Commentary Magazine


Posts For: August 20, 2010

Like Deja Vu All Over Again

Today the resumption of direct talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority was announced. After 18 months of bullying Israel, the Obami’s tone was markedly different. As this report explained:

But Mrs. Clinton pointedly did not mention using Israel’s pre-1967 borders as the basis for territorial negotiations — a basic plank of previous talks — or set any other basic terms for the negotiations. Nor did she press the Israeli government to extend a moratorium on the construction of Jewish settlements, which would remove a potential hurdle to a deal.

In 18 months, the Obami managed to climb back to where the Bush administration had been — direct talks with no preconditions. An experienced Israel hand notes that there had been four years of direct talks until George Mitchell “destroyed them with his demands about settlements.” He continues: “The one-year timetable is the — who knows — fifth or tenth or twentieth deadline, and will have no different fate. The Roadmap gave it three years — and that was not enough. So that is plain silly. But above all, they begin with NO common understanding.”

This was made clear by the administration’s readout of a briefing given to American Jewish leaders:

U.S. officials told Jewish community leaders on a private conference call this afternoon that they believe Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is on the verge of joining Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in accepting an invitation to resume peace talks.But he acknowledged that details of the talks have yet to be finalized, plans for a presidential visit to the region remain unclear, and hopes of drawing other Arab leaders and Hamas into the process ride on the momentum of the talks themselves.

Well there is certainly less here than even the initial Obama spin would have had us believe. It seems to be that only an initial dinner is set. (“The United States will put its imprimatur on the talks in an orchestrated series of meetings that begin with a White House dinner Sept. 1 hosted by Mr. Obama.”) Beyond that? “Within the negotiations we’ve obviously had a lot of preparatory discussions with the parties on how to structure them,and we’ll need to finalize those, so we’re not in a position now to really talk about that.” Good grief. This has all the makings of a rushed announcement to try to put a horrid week for the White House behind them.”

It is interesting that Obama’s role is not yet finalized either. In fact, as my Israel expert points out, the death knell of the talks may be Obama’s own presence. After all, the Israelis have learned the hard way not to trust him, so it’s difficult to see how his presence could be a help. The telltale sign of the level of animosity between Obama and the Jewish state — he doesn’t yet have the nerve to visit Israel, where he could very likely face angry crowds. (“‘He looks forward to an opportunity to visit Israel,’ [Dan Shapiro] said of Obama, adding that such a visit would likely include a stop in the Palestinian Territories. The visit ‘could be very valuable and very meaningful at the right time.'”) Translation: he’s not going anytime soon.

The statements by others released on Friday were indicative of the low expectations that these talks engender among knowledgeable observers. AIPAC, which is obliged to cheer each step in the fruitless “peace process,” declares that it  “welcomes the renewal of direct peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA), as announced Friday by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and expresses its appreciation to the Obama administration for its efforts in making this goal a reality.” But even its usually bubbly tone was replaced by sober and somewhat skeptical caveats:

For talks to succeed the PA must match Israel’s commitment to conducting peace talks without preconditions or excuses, abandon its longstanding attempts to avoid making difficult choices at the negotiating table and cease incitement against Israel at home and abroad.  Likewise, Arab states must heed the calls by the Obama Administration and Congress to take immediate and meaningful steps toward normalization with Israel, and they must provide the political support for the Palestinians to make the kind of significant and difficult choices that will be required.

An even more candid statement came from Senate candidate Pat Toomey, who said he was hopeful but also “wary”:

Too often such talks produce little substance, and devolve into casting unfair blame at Israel for its legitimate efforts to guard its own security, while ignoring the unending violence that is openly encouraged by Palestinian leaders. That is especially the case with negotiations that involve the United Nations, the Russians, and the Europeans. I encourage President Obama to work against that tendency, and to set the tone in these talks by stressing the very real national security concerns Israel is dealing with.

And what happens when the talks go nowhere? Will we face yet another intifada? Will the bridging proposals morph into a imposed peace plan? Who knows — not even Day 2 is set yet.  The administration has imbibed the peace process Kool-Aid, but there is little evidence that it promotes peace or that the Obami are competent to oversee negotiations. And meanwhile the real Middle East crisis — the development of an Iranian nuclear weapon looms on the horizon. In a real sense, the “peace process” is nothing more than a dangerous distraction.

Today the resumption of direct talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority was announced. After 18 months of bullying Israel, the Obami’s tone was markedly different. As this report explained:

But Mrs. Clinton pointedly did not mention using Israel’s pre-1967 borders as the basis for territorial negotiations — a basic plank of previous talks — or set any other basic terms for the negotiations. Nor did she press the Israeli government to extend a moratorium on the construction of Jewish settlements, which would remove a potential hurdle to a deal.

In 18 months, the Obami managed to climb back to where the Bush administration had been — direct talks with no preconditions. An experienced Israel hand notes that there had been four years of direct talks until George Mitchell “destroyed them with his demands about settlements.” He continues: “The one-year timetable is the — who knows — fifth or tenth or twentieth deadline, and will have no different fate. The Roadmap gave it three years — and that was not enough. So that is plain silly. But above all, they begin with NO common understanding.”

This was made clear by the administration’s readout of a briefing given to American Jewish leaders:

U.S. officials told Jewish community leaders on a private conference call this afternoon that they believe Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is on the verge of joining Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in accepting an invitation to resume peace talks.But he acknowledged that details of the talks have yet to be finalized, plans for a presidential visit to the region remain unclear, and hopes of drawing other Arab leaders and Hamas into the process ride on the momentum of the talks themselves.

Well there is certainly less here than even the initial Obama spin would have had us believe. It seems to be that only an initial dinner is set. (“The United States will put its imprimatur on the talks in an orchestrated series of meetings that begin with a White House dinner Sept. 1 hosted by Mr. Obama.”) Beyond that? “Within the negotiations we’ve obviously had a lot of preparatory discussions with the parties on how to structure them,and we’ll need to finalize those, so we’re not in a position now to really talk about that.” Good grief. This has all the makings of a rushed announcement to try to put a horrid week for the White House behind them.”

It is interesting that Obama’s role is not yet finalized either. In fact, as my Israel expert points out, the death knell of the talks may be Obama’s own presence. After all, the Israelis have learned the hard way not to trust him, so it’s difficult to see how his presence could be a help. The telltale sign of the level of animosity between Obama and the Jewish state — he doesn’t yet have the nerve to visit Israel, where he could very likely face angry crowds. (“‘He looks forward to an opportunity to visit Israel,’ [Dan Shapiro] said of Obama, adding that such a visit would likely include a stop in the Palestinian Territories. The visit ‘could be very valuable and very meaningful at the right time.'”) Translation: he’s not going anytime soon.

The statements by others released on Friday were indicative of the low expectations that these talks engender among knowledgeable observers. AIPAC, which is obliged to cheer each step in the fruitless “peace process,” declares that it  “welcomes the renewal of direct peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA), as announced Friday by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and expresses its appreciation to the Obama administration for its efforts in making this goal a reality.” But even its usually bubbly tone was replaced by sober and somewhat skeptical caveats:

For talks to succeed the PA must match Israel’s commitment to conducting peace talks without preconditions or excuses, abandon its longstanding attempts to avoid making difficult choices at the negotiating table and cease incitement against Israel at home and abroad.  Likewise, Arab states must heed the calls by the Obama Administration and Congress to take immediate and meaningful steps toward normalization with Israel, and they must provide the political support for the Palestinians to make the kind of significant and difficult choices that will be required.

An even more candid statement came from Senate candidate Pat Toomey, who said he was hopeful but also “wary”:

Too often such talks produce little substance, and devolve into casting unfair blame at Israel for its legitimate efforts to guard its own security, while ignoring the unending violence that is openly encouraged by Palestinian leaders. That is especially the case with negotiations that involve the United Nations, the Russians, and the Europeans. I encourage President Obama to work against that tendency, and to set the tone in these talks by stressing the very real national security concerns Israel is dealing with.

And what happens when the talks go nowhere? Will we face yet another intifada? Will the bridging proposals morph into a imposed peace plan? Who knows — not even Day 2 is set yet.  The administration has imbibed the peace process Kool-Aid, but there is little evidence that it promotes peace or that the Obami are competent to oversee negotiations. And meanwhile the real Middle East crisis — the development of an Iranian nuclear weapon looms on the horizon. In a real sense, the “peace process” is nothing more than a dangerous distraction.

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Time Magazine’s Slander of America

Time magazine has a cover story, “Is America Islamophobic?” Based on an interview the author, Bobby Ghosh, did with MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann, the answer is an emphatic yes. Islamophobia is “taking root,” Ghosh insists, in “places all over the country.” It is the new anti-Semitism, we are told. And when Olbermann asked why America was becoming Islamophobic now rather than in the aftermath of the attacks on 9/11, Ghosh quickly corrected him. We were plagued by irrational anti-Muslim fears back then as well. “It was pretty overt in the immediate aftermath of 9/11,” Mr. Ghosh informs us. But “we weren‘t paying attention because this country had gone through this trauma.”

This is both silly and slanderous; in fact, America showed enormous, impressive, and proper tolerance and respect toward Muslims after 9/11.

What’s worth noting, I think, is that this is part and parcel of the growing alienation from America that is occurring among some elite liberals. As the president continues to fail and to fall, as his agenda becomes more and more unpopular, some of those on the left are now training their fire on America and its citizens. There is, in their view, something deeply, morally wrong with the nation.

This judgment is unwarranted and unwise; if it continues, it will further discredit modern liberalism.

What’s regrettable is that this most unhealthy debate we’re now engaged in, which is causing polarization based on ethnicity and religion, could have been so easily avoided if Iman Rauf had decided, on careful reflection, to build his mosque and community center elsewhere. He could have made the point that he has every right to build the mosque near Ground Zero but that, as a gesture of sympathy and solidarity with the families of the victims of 9/11, he decided not to.

