Commentary Magazine


Posts For: September 21, 2010

Spy Talk Illustrates Unreality of Mideast Talks

The debate over how the Israeli government will deal with the expiration of its six-month settlement freeze in the West Bank got stranger yesterday when both the New York Times and Politico published stories alleging that Jerusalem had asked the United States whether it would free convicted spy Jonathan Pollard in exchange for a freeze in settlements. According to the Times’s Isabel Kershner, such a deal would help Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sell a renewal of the freeze to his coalition partners. Pollard’s fate was discussed in 1998 during the negotiations between Netanyahu and Bill Clinton over the Wye Plantation Agreement, one of the many interim agreements that stemmed from the failed Oslo peace process. At that time, the U.S. intelligence community revolted at the idea of freeing Pollard and wound up spiking the proposal.

The anonymous sources for the current reports don’t seem to be based on anything more than rumination inside the prime minister’s bureau, but Israel’s interest in springing Pollard, an American Jew who has spent the last 25 years in prison for spying for the Israelis while he served as a U.S. Navy analyst, is a longstanding issue. While Pollard was guilty of a very serious crime and deserved punishment, his sentence was extremely harsh when compared with the treatment of others who spied here on behalf of allies. Some American Jews have foolishly lionized Pollard’s espionage, which did great harm to Israel and its alliance with the United States. It’s not entirely clear whether the reason Pollard is still in jail is due to his own refusal to express contrition for his actions or the continued intransigence of the American intelligence community. Either way, Pollard’s chances for clemency have long been considered remote. Yet, despite the fact that the heavy-handed tactics of some of his supporters alienated many who might otherwise have been sympathetic to Pollard’s plight and further undermined the chances of successful appeals for his release, there is still considerable sympathy for Pollard in Israel, where he is seen as a man who was exploited and then abandoned by his handlers.

But injecting Pollard into the delicate negotiations with the Obama administration and the Palestinian Authority is a tactic of questionable utility for Netanyahu. Though the idea that Pollard appears to be destined to rot in jail forever while those who spied here for hostile nations receive light sentences or are exchanged after virtually no time in prison strikes many Israelis as unjust, buying his freedom with a costly policy concession cannot be considered wise statecraft. Nor is it clear that Pollard’s release would do much to comfort Israeli right-wingers who are upset about a settlement freeze.

If anything, the floating of Pollard’s name in connection with the peace talks illustrates the lack of seriousness of these negotiations. The reality of Palestinian politics and the strength of Hamas mean there is no chance that the Palestinian Authority will sign any peace agreement, and both Abbas and Netanyahu are merely trying to act in such a manner as to evade blame for the eventual failure of the talks. So instead of serious give and take about final-status issues, we are hearing about tangential topics such as Pollard or Palestinian threats to walk out over the failure of Israeli to concede its position in the territories even before the talks begin. Whether or not the spy-exchange proposal is genuine, the discussion of such an eventuality says a lot more about the futility of President Obama’s ill-considered push for talks at a time when progress is virtually impossible than it does about Pollard’s fate.

The debate over how the Israeli government will deal with the expiration of its six-month settlement freeze in the West Bank got stranger yesterday when both the New York Times and Politico published stories alleging that Jerusalem had asked the United States whether it would free convicted spy Jonathan Pollard in exchange for a freeze in settlements. According to the Times’s Isabel Kershner, such a deal would help Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sell a renewal of the freeze to his coalition partners. Pollard’s fate was discussed in 1998 during the negotiations between Netanyahu and Bill Clinton over the Wye Plantation Agreement, one of the many interim agreements that stemmed from the failed Oslo peace process. At that time, the U.S. intelligence community revolted at the idea of freeing Pollard and wound up spiking the proposal.

The anonymous sources for the current reports don’t seem to be based on anything more than rumination inside the prime minister’s bureau, but Israel’s interest in springing Pollard, an American Jew who has spent the last 25 years in prison for spying for the Israelis while he served as a U.S. Navy analyst, is a longstanding issue. While Pollard was guilty of a very serious crime and deserved punishment, his sentence was extremely harsh when compared with the treatment of others who spied here on behalf of allies. Some American Jews have foolishly lionized Pollard’s espionage, which did great harm to Israel and its alliance with the United States. It’s not entirely clear whether the reason Pollard is still in jail is due to his own refusal to express contrition for his actions or the continued intransigence of the American intelligence community. Either way, Pollard’s chances for clemency have long been considered remote. Yet, despite the fact that the heavy-handed tactics of some of his supporters alienated many who might otherwise have been sympathetic to Pollard’s plight and further undermined the chances of successful appeals for his release, there is still considerable sympathy for Pollard in Israel, where he is seen as a man who was exploited and then abandoned by his handlers.

But injecting Pollard into the delicate negotiations with the Obama administration and the Palestinian Authority is a tactic of questionable utility for Netanyahu. Though the idea that Pollard appears to be destined to rot in jail forever while those who spied here for hostile nations receive light sentences or are exchanged after virtually no time in prison strikes many Israelis as unjust, buying his freedom with a costly policy concession cannot be considered wise statecraft. Nor is it clear that Pollard’s release would do much to comfort Israeli right-wingers who are upset about a settlement freeze.

If anything, the floating of Pollard’s name in connection with the peace talks illustrates the lack of seriousness of these negotiations. The reality of Palestinian politics and the strength of Hamas mean there is no chance that the Palestinian Authority will sign any peace agreement, and both Abbas and Netanyahu are merely trying to act in such a manner as to evade blame for the eventual failure of the talks. So instead of serious give and take about final-status issues, we are hearing about tangential topics such as Pollard or Palestinian threats to walk out over the failure of Israeli to concede its position in the territories even before the talks begin. Whether or not the spy-exchange proposal is genuine, the discussion of such an eventuality says a lot more about the futility of President Obama’s ill-considered push for talks at a time when progress is virtually impossible than it does about Pollard’s fate.

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RE: A Failing Presidency and a Broken Party

A correction: In a posting earlier today, I wrote that the economic town-hall audience President Obama spoke to and took questions from yesterday was “undoubtedly vetted by the White House in advance of the event.” I was contacted by someone at CNBC who told me that while the Secret Service did the usual background checks, the White House, in fact, did not select the audience. CNBC did.

A correction: In a posting earlier today, I wrote that the economic town-hall audience President Obama spoke to and took questions from yesterday was “undoubtedly vetted by the White House in advance of the event.” I was contacted by someone at CNBC who told me that while the Secret Service did the usual background checks, the White House, in fact, did not select the audience. CNBC did.

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Bibi Puts the Spotlight on Abbas

Michael Oren isn’t the only Israeli official giving stirring speeches. Bibi, in a speech to the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, made clear that Israel has plenty of reasons to walk from the peace talks but has shown restraint:

Believe me, every day the Palestinians do things I don’t like: whether it’s incitement in the schools or media, or an international campaign that they back to delegitimize Israel.

