Commentary Magazine


Posts For: September 2, 2010

The Un-Peace Talks

It would be bad enough if these talks were merely unproductive. But five people (I refuse to adopt the Obami’s counting system, which denies the death of the pregnant woman’s child) have died at the hands of terrorists. Should the talks break down (a strong possibility if Israel does not knuckle under to the demand for the settlement-moratorium extension), the potential for widespread violence is great. Neither in the short or long term do the peace talks offer a realistic chance for peace; quite the opposite.

Meanwhile, efforts to delegitimize Israel continue apace in international bodies. As Eli Lake reports, Israel is bracing for “Black September”:

To start, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is expected to release a report on the Memorial Day flotilla incident in which nine pro-Palestinian activists aboard a Turkish aid ship seeking to break a blockade of Gaza were killed in a battle with Israeli commandos. Activists in Lebanon have said they are trying to launch another flotilla to challenge the Gaza sea embargo in the coming weeks.

Then the Geneva-based U.N. Human Rights Council is expected to issue a follow-up on a report issued in 2009 by Judge Richard Goldstone regarding the Gaza war in late 2008 and early 2009. . . On top of all of this, Turkey — whose foreign minister said Israel’s raid on the aid flotilla last spring was his country’s Sept. 11 — takes its spot as the rotating chairman of the United Nations Security Council.

At the International Atomic Energy Agency later in September, Arab states are expected to press their case for Israel to publicly acknowledge its undeclared nuclear arsenal.

The peace talks afford Obama personally something, but what is Israel getting out of this? Precious little. And meanwhile, the centrifuges are whirling in Tehran.

It would be bad enough if these talks were merely unproductive. But five people (I refuse to adopt the Obami’s counting system, which denies the death of the pregnant woman’s child) have died at the hands of terrorists. Should the talks break down (a strong possibility if Israel does not knuckle under to the demand for the settlement-moratorium extension), the potential for widespread violence is great. Neither in the short or long term do the peace talks offer a realistic chance for peace; quite the opposite.

Meanwhile, efforts to delegitimize Israel continue apace in international bodies. As Eli Lake reports, Israel is bracing for “Black September”:

To start, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is expected to release a report on the Memorial Day flotilla incident in which nine pro-Palestinian activists aboard a Turkish aid ship seeking to break a blockade of Gaza were killed in a battle with Israeli commandos. Activists in Lebanon have said they are trying to launch another flotilla to challenge the Gaza sea embargo in the coming weeks.

Then the Geneva-based U.N. Human Rights Council is expected to issue a follow-up on a report issued in 2009 by Judge Richard Goldstone regarding the Gaza war in late 2008 and early 2009. . . On top of all of this, Turkey — whose foreign minister said Israel’s raid on the aid flotilla last spring was his country’s Sept. 11 — takes its spot as the rotating chairman of the United Nations Security Council.

At the International Atomic Energy Agency later in September, Arab states are expected to press their case for Israel to publicly acknowledge its undeclared nuclear arsenal.

The peace talks afford Obama personally something, but what is Israel getting out of this? Precious little. And meanwhile, the centrifuges are whirling in Tehran.

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Peace

Well, that was something. Netanyahu and Abbas met today for a while, and then agreed to meet in a couple of weeks for a while. We’ll have to wait for leaks and the like to know what happened at the meeting and what the dynamics were and whether each side came with something that will give sub-negotiators something to chew over and wrestle with in the weeks to come, but I’ll hazard a guess here: What happened was nothing. Obama wanted a meeting. Bibi wanted to keep Obama happy. Abbas had nothing to do anyway and maybe by hugging the Americans he can hang onto power by his toenails even though his elected term ended more than a year and a half ago. So they said they would discuss peace and they used the word peace and they got their pretty peaceful photographs and Obama talked about peace and Hillary talked about peace and George Mitchell got himself a little bone of peace and…

I mean, come on.

Well, that was something. Netanyahu and Abbas met today for a while, and then agreed to meet in a couple of weeks for a while. We’ll have to wait for leaks and the like to know what happened at the meeting and what the dynamics were and whether each side came with something that will give sub-negotiators something to chew over and wrestle with in the weeks to come, but I’ll hazard a guess here: What happened was nothing. Obama wanted a meeting. Bibi wanted to keep Obama happy. Abbas had nothing to do anyway and maybe by hugging the Americans he can hang onto power by his toenails even though his elected term ended more than a year and a half ago. So they said they would discuss peace and they used the word peace and they got their pretty peaceful photographs and Obama talked about peace and Hillary talked about peace and George Mitchell got himself a little bone of peace and…

I mean, come on.

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Hagel, Sestak, and Pro-Israel Groups

When Chuck Hagel threw his support to Democratic Senate candidate Joe Sestak and seemed to have made it into the short list for a replacement for Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, alarm bells went off with pro-Israel groups. The Washington Jewish Week reports just how serious is the opposition and aversion to Hagel:

“I would regard him as the bottom of the class as far as Israel goes,” said Morris Amitay, a former executive director of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and treasurer of the Washington PAC, a pro-Israel political action committee.

In light of its past criticism of Hagel’s anti-Israel record, even the National Democratic Jewish Council had harsh words:

“Clearly, Hagel has a mixed record on Israel, but that record frankly puts him at variance with the president’s own policies vis-a-vis Israel,” said David Harris, president and CEO of the National Jewish Democratic Council, adding that, for now, “speculation is just that.”

Well then, what does all of this say about the candidate who calls Hagel his favorite Senator and who warmly received the endorsement? If Hagel’s record is “mixed” (it used to be much worse, from the NJDC’s perspective), then isn’t there just a wee bit of concern that Sestak’s views are also at “variance” with support for Israel?

Likewise, we have this from a Democratic operative: “If he was in fact appointed [Defense Secretary], I would find his appointment difficult to reconcile with my views of the administration.” So, isn’t it also hard to reconcile with Sestak’s views?

When Chuck Hagel threw his support to Democratic Senate candidate Joe Sestak and seemed to have made it into the short list for a replacement for Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, alarm bells went off with pro-Israel groups. The Washington Jewish Week reports just how serious is the opposition and aversion to Hagel:

“I would regard him as the bottom of the class as far as Israel goes,” said Morris Amitay, a former executive director of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and treasurer of the Washington PAC, a pro-Israel political action committee.

In light of its past criticism of Hagel’s anti-Israel record, even the National Democratic Jewish Council had harsh words:

“Clearly, Hagel has a mixed record on Israel, but that record frankly puts him at variance with the president’s own policies vis-a-vis Israel,” said David Harris, president and CEO of the National Jewish Democratic Council, adding that, for now, “speculation is just that.”

Well then, what does all of this say about the candidate who calls Hagel his favorite Senator and who warmly received the endorsement? If Hagel’s record is “mixed” (it used to be much worse, from the NJDC’s perspective), then isn’t there just a wee bit of concern that Sestak’s views are also at “variance” with support for Israel?

Likewise, we have this from a Democratic operative: “If he was in fact appointed [Defense Secretary], I would find his appointment difficult to reconcile with my views of the administration.” So, isn’t it also hard to reconcile with Sestak’s views?

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Blair: Use Military Force on Iran If Neccessary

An experienced Middle East hand directs me to Tony Blair’s comments yesterday:

“I am saying that I think it is wholly unacceptable for Iran to have a nuclear weapons capability and I think we have got to be prepared to confront them, if necessary militarily. I think there is no alternative to that if they continue to develop nuclear weapons. They need to get that message loud and clear.” . . .