That would have been an act of patriotic grace and it would have deepened the respect and affection the country has for those of the Muslim faith. Instead, we are where we are, which is not a good place to be.

It was so easily avoidable; and it makes one wonder why it wasn’t avoided in the first place.

Time magazine has a cover story, “Is America Islamophobic?” Based on an interview the author, Bobby Ghosh, did with MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann, the answer is an emphatic yes. Islamophobia is “taking root,” Ghosh insists, in “places all over the country.” It is the new anti-Semitism, we are told. And when Olbermann asked why America was becoming Islamophobic now rather than in the aftermath of the attacks on 9/11, Ghosh quickly corrected him. We were plagued by irrational anti-Muslim fears back then as well. “It was pretty overt in the immediate aftermath of 9/11,” Mr. Ghosh informs us. But “we weren‘t paying attention because this country had gone through this trauma.”

This is both silly and slanderous; in fact, America showed enormous, impressive, and proper tolerance and respect toward Muslims after 9/11.

What’s worth noting, I think, is that this is part and parcel of the growing alienation from America that is occurring among some elite liberals. As the president continues to fail and to fall, as his agenda becomes more and more unpopular, some of those on the left are now training their fire on America and its citizens. There is, in their view, something deeply, morally wrong with the nation.

This judgment is unwarranted and unwise; if it continues, it will further discredit modern liberalism.

What’s regrettable is that this most unhealthy debate we’re now engaged in, which is causing polarization based on ethnicity and religion, could have been so easily avoided if Iman Rauf had decided, on careful reflection, to build his mosque and community center elsewhere. He could have made the point that he has every right to build the mosque near Ground Zero but that, as a gesture of sympathy and solidarity with the families of the victims of 9/11, he decided not to.

That would have been an act of patriotic grace and it would have deepened the respect and affection the country has for those of the Muslim faith. Instead, we are where we are, which is not a good place to be.

It was so easily avoidable; and it makes one wonder why it wasn’t avoided in the first place.

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Gerson vs. Robinson

You have to give the Washington Post credit — their editors certainly offer a contrast on their op-ed pages. Today, needless to say, you have a Michael Gerson and Eugene Robinson. The difference is stark, and revealing.

From Gerson you have a measured analysis, which takes into account the series of events that have transformed Obama from a cult-like figure into a struggling and rather radioactive one. He writes:

The most destructive gap for President Obama is not the Republican lead on the generic congressional ballot or even a job disapproval that has surpassed approval — it is the gap between aspiration and reality.

The Manhattan mosque controversy showed the problem in compressed form. First came the Obama of high-toned principle (largely the right principle, in my view). Then a politically motivated recalibration. Then a scrambling staff explanation. Then an embarrassed silence, since it is difficult to clarify the clarification of a clarification. Then the president’s regretful assertion of “no regrets.”

I don’t agree with Gerson’s position on the mosque, but his rendition of the fact is exact and his list of other examples is overwhelmingly persuasive. He explains, “From the firing of Shirley Sherrod to the obsession with Fox News to lashing out at the ‘professional left,’ the Obama administration engages in a daily hypocrisy.” And then he provides still more examples to support his conclusion:

Politicians have been known to say one thing and do another. And high ideals and high rhetoric always create the potential for hypocrisy. But the disappointment with Obama is especially acute. He won office by providing new voters with intoxicating hopes. America was tipsy with idealism — resulting in a particularly difficult hangover. … All politicians fall — but not from such a height.

Then there is Eugene Robinson, who understandably must be at his wit’s end, as the politician in whom he and so many others on the left invested so much effort and so much of their own credibility to promote is now stumbling. His thesis is as bizarre as it is unsupported: “President Obama Is on a Winning Streak,” is the title of his column. Bet you’re confused, since he’s at an all-time low in the polls, his party faces an electoral wipe-out, his predictions of a summer of recovery have proven to be ludicrous, his party is so desperate as to promise to “improve” his “historic” health-care legislation, and he’s incurred the wrath of both supporters and critics of the Ground Zero mosque.

So what is Robinson’s argument based on (other than wishful thinking)? Well, there is Obama’s success in Iraq. Bet you thought that was George W. Bush’s (over the objections of Robinson and Obama), but now all praise is due to Obama because he said he’d bring the troops home. “When he took office, there were about 160,000 U.S. troops in Iraq on the heels of George W. Bush’s combat surge,” is how Robinson evades the historical record. That would be the surge, which led to an American victory and permitted Obama to bring home troops “on the heels” of a remarkable accomplishment. And he seems unaware of or chooses to ignore criticism from the right that the departure timetable is too abrupt and puts at risk the gains we have made. (“Even his scorched-earth Republican critics, by their silence, are acknowledging that the president has fulfilled his campaign promise to be ‘just as careful getting out of Iraq as we were reckless getting in.'”)  One half-truth, built on an evasion, topped off by a misrepresentation.

OK, what else does Robinson have? The GM bailout: “The company was saved, workers kept their jobs, and taxpayers are going to get their money back. That’s nice work.” Yes, but we haven’t gotten our money back. And in typical Keynesian fashion, he forgets that all the money spent on GM wasn’t used someplace else in the economy, perhaps to create more jobs in industries with a brighter future. But I will concede that it turned out better than many expected.

Then there is the BP oil spill. Robinson treats in this way the Democrats’ anger over the administration’s misrepresentation of the extent of the clean-up: “The administration’s claim that three-quarters of the oil was disposed of — by nature or by human intervention — before it could despoil the environment looks overly optimistic to some researchers. … But a few months ago, who imagined that the president and his family would so soon be able to enjoy a day on a gulf beach and a meal of gulf seafood?” And who could have imagined that he would have given a widely panned Oval Office speech, sent his poll numbers skidding, advertised the limits of overarching liberal government, and caught flack for not going to the Gulf on his first vacation? (He had to do a day of make-up later in the summer). Listen, I don’t think there’s a Democrat on the ballot willing to tout the BP oil spill as an Obama “win.”

And then, the cherry on the top of his frothy column is the Ground Zero mosque controversy. Big win for Obama. He must be joking, right? Nope.”Obama saw his duty to uphold the values of our Constitution and make clear that our fight is against the terrorists, not against Islam itself. Instead of doing what was popular, he did what was right.” And reversed himself within twenty-four hours. And incurred the ire of the left. And is giving his own party fits. Well, all that was left out.

What is missing in Robinson’s take — the economy, the poll news, the complete Mosque debacle — makes Gerson’s point. The gap between aspirations and results is now so wide that the only way to bridge it is to fudge the facts and leave out much of what has transpired over the last year. Robinson and Gerson come from opposing political perspectives. But the most noticeable difference is the degree to which they attend to the facts and are able to draw therefrom persuasive conclusions. In that department, there is no comparison.

You have to give the Washington Post credit — their editors certainly offer a contrast on their op-ed pages. Today, needless to say, you have a Michael Gerson and Eugene Robinson. The difference is stark, and revealing.

From Gerson you have a measured analysis, which takes into account the series of events that have transformed Obama from a cult-like figure into a struggling and rather radioactive one. He writes:

The most destructive gap for President Obama is not the Republican lead on the generic congressional ballot or even a job disapproval that has surpassed approval — it is the gap between aspiration and reality.

The Manhattan mosque controversy showed the problem in compressed form. First came the Obama of high-toned principle (largely the right principle, in my view). Then a politically motivated recalibration. Then a scrambling staff explanation. Then an embarrassed silence, since it is difficult to clarify the clarification of a clarification. Then the president’s regretful assertion of “no regrets.”

I don’t agree with Gerson’s position on the mosque, but his rendition of the fact is exact and his list of other examples is overwhelmingly persuasive. He explains, “From the firing of Shirley Sherrod to the obsession with Fox News to lashing out at the ‘professional left,’ the Obama administration engages in a daily hypocrisy.” And then he provides still more examples to support his conclusion:

Politicians have been known to say one thing and do another. And high ideals and high rhetoric always create the potential for hypocrisy. But the disappointment with Obama is especially acute. He won office by providing new voters with intoxicating hopes. America was tipsy with idealism — resulting in a particularly difficult hangover. … All politicians fall — but not from such a height.

Then there is Eugene Robinson, who understandably must be at his wit’s end, as the politician in whom he and so many others on the left invested so much effort and so much of their own credibility to promote is now stumbling. His thesis is as bizarre as it is unsupported: “President Obama Is on a Winning Streak,” is the title of his column. Bet you’re confused, since he’s at an all-time low in the polls, his party faces an electoral wipe-out, his predictions of a summer of recovery have proven to be ludicrous, his party is so desperate as to promise to “improve” his “historic” health-care legislation, and he’s incurred the wrath of both supporters and critics of the Ground Zero mosque.

So what is Robinson’s argument based on (other than wishful thinking)? Well, there is Obama’s success in Iraq. Bet you thought that was George W. Bush’s (over the objections of Robinson and Obama), but now all praise is due to Obama because he said he’d bring the troops home. “When he took office, there were about 160,000 U.S. troops in Iraq on the heels of George W. Bush’s combat surge,” is how Robinson evades the historical record. That would be the surge, which led to an American victory and permitted Obama to bring home troops “on the heels” of a remarkable accomplishment. And he seems unaware of or chooses to ignore criticism from the right that the departure timetable is too abrupt and puts at risk the gains we have made. (“Even his scorched-earth Republican critics, by their silence, are acknowledging that the president has fulfilled his campaign promise to be ‘just as careful getting out of Iraq as we were reckless getting in.'”)  One half-truth, built on an evasion, topped off by a misrepresentation.

OK, what else does Robinson have? The GM bailout: “The company was saved, workers kept their jobs, and taxpayers are going to get their money back. That’s nice work.” Yes, but we haven’t gotten our money back. And in typical Keynesian fashion, he forgets that all the money spent on GM wasn’t used someplace else in the economy, perhaps to create more jobs in industries with a brighter future. But I will concede that it turned out better than many expected.

