Commentary Magazine


Posts For: August 12, 2010

Democrats Fail to Notice the Latest Writing on the Wall

Back in 1884, when Republican presidential standard bearer James G. Blaine sat down in New York for dinner with some of the wealthiest and notorious men in America, including financier Jay Gould, the gathering was widely lampooned in the press as a new version of the Book of Daniel’s Belshazzar’s Feast that preceded the fall of Babylon. The point was that the GOP and its cash-and-carry candidate was so blinded by its alliance with plutocrats that they were unable to read the proverbial writing on the wall. Unfortunately for Blaine, there was no latter-day Daniel available to translate that writing for him, and the scandal-plagued candidate became the first Republican to lose a presidential election in 28 years.

Last night, some 126 years after “Belshazzar Blaine” dined his way into the history books, that corrupt feast of the politically blind was replayed in the Big Apple. Except this time it was the Democrats’ assuming the part of the powerful potentates who care nothing about the rapidly approaching day of political judgment. The 80th-birthday party for embattled Rep. Charles Rangel at the Plaza Hotel drew out the high and the mighty of the New York Democratic Party: Senators Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand and gubernatorial candidate Andrew Cuomo all showed up to express solidarity for Rangel despite the numerous ethics violations with which he has been charged. A day after Rangel defiantly harangued the House of Representatives, challenging them to expel him for his pay-to-play shenanigans and tax cheating, the paladins of the party of the people were unashamed to associate themselves with the new poster child for congressional corruption.

Indeed, the most telling moment of the evening may have been before the festivities started when, according to the New York Times, former mayor David Dinkins responded to a heckler outside the hotel (who told him, “You know you are attending a party for a crook”) by giving that citizen the finger.

While the usually more dignified Dinkins was the only attendee who seems to have literally flipped the bird at the voters, it is fair to say that his party’s leaders gave the state the moral equivalent of the finger by backing Rangel’s fundraiser. New York Democrats are apparently so confident of their hold on the state’s highest political offices that they were not worried that the three top names on their ballot in November — Cuomo, Schumer, and Gillibrand — were willing to associate themselves with a left-wing scoundrel so foul that even the New York Times has thrown him overboard. In fact, in an editorial today, the Times noted that Rangel has not only been an embarrassment to his party, but that by bringing up the way he had channeled money to fellow Democrats, he also “drew the curtain back on the money machine that so often trumps ethics” in Washington politics.

If the Republican Party in New York were not an empty shell, then perhaps Cuomo, Schumer, and Gillibrand might have thought twice about honoring Rangel just as his dishonor was becoming a matter of public record. But the rest of the country is a different story. Across the Hudson, most people are rightly viewing Rangel as the symbol of what a joke House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s pledge to “drain the GOP swamp” of congressional corruption has become.

As Democrats partied the night away in honor of Charlie last night, it appears they were not interested in hearing any messages from the voters about their coddling of the corrupt. But just as Blaine was, like Belshazzar, “weighed in the balance and found wanting,” Democrats may well look back after November on the night of Rangel’s birthday bash as a date when they refused to read the writing on the wall.

Back in 1884, when Republican presidential standard bearer James G. Blaine sat down in New York for dinner with some of the wealthiest and notorious men in America, including financier Jay Gould, the gathering was widely lampooned in the press as a new version of the Book of Daniel’s Belshazzar’s Feast that preceded the fall of Babylon. The point was that the GOP and its cash-and-carry candidate was so blinded by its alliance with plutocrats that they were unable to read the proverbial writing on the wall. Unfortunately for Blaine, there was no latter-day Daniel available to translate that writing for him, and the scandal-plagued candidate became the first Republican to lose a presidential election in 28 years.

Last night, some 126 years after “Belshazzar Blaine” dined his way into the history books, that corrupt feast of the politically blind was replayed in the Big Apple. Except this time it was the Democrats’ assuming the part of the powerful potentates who care nothing about the rapidly approaching day of political judgment. The 80th-birthday party for embattled Rep. Charles Rangel at the Plaza Hotel drew out the high and the mighty of the New York Democratic Party: Senators Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand and gubernatorial candidate Andrew Cuomo all showed up to express solidarity for Rangel despite the numerous ethics violations with which he has been charged. A day after Rangel defiantly harangued the House of Representatives, challenging them to expel him for his pay-to-play shenanigans and tax cheating, the paladins of the party of the people were unashamed to associate themselves with the new poster child for congressional corruption.

Indeed, the most telling moment of the evening may have been before the festivities started when, according to the New York Times, former mayor David Dinkins responded to a heckler outside the hotel (who told him, “You know you are attending a party for a crook”) by giving that citizen the finger.

While the usually more dignified Dinkins was the only attendee who seems to have literally flipped the bird at the voters, it is fair to say that his party’s leaders gave the state the moral equivalent of the finger by backing Rangel’s fundraiser. New York Democrats are apparently so confident of their hold on the state’s highest political offices that they were not worried that the three top names on their ballot in November — Cuomo, Schumer, and Gillibrand — were willing to associate themselves with a left-wing scoundrel so foul that even the New York Times has thrown him overboard. In fact, in an editorial today, the Times noted that Rangel has not only been an embarrassment to his party, but that by bringing up the way he had channeled money to fellow Democrats, he also “drew the curtain back on the money machine that so often trumps ethics” in Washington politics.

If the Republican Party in New York were not an empty shell, then perhaps Cuomo, Schumer, and Gillibrand might have thought twice about honoring Rangel just as his dishonor was becoming a matter of public record. But the rest of the country is a different story. Across the Hudson, most people are rightly viewing Rangel as the symbol of what a joke House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s pledge to “drain the GOP swamp” of congressional corruption has become.

As Democrats partied the night away in honor of Charlie last night, it appears they were not interested in hearing any messages from the voters about their coddling of the corrupt. But just as Blaine was, like Belshazzar, “weighed in the balance and found wanting,” Democrats may well look back after November on the night of Rangel’s birthday bash as a date when they refused to read the writing on the wall.

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A Cancellation 16 Years in the Making

Joseph Epstein, well known to Commentary readers and other literate types as one of America’s most distinguished essayists, has cancelled his subscription to the New York Times.

In an article appearing in the current edition of the Weekly Standard titled “Adios, Gray Lady,” Epstein writes that while the Times once enjoyed an aura of “a certain stateliness … the the possession of high virtue,” those days are gone.

“[T]the Gray Lady,” he continues, “is far from the grande dame she once was. For years now she has been going heavy on the rouge, lipstick, and eyeliner, using a push-up bra, and gadding about in stiletto heels. … I’ve had it with the old broad; after nearly 50 years together, I’ve determined to cut her loose.”

Far from an impulsive act, Epstein’s break with the Times actually was years in the making. Though he doesn’t mention it in his Weekly Standard article, back in 1994 he wrote a lengthy essay on his problems with the paper  — “The Degradation of the New York Times” — for Commentary, in which he lamented the paper’s steady drift away from at least attempts at objective reporting to out-and-out advocacy disguised as news coverage:

[T]he news columns of the Times have become so filled with opinion that one has become all but inured to the phenomenon…. Not that one should ever read a newspaper story without a proper measure of skepticism, but in The New York Times of late the gentle whir of political axes being ground has come to serve as a kind of basso continuo to the paper’s reporting.

In his Weekly Standard piece, Epstein elaborates on his decision to forgo the Times: “For so many decades the paper has been part of my morning mental hygiene. Yet in recent years I’ve been reading less and less of each day’s paper. … With the exception of David Brooks, who allows that his general position is slightly to the right of center but who is not otherwise locked into a Pavlovian political response, I find no need to read any of the Times’s regular columnists.”

And it’s not only the paper’s columnists Epstein realizes he can live without. “I’d sooner read the fine print in my insurance policies,” he writes, “than the paper’s perfectly predictable editorials.” Here, too, Epstein’s dismay was already evident in his 1994 Commentary essay:

One can now predict how the Times will come out editorially on nearly every issue, problem, or question of the day. The only amusement, or instruction, is in watching its editorial writers squirm in defending the indefensible, or rationalizing the irrational.

Reading both of Epstein’s articles  — and bearing in mind they were writen sixteen years apart – one doesn’t know whether to marvel at his ineffable patience in waiting this long before finally kicking the Times to the curb or to ask, perhaps uncharitably but with only the best of intentions, Why the interminable delay?

Joseph Epstein, well known to Commentary readers and other literate types as one of America’s most distinguished essayists, has cancelled his subscription to the New York Times.

In an article appearing in the current edition of the Weekly Standard titled “Adios, Gray Lady,” Epstein writes that while the Times once enjoyed an aura of “a certain stateliness … the the possession of high virtue,” those days are gone.

