Commentary Magazine


Posts For: August 17, 2010

New Report on China Leaves Out the Good Stuff

There’s something missing from the Defense Department’s new report to Congress on “Military and Security Developments” relating to China — and it’s something big. The 83-page report, which focuses on the Chinese military and Beijing’s concerns about Taiwan, makes no reference to the global outreach that extends across Asia and Africa and across the Pacific to Latin America. This outreach combines general trade and investment with arms sales and political patronage, threads that can sometimes be difficult to separate. But arms and politics very often are intertwined with “peaceful” commerce; detecting the junctures at which they become “security developments” is what analysis is for. An entire facet of China’s grand strategy has simply been left out of this report.

Search the document, and you will find no reference to China’s “String of Pearls” strategy of cultivating relationships — along with the potential for surveillance outposts and naval bases –across the Indian Ocean and South China Sea. Not a word is uttered about China’s much-remarked courtship with Latin America, which encompasses extensive military-to-military exchanges and arms sales along with the commercial operations of companies linked to the Chinese military. The ties in question include an ongoing effort to bolster military cooperation with Cuba, with which China has agreements to use signals-monitoring facilities against the United States. They also include a very unusual visit by Chinese warships to Chile, Peru, and Ecuador in late 2009.

The Mediterranean saw such visits for the first time this summer, conducted by Chinese warships departing their anti-piracy station near Somalia. China appears to be contemplating a naval base in Djibouti, but that’s the least of its inroads in Africa. Besides arming the homicidal rulers of Sudan and Zimbabwe (here and here), China is pursuing the same policy it has executed in Latin America of promoting arms sales and military-to-military exchanges. As this summary indicates, moreover, Africa’s unique characteristics make it a special proving ground for China’s dual-purpose (commercial and military) industries.

Ignoring this Chinese pattern when considering “security developments” is quite peculiar. In fact, the report’s principal thematic shortcoming is that it evaluates only one security issue — the status of Taiwan — in terms of its geostrategic features and implications. China’s other security issues are grouped abstractly as “flashpoints” and generic interests, creating the impression that North Korea is basically the same kind of problem for China as Pakistan, Iran, or the Spratly Islands.

But China, a nation facing long armed borders and disputed archipelagos in every direction, lacks the latitude Americans have to cast its problems in terms of political abstractions. China’s approach is based firmly on geography and power relationships. North Korea, Pakistan, and Taiwan are all different types of security concerns for China, as are India, the waterways of the Middle East, and the U.S. Navy.

Meanwhile, the Chinese regularly accuse the U.S., which they see as China’s chief rival in virtually every dimension, of “hegemonism and power politics.” This is not an abstraction for them; when they say this, they have in mind the pillars of U.S. security in the Eastern hemisphere: alliances, military presence, and declared interests, from one spot on the map to the next. China’s frame of reference for all its security calculations is U.S. military power, a fact that has more explanatory value for Beijing’s military build-up than any other.

If these factors go unacknowledged, we are in danger of supposing that China is arming itself to the teeth because of the Taiwan issue. Accept at face value China’s own statements about “threats” to its trade, throw in a public-spirited aspiration to support UN peacekeeping operations, and you get a DoD report in which the analysis comes off as strikingly fatuous. Having almost no reference to geography, the perceived rivalry with the U.S., or the political and security dimensions of China’s global outreach, it ends up being misleading as well.

There’s something missing from the Defense Department’s new report to Congress on “Military and Security Developments” relating to China — and it’s something big. The 83-page report, which focuses on the Chinese military and Beijing’s concerns about Taiwan, makes no reference to the global outreach that extends across Asia and Africa and across the Pacific to Latin America. This outreach combines general trade and investment with arms sales and political patronage, threads that can sometimes be difficult to separate. But arms and politics very often are intertwined with “peaceful” commerce; detecting the junctures at which they become “security developments” is what analysis is for. An entire facet of China’s grand strategy has simply been left out of this report.

Search the document, and you will find no reference to China’s “String of Pearls” strategy of cultivating relationships — along with the potential for surveillance outposts and naval bases –across the Indian Ocean and South China Sea. Not a word is uttered about China’s much-remarked courtship with Latin America, which encompasses extensive military-to-military exchanges and arms sales along with the commercial operations of companies linked to the Chinese military. The ties in question include an ongoing effort to bolster military cooperation with Cuba, with which China has agreements to use signals-monitoring facilities against the United States. They also include a very unusual visit by Chinese warships to Chile, Peru, and Ecuador in late 2009.

The Mediterranean saw such visits for the first time this summer, conducted by Chinese warships departing their anti-piracy station near Somalia. China appears to be contemplating a naval base in Djibouti, but that’s the least of its inroads in Africa. Besides arming the homicidal rulers of Sudan and Zimbabwe (here and here), China is pursuing the same policy it has executed in Latin America of promoting arms sales and military-to-military exchanges. As this summary indicates, moreover, Africa’s unique characteristics make it a special proving ground for China’s dual-purpose (commercial and military) industries.

Ignoring this Chinese pattern when considering “security developments” is quite peculiar. In fact, the report’s principal thematic shortcoming is that it evaluates only one security issue — the status of Taiwan — in terms of its geostrategic features and implications. China’s other security issues are grouped abstractly as “flashpoints” and generic interests, creating the impression that North Korea is basically the same kind of problem for China as Pakistan, Iran, or the Spratly Islands.

But China, a nation facing long armed borders and disputed archipelagos in every direction, lacks the latitude Americans have to cast its problems in terms of political abstractions. China’s approach is based firmly on geography and power relationships. North Korea, Pakistan, and Taiwan are all different types of security concerns for China, as are India, the waterways of the Middle East, and the U.S. Navy.

Meanwhile, the Chinese regularly accuse the U.S., which they see as China’s chief rival in virtually every dimension, of “hegemonism and power politics.” This is not an abstraction for them; when they say this, they have in mind the pillars of U.S. security in the Eastern hemisphere: alliances, military presence, and declared interests, from one spot on the map to the next. China’s frame of reference for all its security calculations is U.S. military power, a fact that has more explanatory value for Beijing’s military build-up than any other.

If these factors go unacknowledged, we are in danger of supposing that China is arming itself to the teeth because of the Taiwan issue. Accept at face value China’s own statements about “threats” to its trade, throw in a public-spirited aspiration to support UN peacekeeping operations, and you get a DoD report in which the analysis comes off as strikingly fatuous. Having almost no reference to geography, the perceived rivalry with the U.S., or the political and security dimensions of China’s global outreach, it ends up being misleading as well.

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Disagreement or Different? Up or Down?

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a well-known and fiercely independent individual, has exercised his right – the one written into the DNA of the living document that governs us – to disagree with President Obama about the Ground Zero mosque, issuing a statement that it should be built elsewhere. Deputy Press Secretary Bill Burton was asked about it this morning:

Q Can you talk about Senator Reid’s disagreeing with the President on the mosque issue? Has the President spoken to him? Did Reid’s people give you guys a heads-up about that? What was his reaction?

MR. BURTON: We did have a sense that that’s what they were going to do. But if you look at what the President said on Friday night, he respects the right of anybody — Democrat, Republican, independent — to disagree with his opinion on this. That’s one of the other fundamental rights written into the DNA of our Constitution.

Senator Reid is a fiercely independent individual; it’s one of his strengths as a leader of the Democratic Party. So the President feels completely fine that he might disagree.

But wait a minute – didn’t the president clarify his remarks, so that he took no position on the location of the mosque? Burton was asked whether he, in fact, viewed the president and Reid as disagreeing:

MR. BURTON: Well, the statements are different. What the President said was that he thinks that there’s a fundamental right for individuals and groups to be treated equally. But the President, like he said on Saturday, didn’t comment specifically on whether or not he was pushing for the site to actually to be put in that spot. Senator Reid’s comment was he thinks that it shouldn’t be.

Q So it is a different statement. It’s a different statement — do they agree? Do they disagree?

MR. BURTON: I’ll leave it to the smart guys like you, Chuck, to decide whether or not that means disagreement or different statement or what’s up and what’s down. But it’s a different take on this issue.

Maybe Sarah Palin can figure this out.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a well-known and fiercely independent individual, has exercised his right – the one written into the DNA of the living document that governs us – to disagree with President Obama about the Ground Zero mosque, issuing a statement that it should be built elsewhere. Deputy Press Secretary Bill Burton was asked about it this morning:

Q Can you talk about Senator Reid’s disagreeing with the President on the mosque issue? Has the President spoken to him? Did Reid’s people give you guys a heads-up about that? What was his reaction?

MR. BURTON: We did have a sense that that’s what they were going to do. But if you look at what the President said on Friday night, he respects the right of anybody — Democrat, Republican, independent — to disagree with his opinion on this. That’s one of the other fundamental rights written into the DNA of our Constitution.

Senator Reid is a fiercely independent individual; it’s one of his strengths as a leader of the Democratic Party. So the President feels completely fine that he might disagree.

But wait a minute – didn’t the president clarify his remarks, so that he took no position on the location of the mosque? Burton was asked whether he, in fact, viewed the president and Reid as disagreeing:

MR. BURTON: Well, the statements are different. What the President said was that he thinks that there’s a fundamental right for individuals and groups to be treated equally. But the President, like he said on Saturday, didn’t comment specifically on whether or not he was pushing for the site to actually to be put in that spot. Senator Reid’s comment was he thinks that it shouldn’t be.

Q So it is a different statement. It’s a different statement — do they agree? Do they disagree?

MR. BURTON: I’ll leave it to the smart guys like you, Chuck, to decide whether or not that means disagreement or different statement or what’s up and what’s down. But it’s a different take on this issue.

Maybe Sarah Palin can figure this out.

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Obama’s Muslim Problem

Ben Smith relates an interesting Tweet from Tim Pawlenty: “To improve USA’s relations with peaceful Muslims, Obama should tout our relief efforts in Pakistan floods; not defend Ground Zero mosque.” Well, that would be nice, but highly unlikely.

Pawlenty got me thinking about why it is that Obama does not conceive of Muslim outreach as an opportunity to inject some much needed accuracy and balance into societies saturated with anti-Israel and anti-American propaganda and which lack a free press. Why did he not, for example, in his first video valentine to the mullahs and the Iranian people, explain the blood and treasure we have expended to defend Muslims? Why does he prefer to commiserate with Muslim leaders (who all too often wallow in victimology) rather than champion the cause of Muslim human-rights activists and democracy promoters? Why didn’t he confront Palestinian rejectionism in his Cairo speech?

There are a couple of possible explanations. First, he is, we re-learn every day, a garden-variety leftist. The narrative of Third World victimhood and Western oppression is one he finds comfortable, notwithstanding its inapplicability to a variety of settings. (In his Cairo speech Palestinians were transformed into enslaved African American slaves, who, of course, were not repeatedly offered their own state.)