Just yesterday, a Palestinian Authority court ruled that the sale of Palestinian land to Israelis is punishable by death.  You know, all these things do not square well with me, and my colleagues often question why is it that we’re staying in the talks.  Some have even questioned why I’m having peace talks with President Abbas when half of the Palestinian people are controlled by Hamas, which is a terror organization that openly calls for our destruction.  I’m mentioning all of these things – and there are many others that I could raise here – because these could afford me many reasons to walk away from the table.  But I haven’t walked away from the table.  I want to give these talks a chance to succeed.  And I very much hope that President Abbas will have the same attitude.  I expect him to sit down with me even when we disagree, and to work with me through those disagreements in a sincere effort to forge an historic compromise, which I believe is possible.

We got rid of the preconditions before the talks.  We can’t reintroduce them five minutes after the talks begin.

Israel gets little if any credit for this, and the chattering class doesn’t demand that Abbas extend (or even come up with, for there has never been one) a moratorium on killing Jews or teaching anti-Semitism to Palestinian children.

But Bibi has a larger point to make, which, despite his complimentary words for the president and secretary of state (on whom the words are lost), gets to the heart of the matter and the pointlessness of peace talks:

It’s time for the Palestinians to do something they have refused to do for 62 years. It’s time for them to say yes to a Jewish state. Now what does it mean to recognize the Jewish state, or the nation-state of the Jewish people? It means that the Palestinians recognize the right of the Jewish people to self-determination in our historic homeland.  I recognized the Palestinians’ right to self-determination and sovereignty. They must finally recognize the Jewish people’s right to self determination and sovereignty. … It’s important because the Palestinian leadership must begin to make clear to its own people that they are making a permanent peace with the Jewish people, a people that has a right to be here, a right to live in its own state and in its own homeland.

Which is why Abbas will never do it. So what is the point, then? The Obami shouldn’t lose face, our sympathetic ally has determined. Unlike the Obama administration, the Netanyahu government sees no benefit in embarrassing its ally, nor in emphasizing the gaps in perception between the U.S. and Israel. There is another reason for Bibi to put the spotlight on Abbas’s refusal to recognize the Jewish state as the Jewish state. In case the Obami were contemplating an imposed peace deal, Bibi has raised a red flag: what’s the point if Abbas won’t give up finally and completely the fight for a one-state solution?

Michael Oren isn’t the only Israeli official giving stirring speeches. Bibi, in a speech to the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, made clear that Israel has plenty of reasons to walk from the peace talks but has shown restraint:

Believe me, every day the Palestinians do things I don’t like: whether it’s incitement in the schools or media, or an international campaign that they back to delegitimize Israel.

Just yesterday, a Palestinian Authority court ruled that the sale of Palestinian land to Israelis is punishable by death.  You know, all these things do not square well with me, and my colleagues often question why is it that we’re staying in the talks.  Some have even questioned why I’m having peace talks with President Abbas when half of the Palestinian people are controlled by Hamas, which is a terror organization that openly calls for our destruction.  I’m mentioning all of these things – and there are many others that I could raise here – because these could afford me many reasons to walk away from the table.  But I haven’t walked away from the table.  I want to give these talks a chance to succeed.  And I very much hope that President Abbas will have the same attitude.  I expect him to sit down with me even when we disagree, and to work with me through those disagreements in a sincere effort to forge an historic compromise, which I believe is possible.

We got rid of the preconditions before the talks.  We can’t reintroduce them five minutes after the talks begin.

Israel gets little if any credit for this, and the chattering class doesn’t demand that Abbas extend (or even come up with, for there has never been one) a moratorium on killing Jews or teaching anti-Semitism to Palestinian children.

But Bibi has a larger point to make, which, despite his complimentary words for the president and secretary of state (on whom the words are lost), gets to the heart of the matter and the pointlessness of peace talks:

It’s time for the Palestinians to do something they have refused to do for 62 years. It’s time for them to say yes to a Jewish state. Now what does it mean to recognize the Jewish state, or the nation-state of the Jewish people? It means that the Palestinians recognize the right of the Jewish people to self-determination in our historic homeland.  I recognized the Palestinians’ right to self-determination and sovereignty. They must finally recognize the Jewish people’s right to self determination and sovereignty. … It’s important because the Palestinian leadership must begin to make clear to its own people that they are making a permanent peace with the Jewish people, a people that has a right to be here, a right to live in its own state and in its own homeland.

Which is why Abbas will never do it. So what is the point, then? The Obami shouldn’t lose face, our sympathetic ally has determined. Unlike the Obama administration, the Netanyahu government sees no benefit in embarrassing its ally, nor in emphasizing the gaps in perception between the U.S. and Israel. There is another reason for Bibi to put the spotlight on Abbas’s refusal to recognize the Jewish state as the Jewish state. In case the Obami were contemplating an imposed peace deal, Bibi has raised a red flag: what’s the point if Abbas won’t give up finally and completely the fight for a one-state solution?

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How to Get to 10

The Democrats have been throwing confetti since the nomination of Christine O’Donnell. And, sure enough, she is down by double digits relative to her Democratic opponent. But there is, as Public Policy Polling points out, more than one path to a GOP takeover of the Senate:

John Raese [is] up 46-43 on Joe Manchin, a result within the poll’s margin of error.The contest provides a fascinating choice for voters in the state who love their Democratic Governor but hate the party’s ranks in Washington DC that he would be joining. … Barack Obama’s approval rating in the state is just 30% with 64% of voters disapproving of him. Even within his own party barely half of voters, at 51%, like the job he’s doing.

Today PPP, the new pollster at Daily Kos (the last one was fired and sued), adds this startling poll result:

An enormous enthusiasm gap, coupled with a Republican nominee fresh from a decisive primary win and unsullied by the primary process, has catapulted Republican nominee Ron Johnson to a double-digit advantage over incumbent Democrat Russ Feingold [52 to 1 percent], according to PPP’s poll of the state on behalf of Daily Kos.

And in California, Carly Fiorina is deadlocked with Barbara Boxer. We also learn that Joe Miller is well ahead of his Democratic opponent and sore loser Lisa Murkowski.

Here then is the way to 10: Indiana, North Dakota, Arkansas, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Illinois, California, Wisconsin, Nevada, and Colorado. At this point, Washington is a possibility but looks the diciest for the GOP. But, heck, even if the Republicans got to nine, maybe Joe Lieberman would consider switching his party. Or Ben Nelson. Is it likely that the GOP will run the table? No. But if either of the parties has a reason to celebrate, it is the GOP.

The Democrats have been throwing confetti since the nomination of Christine O’Donnell. And, sure enough, she is down by double digits relative to her Democratic opponent. But there is, as Public Policy Polling points out, more than one path to a GOP takeover of the Senate:

John Raese [is] up 46-43 on Joe Manchin, a result within the poll’s margin of error.The contest provides a fascinating choice for voters in the state who love their Democratic Governor but hate the party’s ranks in Washington DC that he would be joining. … Barack Obama’s approval rating in the state is just 30% with 64% of voters disapproving of him. Even within his own party barely half of voters, at 51%, like the job he’s doing.