Then there is the BP oil spill. Robinson treats in this way the Democrats’ anger over the administration’s misrepresentation of the extent of the clean-up: “The administration’s claim that three-quarters of the oil was disposed of — by nature or by human intervention — before it could despoil the environment looks overly optimistic to some researchers. … But a few months ago, who imagined that the president and his family would so soon be able to enjoy a day on a gulf beach and a meal of gulf seafood?” And who could have imagined that he would have given a widely panned Oval Office speech, sent his poll numbers skidding, advertised the limits of overarching liberal government, and caught flack for not going to the Gulf on his first vacation? (He had to do a day of make-up later in the summer). Listen, I don’t think there’s a Democrat on the ballot willing to tout the BP oil spill as an Obama “win.”

And then, the cherry on the top of his frothy column is the Ground Zero mosque controversy. Big win for Obama. He must be joking, right? Nope.”Obama saw his duty to uphold the values of our Constitution and make clear that our fight is against the terrorists, not against Islam itself. Instead of doing what was popular, he did what was right.” And reversed himself within twenty-four hours. And incurred the ire of the left. And is giving his own party fits. Well, all that was left out.

What is missing in Robinson’s take — the economy, the poll news, the complete Mosque debacle — makes Gerson’s point. The gap between aspirations and results is now so wide that the only way to bridge it is to fudge the facts and leave out much of what has transpired over the last year. Robinson and Gerson come from opposing political perspectives. But the most noticeable difference is the degree to which they attend to the facts and are able to draw therefrom persuasive conclusions. In that department, there is no comparison.

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Another Questionable Appointee, Another Recess Appointment

Obama is using the recess appointment again. Recall that is how he got the SEIU’s lawyer on to the National Labor Relations Board and how he got Donald Berwick past the Senate’s scrutiny. (“‘Senate confirmation of presidential appointees is an essential process prescribed by the Constitution that serves as a check on executive power and protects Montanans and all Americans by ensuring that crucial questions are asked of the nominee — and answered,’ [Max] Baucus said in a statement.”)

Now he’s at is again, this time to get an ambassador to El Salvador through. What was her problem? Josh Rogin explains that Mari Carmen Aponte is going to be pushed through “despite lingering GOP concerns about her long-ago relationship with a Cuban operative.” Obama’s not serious, is he? Oh, yes indeed:

Aponte’s nomination had been stalled as of April due to objections by Sen. Jim DeMint, R-SC, who prevented the Senate Foreign Relations Committee from voting on the nomination because he was worried about a romantic involvement she had in the 1990s with Robert Tamayo, a Cuban-born insurance salesman who was alleged to have ties to both the FBI and Fidel Castro’s intelligence apparatus.

DeMint and other Republicans wanted access to all of the FBI’s records on the relationship. The FBI interviewed both Aponte and Tamayo about the matter back in 1993, but Aponte has admitted she declined to take a lie-detector test. She withdrew herself from consideration to be ambassador to the Dominican Republic in 1998 after then Sen. Jesse Helms promised to ask invasive questions about the relationship at her hearing, citing “personal reasons.”

Translation: the Clinton administration was not going to go to bat for this woman. But not Obama. Off she will go, with no examination of her ties to Castro.

This is yet another instance of both Obama’s preference for appointing questionable characters and his need (which likely will intensify with time) to resort to strong-arm tactics. (After all, none of the Democrats in the Senate really wanted to vote for this woman, did they?) This does not seem to be the sort of president who’s going to tack to the center and learn the art of compromise after November. But we’ll see.

Obama is using the recess appointment again. Recall that is how he got the SEIU’s lawyer on to the National Labor Relations Board and how he got Donald Berwick past the Senate’s scrutiny. (“‘Senate confirmation of presidential appointees is an essential process prescribed by the Constitution that serves as a check on executive power and protects Montanans and all Americans by ensuring that crucial questions are asked of the nominee — and answered,’ [Max] Baucus said in a statement.”)

Now he’s at is again, this time to get an ambassador to El Salvador through. What was her problem? Josh Rogin explains that Mari Carmen Aponte is going to be pushed through “despite lingering GOP concerns about her long-ago relationship with a Cuban operative.” Obama’s not serious, is he? Oh, yes indeed:

Aponte’s nomination had been stalled as of April due to objections by Sen. Jim DeMint, R-SC, who prevented the Senate Foreign Relations Committee from voting on the nomination because he was worried about a romantic involvement she had in the 1990s with Robert Tamayo, a Cuban-born insurance salesman who was alleged to have ties to both the FBI and Fidel Castro’s intelligence apparatus.

DeMint and other Republicans wanted access to all of the FBI’s records on the relationship. The FBI interviewed both Aponte and Tamayo about the matter back in 1993, but Aponte has admitted she declined to take a lie-detector test. She withdrew herself from consideration to be ambassador to the Dominican Republic in 1998 after then Sen. Jesse Helms promised to ask invasive questions about the relationship at her hearing, citing “personal reasons.”

Translation: the Clinton administration was not going to go to bat for this woman. But not Obama. Off she will go, with no examination of her ties to Castro.

This is yet another instance of both Obama’s preference for appointing questionable characters and his need (which likely will intensify with time) to resort to strong-arm tactics. (After all, none of the Democrats in the Senate really wanted to vote for this woman, did they?) This does not seem to be the sort of president who’s going to tack to the center and learn the art of compromise after November. But we’ll see.

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Petraeus on Afghanistan

This past weekend, General David Petraeus, the commander of American and NATO forces in Afghanistan, granted interviews to the Washington Post, New York Times, and Meet the Press [here and here].

Acknowledging that the mission is at a stage in which “what you have to do is to start turning inputs into outputs,” Petraeus said that the new U.S. war strategy is “fundamentally sound.” He sees incipient signs of progress in parts of the south, in new initiatives to create community defense forces, and in nascent steps to reintegrate low-level insurgents who want to stop fighting. According to the Post:

Petraeus contends that the counterinsurgency strategy is showing momentum in Helmand province, where about 20,000 U.S. Marines and 10,000 British troops have sought to create inkblots of security in six key districts. Some areas, such as Marja, a former Taliban stronghold, have proved to be tougher to pacify … but other places, such as the districts of Nawa and Garmsir, are becoming more stable and may feature prominently in his year-end presentation to the White House.

He also said he is encouraged by developments in Arghandab district on Kandahar’s northern fringe, where two U.S. Army battalions have been engaged in an arduous mission to clear insurgents from pomegranate orchards and vineyards seeded with makeshift but lethal anti-personnel mines.

Petraeus points out that what we face is not a monolithic Taliban enemy; he describes it more like a crime syndicate. In the southern part of the country we face the Afghan Taliban; in the eastern part, the Haqqani network linked to the Taliban but not subservient to it. There are small elements of al-Qaeda, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, and some Pakistani Taliban as well.

Petraeus, who appears intent on taking a harder line against corruption in the Karzai government than we’ve seen in the past, says his most significant accomplishment since arriving in Kabul has been to get President Karzai to endorse the creation of armed neighborhood-watch groups. He also argues against any precipitous withdrawal of forces in July 2011. When asked by NBC’s David Gregory how stifling the deadline is, Petraeus said this:

I don’t find it that stifling. I’m not bowed over by, you know, the knowledge that July 2011 is out there. In fact, the president has been very clear, Vice President Biden’s been very clear as well, more recently, that this is a date when a process begins that is conditions based. And as the conditions permit, we transition tasks to our Afghan counterparts and to security forces and, and in various governmental institutions, and that enables a responsible drawdown of our forces. … I think the president’s been quite clear in explaining that it’s a process, not an event, and that it’s conditions based. … I think that we will have an enduring commitment here in some fashion, the character of which may change over time as our Afghan partners can do more and we’re able to do less in certain areas, certainly.

Articulating traditional counterinsurgency doctrine, Petraeus went on to say, “At the end of the day, it’s not about [the Afghan people’s] embrace of us, it’s not about us winning hearts and minds. It’s about the Afghan government winning hearts and minds.” And when asked if the outcome is like Iraq, whether that constitutes achieving the mission, Petraeus said this:

Well, the outcome in Iraq is still to be written, but if you could reduce the level of violence by some 90 to 95 percent, as was the case in Iraq, to below a threshold which allows commerce and business and outside investment to take place, where there is an election that’s certainly at least elected representatives, and now you have to see if they can come together and form a government that is still representative of and responsive to the people, as was the previous one. If that can all be achieved there, that would be a reasonable solution here as well.

“It’s a gradual effort,” Petraeus told the Post. “It’s a deliberate effort. There’s no hill to take and flag to plant and proclamations of victory. Rather, it’s just hard work.”

It is indeed. But America is fortunate to have one of the greatest military commanders in its history now in the lead. If we give him the tools and the time, he and the American military can finish the job.

This past weekend, General David Petraeus, the commander of American and NATO forces in Afghanistan, granted interviews to the Washington Post, New York Times, and Meet the Press [here and here].

Acknowledging that the mission is at a stage in which “what you have to do is to start turning inputs into outputs,” Petraeus said that the new U.S. war strategy is “fundamentally sound.” He sees incipient signs of progress in parts of the south, in new initiatives to create community defense forces, and in nascent steps to reintegrate low-level insurgents who want to stop fighting. According to the Post:

Petraeus contends that the counterinsurgency strategy is showing momentum in Helmand province, where about 20,000 U.S. Marines and 10,000 British troops have sought to create inkblots of security in six key districts. Some areas, such as Marja, a former Taliban stronghold, have proved to be tougher to pacify … but other places, such as the districts of Nawa and Garmsir, are becoming more stable and may feature prominently in his year-end presentation to the White House.