The other, suggested by a reader, may also be true: he learned about the “Muslim World” not from his childhood in Indonesia but from extremists, like former PLO-spokesman Rashid Khalidi, who have “educated” Obama for years about the Palestinians’ plight, attributed to American indifference and Israeli “oppression” rather than their own refusal to renounce violence and to the cynical manipulation of Arab states. Obama himself acknowledged the deep influence on his thinking:

His many talks with the Khalidis, Obama said, had been “consistent reminders to me of my own blind spots and my own biases. … It’s for that reason that I’m hoping that, for many years to come, we continue that conversation — a conversation that is necessary not just around Mona and Rashid’s dinner table,” but around “this entire world.”

Now, these are not mutually exclusive explanations. Whatever the root causes or motivations, over the last 18 months we’ve seen that Obama has been spectacularly unwilling to confront radical Islamists (even to call them that) and all too anxious to promote sentiments in the Muslim community which are counterproductive both for those trying to battle against the forces of radicalism and for the U.S. For someone who fancies himself as the Explainer in Chief with regard to Islam, he certainly could use some fresh thinking.

Ben Smith relates an interesting Tweet from Tim Pawlenty: “To improve USA’s relations with peaceful Muslims, Obama should tout our relief efforts in Pakistan floods; not defend Ground Zero mosque.” Well, that would be nice, but highly unlikely.

Pawlenty got me thinking about why it is that Obama does not conceive of Muslim outreach as an opportunity to inject some much needed accuracy and balance into societies saturated with anti-Israel and anti-American propaganda and which lack a free press. Why did he not, for example, in his first video valentine to the mullahs and the Iranian people, explain the blood and treasure we have expended to defend Muslims? Why does he prefer to commiserate with Muslim leaders (who all too often wallow in victimology) rather than champion the cause of Muslim human-rights activists and democracy promoters? Why didn’t he confront Palestinian rejectionism in his Cairo speech?

There are a couple of possible explanations. First, he is, we re-learn every day, a garden-variety leftist. The narrative of Third World victimhood and Western oppression is one he finds comfortable, notwithstanding its inapplicability to a variety of settings. (In his Cairo speech Palestinians were transformed into enslaved African American slaves, who, of course, were not repeatedly offered their own state.)

The other, suggested by a reader, may also be true: he learned about the “Muslim World” not from his childhood in Indonesia but from extremists, like former PLO-spokesman Rashid Khalidi, who have “educated” Obama for years about the Palestinians’ plight, attributed to American indifference and Israeli “oppression” rather than their own refusal to renounce violence and to the cynical manipulation of Arab states. Obama himself acknowledged the deep influence on his thinking:

His many talks with the Khalidis, Obama said, had been “consistent reminders to me of my own blind spots and my own biases. … It’s for that reason that I’m hoping that, for many years to come, we continue that conversation — a conversation that is necessary not just around Mona and Rashid’s dinner table,” but around “this entire world.”

Now, these are not mutually exclusive explanations. Whatever the root causes or motivations, over the last 18 months we’ve seen that Obama has been spectacularly unwilling to confront radical Islamists (even to call them that) and all too anxious to promote sentiments in the Muslim community which are counterproductive both for those trying to battle against the forces of radicalism and for the U.S. For someone who fancies himself as the Explainer in Chief with regard to Islam, he certainly could use some fresh thinking.

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Democratic Senate Candidates vs. Harry Reid and 68% of America

Harry Reid was trying to save himself, and perhaps some of his colleagues, when he broke with Obama over the Ground Zero mosque. But some Senate contenders simply can’t be helped and have doubled down.

In Illinois:

Democratic candidate Alexi Giannoulias said Tuesday during a visit to the Illinois State Fair in Springfield that he supports the mosque site. He says while he sympathizes with those who lost loved ones, Americans must stand up for freedom of religion even when it’s difficult.

Meanwhile, Republican candidate Mark Kirk’s campaign said in a statement that he thinks placing the mosque near Ground Zero causes relatives of the victims “undue pain” and the mosque should move to a “less controversial site.”

In Pennsylvania:

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg traveled Tuesday to Pennsylvania to endorse Democratic U.S. Senate hopeful Joe Sestak, bringing along with him the politically volatile controversy surrounding the proposed mosque and cultural center near Ground Zero. . .

In Philadelphia this morning, [Joe] Sestak … said he wasn’t too troubled by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s statement on Monday opposing the location of the proposed Islamic center. “As you know, I haven’t taken very good direction yet from party leadership,” he said.

When asked if he’s sensitive to the families of those who died on 9/11, Sestak spoke passionately: “When I walked out of that Pentagon, 30 people who I knew never walked out of that building.”

“My 9/11 is that Pentagon,” he said. “Am I sensitive to (the family’s) desires? Sure, I am.” But Sestak said the concept of religious freedom is what is “most important” in this debate.

Now that’s interesting. At the Pentagon, contrary to the claims of  some mosque supporters (including Rep. Jerrold Nadler, whose district includes Ground Zero), there is no mosque. ABC News clarifies:

Sometimes misidentified as the “Pentagon Mosque,” the non-denominational Pentagon Memorial Chapel maintained by the Pentagon Chaplain’s Office is where department employees who practice Islam can meet to pray. Located at the site where the hijacked American Airlines flight 74 struck the Defense Department headquarters, the chapel honors the memory of the 184 victims of the 9/11 attack. The 100-seat chapel is available to Pentagon employees of all faiths to come in prayer as they wish throughout the day. …

Dedicated in November 2002, after the reconstruction of the section of the building struck in the Sept. 11 attack, the Pentagon chapel honors the memory of the 184 victims who were killed there or were passengers aboard the hijacked jetliner. Behind the chapel’s altar is a lit stained-glass window, in the shape of the Pentagon, that bears the inscription, “United in Memory, September 11, 2001.” No religious icons or pictures are on display at the chapel. Religious symbols are brought in for religious services. A Torah, for example, housed in an ornate ark, is brought from behind curtains for use in the weekly Jewish service.

You’d think a Pentagon man would see a place of worship of this sort, rather than a 13-story monument to Islam, as the appropriate model for a 9/11 site.

Will the Ground Zero mosque be the defining issue in the 2010 campaign? Maybe not, but it’s the last thing Democrats (some of whom are trying to shed the image that they are too far left even for Blue States) needed. Meanwhile, Obama’s disapproval rating in Gallup’s poll ticked up to 51 percent, a new high. Might it be a better strategy for Democrats not to follow Obama over the political cliff?

Harry Reid was trying to save himself, and perhaps some of his colleagues, when he broke with Obama over the Ground Zero mosque. But some Senate contenders simply can’t be helped and have doubled down.

In Illinois:

Democratic candidate Alexi Giannoulias said Tuesday during a visit to the Illinois State Fair in Springfield that he supports the mosque site. He says while he sympathizes with those who lost loved ones, Americans must stand up for freedom of religion even when it’s difficult.

Meanwhile, Republican candidate Mark Kirk’s campaign said in a statement that he thinks placing the mosque near Ground Zero causes relatives of the victims “undue pain” and the mosque should move to a “less controversial site.”

In Pennsylvania:

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg traveled Tuesday to Pennsylvania to endorse Democratic U.S. Senate hopeful Joe Sestak, bringing along with him the politically volatile controversy surrounding the proposed mosque and cultural center near Ground Zero. . .

In Philadelphia this morning, [Joe] Sestak … said he wasn’t too troubled by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s statement on Monday opposing the location of the proposed Islamic center. “As you know, I haven’t taken very good direction yet from party leadership,” he said.

When asked if he’s sensitive to the families of those who died on 9/11, Sestak spoke passionately: “When I walked out of that Pentagon, 30 people who I knew never walked out of that building.”

“My 9/11 is that Pentagon,” he said. “Am I sensitive to (the family’s) desires? Sure, I am.” But Sestak said the concept of religious freedom is what is “most important” in this debate.

Now that’s interesting. At the Pentagon, contrary to the claims of  some mosque supporters (including Rep. Jerrold Nadler, whose district includes Ground Zero), there is no mosque. ABC News clarifies:

Sometimes misidentified as the “Pentagon Mosque,” the non-denominational Pentagon Memorial Chapel maintained by the Pentagon Chaplain’s Office is where department employees who practice Islam can meet to pray. Located at the site where the hijacked American Airlines flight 74 struck the Defense Department headquarters, the chapel honors the memory of the 184 victims of the 9/11 attack. The 100-seat chapel is available to Pentagon employees of all faiths to come in prayer as they wish throughout the day. …

Dedicated in November 2002, after the reconstruction of the section of the building struck in the Sept. 11 attack, the Pentagon chapel honors the memory of the 184 victims who were killed there or were passengers aboard the hijacked jetliner. Behind the chapel’s altar is a lit stained-glass window, in the shape of the Pentagon, that bears the inscription, “United in Memory, September 11, 2001.” No religious icons or pictures are on display at the chapel. Religious symbols are brought in for religious services. A Torah, for example, housed in an ornate ark, is brought from behind curtains for use in the weekly Jewish service.

You’d think a Pentagon man would see a place of worship of this sort, rather than a 13-story monument to Islam, as the appropriate model for a 9/11 site.

Will the Ground Zero mosque be the defining issue in the 2010 campaign? Maybe not, but it’s the last thing Democrats (some of whom are trying to shed the image that they are too far left even for Blue States) needed. Meanwhile, Obama’s disapproval rating in Gallup’s poll ticked up to 51 percent, a new high. Might it be a better strategy for Democrats not to follow Obama over the political cliff?

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Why Didn’t Obama Grasp What the Ground Zero Mosque Is All About?

Bill Kristol reports that a major Muslim figure is coming out against the Ground Zero mosque. In London’s newspaper Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, Abdul Rahman Al-Rashid, director of Al-Arabiya TV and  the previous editor of the paper, explains why the mosque should not be build at Ground Zero:

I cannot imagine that Muslims want a mosque on this particular site, because it will be turned into an arena for promoters of hatred, and a symbol of those who committed the crime. At the same time, there are no practicing Muslims in the district who need a place of worship, because it is indeed a commercial district. … The last thing Muslims want today is to build just a religious center out of defiance to the others, or a symbolic mosque that people visit as a museum next to a cemetery. …  The battle against the September 11 terrorists is a Muslim battle … and this battle still is ablaze in more than 20 Muslim countries. Some Muslims will consider that building a mosque on this site immortalizes and commemorates what was done by the terrorists who committed their crime in the name of Islam. I do not think that the majority of Muslims want to build a symbol or a worship place that tomorrow might become a place about which the terrorists and their Muslim followers boast, and which will become a shrine for Islam haters whose aim is to turn the public opinion against Islam.