Today PPP, the new pollster at Daily Kos (the last one was fired and sued), adds this startling poll result:

An enormous enthusiasm gap, coupled with a Republican nominee fresh from a decisive primary win and unsullied by the primary process, has catapulted Republican nominee Ron Johnson to a double-digit advantage over incumbent Democrat Russ Feingold [52 to 1 percent], according to PPP’s poll of the state on behalf of Daily Kos.

And in California, Carly Fiorina is deadlocked with Barbara Boxer. We also learn that Joe Miller is well ahead of his Democratic opponent and sore loser Lisa Murkowski.

Here then is the way to 10: Indiana, North Dakota, Arkansas, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Illinois, California, Wisconsin, Nevada, and Colorado. At this point, Washington is a possibility but looks the diciest for the GOP. But, heck, even if the Republicans got to nine, maybe Joe Lieberman would consider switching his party. Or Ben Nelson. Is it likely that the GOP will run the table? No. But if either of the parties has a reason to celebrate, it is the GOP.

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A Failing Presidency and a Broken Party

This heartfelt comment and question, the first one President Obama received at a CNBC town hall gathering yesterday, may well become emblematic of the first half (at least) of the Obama presidency.

Ms. Velma Hart — middle class, a wife and the mother of two, a veteran, and an African-American Obama supporter — said this:

Quite frankly, I’m exhausted – I’m exhausted of defending you, defending your administration, defending the mantle of change that I voted for, and deeply disappointed with where we are right now. I have been told that I voted for a man who said was going to change things in a meaningful way for the middle class. I’m one of those people and I’m waiting, sir. I’m waiting. I don’t feel it yet. And I thought while it wouldn’t be in great measure, I’d feel it in some small measure.  I have two children in private school and the financial recession has taken an enormous toll on my family. My husband and I have joked for years that we thought we were well beyond the hot dogs and beans era of our lives, but, quite frankly, it’s starting to knock on our door and ring true that that might be where we’re headed again, and, quite frankly, Mr. President, I need you to answer this honestly. Is this my new reality?

This was a very bad moment for the Obama presidency because it was such an honest and representative one.

Velma Hart is obviously no Tea Party activist. The town hall audience was undoubtedly vetted by the White House in advance of the event. So for Ms. Hart to frame the question she did, in the manner she did, was fairly extraordinary. And she was not the only person who asked searching questions of Mr. Obama. A recent law school graduate, Ted Brassfield, told Mr. Obama that he had hoped to pursue a career in public service, like Obama himself, but said he could barely pay the interest on his student loans, let alone think of getting married or starting a family. “I was really inspired by you and your campaign and the message you brought,” Brassfield said, “and that inspiration is dying away. And I really want to know, is the American dream dead for me?”

Having worked in the White House, I can assure you this is not what Obama and his team of advisers wanted to hear — certainly not from a hand-picked audience at an economic town hall forum that is being broadcast on television six weeks before a crucial midterm election.

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, a contributor to CONTENTIONS wrote this cautionary note regarding the new president-elect:

Sooner than he might imagine, and certainly sooner than he might wish, the responsibility for how America is performing will fall to him and his Democratic colleagues in the House and the Senate. A year from now, it won’t be enough to blame the problems on others. He and other Democrats ran and won on the promise that they would turn things around, and do so quickly. Those promises can’t be reeled back. Obama in particular has set a very high bar. Indeed, the expectations for “change”–in policies, in performance, even in the way we conduct our politics–is as high as I can recall … For understandable reasons, many people are being swept up in this remarkable American moment. But reality will intrude soon enough, and Barack Obama will face the same standards that every other President has faced. Incantations of “hope” and “change” can work in a campaign. They are virtually useless when it comes to governing. Barack Obama is about to enter the crucible. We’ll see how he performs.

President Obama has, so far at least, performed rather dismally. He set super-human expectations for himself — including his pledge to slow the rise of the oceans and begin to heal the planet, his commitment to resist the temptation to “fall back on the same partisanship and pettiness and immaturity that has poisoned our politics for so long,” and to “transform” America at what he called a “defining moment.”

In some respects, of course, President Obama has transformed America — but in ways many American find alarming. What we are seeing all across our land is an extraordinary, organic movement rising up against Obamaism. If you go to the heart of this effort, beyond even the policy differences themselves, what you will find is an effort to restore America. It is a direct, energetic, and sometimes rambunctious response to the president’s transformational project, to his effort to remake America in his own liberal image and conforming to his own liberal views and values.

As we saw yesterday, at the economic town hall meeting, the hope and promise of Obama has collided with, and is being shattered by, reality.

Barack Obama is, right now, the architect of a failing presidency and, soon, a broken party.

This heartfelt comment and question, the first one President Obama received at a CNBC town hall gathering yesterday, may well become emblematic of the first half (at least) of the Obama presidency.

Ms. Velma Hart — middle class, a wife and the mother of two, a veteran, and an African-American Obama supporter — said this:

Quite frankly, I’m exhausted – I’m exhausted of defending you, defending your administration, defending the mantle of change that I voted for, and deeply disappointed with where we are right now. I have been told that I voted for a man who said was going to change things in a meaningful way for the middle class. I’m one of those people and I’m waiting, sir. I’m waiting. I don’t feel it yet. And I thought while it wouldn’t be in great measure, I’d feel it in some small measure.  I have two children in private school and the financial recession has taken an enormous toll on my family. My husband and I have joked for years that we thought we were well beyond the hot dogs and beans era of our lives, but, quite frankly, it’s starting to knock on our door and ring true that that might be where we’re headed again, and, quite frankly, Mr. President, I need you to answer this honestly. Is this my new reality?

This was a very bad moment for the Obama presidency because it was such an honest and representative one.

Velma Hart is obviously no Tea Party activist. The town hall audience was undoubtedly vetted by the White House in advance of the event. So for Ms. Hart to frame the question she did, in the manner she did, was fairly extraordinary. And she was not the only person who asked searching questions of Mr. Obama. A recent law school graduate, Ted Brassfield, told Mr. Obama that he had hoped to pursue a career in public service, like Obama himself, but said he could barely pay the interest on his student loans, let alone think of getting married or starting a family. “I was really inspired by you and your campaign and the message you brought,” Brassfield said, “and that inspiration is dying away. And I really want to know, is the American dream dead for me?”

Having worked in the White House, I can assure you this is not what Obama and his team of advisers wanted to hear — certainly not from a hand-picked audience at an economic town hall forum that is being broadcast on television six weeks before a crucial midterm election.

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, a contributor to CONTENTIONS wrote this cautionary note regarding the new president-elect:

Sooner than he might imagine, and certainly sooner than he might wish, the responsibility for how America is performing will fall to him and his Democratic colleagues in the House and the Senate. A year from now, it won’t be enough to blame the problems on others. He and other Democrats ran and won on the promise that they would turn things around, and do so quickly. Those promises can’t be reeled back. Obama in particular has set a very high bar. Indeed, the expectations for “change”–in policies, in performance, even in the way we conduct our politics–is as high as I can recall … For understandable reasons, many people are being swept up in this remarkable American moment. But reality will intrude soon enough, and Barack Obama will face the same standards that every other President has faced. Incantations of “hope” and “change” can work in a campaign. They are virtually useless when it comes to governing. Barack Obama is about to enter the crucible. We’ll see how he performs.