“[T]the Gray Lady,” he continues, “is far from the grande dame she once was. For years now she has been going heavy on the rouge, lipstick, and eyeliner, using a push-up bra, and gadding about in stiletto heels. … I’ve had it with the old broad; after nearly 50 years together, I’ve determined to cut her loose.”

Far from an impulsive act, Epstein’s break with the Times actually was years in the making. Though he doesn’t mention it in his Weekly Standard article, back in 1994 he wrote a lengthy essay on his problems with the paper  — “The Degradation of the New York Times” — for Commentary, in which he lamented the paper’s steady drift away from at least attempts at objective reporting to out-and-out advocacy disguised as news coverage:

[T]he news columns of the Times have become so filled with opinion that one has become all but inured to the phenomenon…. Not that one should ever read a newspaper story without a proper measure of skepticism, but in The New York Times of late the gentle whir of political axes being ground has come to serve as a kind of basso continuo to the paper’s reporting.

In his Weekly Standard piece, Epstein elaborates on his decision to forgo the Times: “For so many decades the paper has been part of my morning mental hygiene. Yet in recent years I’ve been reading less and less of each day’s paper. … With the exception of David Brooks, who allows that his general position is slightly to the right of center but who is not otherwise locked into a Pavlovian political response, I find no need to read any of the Times’s regular columnists.”

And it’s not only the paper’s columnists Epstein realizes he can live without. “I’d sooner read the fine print in my insurance policies,” he writes, “than the paper’s perfectly predictable editorials.” Here, too, Epstein’s dismay was already evident in his 1994 Commentary essay:

One can now predict how the Times will come out editorially on nearly every issue, problem, or question of the day. The only amusement, or instruction, is in watching its editorial writers squirm in defending the indefensible, or rationalizing the irrational.

Reading both of Epstein’s articles  — and bearing in mind they were writen sixteen years apart – one doesn’t know whether to marvel at his ineffable patience in waiting this long before finally kicking the Times to the curb or to ask, perhaps uncharitably but with only the best of intentions, Why the interminable delay?

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China’s Naval Posture: More Good News

Iran’s best friends have wasted no time trading on their naval anti-piracy presence in the Gulf of Aden to penetrate the Mediterranean Sea. China rotated its anti-piracy task forces in July and sent the homebound flotilla to the Mediterranean for naval exercises and port visits. Although the Chinese navy has sent training ships on foreign cruises before, the Mediterranean circuit being followed by the off-station flotilla is the first deployment of its kind by operational warships.

The Chinese destroyer and frigate arrived in Egypt in late July for a five-day visit. They then conducted drills with the Italian navy last week and visited the NATO port of Taranto. The task force arrived in Piraeus, Greece, on Monday.

China’s not the only Asian nation dispatching its navy to the ports of America’s allies in the Mediterranean. Russia expanded its traditional ties there with an agreement earlier this year to conduct joint naval exercises with Greece. India’s navy conducted an unprecedented deployment to the Mediterranean and Atlantic in 2009, during which it operated with the navies of Russia, NATO, and Algeria.

The Chinese made ripples in naval circles this summer when they sent their largest warship, the amphibious assault vessel Kunlunshan, to the Gulf of Aden as the flagship of their current anti-piracy flotilla. It’s understating the case to point out that an amphibious assault ship is not the platform best suited to interdicting pirates; China’s choice in this case is a political test of what other nations will find acceptable. This isn’t the only attempt being mounted to upend the status quo, however. Japan is establishing a forward operating base in Djibouti, and a Chinese official has floated the idea of China doing the same. Iran started this trend in late 2008 with new base facilities in Eritrea on the Red Sea, ostensibly for its anti-piracy force off Somalia.

Nations don’t change their naval postures because they are content with the status quo. Nor are the world’s other navies focused on building smaller, less-capable warships for low-lethality tasks like combating piracy. The U.S. Navy’s retreat from the high seas since the end of the Cold War is having its inevitable consequences. Shedding our own most capable warships to save money, as Defense Secretary Bob Gates proposes, is the worst thing we could do.

Iran’s best friends have wasted no time trading on their naval anti-piracy presence in the Gulf of Aden to penetrate the Mediterranean Sea. China rotated its anti-piracy task forces in July and sent the homebound flotilla to the Mediterranean for naval exercises and port visits. Although the Chinese navy has sent training ships on foreign cruises before, the Mediterranean circuit being followed by the off-station flotilla is the first deployment of its kind by operational warships.

The Chinese destroyer and frigate arrived in Egypt in late July for a five-day visit. They then conducted drills with the Italian navy last week and visited the NATO port of Taranto. The task force arrived in Piraeus, Greece, on Monday.

China’s not the only Asian nation dispatching its navy to the ports of America’s allies in the Mediterranean. Russia expanded its traditional ties there with an agreement earlier this year to conduct joint naval exercises with Greece. India’s navy conducted an unprecedented deployment to the Mediterranean and Atlantic in 2009, during which it operated with the navies of Russia, NATO, and Algeria.

The Chinese made ripples in naval circles this summer when they sent their largest warship, the amphibious assault vessel Kunlunshan, to the Gulf of Aden as the flagship of their current anti-piracy flotilla. It’s understating the case to point out that an amphibious assault ship is not the platform best suited to interdicting pirates; China’s choice in this case is a political test of what other nations will find acceptable. This isn’t the only attempt being mounted to upend the status quo, however. Japan is establishing a forward operating base in Djibouti, and a Chinese official has floated the idea of China doing the same. Iran started this trend in late 2008 with new base facilities in Eritrea on the Red Sea, ostensibly for its anti-piracy force off Somalia.

Nations don’t change their naval postures because they are content with the status quo. Nor are the world’s other navies focused on building smaller, less-capable warships for low-lethality tasks like combating piracy. The U.S. Navy’s retreat from the high seas since the end of the Cold War is having its inevitable consequences. Shedding our own most capable warships to save money, as Defense Secretary Bob Gates proposes, is the worst thing we could do.

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Galston: Can the Republicans Win Back the Senate?

William Galston is something of a rarity — a blogger at the New Republic who is both mature and worth reading. Professor Galston provides his analysis on whether the Republicans can win back the Senate. The answer is yes. But take a look for yourself.

William Galston is something of a rarity — a blogger at the New Republic who is both mature and worth reading. Professor Galston provides his analysis on whether the Republicans can win back the Senate. The answer is yes. But take a look for yourself.

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Another Democrat Takes Aim at Obama

From the Associated Press:

Democratic U.S. Rep. John Yarmuth lashed out at President Barack Obama’s economic team Thursday, saying they show more concern for Wall Street than average Americans in a blunt election-year assessment from an Obama loyalist frustrated by a tepid economic recovery. … “I’m not real happy with our economic team in the White House,” Yarmuth said. “They think it’s more important that Goldman Sachs make money than that you make money. And that’s where we’ve got to change the attitude of this country.”

Afterward, Yarmuth lamented “a sense of floundering and indecisiveness” by Obama’s administration in trying to revitalize the economy from a deep recession causing stubbornly high unemployment.

“I think we have an opportunity to really regain the confidence of the American people if we show here’s where we’re going to go and why,” Yarmuth said in an interview. “I don’t think the administration’s done that yet.”

More and more Democrats are distancing themselves from President Obama. And why not? Obama’s agenda, after all, will cost a lot of them their jobs.

From the Associated Press:

Democratic U.S. Rep. John Yarmuth lashed out at President Barack Obama’s economic team Thursday, saying they show more concern for Wall Street than average Americans in a blunt election-year assessment from an Obama loyalist frustrated by a tepid economic recovery. … “I’m not real happy with our economic team in the White House,” Yarmuth said. “They think it’s more important that Goldman Sachs make money than that you make money. And that’s where we’ve got to change the attitude of this country.”

Afterward, Yarmuth lamented “a sense of floundering and indecisiveness” by Obama’s administration in trying to revitalize the economy from a deep recession causing stubbornly high unemployment.

“I think we have an opportunity to really regain the confidence of the American people if we show here’s where we’re going to go and why,” Yarmuth said in an interview. “I don’t think the administration’s done that yet.”

More and more Democrats are distancing themselves from President Obama. And why not? Obama’s agenda, after all, will cost a lot of them their jobs.

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George W. Bush Sighting

George W. Bush visited troops in the Dallas airport yesterday, a rare appearance from the former president, who has had a lot in common with Boo Radley lately. Bush’s enthusiastic reception online is fascinating.

USO Dallas/Fort Worth posted photos from the event. Facebook users immediately began commenting, nearly unanimous in their praise for the former president.