This is extraordinary on many levels.

First, as Bill points out, the Ground Zero mosque is likely kaput. If even a prominent Muslim can articulate why it’s such a bad idea, it seems as though the political pressure will mount, and the funders may sense that their project has revealed them not to be the face of moderation but rather provocateurs and promoters of religious strife.

Second, it reveals that Imam Rauf is no “moderate” and that his liberal cheerleaders have a deficient understanding of the range of opinion within the “Muslim World.” The left chose to champion someone who was blind or indifferent to the damage he was causing to the alleged goal of “religious reconciliation.” The chattering class labeled as “bigots” the mosque opponents, who voiced precisely the same objections as Al-Rashid. Is Al-Rashid a bigot, too?

Third, and most important, it reveals how lacking in sophistication about the Muslim World, about which he claims great expertise, is Obama. Why wasn’t he making Al-Rashid’s argument? Why didn’t he stand up for those Muslims who truly understand that “building a mosque on this site immortalizes and commemorates what was done by the terrorists who committed their crime in the name of Islam”? Perhaps Obama’s understanding of the Muslim World isn’t as nuanced as his boosters claim. Maybe his default position is to capitulate to whatever the left’s Islamic pets of the moment want (e.g., flotilla “activists,” the PA, the mosque builders).

I think it is safe to say that all of the Democrats and liberal pundits (yes, more overlap) who posited that the mosque’s opponents were engaged in the sort of bigotry that “has always fueled pogroms and race riots” (that’s the genius of Richard Cohen) were themselves not as enlightened as second America. The latter, like Al-Rashid, correctly grasped that the majority of Muslims might not “want to build a symbol or a worship place that tomorrow might become a place about which the terrorists and their Muslim followers boast, and which will become a shrine for Islam haters whose aim is to turn the public opinion against Islam.” It’s reassuring to know that 68 percent (I suspect that number will go up soon) of Americans got it right and demonstrated (again) why the common sense of average voters is infinitely more valuable that the spewing of the elite class.

Bill Kristol reports that a major Muslim figure is coming out against the Ground Zero mosque. In London’s newspaper Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, Abdul Rahman Al-Rashid, director of Al-Arabiya TV and  the previous editor of the paper, explains why the mosque should not be build at Ground Zero:

I cannot imagine that Muslims want a mosque on this particular site, because it will be turned into an arena for promoters of hatred, and a symbol of those who committed the crime. At the same time, there are no practicing Muslims in the district who need a place of worship, because it is indeed a commercial district. … The last thing Muslims want today is to build just a religious center out of defiance to the others, or a symbolic mosque that people visit as a museum next to a cemetery. …  The battle against the September 11 terrorists is a Muslim battle … and this battle still is ablaze in more than 20 Muslim countries. Some Muslims will consider that building a mosque on this site immortalizes and commemorates what was done by the terrorists who committed their crime in the name of Islam. I do not think that the majority of Muslims want to build a symbol or a worship place that tomorrow might become a place about which the terrorists and their Muslim followers boast, and which will become a shrine for Islam haters whose aim is to turn the public opinion against Islam.

This is extraordinary on many levels.

First, as Bill points out, the Ground Zero mosque is likely kaput. If even a prominent Muslim can articulate why it’s such a bad idea, it seems as though the political pressure will mount, and the funders may sense that their project has revealed them not to be the face of moderation but rather provocateurs and promoters of religious strife.

Second, it reveals that Imam Rauf is no “moderate” and that his liberal cheerleaders have a deficient understanding of the range of opinion within the “Muslim World.” The left chose to champion someone who was blind or indifferent to the damage he was causing to the alleged goal of “religious reconciliation.” The chattering class labeled as “bigots” the mosque opponents, who voiced precisely the same objections as Al-Rashid. Is Al-Rashid a bigot, too?

Third, and most important, it reveals how lacking in sophistication about the Muslim World, about which he claims great expertise, is Obama. Why wasn’t he making Al-Rashid’s argument? Why didn’t he stand up for those Muslims who truly understand that “building a mosque on this site immortalizes and commemorates what was done by the terrorists who committed their crime in the name of Islam”? Perhaps Obama’s understanding of the Muslim World isn’t as nuanced as his boosters claim. Maybe his default position is to capitulate to whatever the left’s Islamic pets of the moment want (e.g., flotilla “activists,” the PA, the mosque builders).

I think it is safe to say that all of the Democrats and liberal pundits (yes, more overlap) who posited that the mosque’s opponents were engaged in the sort of bigotry that “has always fueled pogroms and race riots” (that’s the genius of Richard Cohen) were themselves not as enlightened as second America. The latter, like Al-Rashid, correctly grasped that the majority of Muslims might not “want to build a symbol or a worship place that tomorrow might become a place about which the terrorists and their Muslim followers boast, and which will become a shrine for Islam haters whose aim is to turn the public opinion against Islam.” It’s reassuring to know that 68 percent (I suspect that number will go up soon) of Americans got it right and demonstrated (again) why the common sense of average voters is infinitely more valuable that the spewing of the elite class.

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Western Media Take a Pass on Palestinian Repression

Critics of Israel are fond of saying that a disproportionate focus on Israel’s failings is justified because of American support for the Jewish state. After all, they argue, no matter what goes on elsewhere, Israel’s activities, for good or ill, are in some measure the result of American generosity. But the same can also be said for the Palestinian Authority, whose government and armed forces are far more heavily subsidized by American taxpayers than those of Israel. But there remains little interest on the part of the media in exposing Palestinian misdeeds, besides which Israel’s foibles appear quite insignificant.

This unfortunate fact has been once again illustrated by the lack of interest on the part of the Western media in reporting the story of the PA’s imprisonment of seven Palestinian academics last week. Over at the Hudson Institute’s website, the Jerusalem Post’s Khaled Abu Toameh writes that Palestinian journalists did their best to interest their Western colleagues in the fate of these academics. Of course, Palestinian writers didn’t dare report this themselves, knowing all too well the fate of those who cross the PA security services. But unsurprisingly, of all the hundreds of Western reporters and correspondents stationed in Israel, Abu Toameh says only one chose to go with the story. Some blamed their editors back in the United States or Europe, who considered the topic “insignificant.” Others admitted that “they were concerned about their personal safety should they report a news item that was likely to anger the Western-funded PA security forces in the West Bank.”

Abu Toameh says that one Palestinian journalist then pitched a story about a Palestinian academic being denied the right to visit Israel and found that every journalist who had turned down the lead about the seven imprisoned scholars were quite eager to jump on the story that allegedly put the Jewish state in a bad light.

As Abu Toameh notes, the Western reluctance to report anything that shines a light on Palestinian corruption or tyranny isn’t new. The same “see no evil, hear no evil, report no evil” motto characterized Western coverage of Yasir Arafat’s reign of terror at the Palestinian Authority. That the object of their crimes is at times — as the arrest of the academics proved to be — part of Fatah’s civil war against the Islamist thugs of Hamas doesn’t make the Western media’s refusal to tell the truth about the Palestinian Authority any more defensible. Under the rule of Mahmoud Abbas, the thugs of the PA continue to run roughshod over their own people and to intimidate journalists on America’s dime.

Critics of Israel are fond of saying that a disproportionate focus on Israel’s failings is justified because of American support for the Jewish state. After all, they argue, no matter what goes on elsewhere, Israel’s activities, for good or ill, are in some measure the result of American generosity. But the same can also be said for the Palestinian Authority, whose government and armed forces are far more heavily subsidized by American taxpayers than those of Israel. But there remains little interest on the part of the media in exposing Palestinian misdeeds, besides which Israel’s foibles appear quite insignificant.

This unfortunate fact has been once again illustrated by the lack of interest on the part of the Western media in reporting the story of the PA’s imprisonment of seven Palestinian academics last week. Over at the Hudson Institute’s website, the Jerusalem Post’s Khaled Abu Toameh writes that Palestinian journalists did their best to interest their Western colleagues in the fate of these academics. Of course, Palestinian writers didn’t dare report this themselves, knowing all too well the fate of those who cross the PA security services. But unsurprisingly, of all the hundreds of Western reporters and correspondents stationed in Israel, Abu Toameh says only one chose to go with the story. Some blamed their editors back in the United States or Europe, who considered the topic “insignificant.” Others admitted that “they were concerned about their personal safety should they report a news item that was likely to anger the Western-funded PA security forces in the West Bank.”

Abu Toameh says that one Palestinian journalist then pitched a story about a Palestinian academic being denied the right to visit Israel and found that every journalist who had turned down the lead about the seven imprisoned scholars were quite eager to jump on the story that allegedly put the Jewish state in a bad light.

As Abu Toameh notes, the Western reluctance to report anything that shines a light on Palestinian corruption or tyranny isn’t new. The same “see no evil, hear no evil, report no evil” motto characterized Western coverage of Yasir Arafat’s reign of terror at the Palestinian Authority. That the object of their crimes is at times — as the arrest of the academics proved to be — part of Fatah’s civil war against the Islamist thugs of Hamas doesn’t make the Western media’s refusal to tell the truth about the Palestinian Authority any more defensible. Under the rule of Mahmoud Abbas, the thugs of the PA continue to run roughshod over their own people and to intimidate journalists on America’s dime.

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But Where Is Chuck Schumer?

Politico reports that a bunch of New York Democratic congressional candidates are breaking with Obama and urging the Ground Zero mosque go somewhere else. I eagerly await their vilification as “bigots” by the left blogosphere.

But this certainly shines a spotlight on the two Democratic senators. Where are Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand? I don’t think they can get through the next few months — she on the ballot, and he as head of the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee — without making clear their views.Really, it does sort of undermine the whole “first America” and “second America” construct if everyone, except the elite media and the president, is racing into the second America camp.

Politico reports that a bunch of New York Democratic congressional candidates are breaking with Obama and urging the Ground Zero mosque go somewhere else. I eagerly await their vilification as “bigots” by the left blogosphere.

But this certainly shines a spotlight on the two Democratic senators. Where are Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand? I don’t think they can get through the next few months — she on the ballot, and he as head of the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee — without making clear their views.Really, it does sort of undermine the whole “first America” and “second America” construct if everyone, except the elite media and the president, is racing into the second America camp.

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Another Liberal with Radical Ties (Part Two)

Joe Sestak’s answers on the questionnaire from the extremist group Citizens for Global Solutions on a range of foreign-policy issues reveal him to be to the left of the vast majority of Americans, even the president. The entire questionnaire should be read in full, but some items are particularly noteworthy. It starts out this way:

Within the last decade, the U.S. role in the geopolitical landscape has shifted away from being seen as a constructive leader. What role do you believe the U.S. should play in the world today?