President Obama has, so far at least, performed rather dismally. He set super-human expectations for himself — including his pledge to slow the rise of the oceans and begin to heal the planet, his commitment to resist the temptation to “fall back on the same partisanship and pettiness and immaturity that has poisoned our politics for so long,” and to “transform” America at what he called a “defining moment.”

In some respects, of course, President Obama has transformed America — but in ways many American find alarming. What we are seeing all across our land is an extraordinary, organic movement rising up against Obamaism. If you go to the heart of this effort, beyond even the policy differences themselves, what you will find is an effort to restore America. It is a direct, energetic, and sometimes rambunctious response to the president’s transformational project, to his effort to remake America in his own liberal image and conforming to his own liberal views and values.

As we saw yesterday, at the economic town hall meeting, the hope and promise of Obama has collided with, and is being shattered by, reality.

Barack Obama is, right now, the architect of a failing presidency and, soon, a broken party.

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A Night to Honor Richard Goldstone, Too?

Helen Thomas is being honored for a lifetime of achievement by CAIR (appropriate for that group, I’d suggest). Now Politico reports:

The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee announced Tuesday it is throwing a gala in honor of Thomas, the second major event she will headline only months after being forced to leave her post for making comments that some found to be anti-Semitic.

Some? No, the column isn’t written by the J Street scribe Laura Rozen. There’s no excuse, only evidence of the peculiar double standard that anti-Semites now enjoy.

Helen Thomas is being honored for a lifetime of achievement by CAIR (appropriate for that group, I’d suggest). Now Politico reports:

The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee announced Tuesday it is throwing a gala in honor of Thomas, the second major event she will headline only months after being forced to leave her post for making comments that some found to be anti-Semitic.

Some? No, the column isn’t written by the J Street scribe Laura Rozen. There’s no excuse, only evidence of the peculiar double standard that anti-Semites now enjoy.

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Women Paved the Way for Repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”

I am in complete agreement with Wall Street Journal columnist Bret Stephens, who writes today in favor of repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” To my mind, the most powerful argument in favor of repeal is that pretty much all of the arguments made against admitting openly gay service personnel were made against admitting women. Indeed, admitting women was probably more of a cultural shift than admitting gays — because gays already serve.

Given that the vast majority of people are heterosexual, it stands to reason that only in a small minority of cases will there be issues related to homosexual love and attraction. Putting a small number of women into a hitherto all-male community created many more possibilities for social tensions, with the added problem of pregnancy to boot. (At least gays and lesbians don’t get pregnant accidentally.)

Yet, after some early problems, the integration of women has been largely smooth. Most of the fears of early naysayers such as Jim Webb (now a Democratic Senator) have not come to pass. Certainly it is hard to argue with a straight face that admitting women into uniform has degraded the combat effectiveness of the U.S. armed forces over the past three decades — a time when, by all measures, they have reached their fighting peak.

While more and more military occupational specialties are opening up to women (the latest being submarine service), there are still a few billets in ground-combat units and Special Operations Units, which remain all-male in deference to concerns about unit cohesion and lack of privacy in the field. It may well make sense to also keep openly gay personnel out of these billets, at least for some time, as long as their presence might cause serious tensions.

But the overwhelming majority of military jobs are performed on large bases, either in the States or abroad, where a fair degree of privacy is attainable. Even in war zones like Iraq and Afghanistan, women (whether contractors or service personnel) are present on most forward-operating bases down to the brigade level and often below. After all, women serve in Military Police units, which are often on the front lines of counterinsurgency.  If women can make a useful contribution, there is little doubt that gays can as well. Indeed, they are already doing so, except that now they must guard their sexual identity, which makes them open, as Bret points out, to blackmail and forces them to violate the military’s honor code.

My sense is that most younger military personnel are comfortable with gays serving openly — as is the majority of American society at large.  That makes the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” inevitable and suggests that Republican opponents of the measure are fighting a losing battle.

I am in complete agreement with Wall Street Journal columnist Bret Stephens, who writes today in favor of repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” To my mind, the most powerful argument in favor of repeal is that pretty much all of the arguments made against admitting openly gay service personnel were made against admitting women. Indeed, admitting women was probably more of a cultural shift than admitting gays — because gays already serve.

Given that the vast majority of people are heterosexual, it stands to reason that only in a small minority of cases will there be issues related to homosexual love and attraction. Putting a small number of women into a hitherto all-male community created many more possibilities for social tensions, with the added problem of pregnancy to boot. (At least gays and lesbians don’t get pregnant accidentally.)

Yet, after some early problems, the integration of women has been largely smooth. Most of the fears of early naysayers such as Jim Webb (now a Democratic Senator) have not come to pass. Certainly it is hard to argue with a straight face that admitting women into uniform has degraded the combat effectiveness of the U.S. armed forces over the past three decades — a time when, by all measures, they have reached their fighting peak.

While more and more military occupational specialties are opening up to women (the latest being submarine service), there are still a few billets in ground-combat units and Special Operations Units, which remain all-male in deference to concerns about unit cohesion and lack of privacy in the field. It may well make sense to also keep openly gay personnel out of these billets, at least for some time, as long as their presence might cause serious tensions.

But the overwhelming majority of military jobs are performed on large bases, either in the States or abroad, where a fair degree of privacy is attainable. Even in war zones like Iraq and Afghanistan, women (whether contractors or service personnel) are present on most forward-operating bases down to the brigade level and often below. After all, women serve in Military Police units, which are often on the front lines of counterinsurgency.  If women can make a useful contribution, there is little doubt that gays can as well. Indeed, they are already doing so, except that now they must guard their sexual identity, which makes them open, as Bret points out, to blackmail and forces them to violate the military’s honor code.

My sense is that most younger military personnel are comfortable with gays serving openly — as is the majority of American society at large.  That makes the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” inevitable and suggests that Republican opponents of the measure are fighting a losing battle.

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Want Immediate Certainty and Comfort? Give Me $700 Billion

In response to Eric Cantor’s Wall Street Journal op-ed calling for current tax rates to be extended for all taxpayers “and most importantly for small businesses and investors,” the White House posted a response on its blog yesterday. Written by its deputy communications director and entitled “No Excuse for Holding Middle Class Tax Cuts Hostage,” the response argued Republicans are preventing Obama from giving “immediate certainty and comfort” to the middle class:

Under the Obama plan, every middle class family would receive the immediate certainty and comfort of knowing their [Bush] tax cuts were permanently extended. … And here’s what [the Republicans] are holding middle class tax relief hostage for: having our nation borrow $700 billion that we can’t afford to provide an average tax cut of $100,000 to millionaires and billionaires.