He also said he is encouraged by developments in Arghandab district on Kandahar’s northern fringe, where two U.S. Army battalions have been engaged in an arduous mission to clear insurgents from pomegranate orchards and vineyards seeded with makeshift but lethal anti-personnel mines.

Petraeus points out that what we face is not a monolithic Taliban enemy; he describes it more like a crime syndicate. In the southern part of the country we face the Afghan Taliban; in the eastern part, the Haqqani network linked to the Taliban but not subservient to it. There are small elements of al-Qaeda, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, and some Pakistani Taliban as well.

Petraeus, who appears intent on taking a harder line against corruption in the Karzai government than we’ve seen in the past, says his most significant accomplishment since arriving in Kabul has been to get President Karzai to endorse the creation of armed neighborhood-watch groups. He also argues against any precipitous withdrawal of forces in July 2011. When asked by NBC’s David Gregory how stifling the deadline is, Petraeus said this:

I don’t find it that stifling. I’m not bowed over by, you know, the knowledge that July 2011 is out there. In fact, the president has been very clear, Vice President Biden’s been very clear as well, more recently, that this is a date when a process begins that is conditions based. And as the conditions permit, we transition tasks to our Afghan counterparts and to security forces and, and in various governmental institutions, and that enables a responsible drawdown of our forces. … I think the president’s been quite clear in explaining that it’s a process, not an event, and that it’s conditions based. … I think that we will have an enduring commitment here in some fashion, the character of which may change over time as our Afghan partners can do more and we’re able to do less in certain areas, certainly.

Articulating traditional counterinsurgency doctrine, Petraeus went on to say, “At the end of the day, it’s not about [the Afghan people’s] embrace of us, it’s not about us winning hearts and minds. It’s about the Afghan government winning hearts and minds.” And when asked if the outcome is like Iraq, whether that constitutes achieving the mission, Petraeus said this:

Well, the outcome in Iraq is still to be written, but if you could reduce the level of violence by some 90 to 95 percent, as was the case in Iraq, to below a threshold which allows commerce and business and outside investment to take place, where there is an election that’s certainly at least elected representatives, and now you have to see if they can come together and form a government that is still representative of and responsive to the people, as was the previous one. If that can all be achieved there, that would be a reasonable solution here as well.

“It’s a gradual effort,” Petraeus told the Post. “It’s a deliberate effort. There’s no hill to take and flag to plant and proclamations of victory. Rather, it’s just hard work.”

It is indeed. But America is fortunate to have one of the greatest military commanders in its history now in the lead. If we give him the tools and the time, he and the American military can finish the job.

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Obama the Ideologue

Things have gotten so bad for the Democrats in the wake of the mosque/Ground Zero controversy that respected political observers like Charlie Cook are speculating that Obama’s actions might only be explained by a strange indifference to his re-election. According to Cook:

Just over a year ago, a Democratic congressional leadership staffer who had sat in on a number of closed-door meetings between President Obama and Democratic members of Congress told me something to the effect of, “I know this isn’t true and sounds naïve, but listening to the president in these meetings, you’d think he really doesn’t care if he gets re-elected or not.”

While I acknowledge that someone who gets elected to the U.S. Senate and the presidency is by definition extremely competitive and has a healthy desire to win, the words of that staffer have frequently come back to mind. Most recently, I thought of them following the president’s decision to weigh in on the proposal to build a Muslim mosque and cultural center in lower Manhattan, not far from Ground Zero.

Cook goes on to write:

At the risk of sounding like an unlicensed psychoanalyst, it seems that President Obama is so supremely self-confident, so self-assured of the righteousness of his positions, that perhaps he believes if he does what he thinks is best and lets the chips fall where they may, everything will eventually work out. And, if it doesn’t, well, he’ll still think he did the right thing anyway.

This is the most favorable gloss that can be put on this interpretation; and when stated like this, there’s something to be admired in Obama’s approach. But there is also danger in it as well. For right now, everything is not working out; in fact, things are getting worse on almost every front. Yet Obama appears to be too ideological, too set in his ways, to adjust to events and to reality. He appears to have boundless faith in himself and his worldview; he is convinced he will succeed, come what may. Call it a Faith-Based Presidency.

The president, therefore, seems unable to process the (massive) incoming evidence that his approach is not working. He is a great, world-historical figure — and yet our situation is fraying. This is creating a form of cognitive dissonance. And so he and his aides and supporters must blame others — his predecessor, the GOP, cable news, “structural factors,” a “communications problem,” our political culture, our political system, and even the American people. As his presidency skids, Obama has become obsessed with finding scapegoats.

True conservatism, it has been said, is the negation of ideology. Obama’s brand of liberalism is the epitome of it. He may not bend — but the Democrats, about to be administered an epic comeuppance, eventually will. At some point soon, they will conclude that enough of them have been sacrificed at the altar of Obamaism.

Things have gotten so bad for the Democrats in the wake of the mosque/Ground Zero controversy that respected political observers like Charlie Cook are speculating that Obama’s actions might only be explained by a strange indifference to his re-election. According to Cook:

Just over a year ago, a Democratic congressional leadership staffer who had sat in on a number of closed-door meetings between President Obama and Democratic members of Congress told me something to the effect of, “I know this isn’t true and sounds naïve, but listening to the president in these meetings, you’d think he really doesn’t care if he gets re-elected or not.”

While I acknowledge that someone who gets elected to the U.S. Senate and the presidency is by definition extremely competitive and has a healthy desire to win, the words of that staffer have frequently come back to mind. Most recently, I thought of them following the president’s decision to weigh in on the proposal to build a Muslim mosque and cultural center in lower Manhattan, not far from Ground Zero.

Cook goes on to write:

At the risk of sounding like an unlicensed psychoanalyst, it seems that President Obama is so supremely self-confident, so self-assured of the righteousness of his positions, that perhaps he believes if he does what he thinks is best and lets the chips fall where they may, everything will eventually work out. And, if it doesn’t, well, he’ll still think he did the right thing anyway.

This is the most favorable gloss that can be put on this interpretation; and when stated like this, there’s something to be admired in Obama’s approach. But there is also danger in it as well. For right now, everything is not working out; in fact, things are getting worse on almost every front. Yet Obama appears to be too ideological, too set in his ways, to adjust to events and to reality. He appears to have boundless faith in himself and his worldview; he is convinced he will succeed, come what may. Call it a Faith-Based Presidency.

The president, therefore, seems unable to process the (massive) incoming evidence that his approach is not working. He is a great, world-historical figure — and yet our situation is fraying. This is creating a form of cognitive dissonance. And so he and his aides and supporters must blame others — his predecessor, the GOP, cable news, “structural factors,” a “communications problem,” our political culture, our political system, and even the American people. As his presidency skids, Obama has become obsessed with finding scapegoats.

True conservatism, it has been said, is the negation of ideology. Obama’s brand of liberalism is the epitome of it. He may not bend — but the Democrats, about to be administered an epic comeuppance, eventually will. At some point soon, they will conclude that enough of them have been sacrificed at the altar of Obamaism.

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Obama Pressuring Israel (Still) Not to Hit Iran

The New York Times reports:

The Obama administration, citing evidence of continued troubles inside Iran’s nuclear program, has persuaded Israel that it would take roughly a year — and perhaps longer — for Iran to complete what one senior official called a “dash” for a nuclear weapon, according to American officials.

Administration officials said they believe the assessment has dimmed the prospect that Israel would pre-emptively strike against the country’s nuclear facilities within the next year, as Israeli officials have suggested in thinly veiled threats.

This raises several issues. First, why is this appearing on the front page of the Times? Second, do we imagine that the Israelis were “persuaded”? And finally, is everyone now in agreement that it is one year before the mullahs go nuclear, rather than one to three years, as some in the administration have declared?

The most reasonable answer to the first question is that the administration is getting nervous that the Israelis’ patience to thwart Iran’s nuclear ambitions is running out and that the Israeli government recognizes that time is not on its side. (“American officials said that Israel was particularly concerned that, over time, Iran’s supreme leader could order that nuclear materials be dispersed to secret locations around the country, making it less likely that an Israeli military strike would significantly cripple the program.”) With news of the Russians’ delivery of nuclear fuel to the Bushehr reactor, the subject of unilateral Israeli action is once again in the air. Hence, the Obami’s need to curb Israel’s intentions and dissuade it from acting. There’s time. No problem. Any action now would be premature. This, one suspects, is the underlying message.

As for whether Israel is “persuaded,” I highly doubt that Bibi is deferring to the Obami’s judgment on much of anything. That the Obama team would use the Times to make this assertion in public reinforces the impression that this story is being used to apply pressure to Israel to refrain from action for now.

On the issue of timing, yes, it seems that the unrealistic spin from the administration that a nuclear-armed Iran might be years in the future is no longer operative. That, as an experienced Israeli hand put it, “is not the headline, but it is the news.”

The real question remains, however, what the administration intends to do when it becomes apparent that sanctions have failed and the mullahs are on the verge of success in their dream of attaining status as a nuclear power. Will the administration think of new excuses for inactivity? What should concern the American people is that the administration uses the Gray Lady to send a message of restraint to our ally rather than as a platform to put forth a message to Iran that we will use force before the year is up. The dog that didn’t bark is also sometimes news.

The New York Times reports:

The Obama administration, citing evidence of continued troubles inside Iran’s nuclear program, has persuaded Israel that it would take roughly a year — and perhaps longer — for Iran to complete what one senior official called a “dash” for a nuclear weapon, according to American officials.

Administration officials said they believe the assessment has dimmed the prospect that Israel would pre-emptively strike against the country’s nuclear facilities within the next year, as Israeli officials have suggested in thinly veiled threats.

This raises several issues. First, why is this appearing on the front page of the Times? Second, do we imagine that the Israelis were “persuaded”? And finally, is everyone now in agreement that it is one year before the mullahs go nuclear, rather than one to three years, as some in the administration have declared?