“Now other people may say: ‘Come on, the consequences of taking them on are too great, you’ve got to be so very careful, you’ll simply upset everybody, you’ll destabilise it.’ I understand all of those arguments. But I wouldn’t take the risk of Iran with a nuclear weapon.”

In the postscript to his book, Blair writes: “Iran with a nuclear bomb would mean others in the region acquiring the same capability; it would dramatically alter the balance of power in the region, but also within Islam.”

Those “other people” concerned about destabilization, of course, include some in the Obama administration. Blair’s comments are significant and could potentially be persuasive with the Iran doves in the administration, including the president. Blair is, after all, the Quartet’s envoy in the Middle East, and has at times enjoyed the “lavish praise” of Obama.

As military operations in Iraq wind down and the obviously limp-wristed Iran sanctions prove to be exactly as critics predicted — wholly ineffective — Blair’s and others’ voices, both here and abroad, will certainly make the effort to focus the U.S. administration on the Iranian threat. And, with a more Republican House and Senate (majorities quite possible in both), U.S. lawmakers may turn up the heat as well. A new leadership team and crop of committee chairmen will be in a position to press Obama and his advisers, pass resolutions, and conduct debate. That all this is necessary to direct Obama to the most urgent national-security matter we face is regrettable. But if Blair is any indication, and we fervently hope he is, lawmakers, foreign leaders, and domestic hawks will make every effort to ensure that Obama does not go down in history as the president who allowed Iran to get the bomb.

An experienced Middle East hand directs me to Tony Blair’s comments yesterday:

“I am saying that I think it is wholly unacceptable for Iran to have a nuclear weapons capability and I think we have got to be prepared to confront them, if necessary militarily. I think there is no alternative to that if they continue to develop nuclear weapons. They need to get that message loud and clear.” . . .

“Now other people may say: ‘Come on, the consequences of taking them on are too great, you’ve got to be so very careful, you’ll simply upset everybody, you’ll destabilise it.’ I understand all of those arguments. But I wouldn’t take the risk of Iran with a nuclear weapon.”

In the postscript to his book, Blair writes: “Iran with a nuclear bomb would mean others in the region acquiring the same capability; it would dramatically alter the balance of power in the region, but also within Islam.”

Those “other people” concerned about destabilization, of course, include some in the Obama administration. Blair’s comments are significant and could potentially be persuasive with the Iran doves in the administration, including the president. Blair is, after all, the Quartet’s envoy in the Middle East, and has at times enjoyed the “lavish praise” of Obama.

As military operations in Iraq wind down and the obviously limp-wristed Iran sanctions prove to be exactly as critics predicted — wholly ineffective — Blair’s and others’ voices, both here and abroad, will certainly make the effort to focus the U.S. administration on the Iranian threat. And, with a more Republican House and Senate (majorities quite possible in both), U.S. lawmakers may turn up the heat as well. A new leadership team and crop of committee chairmen will be in a position to press Obama and his advisers, pass resolutions, and conduct debate. That all this is necessary to direct Obama to the most urgent national-security matter we face is regrettable. But if Blair is any indication, and we fervently hope he is, lawmakers, foreign leaders, and domestic hawks will make every effort to ensure that Obama does not go down in history as the president who allowed Iran to get the bomb.

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Liberalism’s Existential Crisis

As the Obama presidency and the Democratic Party continue their journey into the Slough of Despond, it’s interesting to watch Obama’ supporters try to process the unfolding events.

Some blame it on a failure to communicate. E.J. Dionne, Jr., for example, ascribes the Democrats’ problems to the fact that Obama “has chosen not to engage the nation in an extended dialogue about what holds all his achievements together.” Joe Klein offers this explanation: “If Obama is not reelected, it will be because he comes across as disdaining what he does for a living.” And John Judis points to the Obama administration’s “aversion to populism.”

Others are aiming their sound and fury at the American people. According to Maureen Dowd, “Obama is the head of the dysfunctional family of America — a rational man running a most irrational nation, a high-minded man in a low-minded age. The country is having some weird mass nervous breakdown.” Jonathan Alter argues that the American people “aren’t rationally aligning belief and action; they’re tempted to lose their spleens in the polling place without fully grasping the consequences.” And Slate‘s Jacob Weisberg has written that “the biggest culprit in our current predicament” is the “childishness, ignorance, and growing incoherence of the public at large.” Read More

As the Obama presidency and the Democratic Party continue their journey into the Slough of Despond, it’s interesting to watch Obama’ supporters try to process the unfolding events.

Some blame it on a failure to communicate. E.J. Dionne, Jr., for example, ascribes the Democrats’ problems to the fact that Obama “has chosen not to engage the nation in an extended dialogue about what holds all his achievements together.” Joe Klein offers this explanation: “If Obama is not reelected, it will be because he comes across as disdaining what he does for a living.” And John Judis points to the Obama administration’s “aversion to populism.”

Others are aiming their sound and fury at the American people. According to Maureen Dowd, “Obama is the head of the dysfunctional family of America — a rational man running a most irrational nation, a high-minded man in a low-minded age. The country is having some weird mass nervous breakdown.” Jonathan Alter argues that the American people “aren’t rationally aligning belief and action; they’re tempted to lose their spleens in the polling place without fully grasping the consequences.” And Slate‘s Jacob Weisberg has written that “the biggest culprit in our current predicament” is the “childishness, ignorance, and growing incoherence of the public at large.”

For still others, Obama’s failures can be traced to James Madison. George Packer complains that Obama’s failures are in part institutional. He lists a slew of items on the liberal agenda items “the world’s greatest deliberative body is incapable of addressing.” Paul Krugman warns that the Senate is “ominously dysfunctional” and insists that the way it works is “no longer consistent with a functioning government.” For Vanity Fair’s Todd Purdum, “The evidence that Washington cannot function — that it’s ‘broken,’ as Vice President Joe Biden has said — is all around.” The modern presidency “has become a job of such gargantuan size, speed, and complexity as to be all but unrecognizable to most of the previous chief executives.”

Commentators such as the Washington Post’s Ezra Klein place responsibility on “powerful structural forces in American politics that seem to drag down first-term presidents” (though Klein does acknowledge other factors). The New Republic’s Jonathan Chait pins the blame on “structural factors” and “external factors” that have nothing to do with Obama’s policies.

Then there are those who see the pernicious vast right-wing conspiracy at work. Frank Rich alerts us to the fact that the problem lies with “the brothers David and Charles Koch,” the “sugar daddies” who are bankrolling the “white Tea Party America.” Newsweek‘s Michael Cohen has written that, “Perhaps the greatest hindrance to good governance today is the Republican Party, which has adopted an agenda of pure nihilism for naked political gain.” And Mr. Krugman offers this analysis: “What we learned from the Clinton years is that a significant number of Americans just don’t consider government by liberals — even very moderate liberals — legitimate. Mr. Obama’s election would have enraged those people even if he were white. Of course, the fact that he isn’t, and has an alien-sounding name, adds to the rage.” Krugman goes on to warn that “powerful forces are promoting and exploiting this rage” — including the “right-wing media.” And if they come to gain power, “It will be an ugly scene, and it will be dangerous, too.”