There is another way to phrase the issue: should $700 billion be transferred from the private economy to the government, or should the government be required to cut spending by $700 billion to allow those who earned it to invest in their businesses and the broader economy? To put it in less subtle terms: should $700 billion be transferred to the organization that runs the post office, has yet to produce a budget for the current year, was unable to forecast accurately the impact of the $787 billion it used for “stimulus,” is already spending too much, and threatens to borrow $700 billion “that we can’t afford” if the private economy won’t cough up the money?

The reference to “millionaires and billionaires” (and the much greater number of non-millionaires who would face significantly higher taxes) is a little like a spendthrift teenager arguing his generous allowance ought to be increased because Dad has the money and won’t miss it. The teenager’s argument is a bit beside the point.

The White House threat to borrow $700 billion more unless its allowance is increased comes on top of the 3.8 percent tax increase inserted into Obama’s health-care legislation earlier this year as a new “Medicare contribution” – one that, as noted here, (1) is not a “contribution,” (2) has nothing to do with Medicare, and (3) was given its misleading name to hide the fact that Obama is currently seeking his second substantial tax increase on investment income.

It is a little unclear who is holding whom hostage in this debate, but the “immediate certainty and comfort” the middle class and others desire may be not Obama’s Chicago-style bargain but rather an end to one-party government seeking more tax increases to support an “unsustainable” level of deficits its own spending has produced.

In response to Eric Cantor’s Wall Street Journal op-ed calling for current tax rates to be extended for all taxpayers “and most importantly for small businesses and investors,” the White House posted a response on its blog yesterday. Written by its deputy communications director and entitled “No Excuse for Holding Middle Class Tax Cuts Hostage,” the response argued Republicans are preventing Obama from giving “immediate certainty and comfort” to the middle class:

Under the Obama plan, every middle class family would receive the immediate certainty and comfort of knowing their [Bush] tax cuts were permanently extended. … And here’s what [the Republicans] are holding middle class tax relief hostage for: having our nation borrow $700 billion that we can’t afford to provide an average tax cut of $100,000 to millionaires and billionaires.

There is another way to phrase the issue: should $700 billion be transferred from the private economy to the government, or should the government be required to cut spending by $700 billion to allow those who earned it to invest in their businesses and the broader economy? To put it in less subtle terms: should $700 billion be transferred to the organization that runs the post office, has yet to produce a budget for the current year, was unable to forecast accurately the impact of the $787 billion it used for “stimulus,” is already spending too much, and threatens to borrow $700 billion “that we can’t afford” if the private economy won’t cough up the money?

The reference to “millionaires and billionaires” (and the much greater number of non-millionaires who would face significantly higher taxes) is a little like a spendthrift teenager arguing his generous allowance ought to be increased because Dad has the money and won’t miss it. The teenager’s argument is a bit beside the point.

The White House threat to borrow $700 billion more unless its allowance is increased comes on top of the 3.8 percent tax increase inserted into Obama’s health-care legislation earlier this year as a new “Medicare contribution” – one that, as noted here, (1) is not a “contribution,” (2) has nothing to do with Medicare, and (3) was given its misleading name to hide the fact that Obama is currently seeking his second substantial tax increase on investment income.

It is a little unclear who is holding whom hostage in this debate, but the “immediate certainty and comfort” the middle class and others desire may be not Obama’s Chicago-style bargain but rather an end to one-party government seeking more tax increases to support an “unsustainable” level of deficits its own spending has produced.

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Can Obama Be a “Superior” Ex-President, Too?

Jimmy Carter has been an annoyance to every one of his successors. He’s played footsie with dictators, made common cause with Israel’s enemies, made Osama bin Laden’s book list, and demonstrated the peevishness that was not yet fully in evidence during his presidency. He then pronounces that he is “superior” to all his successors. Sensing that is a bit much for Saint Jimmy, he backpedals, explaining, “What I meant was, for 27 years the Carter Center has provided me with superior opportunities to do good.” Not much better is it? Frankly, on this one even Bill Clinton has the right to be offended.

Carter, as one of the wittiest commentators points out, now insists in his diary (on Osama bin Laden’s nightstand no doubt!) that he would have won in 1980 had it not been for those darn hostages and the pesky Ted Kennedy. (If, alas, the latter were true, we’d finally have something to praise Kennedy for.) But truth be told, those were the least of his problems. “Had he not also, in other words, been the worst U.S. president ever, before, that is, the Advent of Barak Obama, he would have been re-elected.”

Having “surpassed” Carter in so many ways (e.g., disdain for Americans, cluelessness about our enemies), one can only imagine that Obama in his ex-presidency will be characterized by the same humbleness, wisdom, and love of the Jewish state that has marked Carter in his. Carter has managed, arguably, to be a worse ex-president than president. For Obama, that will be a challenge.

Jimmy Carter has been an annoyance to every one of his successors. He’s played footsie with dictators, made common cause with Israel’s enemies, made Osama bin Laden’s book list, and demonstrated the peevishness that was not yet fully in evidence during his presidency. He then pronounces that he is “superior” to all his successors. Sensing that is a bit much for Saint Jimmy, he backpedals, explaining, “What I meant was, for 27 years the Carter Center has provided me with superior opportunities to do good.” Not much better is it? Frankly, on this one even Bill Clinton has the right to be offended.

Carter, as one of the wittiest commentators points out, now insists in his diary (on Osama bin Laden’s nightstand no doubt!) that he would have won in 1980 had it not been for those darn hostages and the pesky Ted Kennedy. (If, alas, the latter were true, we’d finally have something to praise Kennedy for.) But truth be told, those were the least of his problems. “Had he not also, in other words, been the worst U.S. president ever, before, that is, the Advent of Barak Obama, he would have been re-elected.”

Having “surpassed” Carter in so many ways (e.g., disdain for Americans, cluelessness about our enemies), one can only imagine that Obama in his ex-presidency will be characterized by the same humbleness, wisdom, and love of the Jewish state that has marked Carter in his. Carter has managed, arguably, to be a worse ex-president than president. For Obama, that will be a challenge.

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RE: Shut Up, the Islamists Explained

Islamists have been mighty successful in propounding a Big Lie: America is a nation beset by Islamophobes. If anything, the religious bigotry problem both in America and in Europe is one of vicious anti-Semitism, which has become mainstream and even fashionable.

Unlike the concocted Islamophobia — based on hysteria over a single whacked-out pastor and legitimate objections to a mosque at Ground Zero — there is plenty of evidence that anti-Semitism enjoys newfound popularity. Time magazine feels confident that its “Jews only care about money” cover story will hit a chord with the public. European officials suffer no ostracism for hurling epithets at Jews speaking up in defense of the Israel. The Turkish foreign minister talks about a “final solution” and no one bats an eye. Now a new and important film, Crossing the Line, documents the prevalence of not simply anti-Israel activism but also violent anti-Semitism on college campuses. (A five-minute clip is chilling viewing.)