You could argue that USO Dallas/Forth Worth Facebook visitors are overwhelmingly pro-military and, therefore, are not representative of the public’s sentiment. But also, look at the comments from the Los Angeles Times article, and you’ll see the same trend emerging.

This is a testament to a fickle public — but also a citizenry willing to amend its mistakes.

George W. Bush visited troops in the Dallas airport yesterday, a rare appearance from the former president, who has had a lot in common with Boo Radley lately. Bush’s enthusiastic reception online is fascinating.

USO Dallas/Fort Worth posted photos from the event. Facebook users immediately began commenting, nearly unanimous in their praise for the former president.

You could argue that USO Dallas/Forth Worth Facebook visitors are overwhelmingly pro-military and, therefore, are not representative of the public’s sentiment. But also, look at the comments from the Los Angeles Times article, and you’ll see the same trend emerging.

This is a testament to a fickle public — but also a citizenry willing to amend its mistakes.

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Sanctions: A Hole Big Enough to Drive Anything Through

Many in the West think of sanctions on Iran as potentially involving a naval embargo — imposed in the Persian Gulf — or cargo inspections at sea. For a lot of people, there’s a mental picture of naval action in or near the Strait of Hormuz provoking an Iranian backlash against world shipping. But that image is largely outdated. From a much broader geographic perspective, the sanctions on Iran are porous to an absurd degree: a fact nicely demonstrated by a cargo-transit path emerging this month, which features America’s NATO ally Turkey.

I’ve written here and here about the options afforded Iran by its new continuous rail link with Turkey and Pakistan. Today, Aug. 12, is the day announced by the three nations’ railway officials for the freight line’s first commercial run.

There can be no pretense now that it’s possible to enforce sanctions in the absence of Turkey’s cooperation. The newly capable cargo-transit option through Turkey changes everything about the problem for the West’s would-be enforcers. Turkey’s ports are wide open and will remain so. There is no will within NATO to do more than complain gently to this increasingly troublesome ally. Turkey also has robust and growing trade with every nation that might act as a waypoint for sanctioned shipments to Iran. Brazil, meanwhile — Turkey’s partner in brokering a nuclear deal with Iran — has ramped up trade dramatically in the last year with North Korea. These factors make it easier to hide sanctioned shipments among the unremarkable ones.

Iran’s long borders and multiple trade corridors were always going to make enforcing commercial sanctions a very difficult proposition, even with the cooperation of nations like Russia, China, and Turkey. We don’t have that cooperation, however. There is no way to clamp down on Russian gasoline shipments to Iran (which may well go across the Caspian Sea, outside our naval reach). We would assuredly try to intercept prohibited weapons or nuclear-related cargo heading by ship to Bandar Abbas — but there is no longer a logistic need to ship them through the Persian Gulf, nor does refined gasoline have to take that route. It doesn’t matter which route is cheaper; what matters is that Iran has options we can’t close off.

One counterproductive feature of the sanctions on Iran is that they amplify the reasons for all the Asian actors in this drama to leverage each other. The Turks would be happy to gain influence over Iranian strategy with their growing role in Tehran’s access to global trade. Naturally, Iran doesn’t want to be that dependent on Turkey and will probably seek transit alternatives with Pakistan and the other Persian Gulf nations. China will shape its own opportunities from that Iranian outreach. Similar calculations enliven the strategic debate in every capital in the region. Obama’s unenforceable sanctions won’t have their intended effect, but their unintended effects are likely to reverberate for decades. Such are the consequences of using soft power for soft power’s sake.

Many in the West think of sanctions on Iran as potentially involving a naval embargo — imposed in the Persian Gulf — or cargo inspections at sea. For a lot of people, there’s a mental picture of naval action in or near the Strait of Hormuz provoking an Iranian backlash against world shipping. But that image is largely outdated. From a much broader geographic perspective, the sanctions on Iran are porous to an absurd degree: a fact nicely demonstrated by a cargo-transit path emerging this month, which features America’s NATO ally Turkey.

I’ve written here and here about the options afforded Iran by its new continuous rail link with Turkey and Pakistan. Today, Aug. 12, is the day announced by the three nations’ railway officials for the freight line’s first commercial run.

There can be no pretense now that it’s possible to enforce sanctions in the absence of Turkey’s cooperation. The newly capable cargo-transit option through Turkey changes everything about the problem for the West’s would-be enforcers. Turkey’s ports are wide open and will remain so. There is no will within NATO to do more than complain gently to this increasingly troublesome ally. Turkey also has robust and growing trade with every nation that might act as a waypoint for sanctioned shipments to Iran. Brazil, meanwhile — Turkey’s partner in brokering a nuclear deal with Iran — has ramped up trade dramatically in the last year with North Korea. These factors make it easier to hide sanctioned shipments among the unremarkable ones.

Iran’s long borders and multiple trade corridors were always going to make enforcing commercial sanctions a very difficult proposition, even with the cooperation of nations like Russia, China, and Turkey. We don’t have that cooperation, however. There is no way to clamp down on Russian gasoline shipments to Iran (which may well go across the Caspian Sea, outside our naval reach). We would assuredly try to intercept prohibited weapons or nuclear-related cargo heading by ship to Bandar Abbas — but there is no longer a logistic need to ship them through the Persian Gulf, nor does refined gasoline have to take that route. It doesn’t matter which route is cheaper; what matters is that Iran has options we can’t close off.

One counterproductive feature of the sanctions on Iran is that they amplify the reasons for all the Asian actors in this drama to leverage each other. The Turks would be happy to gain influence over Iranian strategy with their growing role in Tehran’s access to global trade. Naturally, Iran doesn’t want to be that dependent on Turkey and will probably seek transit alternatives with Pakistan and the other Persian Gulf nations. China will shape its own opportunities from that Iranian outreach. Similar calculations enliven the strategic debate in every capital in the region. Obama’s unenforceable sanctions won’t have their intended effect, but their unintended effects are likely to reverberate for decades. Such are the consequences of using soft power for soft power’s sake.

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Jon Stewart on Charles Rangel

Jon Stewart has some fun at the expense of Rep. Charles Rangel. You can watch it via Mediaite.com.

Jon Stewart has some fun at the expense of Rep. Charles Rangel. You can watch it via Mediaite.com.

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Krugman on Gibbs

New York Times columnist Paul Krugman is angry at White House press secretary Robert Gibbs. “Denouncing the people giving voice to those real concerns as the ‘professional left’ is both unfair,” Krugman writes, “and, as I’ve said, stupid. And both the president and, more important, the country deserve better.”

In this (rare) instance, I agree with Krugman. The president and the country do deserve better than Robert Gibbs.

New York Times columnist Paul Krugman is angry at White House press secretary Robert Gibbs. “Denouncing the people giving voice to those real concerns as the ‘professional left’ is both unfair,” Krugman writes, “and, as I’ve said, stupid. And both the president and, more important, the country deserve better.”

In this (rare) instance, I agree with Krugman. The president and the country do deserve better than Robert Gibbs.

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A Sign of the Times

Representative Joe Donnelly, a sophomore Blue Dog Democrat from Indiana’s 2nd district, released a new campaign ad (on the subject of immigration) targeting not George W. Bush or Donnelly’s opponent, Jackie Walorski, but rather “the Washington crowd,” with the ad panning a photograph of President Obama, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and House Minority Leader John Boehner. “I don’t work for them. I work for you,” Donnelly says. (H/T: TalkingPointsMemo)

Indiana, it’s worth recalling, voted for Obama in 2008. Now, less than two years later, Democrats are (implicitly) running against him and the Democratic Speaker. I imagine that Donnelly won’t be the last Democrat to do this between now and November.

Representative Joe Donnelly, a sophomore Blue Dog Democrat from Indiana’s 2nd district, released a new campaign ad (on the subject of immigration) targeting not George W. Bush or Donnelly’s opponent, Jackie Walorski, but rather “the Washington crowd,” with the ad panning a photograph of President Obama, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and House Minority Leader John Boehner. “I don’t work for them. I work for you,” Donnelly says. (H/T: TalkingPointsMemo)

Indiana, it’s worth recalling, voted for Obama in 2008. Now, less than two years later, Democrats are (implicitly) running against him and the Democratic Speaker. I imagine that Donnelly won’t be the last Democrat to do this between now and November.

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WEB EXCLUSIVE: In Bush v. Obama, Bush Wins in a Rout

According to Reuters:

President Barack Obama attacked the economic policies of his Republican predecessor George W. Bush in Bush’s home state… as evidence of the way Republicans would operate if given power in Nov. 2 U.S. congressional elections.

At a fund-raising event for Democrats in Dallas, where Bush now lives, Obama said the former president’s “disastrous” policies had driven the U.S. economy into the ground and turned budget surpluses into deficits.