What most of these commentators are missing, I think, are two essential points. First, the public is turning against Obama and the Democratic Party because the economy is sick and, despite his assurances and projections, the president hasn’t been able to make it well. And in some important respects, especially on fiscal matters, the president and the 111th Congress have made things considerably worse. Second, an increasing number of Americans believe Obama’s policies are unwise, ineffective, and much too liberal. They connect the bad results we are seeing in America to what Obama is doing to America.

But there’s something else, and something deeper, going on here. All of us who embrace a particular religious or philosophical worldview should be prepared to judge them in light of empirical facts and reality. What if our theories seem to be failing in the real world?

The truth is that it’s rather rare to find people willing to reexamine or reinterpret their most deeply held beliefs when the mounting evidence calls those beliefs into question. That is something most of us (myself included) battle with: How to be a person of principled convictions while being intellectually honest enough to acknowledge when certain propositions (and, in some instances, foundational policies) seem to be failing or falling short.

It’s quite possible, of course, that one’s basic convictions can remain true even when events go badly. Self-government is still the best form of government even if it might fail in one nation or another. And sometimes it is simply a matter of weathering storms until certain first principles are reaffirmed. At the same time, sometimes we hold to theories that are simply wrong, that are contrary to human nature and the way the world works, but we simply can’t let go of them. We have too much invested in a particular philosophy.

President Obama’s liberal supporters understand that he is in serious trouble right now; what they are doing is scrambling to find some way to explain his problems without calling into question their underlying political philosophy (modern liberalism). If what is happening cannot be a fundamental failure of liberalism, then it must be something else — from a “communications problem” to “structural factors” to a political conspiracy. And you can bet that if things continue on their present course, ideologues on the left will increasingly argue that Obama’s failures stem from his being (a) not liberal enough or (b) incompetent.

If the Obama presidency is seen as damaging the larger liberal project, they will abandon Obama in order to try to protect liberalism. They would rather do that than face an existential crisis.

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Democrats Fade

Virtually every pollster has remarked upon the growing erosion in Democrats’ midterm election prospects. Larry Sabato, Charlie Cook, and many political reporters have noticed that things are getting worse for the Democrats. So we shouldn’t be surprised any longer to see polling results like these:

The latest Rasmussen Reports statewide telephone survey of Likely Voters in the state shows Republican challenger Dino Rossi attracting 48% of the vote while Democratic Senator Patty Murray earns support from 46%. Three percent (3%) prefer a different candidate, and three percent (3%) are undecided.

Earlier this month, Murray had a slight edge. However, the race has been very close all along.

Listen, if that is Washington State — think about Pennsylvania, Indiana, Ohio, Florida, and other less-Blue states. I think “wipeout” is a distinct possibility at this stage.

Virtually every pollster has remarked upon the growing erosion in Democrats’ midterm election prospects. Larry Sabato, Charlie Cook, and many political reporters have noticed that things are getting worse for the Democrats. So we shouldn’t be surprised any longer to see polling results like these:

The latest Rasmussen Reports statewide telephone survey of Likely Voters in the state shows Republican challenger Dino Rossi attracting 48% of the vote while Democratic Senator Patty Murray earns support from 46%. Three percent (3%) prefer a different candidate, and three percent (3%) are undecided.

Earlier this month, Murray had a slight edge. However, the race has been very close all along.

Listen, if that is Washington State — think about Pennsylvania, Indiana, Ohio, Florida, and other less-Blue states. I think “wipeout” is a distinct possibility at this stage.

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Silly Things

As I noted, peace talks tend to induce silly comments and amnesia among the chattering class. No one chatters and forgets more than Tom Friedman. He writes:

President Obama is embarking on something I’ve never seen before — taking on two Missions Impossible at the same time. That is, a simultaneous effort to heal the two most bitter divides in the Middle East: the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the Shiite-Sunni conflict centered in Iraq.

Um, except for George W. Bush.

As I noted, peace talks tend to induce silly comments and amnesia among the chattering class. No one chatters and forgets more than Tom Friedman. He writes:

President Obama is embarking on something I’ve never seen before — taking on two Missions Impossible at the same time. That is, a simultaneous effort to heal the two most bitter divides in the Middle East: the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the Shiite-Sunni conflict centered in Iraq.

Um, except for George W. Bush.

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“It’s a Free Country. I Wish It Weren’t.”

The governor of Massachusetts, Deval Patrick, appeared on a Boston radio show and was asked about the right of Glenn Beck and the hundreds of thousands of attendees at his Lincoln Memorial rally to do what they’ve done: “It’s a free country,” he said, then added almost off-handedly, “I wish it weren’t. but it’s a free country, and  you gotta respect that freedom.” The audio features my friend, Boston talk-show host Michael Graham discussing the matter. (You can skip ahead to the sound bite; it appears at 1:17.) With Patrick unable to reach 40 percent in the polls in his reelection bid (he’s still up 8 points over his Republican rival Charles Baker in part because of a strong third-party candidate), this could be the gaffe of the year. Or it would be, if he were a Republican.

Of course, Patrick doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be a free country. He just wishes, somewhere inside him, that it weren’t as free as it is for people he disagrees with. And have you ever noticed that when people use the phrase, “it’s a free country,” they usually use it to complain?

The governor of Massachusetts, Deval Patrick, appeared on a Boston radio show and was asked about the right of Glenn Beck and the hundreds of thousands of attendees at his Lincoln Memorial rally to do what they’ve done: “It’s a free country,” he said, then added almost off-handedly, “I wish it weren’t. but it’s a free country, and  you gotta respect that freedom.” The audio features my friend, Boston talk-show host Michael Graham discussing the matter. (You can skip ahead to the sound bite; it appears at 1:17.) With Patrick unable to reach 40 percent in the polls in his reelection bid (he’s still up 8 points over his Republican rival Charles Baker in part because of a strong third-party candidate), this could be the gaffe of the year. Or it would be, if he were a Republican.

Of course, Patrick doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be a free country. He just wishes, somewhere inside him, that it weren’t as free as it is for people he disagrees with. And have you ever noticed that when people use the phrase, “it’s a free country,” they usually use it to complain?

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Data Swinging Right

According to Gallup, in October 2006 Democrats held a 64 percent v. 25 percent advantage over Republicans on health care. Today the lead is 44 percent v. 43 percent, a 38-point swing in favor of the GOP. ObamaCare seems to have undone, at least for the time being, one of the Democratic Party’s most potent issue advantages. And the data on a host of other issues isn’t much better (a 29-point swing on combating terrorism, a 27-point swing on the economy, and a 26-point swing on handling corruption in government). Byron York of the Washington Examiner provides the details here.

According to Gallup, in October 2006 Democrats held a 64 percent v. 25 percent advantage over Republicans on health care. Today the lead is 44 percent v. 43 percent, a 38-point swing in favor of the GOP. ObamaCare seems to have undone, at least for the time being, one of the Democratic Party’s most potent issue advantages. And the data on a host of other issues isn’t much better (a 29-point swing on combating terrorism, a 27-point swing on the economy, and a 26-point swing on handling corruption in government). Byron York of the Washington Examiner provides the details here.

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Pat Caddell’s Devastating Critique

In a fascinating interview with Robert Costa, Democratic pollster and analyst Pat Caddell zeroes in on the Democrats’ impending doom (“the general outcome is baked”) and on Obama’s failure to live up to expectations (“The killer in American politics is disappointment. When you are elected on expectations, and you fail to meet them, your decline steepens”). But his most cogent analysis focuses on Obama’s base. He writes:

The people who own the party — George Soros, the Center for American Progress, the public-employee union bosses, rich folks flying private jets to “ideas festivals” in Aspen — they’re Obama’s base.