The most reasonable answer to the first question is that the administration is getting nervous that the Israelis’ patience to thwart Iran’s nuclear ambitions is running out and that the Israeli government recognizes that time is not on its side. (“American officials said that Israel was particularly concerned that, over time, Iran’s supreme leader could order that nuclear materials be dispersed to secret locations around the country, making it less likely that an Israeli military strike would significantly cripple the program.”) With news of the Russians’ delivery of nuclear fuel to the Bushehr reactor, the subject of unilateral Israeli action is once again in the air. Hence, the Obami’s need to curb Israel’s intentions and dissuade it from acting. There’s time. No problem. Any action now would be premature. This, one suspects, is the underlying message.

As for whether Israel is “persuaded,” I highly doubt that Bibi is deferring to the Obami’s judgment on much of anything. That the Obama team would use the Times to make this assertion in public reinforces the impression that this story is being used to apply pressure to Israel to refrain from action for now.

On the issue of timing, yes, it seems that the unrealistic spin from the administration that a nuclear-armed Iran might be years in the future is no longer operative. That, as an experienced Israeli hand put it, “is not the headline, but it is the news.”

The real question remains, however, what the administration intends to do when it becomes apparent that sanctions have failed and the mullahs are on the verge of success in their dream of attaining status as a nuclear power. Will the administration think of new excuses for inactivity? What should concern the American people is that the administration uses the Gray Lady to send a message of restraint to our ally rather than as a platform to put forth a message to Iran that we will use force before the year is up. The dog that didn’t bark is also sometimes news.

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The Mosque and the People Who Have Suddenly Discovered Property Rights

One of the hilarious ironies attendant on the mosque debate is the sudden discovery by the liberal elites of the vital importance of property rights — how Imam Feisal Rauf and his people have purchased a site on which they should be able to build “as of right,” and how those who are objecting to the mosque’s construction are committing an offense not only against the free exercise of religion but against commonly accepted principles involving real estate.

For the past 40 years, especially in New York City, property rights have taken a back seat in almost all discussions of the proper use of real estate. Following the lamentable razing of the great old Penn Station, the general proposition has been that any major project should have a distinctly positive public use. Landmark commissions, zoning boards and the like have imposed all sorts of restrictions and demands on property owners that interfere with their right to build as they would wish. Laws have been written after the fact (especially when Broadway theaters were jeopardized by real-estate development in the early 1980s) to restrict the right of property owners to do as they would wish with the land and buildings they own.

Thus, the outrage which greeted the suggestion that zoning boards and the like should and could be used to block the Cordoba Intitiative is bitterly comic. Such boards have been used for decades to block projects for reasons involving the “sensitivities” of a neighborhood, like the time Woody Allen and others fought the construction of a building at the corner of 91st and Madison on the grounds that it would harm the historic nature of the area — when in fact he and his neighbors were concerned about a shadow the building might cast on their communal backyard. Walter Cronkite went on a tear against a tall building being built by Donald Trump on the East Side near the UN because it was going to block his view.

Nor is the right of religious institutions or religious people absolute. You can’t put a religious school anywhere; Samuel Freedman’s book Jew vs. Jew details several cases in which more secular Jews have fought the installation of more religious Jewish institutions in their communities using zoning laws.

So by all means, let us pay tribute to the primacy of property rights. Or are they only to be invoked when convenient?

One of the hilarious ironies attendant on the mosque debate is the sudden discovery by the liberal elites of the vital importance of property rights — how Imam Feisal Rauf and his people have purchased a site on which they should be able to build “as of right,” and how those who are objecting to the mosque’s construction are committing an offense not only against the free exercise of religion but against commonly accepted principles involving real estate.

For the past 40 years, especially in New York City, property rights have taken a back seat in almost all discussions of the proper use of real estate. Following the lamentable razing of the great old Penn Station, the general proposition has been that any major project should have a distinctly positive public use. Landmark commissions, zoning boards and the like have imposed all sorts of restrictions and demands on property owners that interfere with their right to build as they would wish. Laws have been written after the fact (especially when Broadway theaters were jeopardized by real-estate development in the early 1980s) to restrict the right of property owners to do as they would wish with the land and buildings they own.

Thus, the outrage which greeted the suggestion that zoning boards and the like should and could be used to block the Cordoba Intitiative is bitterly comic. Such boards have been used for decades to block projects for reasons involving the “sensitivities” of a neighborhood, like the time Woody Allen and others fought the construction of a building at the corner of 91st and Madison on the grounds that it would harm the historic nature of the area — when in fact he and his neighbors were concerned about a shadow the building might cast on their communal backyard. Walter Cronkite went on a tear against a tall building being built by Donald Trump on the East Side near the UN because it was going to block his view.

Nor is the right of religious institutions or religious people absolute. You can’t put a religious school anywhere; Samuel Freedman’s book Jew vs. Jew details several cases in which more secular Jews have fought the installation of more religious Jewish institutions in their communities using zoning laws.

So by all means, let us pay tribute to the primacy of property rights. Or are they only to be invoked when convenient?

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Charlie Cook: GOP Will Win the House

Charlie Cook, one of the more cautious and respected pollsters and political analysts, is now saying the Democrats will lose the House. Gerald Seib reports:

“I think Republicans are going to get the House back,” he said flatly in a conversation taped for WSJ.com’s “Big Interview” segment, which will be posted on the site Friday morning.

To be precise, Republicans need to win 39 Democratic seats to get control of the House, and Mr. Cook’s current estimate is that they are in line for a 35- to 45-seat gain. “But frankly, I think we’re being very conservative with that,” he added. “The odds of it being higher than that range are a lot better than lower.”

As Seib notes, maybe the Democrats finally will gin up their base. Perhaps, he offers, “Democrats might figure out how to do a better job convincing the nation of the wisdom of their policies.” Is that likely? No. And as we’ve seen this week with another round of awful jobs numbers and the Ground Zero debacle, things could very well get even worse.

Charlie Cook, one of the more cautious and respected pollsters and political analysts, is now saying the Democrats will lose the House. Gerald Seib reports:

“I think Republicans are going to get the House back,” he said flatly in a conversation taped for WSJ.com’s “Big Interview” segment, which will be posted on the site Friday morning.

To be precise, Republicans need to win 39 Democratic seats to get control of the House, and Mr. Cook’s current estimate is that they are in line for a 35- to 45-seat gain. “But frankly, I think we’re being very conservative with that,” he added. “The odds of it being higher than that range are a lot better than lower.”

As Seib notes, maybe the Democrats finally will gin up their base. Perhaps, he offers, “Democrats might figure out how to do a better job convincing the nation of the wisdom of their policies.” Is that likely? No. And as we’ve seen this week with another round of awful jobs numbers and the Ground Zero debacle, things could very well get even worse.

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Bipartisan Agreement at Last on ObamaCare

It was supposed to save them from electoral ruin. It was “historic.” It was going to be the final opportunity to address the issue. It was ObamaCare and now the Democrats, on the brink of an electoral wipe-out, are begging the electorate not to throw them out because they rammed it through. Their pitch? We’ll change ObamaCare. Yes, it has come to this.

Ben Smith reports:

Key White House allies are dramatically shifting their attempts to defend health-care legislation, abandoning claims that it will reduce costs and deficit, and instead stressing a promise to “improve it.”

The messaging shift was circulated this afternoon on a conference call and PowerPoint presentation organized by FamiliesUSA — one of the central groups in the push for the initial legislation. … [The presentation] suggests that Democrats are acknowledging the failure of their predictions that the health care legislation would grow more popular after its passage, as its benefits became clear and rhetoric cooled. Instead, the presentation is designed to win over a skeptical public, and to defend the legislation — and in particular the individual mandate — from a push for repeal.

The presentation also concedes that the fiscal and economic arguments that were the White House’s first and most aggressive sales pitch have essentially failed.

So now the contest is between the one party, which jammed ObamaCare through despite the public’s wishes, but now is experiencing an election-eve conversion, and the other, which opposed it all along and is promising to repeal it. If the bill is as bad as everyone now concedes it is and it won’t do what was promised (what the Democrats promised), what exactly is the rationale for re-electing the Democrats, who can no longer make a credible argument that it is a good bill, let alone an historic one?

It does give hope, however, that “repeal and reform,” the Republican mantra on ObamaCare, might have bipartisan support after the November election. Or, in the words of the politician derided for being dense but who’s far more in sync with the public than the president on just about every issue (e.g., ObamaCare, Israel, the war against Islamic jihadists, the Ground Zero mosque, the failed stimulus), maybe we can all agree to refudiate Obama.

It was supposed to save them from electoral ruin. It was “historic.” It was going to be the final opportunity to address the issue. It was ObamaCare and now the Democrats, on the brink of an electoral wipe-out, are begging the electorate not to throw them out because they rammed it through. Their pitch? We’ll change ObamaCare. Yes, it has come to this.

Ben Smith reports:

Key White House allies are dramatically shifting their attempts to defend health-care legislation, abandoning claims that it will reduce costs and deficit, and instead stressing a promise to “improve it.”

The messaging shift was circulated this afternoon on a conference call and PowerPoint presentation organized by FamiliesUSA — one of the central groups in the push for the initial legislation. … [The presentation] suggests that Democrats are acknowledging the failure of their predictions that the health care legislation would grow more popular after its passage, as its benefits became clear and rhetoric cooled. Instead, the presentation is designed to win over a skeptical public, and to defend the legislation — and in particular the individual mandate — from a push for repeal.

The presentation also concedes that the fiscal and economic arguments that were the White House’s first and most aggressive sales pitch have essentially failed.

So now the contest is between the one party, which jammed ObamaCare through despite the public’s wishes, but now is experiencing an election-eve conversion, and the other, which opposed it all along and is promising to repeal it. If the bill is as bad as everyone now concedes it is and it won’t do what was promised (what the Democrats promised), what exactly is the rationale for re-electing the Democrats, who can no longer make a credible argument that it is a good bill, let alone an historic one?