But the chattering class and the media mavens aren’t much concerned with all that. To the contrary, CAIR’s darling Helen Thomas operated comfortably in the Washington press corps until she erred by speaking candidly to a rabbi with a video camera. And while Mayor Bloomberg tells us to hush up about the mosque, and the left blogosphere shouts “bigots” at New Yorkers who’d like the mosque moved, the impresarios of political correctness are mute when a journalist is forced into hiding by Islamic radicals. The Washington Examiner‘s editors explain:

Last week, the Seattle Weekly announced that Molly Norris, its editorial cartoonist, had “gone ghost.” Put another way, she went into hiding. The FBI told her she had to because otherwise it couldn’t protect her against death threats from Muslims she’d angered. Earlier this year, Norris started “Everybody Draw Mohammed Day” to protest radical Muslims’ violently stifling freedom of speech and conscience. Incredibly, her plight has drawn precious little media attention, even though it is infinitely more newsworthy than, say, a fundamentalist preacher in Florida threatening to burn Qurans.

When The Examiner asked the American Society of News Editors for a statement on the issue, none was forthcoming. This despite the fact that the first sentence of ASNE’s Web site describes its mission as supporting “the First Amendment at home and free speech around the world.” We got a similar response from the Society of Professional Journalists, despite its dedication “to the perpetuation of the free press as the cornerstone of our nation and liberty.”

From the New York Times to TNR (which I had hoped under the headline “Atonement” was going to come clean on misguided support for the “pro-Zionist” candidate Barack Obama, who turned out to be anything but), journalists fall over themselves to apologize for affronts to Muslims.

But then, what can we expect when the president proclaims himself Explainer in Chief on behalf of Islam, chants in Cairo the trope of Palestinian exploitation, and dispatches his advisers to pronounce that opposition to the Ground Zero mosque is reminiscent of European anti-Semitism in the 1930s?

What started out as a widespread effort to delegitimize Israel has now morphed into a war on defenders of Israel and critics of Islamic radicals. So far they are winning the war — with the help of liberal American elites.

Islamists have been mighty successful in propounding a Big Lie: America is a nation beset by Islamophobes. If anything, the religious bigotry problem both in America and in Europe is one of vicious anti-Semitism, which has become mainstream and even fashionable.

Unlike the concocted Islamophobia — based on hysteria over a single whacked-out pastor and legitimate objections to a mosque at Ground Zero — there is plenty of evidence that anti-Semitism enjoys newfound popularity. Time magazine feels confident that its “Jews only care about money” cover story will hit a chord with the public. European officials suffer no ostracism for hurling epithets at Jews speaking up in defense of the Israel. The Turkish foreign minister talks about a “final solution” and no one bats an eye. Now a new and important film, Crossing the Line, documents the prevalence of not simply anti-Israel activism but also violent anti-Semitism on college campuses. (A five-minute clip is chilling viewing.)

But the chattering class and the media mavens aren’t much concerned with all that. To the contrary, CAIR’s darling Helen Thomas operated comfortably in the Washington press corps until she erred by speaking candidly to a rabbi with a video camera. And while Mayor Bloomberg tells us to hush up about the mosque, and the left blogosphere shouts “bigots” at New Yorkers who’d like the mosque moved, the impresarios of political correctness are mute when a journalist is forced into hiding by Islamic radicals. The Washington Examiner‘s editors explain:

Last week, the Seattle Weekly announced that Molly Norris, its editorial cartoonist, had “gone ghost.” Put another way, she went into hiding. The FBI told her she had to because otherwise it couldn’t protect her against death threats from Muslims she’d angered. Earlier this year, Norris started “Everybody Draw Mohammed Day” to protest radical Muslims’ violently stifling freedom of speech and conscience. Incredibly, her plight has drawn precious little media attention, even though it is infinitely more newsworthy than, say, a fundamentalist preacher in Florida threatening to burn Qurans.

When The Examiner asked the American Society of News Editors for a statement on the issue, none was forthcoming. This despite the fact that the first sentence of ASNE’s Web site describes its mission as supporting “the First Amendment at home and free speech around the world.” We got a similar response from the Society of Professional Journalists, despite its dedication “to the perpetuation of the free press as the cornerstone of our nation and liberty.”

From the New York Times to TNR (which I had hoped under the headline “Atonement” was going to come clean on misguided support for the “pro-Zionist” candidate Barack Obama, who turned out to be anything but), journalists fall over themselves to apologize for affronts to Muslims.

But then, what can we expect when the president proclaims himself Explainer in Chief on behalf of Islam, chants in Cairo the trope of Palestinian exploitation, and dispatches his advisers to pronounce that opposition to the Ground Zero mosque is reminiscent of European anti-Semitism in the 1930s?

What started out as a widespread effort to delegitimize Israel has now morphed into a war on defenders of Israel and critics of Islamic radicals. So far they are winning the war — with the help of liberal American elites.

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It Sure Is a Choice Between Hope and Fear

As he is wont to do, William Galston delivers the bad news to his fellow Democrats. Eyeing last week’s Gallup poll showing that majorities disapprove of Obama’s “accomplishments” (e.g., the bailouts, ObamaCare, the stimulus plan), he writes:

The art of democratic leadership is to mobilize public majorities around measures that promote the general welfare. Judged against that standard, the past two years have been a failure—even if one believes that everything on the Gallup list was necessary and wise.

We will never know whether a different approach would have produced a better result. But a few things are clear:

* The failure of the stimulus to produce a more hopeful job market has cast a pall over everything else.

* The public regards the year spent debating health reform as a diversion from what it thinks should have been a sustained focus on the economy.

* And whatever its economic merits, the failure of the financial rescue to mete out justice to the financial leaders that got us into this mess has outraged the public’s moral sense. …

The bottom line: the majority can neither run on its record nor run away from it.

So that leaves the Democrats with ad hominem attacks, scare-mongering, and slurs on the Tea Party. (You’ll notice that the bogeyman George W. Bush has largely disappeared from the Dems’ rhetoric, since it appears Bush is more popular than Obama in some key swing states.)

Obama declares that the choice is between “hope and fear.” Actually, he’s right, but not in the way he intends. For many voters the hope is that electing conservatives to Congress will slow and reverse the spend-a-thon and focus the peripatetic White House on the issue they care most about — jobs. As for the fear, one suspects the public has grown weary of the host of villains the White House conjures up to deflect attention from its own dismal record.

It’s been two years since Obama articulated his own hopeful vision. Now it’s all about recriminations and finger-pointing. You wonder what his reaction will be when the Bible- and gun-huggers, the stooges of the insurance industry, and the Islamophobes stream to the polls, throw out many Democratic incumbents, and declare Obamanomics kaput. At this point, he’s certainly not acting like a president prepared to take the voters’ message to heart and revise his agenda accordingly.

As he is wont to do, William Galston delivers the bad news to his fellow Democrats. Eyeing last week’s Gallup poll showing that majorities disapprove of Obama’s “accomplishments” (e.g., the bailouts, ObamaCare, the stimulus plan), he writes:

The art of democratic leadership is to mobilize public majorities around measures that promote the general welfare. Judged against that standard, the past two years have been a failure—even if one believes that everything on the Gallup list was necessary and wise.

We will never know whether a different approach would have produced a better result. But a few things are clear:

* The failure of the stimulus to produce a more hopeful job market has cast a pall over everything else.