Yowser. He omitted only the liberal media, but I suppose they too — along with young people, old people, Hispanics, working- and middle-class whites, and even 42 percent of Jews — have grown disillusioned as well.

It is debatable whether the puny base is the result of Obama’s extreme agenda or the reason it is so extreme. If you believe the former, Obama has traveled so far left that he’s lost virtually everyone else in the Democratic coalition and turned off independents as well. But if you follow Caddell’s implication (that this is the group that “owns” the party), Obama takes these steps because that’s what his core constituency wants. Why persist in supporting the repeal of the Bush tax cuts? These groups wouldn’t accept anything less. Why install controversial figures by recess appointment (e.g. Craig Becker, Donald Berwick)? Well, these are the sorts of appointees that give his “base” reassurance. Why continue to push climate change regulation and anti-business legislation in the midst of a recession? You got it — give the base what it wants.

Both phenomena are likely at work. Obama is inclined to go left. He thereby withers his base, increasing the clout of these slivers of the electorate. And he feels compelled to keep them happy, given that his political standing is so fragile.

Obama now is truly in a tough spot, one of his own making, I will grant you. Does he reposition to try to recapture his lost supporters, or stick with the grab bag of interest groups that encourage his most destructive inclinations? Hard to say. At this point, I would wager that not even Obama or his closest advisers have figured out what to do.

In a fascinating interview with Robert Costa, Democratic pollster and analyst Pat Caddell zeroes in on the Democrats’ impending doom (“the general outcome is baked”) and on Obama’s failure to live up to expectations (“The killer in American politics is disappointment. When you are elected on expectations, and you fail to meet them, your decline steepens”). But his most cogent analysis focuses on Obama’s base. He writes:

The people who own the party — George Soros, the Center for American Progress, the public-employee union bosses, rich folks flying private jets to “ideas festivals” in Aspen — they’re Obama’s base.

Yowser. He omitted only the liberal media, but I suppose they too — along with young people, old people, Hispanics, working- and middle-class whites, and even 42 percent of Jews — have grown disillusioned as well.

It is debatable whether the puny base is the result of Obama’s extreme agenda or the reason it is so extreme. If you believe the former, Obama has traveled so far left that he’s lost virtually everyone else in the Democratic coalition and turned off independents as well. But if you follow Caddell’s implication (that this is the group that “owns” the party), Obama takes these steps because that’s what his core constituency wants. Why persist in supporting the repeal of the Bush tax cuts? These groups wouldn’t accept anything less. Why install controversial figures by recess appointment (e.g. Craig Becker, Donald Berwick)? Well, these are the sorts of appointees that give his “base” reassurance. Why continue to push climate change regulation and anti-business legislation in the midst of a recession? You got it — give the base what it wants.

Both phenomena are likely at work. Obama is inclined to go left. He thereby withers his base, increasing the clout of these slivers of the electorate. And he feels compelled to keep them happy, given that his political standing is so fragile.

Obama now is truly in a tough spot, one of his own making, I will grant you. Does he reposition to try to recapture his lost supporters, or stick with the grab bag of interest groups that encourage his most destructive inclinations? Hard to say. At this point, I would wager that not even Obama or his closest advisers have figured out what to do.

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RE: Deadlines

The insistence on imposing deadlines on wars, as I argued yesterday, is one of Obama’s most destructive contributions to the war against jihadists. (Declining to call them “jihadists” is another.) Even the Washington Post editors picked up on this dangerous tendency, one that was much in evidence Tuesday night and provoked much of the angst on the right:

The president sought to assure Iraqis that the United States will remain a committed partner — but he reiterated that “all U.S. troops will leave by the end of next year.” He said that “no challenge is more essential to our security than our fight against al-Qaeda” and vowed to prevent Afghanistan “from again serving as a base for terrorists” — but promised to begin withdrawing troops next August, because “open-ended war serves neither our interests nor the Afghan people’s.” He insisted that “America intends to sustain and strengthen our leadership in this young century” — but then explained that “that effort must begin within our own borders.”

The editors then offer some wise words of council to a president who, as the New York Times aptly reported, is indifferent and/or uncomfortable with embracing the role of commander in chief:

Of course it is true, as Mr. Obama has said many times, that the United States cannot be a leader overseas if it does not sustain a strong economy at home. But a president leading a nation at war doesn’t have the luxury of deciding that the domestic piece of that equation is now his “most urgent task.” … He might wish not to be a wartime president at all. But, as he has said, al-Qaeda has not given him, or the country, that choice.

It is not as if every sentence of every speech is dovish or neo-isolationist. But we have seen the pattern before — a step forward, and then a step back, never willing to shirk his dovish inclinations. Some eager conservatives got very jazzed by the Nobel Prize speech or by the infusion of 30,000 troops to Afghanistan. And they were right to be pleased by the latter. But Obama inevitably returns to form — the West Point speech was followed by the dreadful 60 Minutes interview in which he doubled-down on the troop withdrawal. And this year, conservatives were back pleading with Obama to revoke the troop deadline that months earlier some had downplayed because, they opined, what really mattered was the troop increase. But what really matters is what the president does and says.

As I previously pointed out, Obama’s talk to the troops at Fort Bliss actually made a huge concession to the Iraq war supporters: the war made us more secure. But in the Oval Office, with prepared text (we were told the president spoke “without notes” at Fort Bliss), those were words he dared not utter. Had he meant to really “turn the page,” to shed his campaign persona, and to embrace fully the role of wartime commander in a war in defense of our civilization, he would have explained just that — that we fight these wars to keep us safe. And that task is not one subject to arbitrary timelines.

A final note: it would also help if Obama did not transmute every action into a crass political opportunity. As Hotline reports:

[H]is second Oval Office address may be remembered as vividly as his predecessor’s aircraft carrier speech, albeit for a very different reason: Tuesday was the moment Obama turned toward his own re-election bid. Obama’s address was aimed at claiming credit for a key campaign promise, but it was also an acknowledgment that the hardest part of his presidency — revitalizing an economy that stubbornly refuses to recover — lies ahead. … Sure enough, on Wednesday, a top Organizing for America official e-mailed Obama’s legendary multimillion-member contact list under the subject line “A promise kept.” And perhaps no promise was more central to Obama’s presidency than ending the war in Iraq.

An unfortunate reminder that Obama, while a reluctant commander in chief, is dogged when it comes to seeking political advantage. (Not his party’s, to the chagrin of his fellow Democrats, but his own.) In the preference for politics over war-fighting, he is indeed quintessentially not-Bush.

The insistence on imposing deadlines on wars, as I argued yesterday, is one of Obama’s most destructive contributions to the war against jihadists. (Declining to call them “jihadists” is another.) Even the Washington Post editors picked up on this dangerous tendency, one that was much in evidence Tuesday night and provoked much of the angst on the right:

The president sought to assure Iraqis that the United States will remain a committed partner — but he reiterated that “all U.S. troops will leave by the end of next year.” He said that “no challenge is more essential to our security than our fight against al-Qaeda” and vowed to prevent Afghanistan “from again serving as a base for terrorists” — but promised to begin withdrawing troops next August, because “open-ended war serves neither our interests nor the Afghan people’s.” He insisted that “America intends to sustain and strengthen our leadership in this young century” — but then explained that “that effort must begin within our own borders.”