It does give hope, however, that “repeal and reform,” the Republican mantra on ObamaCare, might have bipartisan support after the November election. Or, in the words of the politician derided for being dense but who’s far more in sync with the public than the president on just about every issue (e.g., ObamaCare, Israel, the war against Islamic jihadists, the Ground Zero mosque, the failed stimulus), maybe we can all agree to refudiate Obama.

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How Is the Ground Zero Mosque Playing in NYC?

It takes a perfect storm for the Republicans to win a congressional seat in Manhattan. But there is a storm brewing, so is it possible? Well, it’s not likely, but stranger things have happened.

The NY-14 (the East Side and part of Queens) is rated by Charlie Cook as “solidly Democratic.” Carolyn Maloney was elected in 1992 and really hasn’t faced serious opposition since. However, this year she has a primary challenge and, if she prevails, will face an energetic, likable Republican opponent, Ryan Brumberg. At least on one issue Maloney is badly out of step with her constituents. Unlike several other Democratic colleagues, she’s come out in support of the Ground Zero mosque. In fact, she’s being pushed by her primary challenger to be more vocal in her support. (What is she to do beyond cheerleading — donate money?)

For now, Maloney is trying to change the topic and talk about a bill for additional compensation for 9/11 responders. Brumberg is trying to keep the issue front and center and has been clear in his opposition to the Ground Zero mosque. In a brief e-mail exchange, Brumberg tells me: “I oppose the building of a mosque on ground zero because the Imam refuses to condemn Hamas as a terror organization, and claims that America was partially to blame in the September 11th attacks.”  He explains,”Just as the First Amendment grants Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf the right to build his mosque, it also gives us the right to protest its construction. Maloney’s actions are emblematic of a worrisome trend among hardcore liberals: that we need to go beyond granting those we disagree with the right to act, to actively supporting their endeavors and ideology.”

Well, his stance on the Ground Zero mosque is the same as that of Howard Dean, Harry Reid, and 60 percent of New Yorkers. Will it be a key issue in the race? Brumberg argues, “Yes, the September 11th attacks touched the lives of every citizen in this district, and yet Maloney’s support for this Imam shows how out of touch she is.”

On other foreign-policy issues, Brumberg cites the danger of “nuclear proliferation posed by Iran and North Korea” and also the threat posed by “yawning trade deficits and the increasing American dependence on Chinese capital.” As for domestic policy, he dismisses the idea that we are in a recovery. “The reality of our country’s present economic situation is that as long as Washington continues to waste our precious resources, our economy will never truly recover. We need to unchain America’s economic potential — create jobs and pay down the debt.”

It is not clear that the district is winnable by a Republican. But if there is any year it might be done, this is it. And Brumberg certainly has an opening now that Maloney is providing fodder for the argument that she is out of touch, too liberal even for New York City.

It takes a perfect storm for the Republicans to win a congressional seat in Manhattan. But there is a storm brewing, so is it possible? Well, it’s not likely, but stranger things have happened.

The NY-14 (the East Side and part of Queens) is rated by Charlie Cook as “solidly Democratic.” Carolyn Maloney was elected in 1992 and really hasn’t faced serious opposition since. However, this year she has a primary challenge and, if she prevails, will face an energetic, likable Republican opponent, Ryan Brumberg. At least on one issue Maloney is badly out of step with her constituents. Unlike several other Democratic colleagues, she’s come out in support of the Ground Zero mosque. In fact, she’s being pushed by her primary challenger to be more vocal in her support. (What is she to do beyond cheerleading — donate money?)

For now, Maloney is trying to change the topic and talk about a bill for additional compensation for 9/11 responders. Brumberg is trying to keep the issue front and center and has been clear in his opposition to the Ground Zero mosque. In a brief e-mail exchange, Brumberg tells me: “I oppose the building of a mosque on ground zero because the Imam refuses to condemn Hamas as a terror organization, and claims that America was partially to blame in the September 11th attacks.”  He explains,”Just as the First Amendment grants Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf the right to build his mosque, it also gives us the right to protest its construction. Maloney’s actions are emblematic of a worrisome trend among hardcore liberals: that we need to go beyond granting those we disagree with the right to act, to actively supporting their endeavors and ideology.”

Well, his stance on the Ground Zero mosque is the same as that of Howard Dean, Harry Reid, and 60 percent of New Yorkers. Will it be a key issue in the race? Brumberg argues, “Yes, the September 11th attacks touched the lives of every citizen in this district, and yet Maloney’s support for this Imam shows how out of touch she is.”

On other foreign-policy issues, Brumberg cites the danger of “nuclear proliferation posed by Iran and North Korea” and also the threat posed by “yawning trade deficits and the increasing American dependence on Chinese capital.” As for domestic policy, he dismisses the idea that we are in a recovery. “The reality of our country’s present economic situation is that as long as Washington continues to waste our precious resources, our economy will never truly recover. We need to unchain America’s economic potential — create jobs and pay down the debt.”

It is not clear that the district is winnable by a Republican. But if there is any year it might be done, this is it. And Brumberg certainly has an opening now that Maloney is providing fodder for the argument that she is out of touch, too liberal even for New York City.

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Krauthammer and Dean Agree: Obama Blew It

Charles Krauthammer, as he is wont to do, makes a salient observation. On Obama’s Iftar speech at the White House, which begat arguably the worst week of his presidency, he writes:

It takes no courage whatsoever to bask in the applause of a Muslim audience as you promise to stand stoutly for their right to build a mosque, giving the unmistakable impression that you endorse the idea. What takes courage is to then respectfully ask that audience to reflect upon the wisdom of the project and to consider whether the imam’s alleged goal of interfaith understanding might not be better achieved by accepting the New York governor’s offer to help find another site.

In his own way (with the required sneers at conservatives), Howard Dean, of all people, makes the same point:

This center may be intended as a bridge or a healing gesture but it will not be perceived that way unless a dialogue with a real attempt to understand each other happens. That means the builders have to be willing to go beyond what is their right and be willing to talk about feelings whether the feelings are “justified” or not. No doubt the Republic will survive if this center is built on its current site or not. But I think this is a missed opportunity to try to have an open discussion about why this is a big deal, because it is a big deal to a lot of Americans who are not just right-wing politicians pushing the hate button again. I think those people need to be heard respectfully, whether they are right or whether they are wrong.

But not Obama — the great healer, the no-Blue-America-no-Red-America politician. In reality, Obama is stymied when he can’t charm his opposition or shame them into accepting his position.

We have seen this consistently in his Middle East policy. In fact, it is his habitual mode of Muslim outreach — whether in his fawning engagement of Iran (which demanded neglect of the Green Movement), his failed attempt to dispatch an ambassador to Syria, his Cairo speechifying, or his appointing an envoy, who voiced suspicion of the prosecution of terrorists by his own government, to the Organization of the Islamic Conference. Obama imagines that by simply telling Muslim leaders (certainly, not democracy advocates or human-rights protesters) what they want to hear, we will improve our image and cool their ire toward the U.S. But this is childlike and shortsighted.

If one is really going to advance our interests or mediate successfully between parties with conflicting interests and values, it won’t do to simply stamp your foot and simply insist everyone show empathy toward and defer to the Muslims’ point of view (or that of one segment of Muslims). It’s not going to win over the 68 percent of Americans. It’s not going to bring peace to the Middle East. It’s not going to make Obama an effective or popular president.

Of course I don’t believe Obama is a Muslim. But his excessive deference to Muslim states abroad and now to the American Muslim community has set many Americans’ teeth on edge and fueled conspiratorialists’ suspicions. There’s not much he should or can do about the latter. But the American people, not to mention our allies, sense that there is something very much amiss in all the genuflecting. That, in part, is why the mosque controversy has been so devastating for Obama.

Charles Krauthammer, as he is wont to do, makes a salient observation. On Obama’s Iftar speech at the White House, which begat arguably the worst week of his presidency, he writes:

It takes no courage whatsoever to bask in the applause of a Muslim audience as you promise to stand stoutly for their right to build a mosque, giving the unmistakable impression that you endorse the idea. What takes courage is to then respectfully ask that audience to reflect upon the wisdom of the project and to consider whether the imam’s alleged goal of interfaith understanding might not be better achieved by accepting the New York governor’s offer to help find another site.

In his own way (with the required sneers at conservatives), Howard Dean, of all people, makes the same point:

This center may be intended as a bridge or a healing gesture but it will not be perceived that way unless a dialogue with a real attempt to understand each other happens. That means the builders have to be willing to go beyond what is their right and be willing to talk about feelings whether the feelings are “justified” or not. No doubt the Republic will survive if this center is built on its current site or not. But I think this is a missed opportunity to try to have an open discussion about why this is a big deal, because it is a big deal to a lot of Americans who are not just right-wing politicians pushing the hate button again. I think those people need to be heard respectfully, whether they are right or whether they are wrong.

But not Obama — the great healer, the no-Blue-America-no-Red-America politician. In reality, Obama is stymied when he can’t charm his opposition or shame them into accepting his position.

We have seen this consistently in his Middle East policy. In fact, it is his habitual mode of Muslim outreach — whether in his fawning engagement of Iran (which demanded neglect of the Green Movement), his failed attempt to dispatch an ambassador to Syria, his Cairo speechifying, or his appointing an envoy, who voiced suspicion of the prosecution of terrorists by his own government, to the Organization of the Islamic Conference. Obama imagines that by simply telling Muslim leaders (certainly, not democracy advocates or human-rights protesters) what they want to hear, we will improve our image and cool their ire toward the U.S. But this is childlike and shortsighted.

If one is really going to advance our interests or mediate successfully between parties with conflicting interests and values, it won’t do to simply stamp your foot and simply insist everyone show empathy toward and defer to the Muslims’ point of view (or that of one segment of Muslims). It’s not going to win over the 68 percent of Americans. It’s not going to bring peace to the Middle East. It’s not going to make Obama an effective or popular president.