After eight years of counterproductive, unilateral policies under President Bush, I believe it is time once again for the United States to be a true leader on the world stage and to engage with other states, including those with interests which may be adverse to our own. I have supported President Obama’s efforts to engage with rogue states such as Iran and his efforts to reassert our role as a leader in multilateral forums, such as the United Nations. I strongly support the Administration’s demonstrated commitment to global nuclear non-proliferation, and believe that the successful negotiation of the START follow-on treaty and convening of a nuclear security summit in Washington are constructive steps.

Plainly, this is precisely what the militantly pro-UN group wants to hear.

What about America’s war on Islamic terror?

I support President Obama’s stated withdrawal time lines from Iraq. I believe the President should establish benchmarks for success or failure in Afghanistan which, upon the meeting of certain conditions, would trigger an alternative or exit strategy. I have also voted for legislation requiring the Secretary of Defense to promulgate an exit strategy from Afghanistan.

Not even the Obami talk this way anymore.

Sestak’s apparent infatuation with international organizations and, specifically, the International Criminal Court matches up nicely with CGS’s agenda as well:

5. Will you support greater U.S. cooperation with the ICC in situations where it is in the United States’ interest to bring to justice perpetrators of genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity?
Yes
6. Will you support the continued U.S. participation as an observer in the Court’s governing body (also known as the Assembly of States Parties)?
Yes
7. Do you support the reinstatement of the U.S. signature to the Rome Statute [that would submit the U.S. to the ICC’s jurisdiction] and its eventual approval by the Senate for U.S. ratification?
Yes
I agree with President Clinton that eventual ratification should remain our goal, but that the United States should have the chance to observe and assess the functioning of the court before choosing to become subject to its jurisdiction.

He also says he wants to double foreign aid (presumably including aid to those countries that routinely vote against the U.S. and Israel in international bodies).

But of all his answers, the most troubling may be his unqualified yes to this one: “Will you support the call for the U.S. to refrain from the use or threat of a veto in the UN Security Council regarding situations involving ongoing genocide, crimes against humanity, or war crimes?” So, without knowing the context and without regard to the UN’s perpetual efforts to cast Israel as a criminal state, Sestak would call for the U.S. to tie its own hands. He’s ready — in advance — to throw away the one effective tool in its arsenal that allows it to defeat noxious UN Security Council actions. Good to know.

Sestak, then, is no garden-variety liberal on foreign policy. His association with CGS and his answers to its queries raise a number of questions. Recall Sestak’s odd letter calling not for the UN Human Rights Council to stay out of the flotilla incident but for it to conduct a “fair” investigation of Israel. It was ludicrous on its face. Now we wonder whether it was an effort to thread the needle between irate pro-Israel voters and his CGS backers (who fawn over the UNHRC). So don’t expect Sestak to support the U.S. withdrawal from that bile-gushing entity that his backers say “is direct, resultant, and demands accountability” and that vilifies Israel. Meanwhile, CGS declares that the U.S. is deriving such “goodwill” from sitting mutely on the council.

Does Sestak agree with CGS’s agenda? (In his answers No. 17 and No. 18, Sestak declares that he’d accept the group’s endorsement and its money.) If not, will he return the money, as Bob Casey did in 2006? And why, considering the group’s track record on Israel and its stance toward international bodies that routinely challenge Israel’s legitimacy, would he seek the group’s endorsement? I mean, if he really does “stand with Israel,” wouldn’t he recognize the danger to the Jewish state posed by such an extreme internationalist agenda? The Sestak campaign has not yet responded to these questions, but I’ll pass on any answers I receive.

In sum, Sestak is in a bind on foreign policy and a raft of other issues. The latest Democratic poll shows him nine points behind Pat Toomey. He’s getting hammered among independents (trailing by 50 to 23 percent). He’s had his hands full with the Emergency Committee for Israel ad attack, and now he faces a new ad assault by the Republican Jewish Coalition. (Sources tell me it will be one of the largest investments ever made in an ad campaign targeting the Jewish community, with an initial buy of two weeks with heavy cable in Philadelphia.) In other words, Sestak’s association with leftist groups may be far more damaging than helpful. To regain ground with Jewish voters and independents, will he shed some of his associations, perhaps give back money from the most objectionable of his donors? Stay tuned.

UPDATE: Rasmussen also has the margin in the race at 9 points.

Joe Sestak’s answers on the questionnaire from the extremist group Citizens for Global Solutions on a range of foreign-policy issues reveal him to be to the left of the vast majority of Americans, even the president. The entire questionnaire should be read in full, but some items are particularly noteworthy. It starts out this way:

Within the last decade, the U.S. role in the geopolitical landscape has shifted away from being seen as a constructive leader. What role do you believe the U.S. should play in the world today?

After eight years of counterproductive, unilateral policies under President Bush, I believe it is time once again for the United States to be a true leader on the world stage and to engage with other states, including those with interests which may be adverse to our own. I have supported President Obama’s efforts to engage with rogue states such as Iran and his efforts to reassert our role as a leader in multilateral forums, such as the United Nations. I strongly support the Administration’s demonstrated commitment to global nuclear non-proliferation, and believe that the successful negotiation of the START follow-on treaty and convening of a nuclear security summit in Washington are constructive steps.

Plainly, this is precisely what the militantly pro-UN group wants to hear.

What about America’s war on Islamic terror?

I support President Obama’s stated withdrawal time lines from Iraq. I believe the President should establish benchmarks for success or failure in Afghanistan which, upon the meeting of certain conditions, would trigger an alternative or exit strategy. I have also voted for legislation requiring the Secretary of Defense to promulgate an exit strategy from Afghanistan.

Not even the Obami talk this way anymore.

Sestak’s apparent infatuation with international organizations and, specifically, the International Criminal Court matches up nicely with CGS’s agenda as well:

5. Will you support greater U.S. cooperation with the ICC in situations where it is in the United States’ interest to bring to justice perpetrators of genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity?
Yes
6. Will you support the continued U.S. participation as an observer in the Court’s governing body (also known as the Assembly of States Parties)?
Yes
7. Do you support the reinstatement of the U.S. signature to the Rome Statute [that would submit the U.S. to the ICC’s jurisdiction] and its eventual approval by the Senate for U.S. ratification?
Yes
I agree with President Clinton that eventual ratification should remain our goal, but that the United States should have the chance to observe and assess the functioning of the court before choosing to become subject to its jurisdiction.

He also says he wants to double foreign aid (presumably including aid to those countries that routinely vote against the U.S. and Israel in international bodies).

But of all his answers, the most troubling may be his unqualified yes to this one: “Will you support the call for the U.S. to refrain from the use or threat of a veto in the UN Security Council regarding situations involving ongoing genocide, crimes against humanity, or war crimes?” So, without knowing the context and without regard to the UN’s perpetual efforts to cast Israel as a criminal state, Sestak would call for the U.S. to tie its own hands. He’s ready — in advance — to throw away the one effective tool in its arsenal that allows it to defeat noxious UN Security Council actions. Good to know.

Sestak, then, is no garden-variety liberal on foreign policy. His association with CGS and his answers to its queries raise a number of questions. Recall Sestak’s odd letter calling not for the UN Human Rights Council to stay out of the flotilla incident but for it to conduct a “fair” investigation of Israel. It was ludicrous on its face. Now we wonder whether it was an effort to thread the needle between irate pro-Israel voters and his CGS backers (who fawn over the UNHRC). So don’t expect Sestak to support the U.S. withdrawal from that bile-gushing entity that his backers say “is direct, resultant, and demands accountability” and that vilifies Israel. Meanwhile, CGS declares that the U.S. is deriving such “goodwill” from sitting mutely on the council.

Does Sestak agree with CGS’s agenda? (In his answers No. 17 and No. 18, Sestak declares that he’d accept the group’s endorsement and its money.) If not, will he return the money, as Bob Casey did in 2006? And why, considering the group’s track record on Israel and its stance toward international bodies that routinely challenge Israel’s legitimacy, would he seek the group’s endorsement? I mean, if he really does “stand with Israel,” wouldn’t he recognize the danger to the Jewish state posed by such an extreme internationalist agenda? The Sestak campaign has not yet responded to these questions, but I’ll pass on any answers I receive.

In sum, Sestak is in a bind on foreign policy and a raft of other issues. The latest Democratic poll shows him nine points behind Pat Toomey. He’s getting hammered among independents (trailing by 50 to 23 percent). He’s had his hands full with the Emergency Committee for Israel ad attack, and now he faces a new ad assault by the Republican Jewish Coalition. (Sources tell me it will be one of the largest investments ever made in an ad campaign targeting the Jewish community, with an initial buy of two weeks with heavy cable in Philadelphia.) In other words, Sestak’s association with leftist groups may be far more damaging than helpful. To regain ground with Jewish voters and independents, will he shed some of his associations, perhaps give back money from the most objectionable of his donors? Stay tuned.

UPDATE: Rasmussen also has the margin in the race at 9 points.

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Let Me Clarify My Clarification of My Clear Remarks

Barack Obama’s clarification of his “let me be clear” statement on the Ground Zero mosque (and subsequent clarification of his clarification) is reminiscent of his 2008 “let me be clear” statement on Jerusalem — when he told 7,000 people at AIPAC that the city “must remain undivided” and then repeatedly clarified his “poor phrasing,” finally endorsing a divided Jerusalem while claiming he had not backtracked from his initial statement.

Students of foreign policy may be bemused and somewhat alarmed to see this happening again. In both cases, Obama’s statements were prepared remarks on an important issue with foreign-policy implications, followed by retreats in the face of criticism, followed by denials that they were retreats, amid widespread recognition that they were, in fact, retreats. It was not an attractive quality in a candidate, and it is a dangerous one in a president.

Sarah Palin noted on her Facebook page that we “all know they have the right to do it [build a mosque steps away from where radical Islamists killed 3,000 people], but should they?” She suggested the president endorse the New York governor’s offer of assistance for finding an alternative location. The New York Sun editorialized that she had made a practical proposal while speaking more forthrightly than the famously eloquent president, raising this question:

How did one of the most intellectual presidents in history, a constitutional law professor with a government-provided staff of legal experts and policy geniuses and an ability, rarely if ever matched, to speak in lofty tones, manage to get himself in a position where he will end up following the lead of an ex-governor who has been constantly set down by the left as but a one-time beauty queen without brains and who has been watching the whole fracas from a lake-side camp at Alaska?