The editors then offer some wise words of council to a president who, as the New York Times aptly reported, is indifferent and/or uncomfortable with embracing the role of commander in chief:

Of course it is true, as Mr. Obama has said many times, that the United States cannot be a leader overseas if it does not sustain a strong economy at home. But a president leading a nation at war doesn’t have the luxury of deciding that the domestic piece of that equation is now his “most urgent task.” … He might wish not to be a wartime president at all. But, as he has said, al-Qaeda has not given him, or the country, that choice.

It is not as if every sentence of every speech is dovish or neo-isolationist. But we have seen the pattern before — a step forward, and then a step back, never willing to shirk his dovish inclinations. Some eager conservatives got very jazzed by the Nobel Prize speech or by the infusion of 30,000 troops to Afghanistan. And they were right to be pleased by the latter. But Obama inevitably returns to form — the West Point speech was followed by the dreadful 60 Minutes interview in which he doubled-down on the troop withdrawal. And this year, conservatives were back pleading with Obama to revoke the troop deadline that months earlier some had downplayed because, they opined, what really mattered was the troop increase. But what really matters is what the president does and says.

As I previously pointed out, Obama’s talk to the troops at Fort Bliss actually made a huge concession to the Iraq war supporters: the war made us more secure. But in the Oval Office, with prepared text (we were told the president spoke “without notes” at Fort Bliss), those were words he dared not utter. Had he meant to really “turn the page,” to shed his campaign persona, and to embrace fully the role of wartime commander in a war in defense of our civilization, he would have explained just that — that we fight these wars to keep us safe. And that task is not one subject to arbitrary timelines.

A final note: it would also help if Obama did not transmute every action into a crass political opportunity. As Hotline reports:

[H]is second Oval Office address may be remembered as vividly as his predecessor’s aircraft carrier speech, albeit for a very different reason: Tuesday was the moment Obama turned toward his own re-election bid. Obama’s address was aimed at claiming credit for a key campaign promise, but it was also an acknowledgment that the hardest part of his presidency — revitalizing an economy that stubbornly refuses to recover — lies ahead. … Sure enough, on Wednesday, a top Organizing for America official e-mailed Obama’s legendary multimillion-member contact list under the subject line “A promise kept.” And perhaps no promise was more central to Obama’s presidency than ending the war in Iraq.

An unfortunate reminder that Obama, while a reluctant commander in chief, is dogged when it comes to seeking political advantage. (Not his party’s, to the chagrin of his fellow Democrats, but his own.) In the preference for politics over war-fighting, he is indeed quintessentially not-Bush.

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Brooks Cheers Beck — Honest!

David Brooks couldn’t find a bad word to say about the Glenn Beck rally. Really. In his conversation with Gail Collins, she certainly tried to drag something negative out of him. But he liked what he saw:

I have to confess I really enjoyed it. I’m no Beck fan obviously, but the spirit was really warm, generous and uplifting. The only bit of unpleasantness I found emanated from some liberal gatecrashers behaving offensively, carrying anti-Beck banners and hoping to get in some televised fights. … There, at Saturday’s rally, were the most conservative people in the country, lauding Martin Luther King Jr. There they were, in the midst of their dismay, lavishly celebrating the basic institutions of American government. I have no problem with that.

In fact, that is why the liberal punditocracy’s criticism was both muted and half-hearted. What was there to grip about? Well, there was all that, you know, religion stuff. Brooks is fine with it:

If there was a political message to the meeting, it was that many people think America’s peril is fundamentally spiritual, not economic. There has been some straying from the basic values and thrifty, industrious habits that built the country. I don’t agree with much of what this crowd wants, but I do agree with that.

Hmm, perhaps a spiritual revival that pushes back against the get-something-for-nothing me-ism of the 1960s and preaches delayed, not instant, gratification is socially beneficial. Next we’ll find out that stable two-parent households are the key to staying out of poverty.

But they are so angry. Not really. Brooks said “elite” was never mentioned at the rally. He explains: “There was a sense that the moral failings are in every home and town, and that what is needed is a moral awakening everywhere. … This was an affirmation of bourgeois values, but against a rot from within, not an assault from on high.”

What seems to have flummoxed the left is that the Beck rally demonstrated that the populist anti-Obama faction in the country (some might use the mundane phrase “majority”) isn’t composed of wackos. They actually understand better than elites that the economic problems are in large part a function of a collapse in values. Obama likes to rail against Wall Street. Well, that’s a location. The ralliers want to talk about what went wrong with the people who populate business and government. They would say we have lost touch with essential values — thrift, persistence, responsibility, modesty, and, yes, faith in something beyond self and self-indulgence. As Brooks put it, “Every society has to engird capitalism in a restraining value system, or else it turns nihilistic and out of control.”

The chattering class should stop chattering long enough to listen to what citizens are saying. Not only is it quite reasonable; it is profound.

David Brooks couldn’t find a bad word to say about the Glenn Beck rally. Really. In his conversation with Gail Collins, she certainly tried to drag something negative out of him. But he liked what he saw:

I have to confess I really enjoyed it. I’m no Beck fan obviously, but the spirit was really warm, generous and uplifting. The only bit of unpleasantness I found emanated from some liberal gatecrashers behaving offensively, carrying anti-Beck banners and hoping to get in some televised fights. … There, at Saturday’s rally, were the most conservative people in the country, lauding Martin Luther King Jr. There they were, in the midst of their dismay, lavishly celebrating the basic institutions of American government. I have no problem with that.

In fact, that is why the liberal punditocracy’s criticism was both muted and half-hearted. What was there to grip about? Well, there was all that, you know, religion stuff. Brooks is fine with it:

If there was a political message to the meeting, it was that many people think America’s peril is fundamentally spiritual, not economic. There has been some straying from the basic values and thrifty, industrious habits that built the country. I don’t agree with much of what this crowd wants, but I do agree with that.

Hmm, perhaps a spiritual revival that pushes back against the get-something-for-nothing me-ism of the 1960s and preaches delayed, not instant, gratification is socially beneficial. Next we’ll find out that stable two-parent households are the key to staying out of poverty.

But they are so angry. Not really. Brooks said “elite” was never mentioned at the rally. He explains: “There was a sense that the moral failings are in every home and town, and that what is needed is a moral awakening everywhere. … This was an affirmation of bourgeois values, but against a rot from within, not an assault from on high.”

What seems to have flummoxed the left is that the Beck rally demonstrated that the populist anti-Obama faction in the country (some might use the mundane phrase “majority”) isn’t composed of wackos. They actually understand better than elites that the economic problems are in large part a function of a collapse in values. Obama likes to rail against Wall Street. Well, that’s a location. The ralliers want to talk about what went wrong with the people who populate business and government. They would say we have lost touch with essential values — thrift, persistence, responsibility, modesty, and, yes, faith in something beyond self and self-indulgence. As Brooks put it, “Every society has to engird capitalism in a restraining value system, or else it turns nihilistic and out of control.”

The chattering class should stop chattering long enough to listen to what citizens are saying. Not only is it quite reasonable; it is profound.

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Why Does He Look So Uncomfortable?