Of course I don’t believe Obama is a Muslim. But his excessive deference to Muslim states abroad and now to the American Muslim community has set many Americans’ teeth on edge and fueled conspiratorialists’ suspicions. There’s not much he should or can do about the latter. But the American people, not to mention our allies, sense that there is something very much amiss in all the genuflecting. That, in part, is why the mosque controversy has been so devastating for Obama.

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The War Against Extremism

News travels slowly when you’re on vacation, especially when you’re on vacation in the French countryside, so I have only now read Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s Wall Street Journal op-ed from a couple of days ago updating Samuel Huntington’s “Clash of Civilizations” thesis. While Huntington identified nine “civilizations” that are supposedly in conflict (“Western,” “Latin American,” “African,” “Islamic,” “Sinic,” “Hindu,” “Orthodox,” “Buddhist,”  “Japanese”), Hirsi Ali not surprisingly focuses on one such “civilization” — the Islamic one. She sees recent controversies involving Muslims providing confirmation of this thesis, including “the proposed mosque near Ground Zero, the eviction of American missionaries from Morocco earlier this year, the minaret ban in Switzerland last year, and the recent burka ban in France.” So, too, in her view the increasingly anti-Western orientation of Turkey provides evidence that all Muslim countries are destined to be opposed to all Western countries.

She sets up the “clash of civilizations” thesis against a straw man she labels the “One World” thesis, which she attributes to Francis Fukuyama’s “end of history” writings and to an “equivalent neoconservative rosy scenario” of “a ‘unipolar’ world of unrivalled American hegemony.” This is a trope beloved of college poli-sci classes — to juxtapose Huntington vs. Fukuyama — and it makes for good debate, but the reality is that it’s hard to think of many people who take seriously Fukuyama’s thesis — and certainly not among “neoconservatives,” who since the end of the Cold War have been warning about new threats (such as China, Iran, North Korea, and Islamist terrorism) that are potent challenges to American power.

The Huntington thesis, I might add, is equally hard to take seriously because it presents such a cartoonish view of the world. Gary Schmitt of the American Enterprise Institute (where Hirsi Ali also works) points out one such problem: “China is not a civilization. It’s a nation governed by one party for 60 years and whose one-time dominant ethical regime was Confucian. But also part of this Confucian world were South Korea, Japan, and Taiwan—each now firmly part of the liberal and democratic West. Our problem with China is not one of civilization but the fact that it’s ruled by an increasingly nationalistic and ambitious despotic elite.”

The same might be said about each of the “civilizations” identified by Huntington and now endorsed by Hirsi Ali: they seem uniform only if viewed from a distance of 20,000 feet. Up close, all sorts of differences emerge that stymie most attempts at generalization. France and the United States, for instance, are both part of “Western” civilization, but (as I have been discovering in the past week) they are very different culturally and, not surprisingly, they have very different outlooks on the world. (Indeed some commentators posit an “Anglosphere” pitting English-speaking countries against other “Western” nations.) So too with, say, Saudi Arabia, Dubai, Lebanon, Afghanistan, and Malaysia. All are, according to Hirsi Ali, part of an “Islamic civilization,” yet anyone who has ever visited those countries knows that, notwithstanding a common religion, their differences are vast.

Lee Smith confirms the point in a typically smart essay on sharia law: “Because there is no way to approach what is ostensibly divine except through human agency, sharia as such does not exist except as interpreted by human beings over the long course of Islamic history. The word ‘sharia’ necessarily means many things to many people.”

Indeed, as many people have noted, the War on Terror is not a reflection of an Islam vs. the West clash; it is part of a clash within Islam pitting fanatical Islamists against the vast majority of the world’s 1.2 billion Muslims. What is striking to me, looking back on several decades of such strife, is not how successful the Islamists have been but how unsuccessful.

Which states have succumbed to Islamism? Iran since 1979. Afghanistan between 1996 and 2001. That’s about it. To be sure, there are powerful Islamist movements elsewhere, and one such group may be close to taking over Somalia. Other Islamists have effectively taken over part of Pakistan’s tribal areas, southern Lebanon, and Gaza, and are trying to undermine many other governments — but so far with little success. In other words, the Islamic world, while expressing some sympathy with some of the views of the extremists, has proved remarkably resistant to actually letting the fanatics take control. Al-Qaeda has not been able to topple a single government.

This provides cause for hope and an obvious strategy for the U.S. and its allies to pursue: we must buttress the forces of moderation in the Islamic world against those of the extremists. And that is precisely what we are doing in countless countries ranging from Afghanistan and Iraq to the Philippines, Indonesia, and Djibouti. That strategy is much more likely to pay long-term dividends than are crude fulminations against “Islamic civilization,” which is precisely what Osama bin Laden & Co. long to hear.

News travels slowly when you’re on vacation, especially when you’re on vacation in the French countryside, so I have only now read Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s Wall Street Journal op-ed from a couple of days ago updating Samuel Huntington’s “Clash of Civilizations” thesis. While Huntington identified nine “civilizations” that are supposedly in conflict (“Western,” “Latin American,” “African,” “Islamic,” “Sinic,” “Hindu,” “Orthodox,” “Buddhist,”  “Japanese”), Hirsi Ali not surprisingly focuses on one such “civilization” — the Islamic one. She sees recent controversies involving Muslims providing confirmation of this thesis, including “the proposed mosque near Ground Zero, the eviction of American missionaries from Morocco earlier this year, the minaret ban in Switzerland last year, and the recent burka ban in France.” So, too, in her view the increasingly anti-Western orientation of Turkey provides evidence that all Muslim countries are destined to be opposed to all Western countries.

She sets up the “clash of civilizations” thesis against a straw man she labels the “One World” thesis, which she attributes to Francis Fukuyama’s “end of history” writings and to an “equivalent neoconservative rosy scenario” of “a ‘unipolar’ world of unrivalled American hegemony.” This is a trope beloved of college poli-sci classes — to juxtapose Huntington vs. Fukuyama — and it makes for good debate, but the reality is that it’s hard to think of many people who take seriously Fukuyama’s thesis — and certainly not among “neoconservatives,” who since the end of the Cold War have been warning about new threats (such as China, Iran, North Korea, and Islamist terrorism) that are potent challenges to American power.

The Huntington thesis, I might add, is equally hard to take seriously because it presents such a cartoonish view of the world. Gary Schmitt of the American Enterprise Institute (where Hirsi Ali also works) points out one such problem: “China is not a civilization. It’s a nation governed by one party for 60 years and whose one-time dominant ethical regime was Confucian. But also part of this Confucian world were South Korea, Japan, and Taiwan—each now firmly part of the liberal and democratic West. Our problem with China is not one of civilization but the fact that it’s ruled by an increasingly nationalistic and ambitious despotic elite.”

The same might be said about each of the “civilizations” identified by Huntington and now endorsed by Hirsi Ali: they seem uniform only if viewed from a distance of 20,000 feet. Up close, all sorts of differences emerge that stymie most attempts at generalization. France and the United States, for instance, are both part of “Western” civilization, but (as I have been discovering in the past week) they are very different culturally and, not surprisingly, they have very different outlooks on the world. (Indeed some commentators posit an “Anglosphere” pitting English-speaking countries against other “Western” nations.) So too with, say, Saudi Arabia, Dubai, Lebanon, Afghanistan, and Malaysia. All are, according to Hirsi Ali, part of an “Islamic civilization,” yet anyone who has ever visited those countries knows that, notwithstanding a common religion, their differences are vast.

Lee Smith confirms the point in a typically smart essay on sharia law: “Because there is no way to approach what is ostensibly divine except through human agency, sharia as such does not exist except as interpreted by human beings over the long course of Islamic history. The word ‘sharia’ necessarily means many things to many people.”

Indeed, as many people have noted, the War on Terror is not a reflection of an Islam vs. the West clash; it is part of a clash within Islam pitting fanatical Islamists against the vast majority of the world’s 1.2 billion Muslims. What is striking to me, looking back on several decades of such strife, is not how successful the Islamists have been but how unsuccessful.

Which states have succumbed to Islamism? Iran since 1979. Afghanistan between 1996 and 2001. That’s about it. To be sure, there are powerful Islamist movements elsewhere, and one such group may be close to taking over Somalia. Other Islamists have effectively taken over part of Pakistan’s tribal areas, southern Lebanon, and Gaza, and are trying to undermine many other governments — but so far with little success. In other words, the Islamic world, while expressing some sympathy with some of the views of the extremists, has proved remarkably resistant to actually letting the fanatics take control. Al-Qaeda has not been able to topple a single government.

This provides cause for hope and an obvious strategy for the U.S. and its allies to pursue: we must buttress the forces of moderation in the Islamic world against those of the extremists. And that is precisely what we are doing in countless countries ranging from Afghanistan and Iraq to the Philippines, Indonesia, and Djibouti. That strategy is much more likely to pay long-term dividends than are crude fulminations against “Islamic civilization,” which is precisely what Osama bin Laden & Co. long to hear.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Obama has managed to revive the conservative movement, drive independents into the GOP’s arms, sink his own party’s fortunes, bring Sarah Palin and Howard Dean together (on the Ground Zero mosque) — and convince more Americans he’s a Muslim. “A new survey reports a sharp increase in the number of Americans who, incorrectly, say President Obama is a Muslim. The increase has occurred over the last couple of years, and the poll was taken before the president stepped into the fray of the Ground Zero mosque controversy.” Wait until the next survey.

The State Department couldn’t manage to find a Muslim who didn’t blame the U.S. for 9/11? “American taxpayers will pay the imam behind plans for a mosque near the Manhattan site of the Sept. 11 attacks $3,000 in fees for a three-nation outreach trip to the Middle East that will cost roughly $16,000, the State Department said Wednesday.”