Obama defended his repeated references to Bush’s policies, saying they were necessary to remind Americans of the weak economy he inherited from Bush in January 2009.

“The policies that crashed the economy, that undercut the middle class, that mortgaged our future, do we really want to go back to that, or do we keep moving our country forward?” Obama said at another fund-raising event in Austin, referring to Bush’s eight years as president.

So President Obama describes his predecessor’s policies as “disastrous.” Just for the fun of it, let’s do compare the two records, shall we?

To read the rest of this COMMENTARY Web Exclusive, click here.

According to Reuters:

President Barack Obama attacked the economic policies of his Republican predecessor George W. Bush in Bush’s home state… as evidence of the way Republicans would operate if given power in Nov. 2 U.S. congressional elections.

At a fund-raising event for Democrats in Dallas, where Bush now lives, Obama said the former president’s “disastrous” policies had driven the U.S. economy into the ground and turned budget surpluses into deficits.

Obama defended his repeated references to Bush’s policies, saying they were necessary to remind Americans of the weak economy he inherited from Bush in January 2009.

“The policies that crashed the economy, that undercut the middle class, that mortgaged our future, do we really want to go back to that, or do we keep moving our country forward?” Obama said at another fund-raising event in Austin, referring to Bush’s eight years as president.

So President Obama describes his predecessor’s policies as “disastrous.” Just for the fun of it, let’s do compare the two records, shall we?

To read the rest of this COMMENTARY Web Exclusive, click here.

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Speculation About Israel Attacking Iran Misses the Point

Jeffrey Goldberg takes nearly 10,000 words in the current Atlantic to ruminate about whether Israel or the United States will ever use force to stop the Iranian drive for nuclear weapons. His answer is that if the United States doesn’t act, sooner or later, the Israelis will. No surprise there.

As for whether the Obama administration is capable of launching a strike to forestall Iran from going nuclear, Goldberg professes he is closer to believing that it is possible. That was certainly the intent of many of those in the administration who discussed it with him. But, like much of the spin being delivered by both American and Israeli sources quoted by Goldberg, that strikes me just as likely to be disinformation as not.

Much of the piece centers on whether Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will be forced by circumstances or by his father, the 100-year-old, formidable scholar Benzion Netanyahu, to pull the trigger on Iran. For all of his considerable knowledge of Israel, Goldberg is still stuck on the trope of figuring out how right-wing Bibi is, even though this issue transcends the right/left divide of Israeli politics because it is literally a matter of life and death.

More to the point, the endless speculation about an Israeli strike is at the same time both unhelpful and misleading.

It is unhelpful because, as Shimon Peres seems to be telling Goldberg in the conclusion to his essay, dealing with Iran is America’s responsibility, not Israel’s. The consequences of an Iranian bomb are enormous for Israel, but they are no less scary for the United States. A nuclear Iran would destabilize the Middle East, start a chain-reaction of nuclear proliferation among other countries in the region, and empower Islamist terrorists. If America stands by and meekly attempts to contain Tehran once it has the bomb, it won’t be just international law that won’t mean a thing, as Christopher Hitchens has pointed out. America’s credibility as a great power will be shredded. Putting the onus on Israel to act to save the day also has the unfortunate side effect of lessening the pressure on Obama to face his responsibilities.

Even worse, the impulse to let the Israelis do the dirty work — while the United States and its moderate Arab allies stand by tut-tutting about Likud hardliners as they reap the benefits of a preemptive strike — also creates the illusion that Israel can do just as good a job as America in terms of achieving the military objective. We should not shortchange the Israeli Defense Forces. As history has shown, the Israeli military can do amazing things. But there is simply no comparison between its capabilities and those of the armed forces of the United States. Knocking out or significantly damaging Iran’s nuclear facilities is a job for the Americans, not the Israelis.

And for all the bravado that emanates from Israel about its military, not everyone there is all that confident about the IDF’s ability to perform such a task. As one Israeli friend pointed out, it is more than optimistic — it is probably delusional — to expect this of a country whose intelligence agencies weren’t able to coordinate their efforts to deal effectively with a flotilla of small ships on their way to Hamas-run Gaza; that isn’t able to locate and rescue Gilad Shalit in a Hamas hideout only kilometers away from IDF bases; that didn’t make mincemeat out of the Lebanese army after it participated in a cross-border murder of an Israeli soldier last week; and whose top army command could go to a general who hired a political consultant to help him campaign for the job. Under these circumstances, many Israelis rightly see America as the world’s only hope for preventing the nightmare of Ahmadinejad and the mullahs who run that tyrannical regime acquiring a nuclear option.

Rather than wasting time worrying about whether Netanyahu’s daddy will shame him into preventing another Holocaust, as Goldberg has done, what is needed now is focusing all our attention on whether Barack Obama has the wisdom — and the guts — to do what needs to be done about Iran.

Jeffrey Goldberg takes nearly 10,000 words in the current Atlantic to ruminate about whether Israel or the United States will ever use force to stop the Iranian drive for nuclear weapons. His answer is that if the United States doesn’t act, sooner or later, the Israelis will. No surprise there.

As for whether the Obama administration is capable of launching a strike to forestall Iran from going nuclear, Goldberg professes he is closer to believing that it is possible. That was certainly the intent of many of those in the administration who discussed it with him. But, like much of the spin being delivered by both American and Israeli sources quoted by Goldberg, that strikes me just as likely to be disinformation as not.

Much of the piece centers on whether Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will be forced by circumstances or by his father, the 100-year-old, formidable scholar Benzion Netanyahu, to pull the trigger on Iran. For all of his considerable knowledge of Israel, Goldberg is still stuck on the trope of figuring out how right-wing Bibi is, even though this issue transcends the right/left divide of Israeli politics because it is literally a matter of life and death.

More to the point, the endless speculation about an Israeli strike is at the same time both unhelpful and misleading.

It is unhelpful because, as Shimon Peres seems to be telling Goldberg in the conclusion to his essay, dealing with Iran is America’s responsibility, not Israel’s. The consequences of an Iranian bomb are enormous for Israel, but they are no less scary for the United States. A nuclear Iran would destabilize the Middle East, start a chain-reaction of nuclear proliferation among other countries in the region, and empower Islamist terrorists. If America stands by and meekly attempts to contain Tehran once it has the bomb, it won’t be just international law that won’t mean a thing, as Christopher Hitchens has pointed out. America’s credibility as a great power will be shredded. Putting the onus on Israel to act to save the day also has the unfortunate side effect of lessening the pressure on Obama to face his responsibilities.

Even worse, the impulse to let the Israelis do the dirty work — while the United States and its moderate Arab allies stand by tut-tutting about Likud hardliners as they reap the benefits of a preemptive strike — also creates the illusion that Israel can do just as good a job as America in terms of achieving the military objective. We should not shortchange the Israeli Defense Forces. As history has shown, the Israeli military can do amazing things. But there is simply no comparison between its capabilities and those of the armed forces of the United States. Knocking out or significantly damaging Iran’s nuclear facilities is a job for the Americans, not the Israelis.

And for all the bravado that emanates from Israel about its military, not everyone there is all that confident about the IDF’s ability to perform such a task. As one Israeli friend pointed out, it is more than optimistic — it is probably delusional — to expect this of a country whose intelligence agencies weren’t able to coordinate their efforts to deal effectively with a flotilla of small ships on their way to Hamas-run Gaza; that isn’t able to locate and rescue Gilad Shalit in a Hamas hideout only kilometers away from IDF bases; that didn’t make mincemeat out of the Lebanese army after it participated in a cross-border murder of an Israeli soldier last week; and whose top army command could go to a general who hired a political consultant to help him campaign for the job. Under these circumstances, many Israelis rightly see America as the world’s only hope for preventing the nightmare of Ahmadinejad and the mullahs who run that tyrannical regime acquiring a nuclear option.

Rather than wasting time worrying about whether Netanyahu’s daddy will shame him into preventing another Holocaust, as Goldberg has done, what is needed now is focusing all our attention on whether Barack Obama has the wisdom — and the guts — to do what needs to be done about Iran.

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Was It the Lavish Vacation?

Politicians of both parties fall prey to gaffes of the “lives of the rich and famous” variety. But liberals, very rich ones, are especially susceptible to flaunting their wealth because they can’t imagine that their motives and dedication to the poor and the underprivileged would be called into question. After all, they support every social engineering project of the liberal welfare state, insist that taxes (well, other people’s taxes) be increased and redistributed, and attend so many important charitable functions in each-other’s magnificent homes. Hence we have the John Kerry “park the yacht elsewhere” gambit, which was quickly reversed when the voters thought it peculiar that Kerry didn’t want to pay $500,000 in taxes that he would have be owed, had he docked his floating palace in the Commonwealth’s waters.