* The public regards the year spent debating health reform as a diversion from what it thinks should have been a sustained focus on the economy.

* And whatever its economic merits, the failure of the financial rescue to mete out justice to the financial leaders that got us into this mess has outraged the public’s moral sense. …

The bottom line: the majority can neither run on its record nor run away from it.

So that leaves the Democrats with ad hominem attacks, scare-mongering, and slurs on the Tea Party. (You’ll notice that the bogeyman George W. Bush has largely disappeared from the Dems’ rhetoric, since it appears Bush is more popular than Obama in some key swing states.)

Obama declares that the choice is between “hope and fear.” Actually, he’s right, but not in the way he intends. For many voters the hope is that electing conservatives to Congress will slow and reverse the spend-a-thon and focus the peripatetic White House on the issue they care most about — jobs. As for the fear, one suspects the public has grown weary of the host of villains the White House conjures up to deflect attention from its own dismal record.

It’s been two years since Obama articulated his own hopeful vision. Now it’s all about recriminations and finger-pointing. You wonder what his reaction will be when the Bible- and gun-huggers, the stooges of the insurance industry, and the Islamophobes stream to the polls, throw out many Democratic incumbents, and declare Obamanomics kaput. At this point, he’s certainly not acting like a president prepared to take the voters’ message to heart and revise his agenda accordingly.

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Why Mahmoud Abbas Cannot Make Peace

Once in a while, I “meet” someone online, on blogs and in comment sections, who thinks the current round of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks might end the conflict, but I don’t think I know anyone in person who lives in the Middle East who believes this. Palestinian journalist Khaled Abu Toameh summed up the consensus view a few days ago. “The peace process is going nowhere,” he wrote, “and everyone is just pretending.”

Nations make peace with their enemies, and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas — also known as Abu Mazen — is not really Israel’s enemy. He’s hardly a friend or an ally, but the Israeli army and Abbas’s security forces have a better and more professional working relationship with each other right now than they ever have. Even Israel’s hard-line foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, doesn’t think of Abbas as the leader of the enemy camp. “I repeat,” he said a few weeks ago, “Abu Mazen will not fight us.”

Israel’s enemy is the Resistance Bloc consisting of Syria, Iran, Hamas, and Hezbollah. No one from that bloc is participating in peace talks. Even if Abbas signed a treaty with Israel — a most unlikely event while Hamas holds a gun to his head and even he refuses to recognize Israel as a Jewish state — it would only mean the war between Israel and Abbas was over. But that war is effectively, though perhaps just temporarily, over already. Not much would actually change. The Arab-Israeli conflict would rage on, as would the Islamist-Israeli conflict. Not even the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would end if Abbas signed a treaty. He couldn’t enforce it.

“By being forced out of the Gaza Strip,” Toameh wrote, “Abbas lost direct control over some 1.5 million Palestinians, roughly half the Palestinians living in the Palestinian territories. … So if Abbas cannot go to the Gaza Strip and has limited control over the West Bank, where is he supposed to implement a peace agreement? In downtown Ramallah? In Tel Aviv?”

The only reason he retains even limited authority is because he extended his expired term in office and is propped up by Israel. He has no authority whatsoever in Gaza and lacks even influence in Lebanon, Syria, and Iran.

If the Iran-led Resistance Bloc was wounded or crumbling, if it was under irresistible pressure from within and without to reform or die, a deal might be possible and would be worth exploring. But that’s not what’s happening. None of the bloc’s leaders will even start peace talks, let alone finish them, while they’re rising in power and have no need to change.

Just a few years ago, Hamas was but one force among several in Gaza, but today it rules with a totalitarian fist. Syria and Hezbollah have seized de facto control over Lebanon, despite Hezbollah’s poor performance in the recent election, while Iran is nearing the threshold of becoming a nuclear-armed regional superpower.

If Abbas had the authority of the Jordanian and Egyptian governments, he might be able to force a cold peace on his people, but he doesn’t. The Resistance Bloc has successfully embedded itself in the Palestinian population and rules roughly half of it. Hamas would simply ignore any treaty Abbas might sign and continue its war against Israel, just as Hezbollah does whatever it wants up north in Lebanon. Abbas can’t put a stop even to his own part of this region-wide conflict any more than Saad Hariri in Beirut can end his.

Once in a while, I “meet” someone online, on blogs and in comment sections, who thinks the current round of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks might end the conflict, but I don’t think I know anyone in person who lives in the Middle East who believes this. Palestinian journalist Khaled Abu Toameh summed up the consensus view a few days ago. “The peace process is going nowhere,” he wrote, “and everyone is just pretending.”

Nations make peace with their enemies, and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas — also known as Abu Mazen — is not really Israel’s enemy. He’s hardly a friend or an ally, but the Israeli army and Abbas’s security forces have a better and more professional working relationship with each other right now than they ever have. Even Israel’s hard-line foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, doesn’t think of Abbas as the leader of the enemy camp. “I repeat,” he said a few weeks ago, “Abu Mazen will not fight us.”

Israel’s enemy is the Resistance Bloc consisting of Syria, Iran, Hamas, and Hezbollah. No one from that bloc is participating in peace talks. Even if Abbas signed a treaty with Israel — a most unlikely event while Hamas holds a gun to his head and even he refuses to recognize Israel as a Jewish state — it would only mean the war between Israel and Abbas was over. But that war is effectively, though perhaps just temporarily, over already. Not much would actually change. The Arab-Israeli conflict would rage on, as would the Islamist-Israeli conflict. Not even the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would end if Abbas signed a treaty. He couldn’t enforce it.

“By being forced out of the Gaza Strip,” Toameh wrote, “Abbas lost direct control over some 1.5 million Palestinians, roughly half the Palestinians living in the Palestinian territories. … So if Abbas cannot go to the Gaza Strip and has limited control over the West Bank, where is he supposed to implement a peace agreement? In downtown Ramallah? In Tel Aviv?”

The only reason he retains even limited authority is because he extended his expired term in office and is propped up by Israel. He has no authority whatsoever in Gaza and lacks even influence in Lebanon, Syria, and Iran.

If the Iran-led Resistance Bloc was wounded or crumbling, if it was under irresistible pressure from within and without to reform or die, a deal might be possible and would be worth exploring. But that’s not what’s happening. None of the bloc’s leaders will even start peace talks, let alone finish them, while they’re rising in power and have no need to change.

Just a few years ago, Hamas was but one force among several in Gaza, but today it rules with a totalitarian fist. Syria and Hezbollah have seized de facto control over Lebanon, despite Hezbollah’s poor performance in the recent election, while Iran is nearing the threshold of becoming a nuclear-armed regional superpower.

If Abbas had the authority of the Jordanian and Egyptian governments, he might be able to force a cold peace on his people, but he doesn’t. The Resistance Bloc has successfully embedded itself in the Palestinian population and rules roughly half of it. Hamas would simply ignore any treaty Abbas might sign and continue its war against Israel, just as Hezbollah does whatever it wants up north in Lebanon. Abbas can’t put a stop even to his own part of this region-wide conflict any more than Saad Hariri in Beirut can end his.