Forget for a moment the substance of Obama’s Iraq war speech. A number of observers remarked that he looked plain uncomfortable and that his speech was “flat.” (Said one: “Why bother with a speech filled with the same vague generalizations he’s been saying about Iraq for the past nineteen months?”) And Michael Gerson (his excellent critique should be read in full) notes:

Obama’s speeches are oddly lacking in a sense of historical drama. His manner is always impressive and presidential. His words often are not. For the most part, the president’s language last night was flat and over-worn. The middle class is the “bedrock” of prosperity. We need to “shore up the foundation” of the economy. And when the rhetoric tried to rise, it strained — “a new beginning could be born,” “the steel in our ship of state.” Obama has a tendency to celebrate memorable historical moments with unmemorable speeches. There are exceptions — but this was not one of them.

So too with his BP oil spill speech, which was even more somnolent than Tuesday’s offer. Then the left piled on, distressed by the image of a once thrilling (to them) political figure shrunken and fairly dull.

It is no mystery why in the technical aspects of speech-giving Obama’s skills are so diminished, especially in the Oval Office. For starters, things are going poorly. Obama is — and seems — defensive. He is not a man who has shouldered adversity in public life, and it is to be expected that he now is prickly and tense.

Moreover, Obama has already told us, in a 60 Minutes interview, that he disapproves of “triumphalism.” So the speech Tuesday night, which was to recognize the successful conclusion (conservatives like “victory”) of our military operation after enormous adversity, was restrained, if not cramped. He did have words of praise for the troops, but then he demonstrated in his de minimus praise for George W. Bush that this is really not the standard for evaluating a president. Others, like Juan Williams, have conceded that Obama is not good in a crisis. And unfortunately, right now we have nothing but. Neither in war nor oil spills does he enjoy a comfort zone. He is in that regard the anti–Rudy Giuliani, who thrived in a crisis.

And we come back to the central Obama dilemma: he is much better on the stump than in office. When he goes out on the road in campaign-style gatherings, he may not be substantively any more convincing (e.g., no one has bought the “summer of recovery” despite a bazillion speeches), but he certainly is cheerier and more relaxed. Sitting behind that big desk, he is decidedly neither. Ed Morrissey aptly put it this way: “Barack Obama took office as supposedly one of the most well-read, inspirational figures of our time. With each speech, Obama diminishes in stature, essentially mailing in his efforts and seeming to care little if anyone notices it.”

The Obama phenomenon — great candidate/poor executive — can’t be concealed. When he speaks in the very place that personifies executive power, it becomes all too evident. Perhaps he should keep the Oval Office visits to a minimum and spend his time reflecting on why things have gone so badly. Then he might be able to regroup and rescue the final two years of his presidency.

Forget for a moment the substance of Obama’s Iraq war speech. A number of observers remarked that he looked plain uncomfortable and that his speech was “flat.” (Said one: “Why bother with a speech filled with the same vague generalizations he’s been saying about Iraq for the past nineteen months?”) And Michael Gerson (his excellent critique should be read in full) notes:

Obama’s speeches are oddly lacking in a sense of historical drama. His manner is always impressive and presidential. His words often are not. For the most part, the president’s language last night was flat and over-worn. The middle class is the “bedrock” of prosperity. We need to “shore up the foundation” of the economy. And when the rhetoric tried to rise, it strained — “a new beginning could be born,” “the steel in our ship of state.” Obama has a tendency to celebrate memorable historical moments with unmemorable speeches. There are exceptions — but this was not one of them.

So too with his BP oil spill speech, which was even more somnolent than Tuesday’s offer. Then the left piled on, distressed by the image of a once thrilling (to them) political figure shrunken and fairly dull.

It is no mystery why in the technical aspects of speech-giving Obama’s skills are so diminished, especially in the Oval Office. For starters, things are going poorly. Obama is — and seems — defensive. He is not a man who has shouldered adversity in public life, and it is to be expected that he now is prickly and tense.

Moreover, Obama has already told us, in a 60 Minutes interview, that he disapproves of “triumphalism.” So the speech Tuesday night, which was to recognize the successful conclusion (conservatives like “victory”) of our military operation after enormous adversity, was restrained, if not cramped. He did have words of praise for the troops, but then he demonstrated in his de minimus praise for George W. Bush that this is really not the standard for evaluating a president. Others, like Juan Williams, have conceded that Obama is not good in a crisis. And unfortunately, right now we have nothing but. Neither in war nor oil spills does he enjoy a comfort zone. He is in that regard the anti–Rudy Giuliani, who thrived in a crisis.

And we come back to the central Obama dilemma: he is much better on the stump than in office. When he goes out on the road in campaign-style gatherings, he may not be substantively any more convincing (e.g., no one has bought the “summer of recovery” despite a bazillion speeches), but he certainly is cheerier and more relaxed. Sitting behind that big desk, he is decidedly neither. Ed Morrissey aptly put it this way: “Barack Obama took office as supposedly one of the most well-read, inspirational figures of our time. With each speech, Obama diminishes in stature, essentially mailing in his efforts and seeming to care little if anyone notices it.”

The Obama phenomenon — great candidate/poor executive — can’t be concealed. When he speaks in the very place that personifies executive power, it becomes all too evident. Perhaps he should keep the Oval Office visits to a minimum and spend his time reflecting on why things have gone so badly. Then he might be able to regroup and rescue the final two years of his presidency.

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Moment of Opportunity?

One of the many disagreeable aspects of the “peace process” is that people say very silly things. A case in point:

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas “are two leaders who I believe want peace,” Obama said in the Rose Garden Wednesday evening, flanked by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Middle East peace envoy George Mitchell. “As I told them today, this moment of opportunity may not soon come again. They cannot afford to let it slip away.”

Well this moment won’t come again, by definition. (He’s very big on “this” moments — he used it a lot in his campaign speech in Berlin. It didn’t make any more sense then.) But what opportunity? Is there some hint that this moment of opportunity is any different from past moments of opportunity? And who is to say that there won’t be better prospects in the future — when, for example, the West Bank’s economic gains mount and its civil institutions mature. Maybe if Iran is toppled, externally or internally, and support dries up for Hamas and Hezbollah, the moment will be ripe.

But not now. By investing such expectations in this “moment” and suggesting that this is an especially opportune time to reach an agreement, when the opposite is likely the case, Obama risks — again — losing credibility.

Meanwhile, the real moment of opportunity is with Iran — before it gets the bomb. If only the administration had an appropriate sense of urgency for the right things.

One of the many disagreeable aspects of the “peace process” is that people say very silly things. A case in point:

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas “are two leaders who I believe want peace,” Obama said in the Rose Garden Wednesday evening, flanked by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Middle East peace envoy George Mitchell. “As I told them today, this moment of opportunity may not soon come again. They cannot afford to let it slip away.”

Well this moment won’t come again, by definition. (He’s very big on “this” moments — he used it a lot in his campaign speech in Berlin. It didn’t make any more sense then.) But what opportunity? Is there some hint that this moment of opportunity is any different from past moments of opportunity? And who is to say that there won’t be better prospects in the future — when, for example, the West Bank’s economic gains mount and its civil institutions mature. Maybe if Iran is toppled, externally or internally, and support dries up for Hamas and Hezbollah, the moment will be ripe.

But not now. By investing such expectations in this “moment” and suggesting that this is an especially opportune time to reach an agreement, when the opposite is likely the case, Obama risks — again — losing credibility.

Meanwhile, the real moment of opportunity is with Iran — before it gets the bomb. If only the administration had an appropriate sense of urgency for the right things.

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How Bad Is Obamanomics?

