — there might have been justification for letting the incident slide.

But that isn’t what Beirut said. Instead, Lebanese Information Minister Tarek Mitri announced that Lebanon doesn’t recognize the international border (the so-called Blue Line) at that point; it claims additional territory south of the line. In short, far from apologizing and promising to respect the Blue Line henceforth, Lebanon’s government announced that its policy is to ignore the international border wherever it disputes the UN demarcation.

As UNIFIL noted, both Israel and Lebanon dispute this demarcation at various points, but both had pledged to respect it until those disputes were resolved. Now Beirut has essentially renounced that pledge.

Moreover, there is strong evidence that the shooting was planned in advance — namely, the presence of numerous Lebanese journalists, including the one from the daily Al-Akhbar who was killed when Israel returned fire. Mainstream Lebanese journalists don’t normally flock to the border to watch Israeli soldiers do routine tree-trimming. That so many were there last Tuesday indicates they had been told to expect action.

To sum up, Lebanon’s official army launched a planned, unprovoked attack on Israel. Lebanon’s government not only endorsed the attack but also proudly proclaimed its contempt for the international border. This stance elicited predictable cheers from radicals like Hezbollah, Syria, and Iran, and even “moderates” like Jordan backed it.

But from the West, there has been nothing except evenhanded calls for restraint on both sides: no blistering condemnations, no urgent Security Council deliberations, no demands for an international investigation, no threats of, say, reducing Western military aid to Lebanon.

Thus the lesson for Beirut is that such incidents are all gain, no pain: by attacking Israel, it can earn credit and breathing space from the radicals — a serious concern for a government that exists only at their mercy — without incurring any penalties whatsoever from the West. That gives it a strong incentive to launch additional attacks.

Eventually, it may well go too far, sparking another Israel-Lebanon war. And the West will have only itself to blame.

After last Tuesday’s incident on the Israeli-Lebanese border, Western states hastened to call for calm and restraint on both sides. The implicit message was that the West sought to avoid another Israel-Lebanon war. Yet war is precisely where Western inaction is inexorably leading.

By Wednesday, UNIFIL had already announced its unequivocal findings: not only did the Lebanese shoot first, with no provocation, but the Israeli soldiers they targeted — killing one and seriously wounding another — were all on Israel’s side of the border. At no point did any Israelis stray, as Lebanon had claimed, into Lebanese territory. Moreover, the attackers were regular Lebanese Army soldiers, not Hezbollah terrorists for whom the government could disclaim responsibility.

But the border is unmarked at that point, lying some 70 meters north of the fence Israel built, and the Israelis were clearing vegetation between the fence and the border. So had Lebanon simply apologized and said it was an honest mistake — that its soldiers erroneously thought the Israelis were violating its sovereignty — there might have been justification for letting the incident slide.

But that isn’t what Beirut said. Instead, Lebanese Information Minister Tarek Mitri announced that Lebanon doesn’t recognize the international border (the so-called Blue Line) at that point; it claims additional territory south of the line. In short, far from apologizing and promising to respect the Blue Line henceforth, Lebanon’s government announced that its policy is to ignore the international border wherever it disputes the UN demarcation.

As UNIFIL noted, both Israel and Lebanon dispute this demarcation at various points, but both had pledged to respect it until those disputes were resolved. Now Beirut has essentially renounced that pledge.

Moreover, there is strong evidence that the shooting was planned in advance — namely, the presence of numerous Lebanese journalists, including the one from the daily Al-Akhbar who was killed when Israel returned fire. Mainstream Lebanese journalists don’t normally flock to the border to watch Israeli soldiers do routine tree-trimming. That so many were there last Tuesday indicates they had been told to expect action.

To sum up, Lebanon’s official army launched a planned, unprovoked attack on Israel. Lebanon’s government not only endorsed the attack but also proudly proclaimed its contempt for the international border. This stance elicited predictable cheers from radicals like Hezbollah, Syria, and Iran, and even “moderates” like Jordan backed it.

But from the West, there has been nothing except evenhanded calls for restraint on both sides: no blistering condemnations, no urgent Security Council deliberations, no demands for an international investigation, no threats of, say, reducing Western military aid to Lebanon.

Thus the lesson for Beirut is that such incidents are all gain, no pain: by attacking Israel, it can earn credit and breathing space from the radicals — a serious concern for a government that exists only at their mercy — without incurring any penalties whatsoever from the West. That gives it a strong incentive to launch additional attacks.

Eventually, it may well go too far, sparking another Israel-Lebanon war. And the West will have only itself to blame.

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