Possibly one of them was overrated and the other underrated back in 2008, particularly in light of the respective offices for which they were running. It may have had something to do with a media organizing itself to push a misleading narrative. I want to go on record as supporting the constitutional right to build the Ground Zero mosque while clarifying that I do not necessarily mean it is a wise use of rights. Is there an award for courageous blogging?

Barack Obama’s clarification of his “let me be clear” statement on the Ground Zero mosque (and subsequent clarification of his clarification) is reminiscent of his 2008 “let me be clear” statement on Jerusalem — when he told 7,000 people at AIPAC that the city “must remain undivided” and then repeatedly clarified his “poor phrasing,” finally endorsing a divided Jerusalem while claiming he had not backtracked from his initial statement.

Students of foreign policy may be bemused and somewhat alarmed to see this happening again. In both cases, Obama’s statements were prepared remarks on an important issue with foreign-policy implications, followed by retreats in the face of criticism, followed by denials that they were retreats, amid widespread recognition that they were, in fact, retreats. It was not an attractive quality in a candidate, and it is a dangerous one in a president.

Sarah Palin noted on her Facebook page that we “all know they have the right to do it [build a mosque steps away from where radical Islamists killed 3,000 people], but should they?” She suggested the president endorse the New York governor’s offer of assistance for finding an alternative location. The New York Sun editorialized that she had made a practical proposal while speaking more forthrightly than the famously eloquent president, raising this question:

How did one of the most intellectual presidents in history, a constitutional law professor with a government-provided staff of legal experts and policy geniuses and an ability, rarely if ever matched, to speak in lofty tones, manage to get himself in a position where he will end up following the lead of an ex-governor who has been constantly set down by the left as but a one-time beauty queen without brains and who has been watching the whole fracas from a lake-side camp at Alaska?

Possibly one of them was overrated and the other underrated back in 2008, particularly in light of the respective offices for which they were running. It may have had something to do with a media organizing itself to push a misleading narrative. I want to go on record as supporting the constitutional right to build the Ground Zero mosque while clarifying that I do not necessarily mean it is a wise use of rights. Is there an award for courageous blogging?

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A Historically Extraordinary Gap

The collapse of the Democratic Party continues, according to Gallup:

Gallup’s latest update on 2010 congressional voting preferences finds 50% of registered voters saying they would vote for the Republican candidate in their district, and 43% for the Democratic candidate, if the elections were held today. Republicans have led in each of the past three weeks, and their current 50% vote share and seven percentage-point lead represent their best showings thus far in 2010.

Between now and the election, I suspect this seven-point gap — which by historical standards is extraordinary — won’t end up being the GOP’s best showing.

The collapse of the Democratic Party continues, according to Gallup:

Gallup’s latest update on 2010 congressional voting preferences finds 50% of registered voters saying they would vote for the Republican candidate in their district, and 43% for the Democratic candidate, if the elections were held today. Republicans have led in each of the past three weeks, and their current 50% vote share and seven percentage-point lead represent their best showings thus far in 2010.

Between now and the election, I suspect this seven-point gap — which by historical standards is extraordinary — won’t end up being the GOP’s best showing.

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Articulate No More

During the campaign, many conservatives, including me, were mystified by the media’s assertion that Obama was the most eloquent man of his era. He was charismatic and inspiring, we were lectured. But conservatives could barely figure out what he was saying (“We are the change we have been waiting for”) or contain their guffaws when he spouted hackneyed phrases (“This is the moment when we must come together to save this planet”) and college-freshmen (apologies to the many bright students) rhetoric (“America, this is our moment.” And, let’s not forget, “This was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal.”) It seemed gibberish to many of us. But at least it was all of the same piece, all recycled leftist sloganeering.

Now, after 18 months, it seems as though even former advisors and much of the liberal media (OK, there is some overlap there) have given up on Obama and are pronouncing him “incoherent.” CNN (yeah, CNN) reports in the wake of the Ground Zero mosque debacle:

“The danger here is an incoherent presidency,” said David Morey, vice chairman of the Core Strategy Group, who provided communications advice to Obama’s 2008 campaign. “Simpler is better, and rising above these issues and leading by controlling the dialogue is what the presidency is all about. So I think that’s the job they have to do more effectively as they have in the past [in the campaign].” … New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd wrote in a recent column that Obama’s clarity and successful messaging during the campaign are gone. In place is a “incoherent president,” who’s “with the banks, he’s against the banks. He’s leaving Afghanistan, he’s staying in Afghanistan. He strains at being a populist, but his head is in the clouds.”

And just to twist the knife, CNN acknowledges that George W. Bush was a more effective communicator:

While many poked fun at former President George W. Bush for mispronouncing words and stumbling through sentences, observers note that he rarely had to backtrack on his answers because he employed a simple and direct messaging approach.

Yowser!

So Obama has gone from inspirational to exasperating for his followers and cheerleaders. Maybe he just ran out of left-wing bumper-sticker phrases. Perhaps, you know, there’s not a brilliant mind at work but a panicked liberal pol who can’t seem to slide through sticky situations with gauzy phrases. It is a revelation to the left and a vindication to the right. Unfortunately, we have over two more years of him, and it’s generally not a good idea to have a president who has become the object of widespread derision. It tends to embolden our foes and demoralize our friends, in this case even more than they already are.

During the campaign, many conservatives, including me, were mystified by the media’s assertion that Obama was the most eloquent man of his era. He was charismatic and inspiring, we were lectured. But conservatives could barely figure out what he was saying (“We are the change we have been waiting for”) or contain their guffaws when he spouted hackneyed phrases (“This is the moment when we must come together to save this planet”) and college-freshmen (apologies to the many bright students) rhetoric (“America, this is our moment.” And, let’s not forget, “This was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal.”) It seemed gibberish to many of us. But at least it was all of the same piece, all recycled leftist sloganeering.

Now, after 18 months, it seems as though even former advisors and much of the liberal media (OK, there is some overlap there) have given up on Obama and are pronouncing him “incoherent.” CNN (yeah, CNN) reports in the wake of the Ground Zero mosque debacle:

“The danger here is an incoherent presidency,” said David Morey, vice chairman of the Core Strategy Group, who provided communications advice to Obama’s 2008 campaign. “Simpler is better, and rising above these issues and leading by controlling the dialogue is what the presidency is all about. So I think that’s the job they have to do more effectively as they have in the past [in the campaign].” … New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd wrote in a recent column that Obama’s clarity and successful messaging during the campaign are gone. In place is a “incoherent president,” who’s “with the banks, he’s against the banks. He’s leaving Afghanistan, he’s staying in Afghanistan. He strains at being a populist, but his head is in the clouds.”

And just to twist the knife, CNN acknowledges that George W. Bush was a more effective communicator:

While many poked fun at former President George W. Bush for mispronouncing words and stumbling through sentences, observers note that he rarely had to backtrack on his answers because he employed a simple and direct messaging approach.

Yowser!

So Obama has gone from inspirational to exasperating for his followers and cheerleaders. Maybe he just ran out of left-wing bumper-sticker phrases. Perhaps, you know, there’s not a brilliant mind at work but a panicked liberal pol who can’t seem to slide through sticky situations with gauzy phrases. It is a revelation to the left and a vindication to the right. Unfortunately, we have over two more years of him, and it’s generally not a good idea to have a president who has become the object of widespread derision. It tends to embolden our foes and demoralize our friends, in this case even more than they already are.

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Joe Klein Joins the Chorus

You can add Joe Klein to those who, like Roger Simon, seem to have airbrushed President Obama’s comments on Saturday out of existence. Klein writes [read more], “I’m proud the President said what he did [his speech at the iftar dinner on Friday],” Klein wrote on Monday, “but he couldn’t legally do otherwise: if he hadn’t supported the mosque, he would not have been upholding the Constitution of the United States.”

Yet on Saturday, Obama said, “I was not commenting, and I will not comment, on the wisdom of making a decision to put a mosque there.”

What part of this sentence can’t Klein and Simon understand?

By Klein’s own logic — I use the word loosely — the president is not now upholding the Constitution. He is, in fact, breaking the law. But like Simon, Klein does not seem able to process Obama’s act of cowardice. It simply does not play into his perception of Obama’s greatness.

Fortunately, there are a few liberal voices who see things for what they were, from the Washington Post, which writes that Obama “muddled his stance and appeared to backtrack in the face of criticism,” to Jon Stewart, who mocks Obama’s campaign slogan (“Yes We Can” is now “Yes We Can. But Should We?”).

You can add Joe Klein to those who, like Roger Simon, seem to have airbrushed President Obama’s comments on Saturday out of existence. Klein writes [read more], “I’m proud the President said what he did [his speech at the iftar dinner on Friday],” Klein wrote on Monday, “but he couldn’t legally do otherwise: if he hadn’t supported the mosque, he would not have been upholding the Constitution of the United States.”

Yet on Saturday, Obama said, “I was not commenting, and I will not comment, on the wisdom of making a decision to put a mosque there.”

What part of this sentence can’t Klein and Simon understand?

By Klein’s own logic — I use the word loosely — the president is not now upholding the Constitution. He is, in fact, breaking the law. But like Simon, Klein does not seem able to process Obama’s act of cowardice. It simply does not play into his perception of Obama’s greatness.

Fortunately, there are a few liberal voices who see things for what they were, from the Washington Post, which writes that Obama “muddled his stance and appeared to backtrack in the face of criticism,” to Jon Stewart, who mocks Obama’s campaign slogan (“Yes We Can” is now “Yes We Can. But Should We?”).

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RE: James J. Kilpatrick, R.I.P.

I agree with J.E. Dyer that James Kilpatrick was an important conservative political writer as well as an admirable stylist and an engaging if crotchety television talking head. But however much we are inclined at this moment to remember his principled writing on a great many topics, we ought to resist the impulse to rationalize his writing on the one issue that made his name and reputation in his early years: segregation.

One need not be a foe of federalism, at whose “unmarked grave” my colleague eloquently mourns, to understand that the purpose of the states’ rights arguments employed by Southern intellectuals like Kilpatrick in the 1950s and 60s was a defense of a system that was racist. It may well be that there was a time when belief in segregation was respectable. But it never deserved that respectability, and it is a blot on the honor of those conservatives who supported it. Kilpatrick lived long enough to understand that he had been wrong. But unlike those intellectuals who supported Marxism in their youth but eventually went on to become its greatest foes, Kilpatrick’s later comments about his having provided an intellectual facade for the “Jim Crow” South were more wistful than contrite.

The rise of American conservatism in the late 20th century was the result of it having transcended the racism and anti-Semitism that had once characterized so much of the traditional right. If there is a “victor’s monument” to be placed on the memory of Kilpatrick’s long defense of segregation, it is one that properly marks the transition of a movement away from the prejudices of a bygone era that are rightly unlamented.