Michael Boskin, former chair of the Council of Economic Advisers under the first President Bush, confirms just how bleak the economic picture is:

The Obama administration’s “summer of recovery” has morphed into a summer of economic discontent amid anxiety over the weakening economy. The greater than 4% growth and less than 8% unemployment envisioned by the president’s economic team are nowhere to be seen. Almost everything that is supposed to be up—the economic growth rate, the stock market, bond yields—is down. And almost everything that is supposed to be down—unemployment-insurance claims, new mortgage delinquencies—is up. …

How bad is it? In the data for the last few weeks and months, real personal disposable income was flat; core capital goods orders, a precursor of business capital spending, declined 8%; new home sales fell 12.4%, existing sales 27%, despite record low mortgage rates; single-family housing starts declined 4.2%; building permits, foreshadowing future construction, fell 1.2%; initial jobless claims spiked to over 500,000, leading forecasters to expect at best meager short-term private-sector job growth; the Kansas City, Philadelphia and New York Fed manufacturing indexes fell; and the trade deficit increased, as exports fell and imports rose.

Obama has done worse, much worse, than prior presidents when it comes to economic recovery. (“Compared to the 6.2% first-year Ford recovery and 7.7% Reagan recovery, the Obama recovery at 3% is less than half speed. The unemployment rate would now be 8% or lower at those higher growth rates.”)

As Boskin explains, Obama needs to reverse virtually every policy he has undertaken: slash spending, not increase it; cut taxes, not raise them; and address entitlements, not pass the buck to a do-nothing commission. It would certainly help if he were to stop imposing, and in fact cut back on, the draconian regulations, fees, and mandates he has saddled employers with.

What are the chances of this happening in the next two years? Very small. And accordingly, so are his re-election prospects.

Michael Boskin, former chair of the Council of Economic Advisers under the first President Bush, confirms just how bleak the economic picture is:

The Obama administration’s “summer of recovery” has morphed into a summer of economic discontent amid anxiety over the weakening economy. The greater than 4% growth and less than 8% unemployment envisioned by the president’s economic team are nowhere to be seen. Almost everything that is supposed to be up—the economic growth rate, the stock market, bond yields—is down. And almost everything that is supposed to be down—unemployment-insurance claims, new mortgage delinquencies—is up. …

How bad is it? In the data for the last few weeks and months, real personal disposable income was flat; core capital goods orders, a precursor of business capital spending, declined 8%; new home sales fell 12.4%, existing sales 27%, despite record low mortgage rates; single-family housing starts declined 4.2%; building permits, foreshadowing future construction, fell 1.2%; initial jobless claims spiked to over 500,000, leading forecasters to expect at best meager short-term private-sector job growth; the Kansas City, Philadelphia and New York Fed manufacturing indexes fell; and the trade deficit increased, as exports fell and imports rose.

Obama has done worse, much worse, than prior presidents when it comes to economic recovery. (“Compared to the 6.2% first-year Ford recovery and 7.7% Reagan recovery, the Obama recovery at 3% is less than half speed. The unemployment rate would now be 8% or lower at those higher growth rates.”)

As Boskin explains, Obama needs to reverse virtually every policy he has undertaken: slash spending, not increase it; cut taxes, not raise them; and address entitlements, not pass the buck to a do-nothing commission. It would certainly help if he were to stop imposing, and in fact cut back on, the draconian regulations, fees, and mandates he has saddled employers with.

What are the chances of this happening in the next two years? Very small. And accordingly, so are his re-election prospects.

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Time to End the Foreign Policy Contradictions

Richard Haass, after a brief, uncomfortable interlude over the Ground Zero mosque, returns to smart analysis that has been more characteristic of his recent writing. He hones in on many of the questions that a number of us raised yesterday:

[T]he president reiterated his commitment to ending the U.S. military presence in Iraq entirely by the end of 2011. But would this be wise? Doing so would increase the odds that Iraq would become far messier. Iraqis themselves realize this, and if and when a new government is formed, its leaders are likely to ask that tens of thousands of American troops stay on for an extended period. There is a strong case that the United States should be prepared to do so; Iraqis should be prepared not only to ask for this but to help pay for it.

And on Afghanistan, he, too, is bothered by the fact that the “calendar-vs.-conditions contradiction at the heart of U.S. Afghan policy remains: U.S. troops will begin to depart in less than a year, but the pace of withdrawals will be determined by the situation on the ground.” Many helpful onlookers have tried to square the circle. Robert Gates and Hillary Clinton cannot be faulted for at least trying to make sense of this. But Haass is right: the two parts of Obama’s formulation are mutually exclusive. You can’t promise to be both attuned to facts on the ground and begin bugging out. We can hardly blame the Karzai government for being uneasy.

On the budgeting front, we’ve criticized Obama’s false assertion that the defense budget is responsible for the pool of red ink, but Haass makes a separate point: Obama’s own budget is at odds with his national security policy: “[S]pending $100 billion or more a year in Afghanistan will make the process of cutting defense spending and reducing the deficit far more difficult. How, then, should the United States manage its need to restore its fiscal base and remain the world’s leading power?” This is the central fallacy underlying Obama’s directive to Robert Gates: go slash the Pentagon budget and win the war. Gates is struggling to cut other places within the defense budget — so then why aren’t we taking money from misbegotten domestic spending? By the way, one could conclude that Obama’s emphasis on VA spending is an effort to preempt the argument that we are “taking money from the troops.” He is (and from the weapons they will use), but he is loath to admit it.

In speeches and political campaigns, fundamental contradictions can be glossed over. But the essence of governing is to resolve those contradictions. And the measure of leadership is to articulate what is at stake in the given choices, act decisively, and then explain it to Americans as well as to allies and foes without equivocation. So long as the administration pretends these choices don’t exist, our policy lacks coherence and credibility.

Richard Haass, after a brief, uncomfortable interlude over the Ground Zero mosque, returns to smart analysis that has been more characteristic of his recent writing. He hones in on many of the questions that a number of us raised yesterday:

[T]he president reiterated his commitment to ending the U.S. military presence in Iraq entirely by the end of 2011. But would this be wise? Doing so would increase the odds that Iraq would become far messier. Iraqis themselves realize this, and if and when a new government is formed, its leaders are likely to ask that tens of thousands of American troops stay on for an extended period. There is a strong case that the United States should be prepared to do so; Iraqis should be prepared not only to ask for this but to help pay for it.

And on Afghanistan, he, too, is bothered by the fact that the “calendar-vs.-conditions contradiction at the heart of U.S. Afghan policy remains: U.S. troops will begin to depart in less than a year, but the pace of withdrawals will be determined by the situation on the ground.” Many helpful onlookers have tried to square the circle. Robert Gates and Hillary Clinton cannot be faulted for at least trying to make sense of this. But Haass is right: the two parts of Obama’s formulation are mutually exclusive. You can’t promise to be both attuned to facts on the ground and begin bugging out. We can hardly blame the Karzai government for being uneasy.

On the budgeting front, we’ve criticized Obama’s false assertion that the defense budget is responsible for the pool of red ink, but Haass makes a separate point: Obama’s own budget is at odds with his national security policy: “[S]pending $100 billion or more a year in Afghanistan will make the process of cutting defense spending and reducing the deficit far more difficult. How, then, should the United States manage its need to restore its fiscal base and remain the world’s leading power?” This is the central fallacy underlying Obama’s directive to Robert Gates: go slash the Pentagon budget and win the war. Gates is struggling to cut other places within the defense budget — so then why aren’t we taking money from misbegotten domestic spending? By the way, one could conclude that Obama’s emphasis on VA spending is an effort to preempt the argument that we are “taking money from the troops.” He is (and from the weapons they will use), but he is loath to admit it.