Then there is Michelle Obama. After a rocky campaign, she’s gone on a charm offensive that puts to shame her husband’s Jewish “make nice” outreach. She grows vegetables. She exercises with children. No more do we hear about the America she was never proud of before Hillary went down the tubes in the primary. (And really, what’s not to like about a country that elevates your husband to the White House and confers queen-bee status on you?) But there, too, the bloom is off the rose: “The first lady’s rating, a combination of the very positive and somewhat positive answers, has fallen from 64 percent in April ’09 to 55 percent in January 2010 to 50 percent today.” Byron York thinks it is the vacation that may have done it:

Mrs. Obama’s personal popularity is lower than former First Lady Laura Bush’s ratings in the same poll by the same pollsters. In December, 2001, 76 percent of those surveyed had a positive opinion of Mrs. Bush. In February 2005, that number was 65 percent. In October 2006, with her husband’s job and personal approval ratings plummeting, Mrs. Bush’s personal approval rating was 56 percent.

Michelle Obama received the first negative press of her time in the White House in recent weeks during her vacation trip to Spain. Critics questioned why the first lady chose to go to a glitzy, high-priced resort at a time when unemployment is high and many Americans are suffering economically. The White House pushed back, first giving reporters the story that Mrs. Obama made the trip to comfort a friend who had recently lost her father and then stressing that the first lady is so popular that she will be in great demand by Democrats campaigning for House and Senate seats this November. But the new Wall Street Journal/NBC numbers suggest that Mrs. Obama’s popularity is falling, not rising.

It may be that the lavish trips (maybe the date night in New York was over the top?) aren’t the only thing at work. Perhaps, unlike Laura Bush, who — feminists, hold on to your hats — carved a separate identity and established a pleasing persona, which survived her husband’s ups and downs, Michelle has not. She is the perfect distillation, as is her husband, of the elite left (don’t tell me she was raised as middle class; she was educated in the Ivy League and lived a life of privilege from Hyde Park on). She and he are two peas in a pod. And right now the public seems increasingly fed up with both of them.

Politicians of both parties fall prey to gaffes of the “lives of the rich and famous” variety. But liberals, very rich ones, are especially susceptible to flaunting their wealth because they can’t imagine that their motives and dedication to the poor and the underprivileged would be called into question. After all, they support every social engineering project of the liberal welfare state, insist that taxes (well, other people’s taxes) be increased and redistributed, and attend so many important charitable functions in each-other’s magnificent homes. Hence we have the John Kerry “park the yacht elsewhere” gambit, which was quickly reversed when the voters thought it peculiar that Kerry didn’t want to pay $500,000 in taxes that he would have be owed, had he docked his floating palace in the Commonwealth’s waters.

Then there is Michelle Obama. After a rocky campaign, she’s gone on a charm offensive that puts to shame her husband’s Jewish “make nice” outreach. She grows vegetables. She exercises with children. No more do we hear about the America she was never proud of before Hillary went down the tubes in the primary. (And really, what’s not to like about a country that elevates your husband to the White House and confers queen-bee status on you?) But there, too, the bloom is off the rose: “The first lady’s rating, a combination of the very positive and somewhat positive answers, has fallen from 64 percent in April ’09 to 55 percent in January 2010 to 50 percent today.” Byron York thinks it is the vacation that may have done it:

Mrs. Obama’s personal popularity is lower than former First Lady Laura Bush’s ratings in the same poll by the same pollsters. In December, 2001, 76 percent of those surveyed had a positive opinion of Mrs. Bush. In February 2005, that number was 65 percent. In October 2006, with her husband’s job and personal approval ratings plummeting, Mrs. Bush’s personal approval rating was 56 percent.

Michelle Obama received the first negative press of her time in the White House in recent weeks during her vacation trip to Spain. Critics questioned why the first lady chose to go to a glitzy, high-priced resort at a time when unemployment is high and many Americans are suffering economically. The White House pushed back, first giving reporters the story that Mrs. Obama made the trip to comfort a friend who had recently lost her father and then stressing that the first lady is so popular that she will be in great demand by Democrats campaigning for House and Senate seats this November. But the new Wall Street Journal/NBC numbers suggest that Mrs. Obama’s popularity is falling, not rising.

It may be that the lavish trips (maybe the date night in New York was over the top?) aren’t the only thing at work. Perhaps, unlike Laura Bush, who — feminists, hold on to your hats — carved a separate identity and established a pleasing persona, which survived her husband’s ups and downs, Michelle has not. She is the perfect distillation, as is her husband, of the elite left (don’t tell me she was raised as middle class; she was educated in the Ivy League and lived a life of privilege from Hyde Park on). She and he are two peas in a pod. And right now the public seems increasingly fed up with both of them.

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Nearly Two-Thirds Polled Believe Economy Will Get Worse

On the Wall Street Journal poll you linked to earlier, Jen, there are several other findings in it that are notable.

While President Obama’s approval rating overall is 47 percent (with 48 percent disapproving), on the economy his approval-disapproval rating is 44/52, a new low. Eight-three percent of independents and a quarter of Democrats say they are only somewhat or not at all confident that Mr. Obama has the right policies to improve it. Nearly two-thirds of Americans believe the economy has yet to hit bottom — and among those who believe the economy will get worse over the next year, 67 percent want a GOP-led Congress.

When people are asked if Obama has lived up to their expectations on the economy, 29 percent say yes, while 65 percent say no (on reducing government spending, the figures are 22/70). And compared to when Obama became president, 40 percent think the country is worse off now vs. 31 percent who think it is better off. And these results come from a poll that that gives a nine-point edge to Democrats in its sample (without leaners; with leaners, it’s seven points; H/T Ed Morrissey).

According to the Journal, “The results likely foreshadow a poor showing in November’s mid-term election for Democrats.” That is, I think, the most positive way to frame things for Democrats at this moment.

On the Wall Street Journal poll you linked to earlier, Jen, there are several other findings in it that are notable.

While President Obama’s approval rating overall is 47 percent (with 48 percent disapproving), on the economy his approval-disapproval rating is 44/52, a new low. Eight-three percent of independents and a quarter of Democrats say they are only somewhat or not at all confident that Mr. Obama has the right policies to improve it. Nearly two-thirds of Americans believe the economy has yet to hit bottom — and among those who believe the economy will get worse over the next year, 67 percent want a GOP-led Congress.

When people are asked if Obama has lived up to their expectations on the economy, 29 percent say yes, while 65 percent say no (on reducing government spending, the figures are 22/70). And compared to when Obama became president, 40 percent think the country is worse off now vs. 31 percent who think it is better off. And these results come from a poll that that gives a nine-point edge to Democrats in its sample (without leaners; with leaners, it’s seven points; H/T Ed Morrissey).

According to the Journal, “The results likely foreshadow a poor showing in November’s mid-term election for Democrats.” That is, I think, the most positive way to frame things for Democrats at this moment.

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Exporting the Imam’s Message

A sharp-eyed reader e-mails me, observing that, in a way, Obama has already “spoken” on the Ground Zero mosque. She writes that Obama’s “decision to send Imam Rauf on a mission to explain the U.S. to the world is Obama’s comment.” Indeed.

The Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs, along similar lines, wrote a letter to Hillary Clinton this week, which reads, in part:

Unfortunately, Imam Feisal’s message, unless he has had a change of heart, is that the United States deserved what she got in the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and was, in essence, “an accessory to the crime that happened.” In a 60 Minutes interview, when asked why he considered the United States an accessory, Imam Feisal replied, “Because we have been accessory to a lot of innocent lives dying in the world. In fact, in the most direct sense, Osama bin Laden is made in the U.S.A.” If our State Department gives its imprimatur to this trip, it will also put its imprimatur on the message delivered.

Furthermore, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf is currently in the center of a major controversy concerning the building of a mosque, the Cordoba Initiative, near Ground Zero, the World Trade Center site in New York City. Regardless of one’s opinion of Imam Feisal, or whether the opponents of a mosque near Ground Zero are right or wrong, Imam Feisal has become a symbol of the conflict between Islam and many Americans. Everywhere the imam goes, he will be the symbol of conflict and not of harmony. Even if Imam Feisal does not raise the issue of the Cordoba Mosque, his very presence will raise the issue. In other words, we will be responsible for having exported the debate to the Middle East and the messenger will be the message.

But it is that message which the screeching Ground Zero mosque promoters would rather conceal than illuminate. In a must read column, Cliff May explains that, from Mayor Bloomberg to Peter Beinart (whose intellect cannot bear to be exposed to contrary views, exploding in ad hominem attacks and demanding that his closed universe of semi-informed rhetoric be protected from May’s e-mails), the proponents of the project insist that we all shut up because they really don’t want to face the inconvenient truth of the the views of the imam they are defending:

Among Rauf’s Huffingtonian statements: that American policy was “an accessory to the crime” of 9/11, and that Osama bin Laden was “made in America.”