I agree with J.E. Dyer that James Kilpatrick was an important conservative political writer as well as an admirable stylist and an engaging if crotchety television talking head. But however much we are inclined at this moment to remember his principled writing on a great many topics, we ought to resist the impulse to rationalize his writing on the one issue that made his name and reputation in his early years: segregation.

One need not be a foe of federalism, at whose “unmarked grave” my colleague eloquently mourns, to understand that the purpose of the states’ rights arguments employed by Southern intellectuals like Kilpatrick in the 1950s and 60s was a defense of a system that was racist. It may well be that there was a time when belief in segregation was respectable. But it never deserved that respectability, and it is a blot on the honor of those conservatives who supported it. Kilpatrick lived long enough to understand that he had been wrong. But unlike those intellectuals who supported Marxism in their youth but eventually went on to become its greatest foes, Kilpatrick’s later comments about his having provided an intellectual facade for the “Jim Crow” South were more wistful than contrite.

The rise of American conservatism in the late 20th century was the result of it having transcended the racism and anti-Semitism that had once characterized so much of the traditional right. If there is a “victor’s monument” to be placed on the memory of Kilpatrick’s long defense of segregation, it is one that properly marks the transition of a movement away from the prejudices of a bygone era that are rightly unlamented.

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Reasons for Conservatives Not to Fiddle with the Constitution

CONTENTIONS’ Pete Wehner and others have participated in a New York Times forum on immigration reform, specifically focused on the notion that we should amend the 14th Amendment. It should come as no surprise to regular readers that I concur with Pete’s take. There are certainly political considerations, as Pete reminds us: “Hispanics are among the fastest growing demographic groups in America. The party of Lincoln and Reagan can appeal to them with a principled stand on illegal immigration, in combination with policies that increase economic growth, entrepreneurship, and social cohesion.” But I find the following to be the most compelling reasons for conservatives to oppose a constitutional amendment repealing birthright citizenship:

For one thing, the evidence that “anchor babies” are a magnet for illegal immigration doesn’t exist (the main motivators are searching for work and better economic conditions). For another, amending the 14th Amendment — which would require a vote of two-thirds of both the House and the Senate, followed by a ratification of three-fourths of the state legislatures — is a distraction from necessary things that need to be done, including securing the southern border, toughening enforcement policies, and expediting the legal process to cut the average deportation time.

It would also be a dramatic and unnecessary break with precedent. As a general matter, conservatives oppose tinkering with the Constitution, especially for empty causes.

It is because the repeal of birthright citizenship is so radical an idea (the most extreme solution to a problem that can be resolved by less draconian means) and so antithetical to the evidence-based, reasoned arguments that conservatives generally engage in that I find the push for a revision of the Constitution so objectionable. I admit to being somewhat shocked that so many usually sober-minded conservatives are serious about the idea.

Tamar Jacoby explains what a push for a constitutional amendment would and wouldn’t do:

Amending the Constitution is, and should be, an extremely difficult process – we’ve done it only 17 times since the Bill of Rights. The 14th Amendment cuts to the heart of what it means to be American. A reconsideration would touch on some of the most deeply felt issues in our political psyche – slavery, immigration, assimilation, racial and ethnic equality. And the debate would give new meaning to the word “wrenching,” all but tearing the country apart. Yet because of the way the constitutional process is rigged against change, the fight would probably not produce an amendment.

Besides, even if it did, that would hardly fix what’s broken about our immigration system. Revoking birthright citizenship would punish the children of the workers who have entered illegally in past decades. But it would do little to prevent others from coming in the future. They come overwhelmingly to work, not to have babies. And it would only make it harder – immeasurably harder – to assimilate those already here.

Perhaps this is an unseemly election-year stunt that will vanish once the votes are counted in November. We can only hope so, and also hope for a return to a perfectly rational solution: a tall wall (border enforcement) and a wide gate (a very generous legal-immigration policy), to borrow from Charles Krauthammer.

CONTENTIONS’ Pete Wehner and others have participated in a New York Times forum on immigration reform, specifically focused on the notion that we should amend the 14th Amendment. It should come as no surprise to regular readers that I concur with Pete’s take. There are certainly political considerations, as Pete reminds us: “Hispanics are among the fastest growing demographic groups in America. The party of Lincoln and Reagan can appeal to them with a principled stand on illegal immigration, in combination with policies that increase economic growth, entrepreneurship, and social cohesion.” But I find the following to be the most compelling reasons for conservatives to oppose a constitutional amendment repealing birthright citizenship:

For one thing, the evidence that “anchor babies” are a magnet for illegal immigration doesn’t exist (the main motivators are searching for work and better economic conditions). For another, amending the 14th Amendment — which would require a vote of two-thirds of both the House and the Senate, followed by a ratification of three-fourths of the state legislatures — is a distraction from necessary things that need to be done, including securing the southern border, toughening enforcement policies, and expediting the legal process to cut the average deportation time.

It would also be a dramatic and unnecessary break with precedent. As a general matter, conservatives oppose tinkering with the Constitution, especially for empty causes.

It is because the repeal of birthright citizenship is so radical an idea (the most extreme solution to a problem that can be resolved by less draconian means) and so antithetical to the evidence-based, reasoned arguments that conservatives generally engage in that I find the push for a revision of the Constitution so objectionable. I admit to being somewhat shocked that so many usually sober-minded conservatives are serious about the idea.

Tamar Jacoby explains what a push for a constitutional amendment would and wouldn’t do:

Amending the Constitution is, and should be, an extremely difficult process – we’ve done it only 17 times since the Bill of Rights. The 14th Amendment cuts to the heart of what it means to be American. A reconsideration would touch on some of the most deeply felt issues in our political psyche – slavery, immigration, assimilation, racial and ethnic equality. And the debate would give new meaning to the word “wrenching,” all but tearing the country apart. Yet because of the way the constitutional process is rigged against change, the fight would probably not produce an amendment.

Besides, even if it did, that would hardly fix what’s broken about our immigration system. Revoking birthright citizenship would punish the children of the workers who have entered illegally in past decades. But it would do little to prevent others from coming in the future. They come overwhelmingly to work, not to have babies. And it would only make it harder – immeasurably harder – to assimilate those already here.

Perhaps this is an unseemly election-year stunt that will vanish once the votes are counted in November. We can only hope so, and also hope for a return to a perfectly rational solution: a tall wall (border enforcement) and a wide gate (a very generous legal-immigration policy), to borrow from Charles Krauthammer.

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A Profile in Cowardice

Roger Simon of Politico writes a column in which he says President Obama might well be a one-term president. Writing with intentional sarcasm, Simon is trying to make a serious point: Obama is brave, courageous, and not driven by polls. And the most recent, powerful evidence of this? Why, Obama’s statement on Friday, at an iftar dinner at the White House, when he said this: “As a citizen, and as president, I believe that Muslims have the same right to practice their religion as everyone else in this country. That includes the right to build a place of worship and a community center on private property in lower Manhattan in accordance with local laws and ordinances.”

According to Simon:

A recent CNN poll found that 68 percent of Americans do not want a mosque built close to ground zero. Which should mean: End of story. That’s all she wrote. Let’s move on to the next crisis. It appears, however, that at least on this occasion, Obama does not care what the polls say. … Maybe Obama is disconnected. After all, as a former professor of constitutional law, he actually knows what the Constitution says.

So Obama, because of his stand on Friday, is a Profile in Courage. But what Simon neglects to mention is what Obama said on Saturday, when he offered this “clarification”:

I was not commenting, and I will not comment, on the wisdom of making the decision to put a mosque there. I was commenting very specifically on the right people have that dates back to our founding.

It turns out Obama’s gutsy, brave, once-in-a-generation-act-of-political-courage lasted less than 24 hours. Having seen the criticism his comments on Friday elicited, Obama ran for the hills on Saturday. He’s now voting “present” on the mosque issue. Yet Mr. Simon takes none of that into account in his column. Did he not know about Obama’s backtracking? Or did it just not matter to him? Perhaps because it was so at odds with his heroic image of Obama, Simon simply could not process it.

For those who are enraptured by this president, these cannot be easy days. They are now at the point where, in order to praise him, they have to overlook reality. What we saw from Obama over the weekend was evidence of political weakness, of bowing to the polls, of jettisoning his position in the face of criticism.

It was, in fact, a profile in cowardice.

Roger Simon of Politico writes a column in which he says President Obama might well be a one-term president. Writing with intentional sarcasm, Simon is trying to make a serious point: Obama is brave, courageous, and not driven by polls. And the most recent, powerful evidence of this? Why, Obama’s statement on Friday, at an iftar dinner at the White House, when he said this: “As a citizen, and as president, I believe that Muslims have the same right to practice their religion as everyone else in this country. That includes the right to build a place of worship and a community center on private property in lower Manhattan in accordance with local laws and ordinances.”

According to Simon:

A recent CNN poll found that 68 percent of Americans do not want a mosque built close to ground zero. Which should mean: End of story. That’s all she wrote. Let’s move on to the next crisis. It appears, however, that at least on this occasion, Obama does not care what the polls say. … Maybe Obama is disconnected. After all, as a former professor of constitutional law, he actually knows what the Constitution says.

So Obama, because of his stand on Friday, is a Profile in Courage. But what Simon neglects to mention is what Obama said on Saturday, when he offered this “clarification”:

I was not commenting, and I will not comment, on the wisdom of making the decision to put a mosque there. I was commenting very specifically on the right people have that dates back to our founding.

It turns out Obama’s gutsy, brave, once-in-a-generation-act-of-political-courage lasted less than 24 hours. Having seen the criticism his comments on Friday elicited, Obama ran for the hills on Saturday. He’s now voting “present” on the mosque issue. Yet Mr. Simon takes none of that into account in his column. Did he not know about Obama’s backtracking? Or did it just not matter to him? Perhaps because it was so at odds with his heroic image of Obama, Simon simply could not process it.

For those who are enraptured by this president, these cannot be easy days. They are now at the point where, in order to praise him, they have to overlook reality. What we saw from Obama over the weekend was evidence of political weakness, of bowing to the polls, of jettisoning his position in the face of criticism.

It was, in fact, a profile in cowardice.

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Another Liberal with Radical Ties (Part One)

In 2008, Obama’s supporters and campaign flacks assured us that his association with a grab bag of radical leftists (e.g. Bill Ayers), a racist and anti-Semitic preacher (Rev. Wright), and a PLO spokesman (Rashid Khalidi), and a Senate voting record that rated him more liberal than Ted Kennedy were irrelevant to his candidacy. It turns out that all that was more revealing of his values and political inclinations than his campaign platitudes. If it weren’t for Obama, Rep. Joe Sestak’s associations (CAIR, J Street) and voting record (97.8 percent agreement with Nancy Pelosi) might not be of concern to Pennsylvania voters. But frankly, they and voters around the country now should sense what is truly enlightening and what is not about a candidate’s associations and allies.