In speeches and political campaigns, fundamental contradictions can be glossed over. But the essence of governing is to resolve those contradictions. And the measure of leadership is to articulate what is at stake in the given choices, act decisively, and then explain it to Americans as well as to allies and foes without equivocation. So long as the administration pretends these choices don’t exist, our policy lacks coherence and credibility.

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Political Crack

Jay Cost, who has been analyzing poll data for Real Clear Politics for the past six years, has joined the Weekly Standard as a staff writer and filed the first of what will be a daily morning report on political trends. If you are an addictive follower of such things, Cost’s column will be your crack this fall.

Jay Cost, who has been analyzing poll data for Real Clear Politics for the past six years, has joined the Weekly Standard as a staff writer and filed the first of what will be a daily morning report on political trends. If you are an addictive follower of such things, Cost’s column will be your crack this fall.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Ben Smith has this right about a new, fantastical Vanity Fair piece: “you can really write anything about Palin.”

Michael Goldfarb has the goods on the “moderate” Ground Zero mosque builders. It seems they won’t condemn Tuesday’s slaughter of four Israelis. This is precisely why Muslim outreach is a flawed and ultimately dangerous exercise — it overlooks and excuses the coddling of terrorists.

Stephen Schwartz has the scoop on the Ground Zero mosque builders’ infighting: “Increasing questions about the character and qualifications of the primary figures in ‘Ground Zero mosque,’ as well as personal rivalries between them, may have accomplished as much for the mosque’s opponents as have protests and disapproving poll results. An offensive concept was presented to Americans by flawed and self-interested individuals; the combination may well guarantee its eventual collapse.”

PPP has the Ohio gubernatorial race going to John Kasich: “Former Congressman and Fox News anchor John Kasich leads Ohio Governor Ted Strickland, 50-40, in PPP’s first poll of likely voters in the race. In the previous survey of registered voters in June, Kasich led only 43-41. President Obama won Ohio by four points in 2008, but the likely 2010 electorate now reports having voted for John McCain by three—a seven-point shift in turnout which mirrors Kasich’s eight-point improvement in the horse race in the last two months.” That same shift is probably happening nationwide.

The GOP has narrowed the gap: “The number of Republicans in the United States grew in August while the number of Democrats slipped a bit and the gap between the parties fell to the smallest advantage for Democrats in five years. In August, 35.0% of American Adults identified themselves as Democrats. That’s down nearly half a percentage point  from a month ago and is the smallest percentage of Democrats ever recorded in nearly eight years of monthly tracking. At the same time, the number of Republicans grew in August grew to 33.8%.” Well, Obama helped a lot.

Pete Hegseth of Vets for Freedom has the numbers: “[Obama] shouldn’t have attempted to weave in an economic message; the words seemed petty and out of place. They were the president’s backhanded way of saying we wasted the last decade on Iraq, rather than fixing our economy. (Minor detail: The president’s stimulus, passed in his first month in office, will cost $100 billion more than the entire cost of the Iraq war.) His economic posturing took the focus off the troops and their accomplishments, and was unnecessary.” Yeah, there’s some perspective.

Operation Iraqi Freedom veteran Tom Mahnken has the impression that Obama would rather be doing something else: “[O]ne could not help to see in the president’s words and mannerisms, a man who was distracted, whose heart wasn’t in it. In a speech nominally devoted to Iraq, he couldn’t help but talk about the U.S. economy. … Whereas Bush exhibited great courage in going against his own military to support the Iraqi surge and sell it to his own party and the American people, Obama has yet to put comparable effort into selling his own Afghan surge. The Oval Office speech was a missed opportunity to do just that.”

The BP oil-spill debacle has not come to end: “The federal judge who struck down the Obama administration’s initial six-month moratorium on deepwater oil-drilling dealt the government another blow on Wednesday. U.S. District Court Judge Martin Feldman denied the government’s request to throw out a suit challenging the drilling halt that had been filed by offshore-oil-service companies. Justice Department lawyers had argued the lawsuit was moot because the Interior Department imposed a new, temporary drilling ban on July 12, replacing a May 28 order that Judge Feldman had struck down in June.”

Ben Smith has this right about a new, fantastical Vanity Fair piece: “you can really write anything about Palin.”

Michael Goldfarb has the goods on the “moderate” Ground Zero mosque builders. It seems they won’t condemn Tuesday’s slaughter of four Israelis. This is precisely why Muslim outreach is a flawed and ultimately dangerous exercise — it overlooks and excuses the coddling of terrorists.

Stephen Schwartz has the scoop on the Ground Zero mosque builders’ infighting: “Increasing questions about the character and qualifications of the primary figures in ‘Ground Zero mosque,’ as well as personal rivalries between them, may have accomplished as much for the mosque’s opponents as have protests and disapproving poll results. An offensive concept was presented to Americans by flawed and self-interested individuals; the combination may well guarantee its eventual collapse.”

PPP has the Ohio gubernatorial race going to John Kasich: “Former Congressman and Fox News anchor John Kasich leads Ohio Governor Ted Strickland, 50-40, in PPP’s first poll of likely voters in the race. In the previous survey of registered voters in June, Kasich led only 43-41. President Obama won Ohio by four points in 2008, but the likely 2010 electorate now reports having voted for John McCain by three—a seven-point shift in turnout which mirrors Kasich’s eight-point improvement in the horse race in the last two months.” That same shift is probably happening nationwide.

The GOP has narrowed the gap: “The number of Republicans in the United States grew in August while the number of Democrats slipped a bit and the gap between the parties fell to the smallest advantage for Democrats in five years. In August, 35.0% of American Adults identified themselves as Democrats. That’s down nearly half a percentage point  from a month ago and is the smallest percentage of Democrats ever recorded in nearly eight years of monthly tracking. At the same time, the number of Republicans grew in August grew to 33.8%.” Well, Obama helped a lot.

Pete Hegseth of Vets for Freedom has the numbers: “[Obama] shouldn’t have attempted to weave in an economic message; the words seemed petty and out of place. They were the president’s backhanded way of saying we wasted the last decade on Iraq, rather than fixing our economy. (Minor detail: The president’s stimulus, passed in his first month in office, will cost $100 billion more than the entire cost of the Iraq war.) His economic posturing took the focus off the troops and their accomplishments, and was unnecessary.” Yeah, there’s some perspective.

Operation Iraqi Freedom veteran Tom Mahnken has the impression that Obama would rather be doing something else: “[O]ne could not help to see in the president’s words and mannerisms, a man who was distracted, whose heart wasn’t in it. In a speech nominally devoted to Iraq, he couldn’t help but talk about the U.S. economy. … Whereas Bush exhibited great courage in going against his own military to support the Iraqi surge and sell it to his own party and the American people, Obama has yet to put comparable effort into selling his own Afghan surge. The Oval Office speech was a missed opportunity to do just that.”

The BP oil-spill debacle has not come to end: “The federal judge who struck down the Obama administration’s initial six-month moratorium on deepwater oil-drilling dealt the government another blow on Wednesday. U.S. District Court Judge Martin Feldman denied the government’s request to throw out a suit challenging the drilling halt that had been filed by offshore-oil-service companies. Justice Department lawyers had argued the lawsuit was moot because the Interior Department imposed a new, temporary drilling ban on July 12, replacing a May 28 order that Judge Feldman had struck down in June.”

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