Rauf will not say whether he views Hamas — which intentionally slaughters civilians, has been designated as a terrorist organization by the U.S. government, and advocates the extermination of both Israelis and Jews — as a terrorist organization.

He explains his reticence by saying that “the issue of terrorism is a very complex question.” No, actually, it’s quite simple: Whatever your grievances, you do not express them by murdering other people’s children. Not accepting that proposition does not make you a terrorist. But it disqualifies you as an anti-terrorist and identifies you as an anti-anti-terrorist.

Hardly the messenger of “peace,” Rauf is precisely the wrong sort of messenger to send frolicking abroad:

Rauf also has ties to the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) and the International Institute of Islamic Thought (IIIT), organizations created by the Muslim Brotherhood and named by the U.S. Justice Department as unindicted co-conspirators in a terrorism-financing case.

A note on the Muslim Brotherhood: It is not a college fraternity. Its founder, Hasan al-Banna, famously said: “It is the nature of Islam to dominate, not to be dominated, to impose its law on all nations and to extend its power to the entire planet.” In 1991, the Muslim Brotherhood’s American leadership prepared an internal memorandum describing its mission as a kind of grand jihad in eliminating and destroying the Western civilization from within and “sabotaging” its miserable house by their hands and the hands of the believers so that it is eliminated and God’s religion is made victorious over all other religions.

May argues that what is at work here is the left’s familiar inability to make moral distinctions other than “reflexively regard[ing] those from the Third World as virtuous and those from the West as steeped in blame, shame, and guilt.” And that is very hard to do when you actually examine whether the objects of such affection are virtuous or, rather, are the face of evil in the modern world. No wonder Beinart wants to put his fingers in his ears and hum.

A sharp-eyed reader e-mails me, observing that, in a way, Obama has already “spoken” on the Ground Zero mosque. She writes that Obama’s “decision to send Imam Rauf on a mission to explain the U.S. to the world is Obama’s comment.” Indeed.

The Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs, along similar lines, wrote a letter to Hillary Clinton this week, which reads, in part:

Unfortunately, Imam Feisal’s message, unless he has had a change of heart, is that the United States deserved what she got in the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and was, in essence, “an accessory to the crime that happened.” In a 60 Minutes interview, when asked why he considered the United States an accessory, Imam Feisal replied, “Because we have been accessory to a lot of innocent lives dying in the world. In fact, in the most direct sense, Osama bin Laden is made in the U.S.A.” If our State Department gives its imprimatur to this trip, it will also put its imprimatur on the message delivered.

Furthermore, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf is currently in the center of a major controversy concerning the building of a mosque, the Cordoba Initiative, near Ground Zero, the World Trade Center site in New York City. Regardless of one’s opinion of Imam Feisal, or whether the opponents of a mosque near Ground Zero are right or wrong, Imam Feisal has become a symbol of the conflict between Islam and many Americans. Everywhere the imam goes, he will be the symbol of conflict and not of harmony. Even if Imam Feisal does not raise the issue of the Cordoba Mosque, his very presence will raise the issue. In other words, we will be responsible for having exported the debate to the Middle East and the messenger will be the message.

But it is that message which the screeching Ground Zero mosque promoters would rather conceal than illuminate. In a must read column, Cliff May explains that, from Mayor Bloomberg to Peter Beinart (whose intellect cannot bear to be exposed to contrary views, exploding in ad hominem attacks and demanding that his closed universe of semi-informed rhetoric be protected from May’s e-mails), the proponents of the project insist that we all shut up because they really don’t want to face the inconvenient truth of the the views of the imam they are defending:

Among Rauf’s Huffingtonian statements: that American policy was “an accessory to the crime” of 9/11, and that Osama bin Laden was “made in America.”

Rauf will not say whether he views Hamas — which intentionally slaughters civilians, has been designated as a terrorist organization by the U.S. government, and advocates the extermination of both Israelis and Jews — as a terrorist organization.

He explains his reticence by saying that “the issue of terrorism is a very complex question.” No, actually, it’s quite simple: Whatever your grievances, you do not express them by murdering other people’s children. Not accepting that proposition does not make you a terrorist. But it disqualifies you as an anti-terrorist and identifies you as an anti-anti-terrorist.

Hardly the messenger of “peace,” Rauf is precisely the wrong sort of messenger to send frolicking abroad:

Rauf also has ties to the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) and the International Institute of Islamic Thought (IIIT), organizations created by the Muslim Brotherhood and named by the U.S. Justice Department as unindicted co-conspirators in a terrorism-financing case.

A note on the Muslim Brotherhood: It is not a college fraternity. Its founder, Hasan al-Banna, famously said: “It is the nature of Islam to dominate, not to be dominated, to impose its law on all nations and to extend its power to the entire planet.” In 1991, the Muslim Brotherhood’s American leadership prepared an internal memorandum describing its mission as a kind of grand jihad in eliminating and destroying the Western civilization from within and “sabotaging” its miserable house by their hands and the hands of the believers so that it is eliminated and God’s religion is made victorious over all other religions.

May argues that what is at work here is the left’s familiar inability to make moral distinctions other than “reflexively regard[ing] those from the Third World as virtuous and those from the West as steeped in blame, shame, and guilt.” And that is very hard to do when you actually examine whether the objects of such affection are virtuous or, rather, are the face of evil in the modern world. No wonder Beinart wants to put his fingers in his ears and hum.

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Christopher Hitchens, Jon Stewart, and More

In his moving article in Vanity Fair about his cancer, Christopher Hitchens disclosed that just before he went on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart, he violently threw up — the result of the illness he had learned about that morning, when he woke unable to breathe, was barely able to cross his hotel room to call for help, and was saved by emergency treatment by doctors who did “quite a lot” of work on his heart and lungs and told him he needed to consult an oncologist immediately.

That evening he nevertheless appeared as scheduled on Stewart’s show (and then at the 92nd Street Y, where he threw up again), unwilling to disappoint his friends or miss the chance to sell his memoir. In the article, he did not describe what he said on The Daily Show, but his appearance there is worth remembering for reasons going beyond his extraordinary fortitude in proceeding with it.

The video is here. At the end, after discussing his work in a camp for revolutionaries in Cuba in the 60s, there was this colloquy:

Stewart: If you had been young today, going through this same sort of [unintelligible], where do you think your alliances would be, where do you think you would have—

Hitchens: Well, I teach at the New School, and I teach English and a lot of journalists and would-be journalists come, and I often hang out with young people who are journalists, and I’m sorry for them, in a way. Because what are they gonna do – I mean, are they going to say ‘I’m a global warming activist’? It’s not quite the same, is it?

Stewart: Isn’t it all the same once you realize that your idealism — you can use it to further your aims, [if] you realize that nothing is nirvana, nothing is perfect?

Hitchens: Oscar Wilde used to say that a map of the world that doesn’t include Utopia isn’t worth looking at. I used to think that was a beautiful statement. I don’t think that at all anymore. I tell you, to be honest, the most idealistic and brave and committed and intelligent young people that I know have joined the armed forces. And they are now guarding us while we sleep in Iraq and Afghanistan and elsewhere. … I never would have expected that would be what I would say about the students I have to teach.

Stewart’s audience, which is often raucous, listened to this in silence.

Hitchens writes in Hitch-22 that these days he thinks about “the shipwrecks and prison islands to which the quest [for Utopia] has led” and that he came to realize that “the only historical revolution with any verve left in it, or any example to offer others, was the American one.” His appearance on the Daily Show was an example not only of his physical courage but also of the intellectual audacity that pervades his book.

In his moving article in Vanity Fair about his cancer, Christopher Hitchens disclosed that just before he went on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart, he violently threw up — the result of the illness he had learned about that morning, when he woke unable to breathe, was barely able to cross his hotel room to call for help, and was saved by emergency treatment by doctors who did “quite a lot” of work on his heart and lungs and told him he needed to consult an oncologist immediately.

That evening he nevertheless appeared as scheduled on Stewart’s show (and then at the 92nd Street Y, where he threw up again), unwilling to disappoint his friends or miss the chance to sell his memoir. In the article, he did not describe what he said on The Daily Show, but his appearance there is worth remembering for reasons going beyond his extraordinary fortitude in proceeding with it.

The video is here. At the end, after discussing his work in a camp for revolutionaries in Cuba in the 60s, there was this colloquy:

Stewart: If you had been young today, going through this same sort of [unintelligible], where do you think your alliances would be, where do you think you would have—

Hitchens: Well, I teach at the New School, and I teach English and a lot of journalists and would-be journalists come, and I often hang out with young people who are journalists, and I’m sorry for them, in a way. Because what are they gonna do – I mean, are they going to say ‘I’m a global warming activist’? It’s not quite the same, is it?