Sestak has made much of his service in the U.S. Navy, which certainly is worthy of respect (although he’s refused to release records that would shed light on the reasons for his resignation). But that service should not obscure his very radical foreign policy associates. Much has already been written about his views on the Middle East and Israel, but practically unnoticed is his association with a group that goes by the name Citizens for Global Solutions (CGS), until recently known by the Orwellian name “the World Federalist Association.” Who are they, and why have they endorsed Sestak and raised $5,700 for him this year and $4,000 in previous years? (The numbers are not extraordinarily large, but Sestak is far and away the top beneficiaries of the group’s largess.) Read More

In 2008, Obama’s supporters and campaign flacks assured us that his association with a grab bag of radical leftists (e.g. Bill Ayers), a racist and anti-Semitic preacher (Rev. Wright), and a PLO spokesman (Rashid Khalidi), and a Senate voting record that rated him more liberal than Ted Kennedy were irrelevant to his candidacy. It turns out that all that was more revealing of his values and political inclinations than his campaign platitudes. If it weren’t for Obama, Rep. Joe Sestak’s associations (CAIR, J Street) and voting record (97.8 percent agreement with Nancy Pelosi) might not be of concern to Pennsylvania voters. But frankly, they and voters around the country now should sense what is truly enlightening and what is not about a candidate’s associations and allies.

Sestak has made much of his service in the U.S. Navy, which certainly is worthy of respect (although he’s refused to release records that would shed light on the reasons for his resignation). But that service should not obscure his very radical foreign policy associates. Much has already been written about his views on the Middle East and Israel, but practically unnoticed is his association with a group that goes by the name Citizens for Global Solutions (CGS), until recently known by the Orwellian name “the World Federalist Association.” Who are they, and why have they endorsed Sestak and raised $5,700 for him this year and $4,000 in previous years? (The numbers are not extraordinarily large, but Sestak is far and away the top beneficiaries of the group’s largess.)

CGS has some very radical ideas, which make Obama seem like a raging nationalist. Its history as a champion of world government, multinational institutions and treaties (which subsume the laws of nation-states), and devotion to the international redistribution of wealth is no secret:

Seeking to create a world in which nations work together to abolish war, protect our rights and freedoms, and solve the problems facing humanity that no nation can solve alone, Citizens for Global Solutions has a long, proud tradition of activism. Tracing its earliest roots back to the years prior to World War II, United World Federalists (later the World Federalist Association) was created in 1947 as a partnership between a number of like-minded organizations that united to achieve their commons goals.

CGS and its predecessor group, the World Federalist Association (WFA), haven’t been shy about their views. They have decried the “myth” of national sovereignty, supported expansion of international entities like the UN Human Rights Council, the International Criminal Court, and even a standing UN army, all to be funded by the U.S. and new global taxes. (“The United States would benefit from an increased involvement in United Nations peacekeeping missions,” the group explains.) In 1999 in the Washington Times, the issues director for the WFA wrote in an op-ed: “This could bring into favor a global e-commerce tax that could be redistributed back to local, state, and national governments.” He explained the organization’s focus:

The crisis-filled future we face is primarily a result of policy-makers holding onto the myth of independence or national sovereignty and a reliance primarily on unilateral action for dealing with global problems. If Congress continues cutting foreign aid and undermining the vital work of the United Nations, we will have to give up either our personal freedoms or our security.

Under its new name (World Federalist Association probably creeped out too many people), CGS has kept up the internationalist drumbeat and the preference for a slew of agreements that diminish U.S. sovereignty, from the Law of the Seas Treaty to global warming accords to the enhancement of the UN authority. The group thinks the UN Human Rights Council is swell:

Currently, the HRC is the primary global intergovernmental body able to address human rights issues and this is the first time the U.S. has been an active participant. Membership will help generate goodwill toward the U.S. and prove the United States’ commitment to multilateral diplomacy. The HRC is direct, resultant, and demands accountability in human rights from its members and the world. Through HRC actions, a strong basis in international action is created so countries can collectively come to the aid of any human rights crisis.

(Of course, it should also get an A+ in Israel-bashing.) Unsurprisingly, this isn’t the only instance in which CGS has demonstrated a marked anti-Israel bias. Its deputy director of government relations, Drew Asson, went after Israel in the Lebanon war, bellowing from his website: “When will this senseless onslaught by Israeli hawks end? When will the UN Security Council step up to the plate and condemn this vicious obviously disproportionate response by Israel?”

You get the picture. This isn’t the first time a politician’s association with CGS has landed him in hot water. In his 2006 Senate run (the same year CGS started giving Sestak money), Bob Casey was pressured to return campaign donations from the group.

Sestak’s relationship with CGS is indicative of a pattern — he solicits support and receives backing from groups whose agenda is at the far left of the political spectrum. (As such, his supporters and donors have a decidedly anti-Israel cast.) So there is reason for the voters to ask what he sees in these groups’ agendas and, more important, what do they see in him?

The answer may lie in his answers on the CGS questionnaire. It’s an eye-opener, to be discussed in Part Two.

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Israel’s Gaza Policy Boosts Hamas’s Popularity? Doesn’t Look Like It

Radical leftists worldwide enthusiastically support Hamas, which has the cardinal virtue of being virulently anti-Israel. It’s a pity they never asked Gaza Strip residents, who actually have to live under Hamas rule. But one of Israel’s leading pro-Palestinian journalists, Amira Hass of Haaretz, gave these residents a voice this week:

“I wish these pictures reached leftists abroad,” my friend said to herself Tuesday as she watched Hamas police use rifle butts and clubs to beat her friends — activists from the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. Although my friend has never been a fan of the Fatah government in the West Bank, she is outraged by the romanticization of Hamas rule by foreign activists.

Ironically, the PFLP agrees with Hamas about most key issues: “opposition to the Oslo Accords, glorification of the armed struggle and opposition to direct negotiations with Israel.” The protest wasn’t over anything political, but over the chronic power outages — more than eight hours a day, every day, for months — caused by the Hamas and Fatah governments’ ongoing spat over who should pay for Gaza’s power plant’s fuel after the European Union stopped footing the bill last November. Since both sides refuse to pay, the amount of fuel entering the Strip has steadily declined; in the first week of August, it amounted to only 23 percent of what is needed to run the plant at full capacity.

Hamas initially tried to prevent the protest — though under Palestinian law, demonstrations don’t need a license. When that failed, “hundreds of police with clubs and rifles” dispersed the demonstrators “very violently.” Many demonstrators were wounded and needed medical attention; others “were detained for some time.”

Most likely, overseas leftists won’t see these pictures, since Hamas kept photojournalists from taking any. But Hass’s word pictures are vivid enough.

The punch line, however, is her own commentary. Hass cannot be suspected of pro-Israel sympathies; she lived for years in both Gaza and Ramallah, and her tireless media crusade for the Palestinian cause has won her numerous journalism awards overseas. But after noting that Hamas routinely suppresses unauthorized gatherings — even a party organized by the Khan Yunis refugee committee for students who passed their matriculation exams — she concluded:

[T]he shamelessly brutal suppression of the [PFLP] protest shows just how scared the Gaza government is. … If Hamas felt it still had public support, it wouldn’t need to suppress any activity that it didn’t initiate or finds unflattering.

Of course, it’s not just radical leftists who won’t like that conclusion; it’s the entire Western foreign-policy and media establishment — which unanimously asserts that Hamas’s popularity is steadily increasing, thanks to Israel’s blockade of Gaza. Granted, the Palestinians’ own polling data refute that idea, as I noted here in June, but why let facts interfere with a good anti-Israel theory?

Which is why Hass’s unarguable point — that popular governments don’t need to suppress demonstrations — will doubtless also be universally ignored. And that’s an even greater pity, because a little more attention to facts would greatly improve Western policy in the Middle East.

Radical leftists worldwide enthusiastically support Hamas, which has the cardinal virtue of being virulently anti-Israel. It’s a pity they never asked Gaza Strip residents, who actually have to live under Hamas rule. But one of Israel’s leading pro-Palestinian journalists, Amira Hass of Haaretz, gave these residents a voice this week:

“I wish these pictures reached leftists abroad,” my friend said to herself Tuesday as she watched Hamas police use rifle butts and clubs to beat her friends — activists from the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. Although my friend has never been a fan of the Fatah government in the West Bank, she is outraged by the romanticization of Hamas rule by foreign activists.

Ironically, the PFLP agrees with Hamas about most key issues: “opposition to the Oslo Accords, glorification of the armed struggle and opposition to direct negotiations with Israel.” The protest wasn’t over anything political, but over the chronic power outages — more than eight hours a day, every day, for months — caused by the Hamas and Fatah governments’ ongoing spat over who should pay for Gaza’s power plant’s fuel after the European Union stopped footing the bill last November. Since both sides refuse to pay, the amount of fuel entering the Strip has steadily declined; in the first week of August, it amounted to only 23 percent of what is needed to run the plant at full capacity.

Hamas initially tried to prevent the protest — though under Palestinian law, demonstrations don’t need a license. When that failed, “hundreds of police with clubs and rifles” dispersed the demonstrators “very violently.” Many demonstrators were wounded and needed medical attention; others “were detained for some time.”

Most likely, overseas leftists won’t see these pictures, since Hamas kept photojournalists from taking any. But Hass’s word pictures are vivid enough.

The punch line, however, is her own commentary. Hass cannot be suspected of pro-Israel sympathies; she lived for years in both Gaza and Ramallah, and her tireless media crusade for the Palestinian cause has won her numerous journalism awards overseas. But after noting that Hamas routinely suppresses unauthorized gatherings — even a party organized by the Khan Yunis refugee committee for students who passed their matriculation exams — she concluded:

[T]he shamelessly brutal suppression of the [PFLP] protest shows just how scared the Gaza government is. … If Hamas felt it still had public support, it wouldn’t need to suppress any activity that it didn’t initiate or finds unflattering.

Of course, it’s not just radical leftists who won’t like that conclusion; it’s the entire Western foreign-policy and media establishment — which unanimously asserts that Hamas’s popularity is steadily increasing, thanks to Israel’s blockade of Gaza. Granted, the Palestinians’ own polling data refute that idea, as I noted here in June, but why let facts interfere with a good anti-Israel theory?

Which is why Hass’s unarguable point — that popular governments don’t need to suppress demonstrations — will doubtless also be universally ignored. And that’s an even greater pity, because a little more attention to facts would greatly improve Western policy in the Middle East.

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James J. Kilpatrick, R.I.P.