The GOP manages to find its party leader, and it’s not Michael Steele: “Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour is the most powerful Republican in American politics — at least for the next three months. Barbour, who runs the Republican Governors Association, has more money to spend on the 2010 elections — $40 million — than any other GOP leader around. And in private, numerous Republicans describe Barbour as the de facto chairman of the party.”

The GOP also manages to raise a ton of cash despite Steele: “With less than three months until Election Day, Democrats are becoming increasingly concerned that the independent groups they are counting on for support won’t have the money to counter what they fear will be an unprecedented advertising campaign waged by their Republican counterparts. Republicans and their allies have been working for months with single-minded focus on plans to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on ads funded by a combination of existing special interest groups and newly formed political outfits.” Maybe they don’t need an RNC chairman.

The White House manages to annoy more House Democrats: “Roughly three-quarters of the oil that spilled into the Gulf of Mexico from BP’s ruptured well is still in the environment, a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration official told a House panel Thursday. The estimate contrasts previous pronouncements by administration officials that only about a quarter of the oil remains to be addressed. … Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.), who chairs the Energy and Environment Subcommittee that held the hearing, said the administration’s initial report this month — and the trumpeting of it — gave people a ‘false sense of confidence’ about the environmental risks that remain.”

Despite the work of its enemies, Israel manages to survive and, yes, flourish. An Israeli was “awarded the 2010 Fields Medal – considered the ‘Nobel Prize’ in the field.” There is no Nobel Prize for math, but Israel has nine of those.

It would be a minor miracle if Virginia House Democrats Glenn Nye and Tom Perriello manage to get re-elected. “Nathan Gonzales, political editor of the nonpartisan Rothenberg Political Report, termed Perriello and Nye ‘extremely vulnerable’ in November. ‘It’s highly unlikely they’ll both survive a wave like the one that’s developing,’ Gonzales said.”

Chris Christie manages to become a movie star in his first year in office.

Obama has managed to revive the conservative movement, drive independents into the GOP’s arms, sink his own party’s fortunes, bring Sarah Palin and Howard Dean together (on the Ground Zero mosque) — and convince more Americans he’s a Muslim. “A new survey reports a sharp increase in the number of Americans who, incorrectly, say President Obama is a Muslim. The increase has occurred over the last couple of years, and the poll was taken before the president stepped into the fray of the Ground Zero mosque controversy.” Wait until the next survey.

The State Department couldn’t manage to find a Muslim who didn’t blame the U.S. for 9/11? “American taxpayers will pay the imam behind plans for a mosque near the Manhattan site of the Sept. 11 attacks $3,000 in fees for a three-nation outreach trip to the Middle East that will cost roughly $16,000, the State Department said Wednesday.”

The GOP manages to find its party leader, and it’s not Michael Steele: “Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour is the most powerful Republican in American politics — at least for the next three months. Barbour, who runs the Republican Governors Association, has more money to spend on the 2010 elections — $40 million — than any other GOP leader around. And in private, numerous Republicans describe Barbour as the de facto chairman of the party.”

The GOP also manages to raise a ton of cash despite Steele: “With less than three months until Election Day, Democrats are becoming increasingly concerned that the independent groups they are counting on for support won’t have the money to counter what they fear will be an unprecedented advertising campaign waged by their Republican counterparts. Republicans and their allies have been working for months with single-minded focus on plans to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on ads funded by a combination of existing special interest groups and newly formed political outfits.” Maybe they don’t need an RNC chairman.

The White House manages to annoy more House Democrats: “Roughly three-quarters of the oil that spilled into the Gulf of Mexico from BP’s ruptured well is still in the environment, a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration official told a House panel Thursday. The estimate contrasts previous pronouncements by administration officials that only about a quarter of the oil remains to be addressed. … Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.), who chairs the Energy and Environment Subcommittee that held the hearing, said the administration’s initial report this month — and the trumpeting of it — gave people a ‘false sense of confidence’ about the environmental risks that remain.”

Despite the work of its enemies, Israel manages to survive and, yes, flourish. An Israeli was “awarded the 2010 Fields Medal – considered the ‘Nobel Prize’ in the field.” There is no Nobel Prize for math, but Israel has nine of those.

It would be a minor miracle if Virginia House Democrats Glenn Nye and Tom Perriello manage to get re-elected. “Nathan Gonzales, political editor of the nonpartisan Rothenberg Political Report, termed Perriello and Nye ‘extremely vulnerable’ in November. ‘It’s highly unlikely they’ll both survive a wave like the one that’s developing,’ Gonzales said.”

Chris Christie manages to become a movie star in his first year in office.

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What Objection to the Ground Zero Mosque Is Not

Liberals who two years ago abandoned their humdrum lives to become career alarmists about Sarah Palin’s Pentecostalism now wish to be taken seriously as misty-eyed champions of America’s tolerance of diverse faiths. Whatever the intent of the planned Cordoba House Mosque Community Center Bowling Alley Drive-in Imax Nail Salon and Day Spa actually is matters not at all. It is to be celebrated because it is Islamic and because America does not discriminate on the basis of religion. The New York Times’ Maureen Dowd laments that President Obama, in his muddled failure to partake in the festivities, has “allowed himself to be weakened by perfectly predictable Republican hysteria.” After all, says Dowd,“By now you have to be willfully blind not to know that the imam in charge of the project, Feisal Abdul Rauf, is the moderate Muslim we have allegedly been yearning for.”

Braille has come a long way. When I read that Rauf refused to call Hamas a terrorist organization and that he respects the doctrine of the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini I could swear I took it in with my eyes. Just as I seemed to do when in 2008 I read that Dowd, the declared enemy of predictable hysteria, asked of Sarah Palin, “When the phone rings at 3 a.m., will she call the Wasilla Assembly of God congregation and ask them to pray on a response, as she asked them to pray for a natural gas pipeline?”

Feisal Rauf is A-OK with Khomeini-ism and he’s a welcome voice of reason; Sarah Palin prays and that makes her an unhinged zealot.

Read More

Liberals who two years ago abandoned their humdrum lives to become career alarmists about Sarah Palin’s Pentecostalism now wish to be taken seriously as misty-eyed champions of America’s tolerance of diverse faiths. Whatever the intent of the planned Cordoba House Mosque Community Center Bowling Alley Drive-in Imax Nail Salon and Day Spa actually is matters not at all. It is to be celebrated because it is Islamic and because America does not discriminate on the basis of religion. The New York Times’ Maureen Dowd laments that President Obama, in his muddled failure to partake in the festivities, has “allowed himself to be weakened by perfectly predictable Republican hysteria.” After all, says Dowd,“By now you have to be willfully blind not to know that the imam in charge of the project, Feisal Abdul Rauf, is the moderate Muslim we have allegedly been yearning for.”

Braille has come a long way. When I read that Rauf refused to call Hamas a terrorist organization and that he respects the doctrine of the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini I could swear I took it in with my eyes. Just as I seemed to do when in 2008 I read that Dowd, the declared enemy of predictable hysteria, asked of Sarah Palin, “When the phone rings at 3 a.m., will she call the Wasilla Assembly of God congregation and ask them to pray on a response, as she asked them to pray for a natural gas pipeline?”

Feisal Rauf is A-OK with Khomeini-ism and he’s a welcome voice of reason; Sarah Palin prays and that makes her an unhinged zealot.

Religion is  deserving of mockery at all turns—unless it is the Muslim strain to be practiced two blocks from Ground Zero. Of course, objections to the comparison are predictable. Palin was vying for the vice president’s office and Rauf is merely . . . the bridge-building embodiment of Muslim outreach that the post-9/11 world has been waiting for.

The Left’s shift from defamers of faith to champions of faith has come complete with the characterization of the Right as hateful bigots. That thousands of American liberals have in the past protested Papal visits, with some placards comparing Christianity to Nazism, is a testament to freedom of speech. That non-liberal Americans protest only the building of a specific mosque in a specific location is a testament both to prejudice and to indifference on religious freedom.  In the Daily Beast, Peter Beinart asks, in high dudgeon, “Remember when George W. Bush and his neoconservative allies used to say that the ‘war on terror; was a struggle on behalf of Muslims, decent folks who wanted nothing more than to live free like you and me?” No matter that neoconservatives like the Wall Street Journal’s Bret Stephens writes that the problem with celebrating Rauf as a moderate is that doing so steals support and recognition from “Muslims in the U.S. like Irshad [Manji] who are working, tirelessly but mainly out of view, toward the cause of reform.” And never mind that in the New Republic Reuel Gerecht, a neoconservative,  envisions a potential mosque built by a true moderate that “would honor us all.” Dowd, Beinart, and the like can only enjoy hero status if their opponents are depicted as convincing villains.

The myths about those opposed to the mosque don’t stop there. Conservatives, we are told, are eager to invent new instruments of government to block the mosque’s construction. While fewer than a handful of conservatives have made passing references to zoning laws, the overwhelming majority have gone out of their way to note that there is no legal argument against the mosque. As Peter Kirsanow pointed out at National Review’s Corner blog, “You don’t need to have been a lecturer in constitutional law like Obama to know that the mosque’s backers have a right to build at Ground Zero.”

Those uneasy about Rauf and the Cordoba House project are not hysterical, hateful, or statist. Their objections have to do with something less devious than prejudice and simpler than the law: common sense. Here is a thought experiment: If the mosque was slated to be built not two blocks away from Ground Zero, but actually on it, would those opposed still be exposing their contemptible hysteria by complaining? The site would still be private property, after all. And if the imam of that mosque openly preached a naked form of extremist Islam, should anyone who objects still be ashamed of themselves, as New York Mayor, Michael Bloomberg has suggested? Freedom of religion would still be a fundamental American tenet, would it not? In other words, there are points at which it is very clear that non-prejudiced objections to legal undertakings become common sense. For the mosque’s unflappable admirers, the current location and the current imam don’t court that tipping point. For most Americans, forever transformed by the deadly attack on our homeland, they eclipse it.

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