Stewart: Isn’t it all the same once you realize that your idealism — you can use it to further your aims, [if] you realize that nothing is nirvana, nothing is perfect?

Hitchens: Oscar Wilde used to say that a map of the world that doesn’t include Utopia isn’t worth looking at. I used to think that was a beautiful statement. I don’t think that at all anymore. I tell you, to be honest, the most idealistic and brave and committed and intelligent young people that I know have joined the armed forces. And they are now guarding us while we sleep in Iraq and Afghanistan and elsewhere. … I never would have expected that would be what I would say about the students I have to teach.

Stewart’s audience, which is often raucous, listened to this in silence.

Hitchens writes in Hitch-22 that these days he thinks about “the shipwrecks and prison islands to which the quest [for Utopia] has led” and that he came to realize that “the only historical revolution with any verve left in it, or any example to offer others, was the American one.” His appearance on the Daily Show was an example not only of his physical courage but also of the intellectual audacity that pervades his book.

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A Sea Change in Attitudes Toward Gay Rights

A CNN/Opinion Research Poll finds that 52 percent of Americans say that same-sex couples should have the constitutional right to marry, while 46 percent say the Constitution should not convey that right. Fifty-six percent of Democrats and 57 percent of Independents think the Constitution conveys the right to marry to same-sex couples, while only a quarter of all Republicans agree. And nearly six in 10 Americans under the age of 50 say gay rights are protected under the Constitution, while only 38 percent of Americans over the age of 50 say the same thing.

Those findings aren’t particularly surprising. We have seen a sea change in attitudes toward gay rights and same-sex marriage over the past two decades. It ranks as among the most successful social movements we have witnessed, both in terms of shaping public attitudes and in securing the legal right to marry, and there’s every reason to believe that it will continue. Many of those in the millennial generation view sexual orientation in basically the same way they view a person being left-handed or right-handed.

What the precise effects same-sex marriage will have on the institution of marriage and society more broadly is impossible to know. Some people argue it will be harmful, others say it will be more or less neutral, and still others insist it will be a positive good. Given that several states now allow gay marriage, and more are likely to follow in the years ahead, we are in the process of testing these different propositions, and, over time, we will find out what the real-world effects will be.

A CNN/Opinion Research Poll finds that 52 percent of Americans say that same-sex couples should have the constitutional right to marry, while 46 percent say the Constitution should not convey that right. Fifty-six percent of Democrats and 57 percent of Independents think the Constitution conveys the right to marry to same-sex couples, while only a quarter of all Republicans agree. And nearly six in 10 Americans under the age of 50 say gay rights are protected under the Constitution, while only 38 percent of Americans over the age of 50 say the same thing.

Those findings aren’t particularly surprising. We have seen a sea change in attitudes toward gay rights and same-sex marriage over the past two decades. It ranks as among the most successful social movements we have witnessed, both in terms of shaping public attitudes and in securing the legal right to marry, and there’s every reason to believe that it will continue. Many of those in the millennial generation view sexual orientation in basically the same way they view a person being left-handed or right-handed.

What the precise effects same-sex marriage will have on the institution of marriage and society more broadly is impossible to know. Some people argue it will be harmful, others say it will be more or less neutral, and still others insist it will be a positive good. Given that several states now allow gay marriage, and more are likely to follow in the years ahead, we are in the process of testing these different propositions, and, over time, we will find out what the real-world effects will be.

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Afghanistan: Snapshots from the Morning Papers

This morning’s newspapers bring a slew of important and interesting articles about Afghanistan.

The Wall Street Journal reports on the ongoing probe of the New Ansari Exchange, a leading “hawala” money-transfer company that has been linked to the Taliban, the drug trade, and corrupt Afghan officials. The article notes that an Afghan anti-corruption task force raided New Ansari’s Kabul office in January and seized all sorts of incriminating documents. President Karzai, whose friends and relatives are deeply implicated in these activities, is — of course — eager to quash the probe; but he hasn’t succeeded so far. One of the intriguing aspects of this issue is the vast number of links between the New Ansari Exchange and the Afghan United Bank — one of the country’s leading financial institutions. Haji Muhammad Jan is not only a founder of New Ansari but also the chairman of Afghan United Bank. The larger issue here is the rotten state of Afghanistan’s financial institutions. That is something that needs to be addressed by the coalition because, at the moment, hawalas and banks are important middlemen for corruption, narco-trafficking, and the insurgency. If the financial system can be cleaned up, that will go a long way toward defunding some of the most nefarious activities.

–The New York Times reports that the prospects of holding clean and fair parliamentary elections, currently scheduled for Sept. 18, are poor. Many of the same problems with ballot stuffing that marred the presidential election last year are expected to recur next month. As the Times notes, “already Western diplomats and observers are lowering expectations for the election, while Afghans are increasingly disillusioned and fatalistic about the prospects for democracy.” It’s still not too late to postpone the balloting, which will only further discredit the Afghan government.

–Another New York Times article claims: “American military officials are building a case to minimize the planned withdrawal of some troops from Afghanistan starting next summer, in an effort to counter growing pressure on President Obama from inside his own party to begin winding the war down quickly.” The article, in fact, suggests that it won’t be a hard case to make. It reports that President Obama has adopted a “two-year rule” — meaning that he will give U.S. troops in any particular location two years to execute a counterinsurgency strategy. The Times account continues:

The two-year clock, officials say, started in June 2009 when the first additional forces, more than 20,000 troops long requested by American commanders, arrived in Afghanistan. Those troops will have been in place for two years by next summer, the deadline for the beginning of the withdrawal under Mr. Obama’s plan.

In areas where operations began this year — like Marja, where results have been disappointing, and Kandahar, where American Special Operations forces are now conducting night raids to diminish the middle ranks of the Taliban — the two-year clock started later, and the work there could continue well into 2012.

This suggests that concerns on the right that our troops won’t have sufficient time to conduct counterinsurgency operations are unwarranted — two years should be enough time to stabilize most locations, provided that sufficient troops and resources be dedicated to the problem.

–Finally, the Wall Street Journal reports that German forces based in northern Afghanistan are planning an offensive to drive back the Taliban, who have made inroads in the past two years. That’s good news, although it would be even better news if Berlin were to relax onerous restrictions on their troops. The Journal writes: “A German spokesman in Mazar-e-Sharif says that, until now, when German forces have cleared a village, they have typically entered in the morning and left before nightfall, allowing the Taliban to return at their leisure. The new battalions hope there will be adequate Afghan police to stay behind to protect against the insurgents’ return, German officials say.” I wouldn’t bet on the prospects of stability in newly cleared areas unless German troops are willing to stay behind with Afghan security forces.

These are all, to be sure, snapshots of a war in progress. They don’t add up to a complete picture. Indeed, it’s far too early to draw any broad conclusions. What these articles do show, however, is that, while Afghanistan faces serious problems, coalition forces are for the first time making a serious effort to address them and that, in all likelihood, they will have the time needed to make real progress.

This morning’s newspapers bring a slew of important and interesting articles about Afghanistan.

The Wall Street Journal reports on the ongoing probe of the New Ansari Exchange, a leading “hawala” money-transfer company that has been linked to the Taliban, the drug trade, and corrupt Afghan officials. The article notes that an Afghan anti-corruption task force raided New Ansari’s Kabul office in January and seized all sorts of incriminating documents. President Karzai, whose friends and relatives are deeply implicated in these activities, is — of course — eager to quash the probe; but he hasn’t succeeded so far. One of the intriguing aspects of this issue is the vast number of links between the New Ansari Exchange and the Afghan United Bank — one of the country’s leading financial institutions. Haji Muhammad Jan is not only a founder of New Ansari but also the chairman of Afghan United Bank. The larger issue here is the rotten state of Afghanistan’s financial institutions. That is something that needs to be addressed by the coalition because, at the moment, hawalas and banks are important middlemen for corruption, narco-trafficking, and the insurgency. If the financial system can be cleaned up, that will go a long way toward defunding some of the most nefarious activities.

–The New York Times reports that the prospects of holding clean and fair parliamentary elections, currently scheduled for Sept. 18, are poor. Many of the same problems with ballot stuffing that marred the presidential election last year are expected to recur next month. As the Times notes, “already Western diplomats and observers are lowering expectations for the election, while Afghans are increasingly disillusioned and fatalistic about the prospects for democracy.” It’s still not too late to postpone the balloting, which will only further discredit the Afghan government.