When I was a young teenager in the 1970s, and just beginning to enjoy the local paper’s editorial page, I flipped past everything else to read the columns of James J. Kilpatrick. He wrote frequently for National Review, where the members of the fabled staff called him “Kilpo.” I sent a letter or two his way, care of one periodical or another, back in the days when typing laboriously on a fresh sheet of paper seemed very grown-up and important. He was kind enough to send me a handwritten answer on one occasion. Kilpatrick was born and raised in Oklahoma City, where I spent a number of my early years; but more than that, he was acerbic, illuminating, and entertaining about language and politics.

Many will remember him as the conservative debater on the “Point-Counterpoint” segment of 60 Minutes, a position he occupied from 1971 to 1979. In the quarter-century following his departure from 60 Minutes, he carved out a unique niche in the conservative punditry as an acute observer of the Supreme Court. But his first loves were obviously writing and language, and it’s for his columns on those topics — and his indispensable 1985 book, The Writer’s Art — that I remember him best.

Authors of books should not underestimate the impact they have on readers. I suspect The Writer’s Art will outlive Kilpatrick’s other contributions to our shared intellectual landscape. It is as fresh, sprightly, instructive, and funny today as it was when I bought my dog-eared copy 25 years ago. Someone has to write about writing, but not everyone makes the forensic examination an adventure. The Writer’s Art is Exhibit A in my case that Kilpatrick deserved to have his literary quirks and preferences respected — and his inconsistencies overlooked — simply because he wrote so well.

There were inconsistencies, of course. In later life, Kilpatrick urged all-out war on the semicolon, a punctuation device with which The Writer’s Art is absolutely stuffed. He rethought some of his early political ideas too: he made his name in the civil rights era as a defender of states’ rights and local sovereignty, wedding this theme with the then-respectable argument that school segregation was appropriate for the conditions of the American South. Eventually, he changed his mind on the segregation issue. Wikipedia now refers to him simply as a “segregationist,” a characterization that poignantly elides decades’ worth of serious constitutional debate and erects a victor’s monument on the unmarked grave of federalism.

But Kilpatrick rose to fame in that earlier time and was a product of it. His crotchets, like his on-screen demeanor and his political arguments, were courtly and engaging. He could eviscerate writing without denigrating the writer, a civilized skill rare in any age. He wrote about politics unhaunted by the fear of being soundbitten and misrepresented, a member of perhaps the last American generation to do so. He was the living antithesis of “snark.”

A passage I have long remembered from The Writer’s Art serves as a fitting coda to a consummate writer’s life:

Let me make the point and pass on: If you would write emotionally, be first unemotional. If you would move your readers to tears, do not let them see you cry.

I don’t think he ever did.

When I was a young teenager in the 1970s, and just beginning to enjoy the local paper’s editorial page, I flipped past everything else to read the columns of James J. Kilpatrick. He wrote frequently for National Review, where the members of the fabled staff called him “Kilpo.” I sent a letter or two his way, care of one periodical or another, back in the days when typing laboriously on a fresh sheet of paper seemed very grown-up and important. He was kind enough to send me a handwritten answer on one occasion. Kilpatrick was born and raised in Oklahoma City, where I spent a number of my early years; but more than that, he was acerbic, illuminating, and entertaining about language and politics.

Many will remember him as the conservative debater on the “Point-Counterpoint” segment of 60 Minutes, a position he occupied from 1971 to 1979. In the quarter-century following his departure from 60 Minutes, he carved out a unique niche in the conservative punditry as an acute observer of the Supreme Court. But his first loves were obviously writing and language, and it’s for his columns on those topics — and his indispensable 1985 book, The Writer’s Art — that I remember him best.

Authors of books should not underestimate the impact they have on readers. I suspect The Writer’s Art will outlive Kilpatrick’s other contributions to our shared intellectual landscape. It is as fresh, sprightly, instructive, and funny today as it was when I bought my dog-eared copy 25 years ago. Someone has to write about writing, but not everyone makes the forensic examination an adventure. The Writer’s Art is Exhibit A in my case that Kilpatrick deserved to have his literary quirks and preferences respected — and his inconsistencies overlooked — simply because he wrote so well.

There were inconsistencies, of course. In later life, Kilpatrick urged all-out war on the semicolon, a punctuation device with which The Writer’s Art is absolutely stuffed. He rethought some of his early political ideas too: he made his name in the civil rights era as a defender of states’ rights and local sovereignty, wedding this theme with the then-respectable argument that school segregation was appropriate for the conditions of the American South. Eventually, he changed his mind on the segregation issue. Wikipedia now refers to him simply as a “segregationist,” a characterization that poignantly elides decades’ worth of serious constitutional debate and erects a victor’s monument on the unmarked grave of federalism.

But Kilpatrick rose to fame in that earlier time and was a product of it. His crotchets, like his on-screen demeanor and his political arguments, were courtly and engaging. He could eviscerate writing without denigrating the writer, a civilized skill rare in any age. He wrote about politics unhaunted by the fear of being soundbitten and misrepresented, a member of perhaps the last American generation to do so. He was the living antithesis of “snark.”

A passage I have long remembered from The Writer’s Art serves as a fitting coda to a consummate writer’s life:

Let me make the point and pass on: If you would write emotionally, be first unemotional. If you would move your readers to tears, do not let them see you cry.

I don’t think he ever did.

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Endorsed by the Mosque Builders’ Cheerleader

Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who not only defended the Ground Zero mosque but also told its critics to shut up, is going to Pennsylvania today to endorse Rep. Joe Sestak. Honest. Sestak, who is fending off attacks that he is too liberal on a range of issues, is anti-Israel in his voting record, and who keynoted for CAIR, is now, in the midst of a fever-pitch debate about Cordoba House, going to get the blessing of the mayor who managed to infuriate even liberal New Yorkers.

I suppose Sestak could criticize Bloomberg, J Street, Obama, and CAIR — all of whom support both his candidacy and the mosque — but that would certainly come as a shock to those who’ve been supporting him and raising money for campaign. Meanwhile, Pat Toomey’s director of communications, Nachama Soloveichik, had this statement when I asked about his views: “It is provocative in the extreme to build a mosque in the shadow of Ground Zero. Islamic leaders should be encouraged to move the mosque elsewhere.” A fine suggestion — Rep. Sestak, what say you? So far, he’s waffling:

A spokesman for Sestak said the congressman “believes there is a Constitutional right to religious freedom and separation of church and state that applies equally to all Americans,” but he declined to clearly back the plan.

Sooner or later, he and other Democrats will be forced to answer — for or against the mosque? It’s not like it’s a hard question or one that lacks national significance. After all, Gov. Bob McDonnell had no problem stating his views: “If it were my decision, I would not put that center there. It is a site where nearly 3,000 people lost their lives and I certainly would not locate that center there if I had a voice.” Eventually Sestak will have to either alienate his lefty, pro-mosque supporters or the people of Pennsylvania. Not sure which he’ll choose.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who not only defended the Ground Zero mosque but also told its critics to shut up, is going to Pennsylvania today to endorse Rep. Joe Sestak. Honest. Sestak, who is fending off attacks that he is too liberal on a range of issues, is anti-Israel in his voting record, and who keynoted for CAIR, is now, in the midst of a fever-pitch debate about Cordoba House, going to get the blessing of the mayor who managed to infuriate even liberal New Yorkers.

I suppose Sestak could criticize Bloomberg, J Street, Obama, and CAIR — all of whom support both his candidacy and the mosque — but that would certainly come as a shock to those who’ve been supporting him and raising money for campaign. Meanwhile, Pat Toomey’s director of communications, Nachama Soloveichik, had this statement when I asked about his views: “It is provocative in the extreme to build a mosque in the shadow of Ground Zero. Islamic leaders should be encouraged to move the mosque elsewhere.” A fine suggestion — Rep. Sestak, what say you? So far, he’s waffling:

A spokesman for Sestak said the congressman “believes there is a Constitutional right to religious freedom and separation of church and state that applies equally to all Americans,” but he declined to clearly back the plan.

Sooner or later, he and other Democrats will be forced to answer — for or against the mosque? It’s not like it’s a hard question or one that lacks national significance. After all, Gov. Bob McDonnell had no problem stating his views: “If it were my decision, I would not put that center there. It is a site where nearly 3,000 people lost their lives and I certainly would not locate that center there if I had a voice.” Eventually Sestak will have to either alienate his lefty, pro-mosque supporters or the people of Pennsylvania. Not sure which he’ll choose.

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Heading for the Supreme Court?

The Ninth Circuit is known for its judicial adventurism (“activism” doesn’t begin to describe it) and the high reversal rate in the Supreme Court of its decisions. So this comes as a mild surprise:

A federal appeals court put same-sex weddings in California on hold indefinitely Monday while it considers the constitutionality of the state’s gay marriage ban.

The decision, issued by a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, trumped a lower court judge’s order that would have allowed county clerks to begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples on Wednesday.

But the plaintiffs (who sought Prop. 8’s invalidation) were pleased with the expedited briefing schedule that provides for oral arguments the week of December 6. And this may very well not end with the Ninth Circuit. It seems the sort of case, one with exceptional and long-range implications, that the Supreme Court would take, regardless of which way the Ninth Circuit rules. We then will see how consequential was the 2008 election and the appointment of two liberal justices that followed.

Most of the domestic agenda pushed by Obama is reversible or may never go into effect if the 2010 and 2012 elections put Republicans back in power. But Supreme Court appointments, especially since presidents started appointing youthful justices, last a very long time, and the handiwork of the appointees is difficult to reverse. We will get a glimpse of just how influential the Obama justices will be.

The Ninth Circuit is known for its judicial adventurism (“activism” doesn’t begin to describe it) and the high reversal rate in the Supreme Court of its decisions. So this comes as a mild surprise:

A federal appeals court put same-sex weddings in California on hold indefinitely Monday while it considers the constitutionality of the state’s gay marriage ban.

The decision, issued by a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, trumped a lower court judge’s order that would have allowed county clerks to begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples on Wednesday.

But the plaintiffs (who sought Prop. 8’s invalidation) were pleased with the expedited briefing schedule that provides for oral arguments the week of December 6. And this may very well not end with the Ninth Circuit. It seems the sort of case, one with exceptional and long-range implications, that the Supreme Court would take, regardless of which way the Ninth Circuit rules. We then will see how consequential was the 2008 election and the appointment of two liberal justices that followed.

Most of the domestic agenda pushed by Obama is reversible or may never go into effect if the 2010 and 2012 elections put Republicans back in power. But Supreme Court appointments, especially since presidents started appointing youthful justices, last a very long time, and the handiwork of the appointees is difficult to reverse. We will get a glimpse of just how influential the Obama justices will be.

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