–Another New York Times article claims: “American military officials are building a case to minimize the planned withdrawal of some troops from Afghanistan starting next summer, in an effort to counter growing pressure on President Obama from inside his own party to begin winding the war down quickly.” The article, in fact, suggests that it won’t be a hard case to make. It reports that President Obama has adopted a “two-year rule” — meaning that he will give U.S. troops in any particular location two years to execute a counterinsurgency strategy. The Times account continues:

The two-year clock, officials say, started in June 2009 when the first additional forces, more than 20,000 troops long requested by American commanders, arrived in Afghanistan. Those troops will have been in place for two years by next summer, the deadline for the beginning of the withdrawal under Mr. Obama’s plan.

In areas where operations began this year — like Marja, where results have been disappointing, and Kandahar, where American Special Operations forces are now conducting night raids to diminish the middle ranks of the Taliban — the two-year clock started later, and the work there could continue well into 2012.

This suggests that concerns on the right that our troops won’t have sufficient time to conduct counterinsurgency operations are unwarranted — two years should be enough time to stabilize most locations, provided that sufficient troops and resources be dedicated to the problem.

–Finally, the Wall Street Journal reports that German forces based in northern Afghanistan are planning an offensive to drive back the Taliban, who have made inroads in the past two years. That’s good news, although it would be even better news if Berlin were to relax onerous restrictions on their troops. The Journal writes: “A German spokesman in Mazar-e-Sharif says that, until now, when German forces have cleared a village, they have typically entered in the morning and left before nightfall, allowing the Taliban to return at their leisure. The new battalions hope there will be adequate Afghan police to stay behind to protect against the insurgents’ return, German officials say.” I wouldn’t bet on the prospects of stability in newly cleared areas unless German troops are willing to stay behind with Afghan security forces.

These are all, to be sure, snapshots of a war in progress. They don’t add up to a complete picture. Indeed, it’s far too early to draw any broad conclusions. What these articles do show, however, is that, while Afghanistan faces serious problems, coalition forces are for the first time making a serious effort to address them and that, in all likelihood, they will have the time needed to make real progress.

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Turkey Disses Obama

How are those Iran sanctions going? Not all that well, this report suggests:

Ankara will continue to permit Turkish companies to sell gasoline to Iran, despite US sanctions against fuel exports to Islamic regime, Reuters reported on Wednesday.

“If the preference of the private sector is to sell these products to Iran, we will help them,” said Turkish Energy Minister Taner Yildiz.
Tupras, Turkey’s sole oil refiner and gasoline exporter, expressed little fear of retribution from US Treasury officials who have the power to ban sanctions violators from accessing the US banking system or receiving US contracts.

“For us, Iran is more important than America because we get crude oil from them. We don’t get anything from America,” a Tupras official was quoted as saying.

Well that clarifies things. Obama avoids a public confrontation with Turkey over its role in facilitating the terror flotilla. He turns a blind eye toward its human rights abuses and its drift into the Iran-Syria axis. And in return, Turkey undermines his great diplomatic achievement — an international-sanctions regimen. You’d think a man as prickly and as sensitive to affronts as Obama is would not take kindly to this.

How are those Iran sanctions going? Not all that well, this report suggests:

Ankara will continue to permit Turkish companies to sell gasoline to Iran, despite US sanctions against fuel exports to Islamic regime, Reuters reported on Wednesday.

“If the preference of the private sector is to sell these products to Iran, we will help them,” said Turkish Energy Minister Taner Yildiz.
Tupras, Turkey’s sole oil refiner and gasoline exporter, expressed little fear of retribution from US Treasury officials who have the power to ban sanctions violators from accessing the US banking system or receiving US contracts.

“For us, Iran is more important than America because we get crude oil from them. We don’t get anything from America,” a Tupras official was quoted as saying.

Well that clarifies things. Obama avoids a public confrontation with Turkey over its role in facilitating the terror flotilla. He turns a blind eye toward its human rights abuses and its drift into the Iran-Syria axis. And in return, Turkey undermines his great diplomatic achievement — an international-sanctions regimen. You’d think a man as prickly and as sensitive to affronts as Obama is would not take kindly to this.

Read Less

That Particular State

George Will shines a light on the essence of much of the left’s revulsion — and it is certainly that — over the Jewish state. It’s the “Jewish” part — that is, a nation-state born of a 3,000-year history and dedicated to the survival of a particular people — that gnaws at what passes for the leftist intelligentsia. Will explains:

Israel, with its deep sense of nationhood, is beyond unintelligible to such Europeans; it is a stench in their nostrils. Transnational progressivism is, as much as welfare state social democracy, an element of European politics that American progressives will emulate as much as American politics will permit. It is perverse that the European Union, a semi-fictional political entity, serves — with the United States, the reliably anti-Israel United Nations and Russia — as part of the “quartet” that supposedly will broker peace in our time between Israel and the Palestinians. …

No one is less a transnational progressive, less a post-nationalist, than Binyamin Netanyahu, whose first name is that of a son of Jacob, who lived perhaps 4,000 years ago. Netanyahu, whom no one ever called cuddly, once said to a U.S. diplomat 10 words that should warn U.S. policymakers who hope to make Netanyahu malleable: “You live in Chevy Chase. Don’t play with our future.”

But it’s not simply Netanyahu who provokes the left’s queasiness over nationalism. It is the entire Zionist undertaking, the Jewish state. Some months ago, Elliott Abrams dismantled Peter Beinart, explaining: “Jewish liberals have a problem with particularism, nationalism, Zionism, and they always have. And it isn’t due to anything that is going on in Israel, it’s due to things that are going on inside their heads. They need to grow up and realize that Israel has a right to defend itself.” But the left (its Jews and non-Jews) has no intention of growing up, any more than Israelis have any intention of committing national suicide.

Obama has desperately tried to avoid — by cajoling, threatening, and his platitudinous speechifying — choosing between his and his ideological soul mates’ internationalist, multilateral vision and America’s democratic ally in the Middle East. The conflict reappears in various incarnations (settlements, the flotilla, etc.), but the fundamentals are the same. This is a circle that can’t be squared. He’s either going to stand in the face of a howling international community bolstered by the anti-Israel left or he’s not. He’s either going to cede American leadership of the Free World or not. No wonder Obama displays such animus toward the Jewish state; it refuses to knuckle under to his demands. And it forces Obama to confront the unworkability of his own dream of a world in which nation-states (and America in particular) recede in favor of an “international community.”

George Will shines a light on the essence of much of the left’s revulsion — and it is certainly that — over the Jewish state. It’s the “Jewish” part — that is, a nation-state born of a 3,000-year history and dedicated to the survival of a particular people — that gnaws at what passes for the leftist intelligentsia. Will explains:

Israel, with its deep sense of nationhood, is beyond unintelligible to such Europeans; it is a stench in their nostrils. Transnational progressivism is, as much as welfare state social democracy, an element of European politics that American progressives will emulate as much as American politics will permit. It is perverse that the European Union, a semi-fictional political entity, serves — with the United States, the reliably anti-Israel United Nations and Russia — as part of the “quartet” that supposedly will broker peace in our time between Israel and the Palestinians. …

No one is less a transnational progressive, less a post-nationalist, than Binyamin Netanyahu, whose first name is that of a son of Jacob, who lived perhaps 4,000 years ago. Netanyahu, whom no one ever called cuddly, once said to a U.S. diplomat 10 words that should warn U.S. policymakers who hope to make Netanyahu malleable: “You live in Chevy Chase. Don’t play with our future.”

But it’s not simply Netanyahu who provokes the left’s queasiness over nationalism. It is the entire Zionist undertaking, the Jewish state. Some months ago, Elliott Abrams dismantled Peter Beinart, explaining: “Jewish liberals have a problem with particularism, nationalism, Zionism, and they always have. And it isn’t due to anything that is going on in Israel, it’s due to things that are going on inside their heads. They need to grow up and realize that Israel has a right to defend itself.” But the left (its Jews and non-Jews) has no intention of growing up, any more than Israelis have any intention of committing national suicide.

Obama has desperately tried to avoid — by cajoling, threatening, and his platitudinous speechifying — choosing between his and his ideological soul mates’ internationalist, multilateral vision and America’s democratic ally in the Middle East. The conflict reappears in various incarnations (settlements, the flotilla, etc.), but the fundamentals are the same. This is a circle that can’t be squared. He’s either going to stand in the face of a howling international community bolstered by the anti-Israel left or he’s not. He’s either going to cede American leadership of the Free World or not. No wonder Obama displays such animus toward the Jewish state; it refuses to knuckle under to his demands. And it forces Obama to confront the unworkability of his own dream of a world in which nation-states (and America in particular) recede in favor of an “international community.”

Read Less




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