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The Other Haley

Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour, head of the Republican Governors Association and making his way onto the list of 2012 presidential contenders, touts the Tea Party–GOP big tent:

On the issues foremost in voters’ minds—the economy, jobs, spending, taxes, debt and deficits—the overwhelming majority of tea party voters and Republican voters are in strong agreement.

That is why it was tremendously important for Republican prospects in the 2010 elections that tea partiers did not run as independents or third-party candidates. To do so would have split the votes of those who know the Obama-Pelosi-Reid policies don’t work and are hurting our economy.

Every Republican should be pleased that these tea party candidates chose to run in our primaries. In the vast majority of cases, their participation was welcomed, even cultivated, by GOP leaders—and rightly so.

In other words, there may be differences in tone and style, and not all Tea Party candidates are ready for prime time, but the Republican Party has sidestepped the fissure that the chattering class promised was coming. Barbour is also canny enough to tell Beltway Republicans to butt out of primaries — and Lisa Murkowski not to let the door hit her on the way out of the Senate leadership team. (“We have no right whatsoever to substitute our will or judgment for that of the voters. Sen. Lisa Murkowski lost the GOP primary in Alaska to Joe Miller. Now she’s launched a write-in campaign to get re-elected. There is no excuse for this campaign, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell was right to demand her resignation from the GOP leadership.”)

Barbour is not so subtly making the point that it is not in the interests of either establishment GOP figures or the Tea Parties (or members of the former seeking to ingratiate themselves with the latter) to play up the media-created antagonism between the two groups. In fact, the two groups are overlapping — many Tea Partiers are Republicans, the movement’s darling was the VP nominee in 2008, and its greatest salesmen are well-known conservative politicians and media figures.

Barbour has been an uber-competent governor, a successful leader of the RGA, and a savvy analyst of the GOP’s travails and resurgence. Whether he finally decides to run for president and can prove successful remains to be seen. But he’s not doing himself any harm with commonsense calls for unity and a firm restatement of conservatives’ agenda (“creating jobs instead of more massive government, controlling spending and not raising taxes, and delaying and then repealing ObamaCare”).

Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour, head of the Republican Governors Association and making his way onto the list of 2012 presidential contenders, touts the Tea Party–GOP big tent:

On the issues foremost in voters’ minds—the economy, jobs, spending, taxes, debt and deficits—the overwhelming majority of tea party voters and Republican voters are in strong agreement.

That is why it was tremendously important for Republican prospects in the 2010 elections that tea partiers did not run as independents or third-party candidates. To do so would have split the votes of those who know the Obama-Pelosi-Reid policies don’t work and are hurting our economy.

Every Republican should be pleased that these tea party candidates chose to run in our primaries. In the vast majority of cases, their participation was welcomed, even cultivated, by GOP leaders—and rightly so.

In other words, there may be differences in tone and style, and not all Tea Party candidates are ready for prime time, but the Republican Party has sidestepped the fissure that the chattering class promised was coming. Barbour is also canny enough to tell Beltway Republicans to butt out of primaries — and Lisa Murkowski not to let the door hit her on the way out of the Senate leadership team. (“We have no right whatsoever to substitute our will or judgment for that of the voters. Sen. Lisa Murkowski lost the GOP primary in Alaska to Joe Miller. Now she’s launched a write-in campaign to get re-elected. There is no excuse for this campaign, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell was right to demand her resignation from the GOP leadership.”)

Barbour is not so subtly making the point that it is not in the interests of either establishment GOP figures or the Tea Parties (or members of the former seeking to ingratiate themselves with the latter) to play up the media-created antagonism between the two groups. In fact, the two groups are overlapping — many Tea Partiers are Republicans, the movement’s darling was the VP nominee in 2008, and its greatest salesmen are well-known conservative politicians and media figures.

Barbour has been an uber-competent governor, a successful leader of the RGA, and a savvy analyst of the GOP’s travails and resurgence. Whether he finally decides to run for president and can prove successful remains to be seen. But he’s not doing himself any harm with commonsense calls for unity and a firm restatement of conservatives’ agenda (“creating jobs instead of more massive government, controlling spending and not raising taxes, and delaying and then repealing ObamaCare”).

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Shut Up, the Islamists Explained

You may not have heard of Rachel Ehrenfeld or the SPEECH Act (Securing the Protection of our Enduring and Established Constitutional Heritage Act), the one truly bipartisan piece of legislation passed unanimously during the Obama presidency. Ehrenfeld, the SPEECH Act, and the relative unenthusiasm that greeted the passage of legislation that concerns both the First Amendment and jihadism tell us a lot about “law-ware” being waged by Islamists.

Ehrenfeld has worked as an investigative journalist and researcher since the early 1990s. She is Israeli by birth and now an American citizen. In 2004 she was sued in the UK by a Saudi billionaire, Khalid bin Mahfouz. In her book Funding Evil, she documented his and other Saudis’ connection to and support for radical Muslim groups. Although her book was not distributed there and she is not a citizen or resident of the UK, British libel laws allowed the suit to proceed. (The case was described in detail in Andrew McCarthy’s COMMENTARY article, “Can Libel Tourism Be Stopped?” in September 2008.)  Bin Mahfouz was the only figure to sue her, although two others named in the book sued other publications. She explained to me in a phone interview that before his death the Saudi billionarie had in essence created a cottage industry suing or threatening to sue more than 40 journalists and publications in England, thereby intimidating Western journalists. Why sue her? “I had a very small publisher,” she tells me. And as an Israeli, she was an attractive target. It isn’t money the Islamists are after, she explains. “We don’t need your money; we need big ads retracting the story,” she quotes a Saudi prince. The name of the game here is to silence Western media. Read More

You may not have heard of Rachel Ehrenfeld or the SPEECH Act (Securing the Protection of our Enduring and Established Constitutional Heritage Act), the one truly bipartisan piece of legislation passed unanimously during the Obama presidency. Ehrenfeld, the SPEECH Act, and the relative unenthusiasm that greeted the passage of legislation that concerns both the First Amendment and jihadism tell us a lot about “law-ware” being waged by Islamists.

Ehrenfeld has worked as an investigative journalist and researcher since the early 1990s. She is Israeli by birth and now an American citizen. In 2004 she was sued in the UK by a Saudi billionaire, Khalid bin Mahfouz. In her book Funding Evil, she documented his and other Saudis’ connection to and support for radical Muslim groups. Although her book was not distributed there and she is not a citizen or resident of the UK, British libel laws allowed the suit to proceed. (The case was described in detail in Andrew McCarthy’s COMMENTARY article, “Can Libel Tourism Be Stopped?” in September 2008.)  Bin Mahfouz was the only figure to sue her, although two others named in the book sued other publications. She explained to me in a phone interview that before his death the Saudi billionarie had in essence created a cottage industry suing or threatening to sue more than 40 journalists and publications in England, thereby intimidating Western journalists. Why sue her? “I had a very small publisher,” she tells me. And as an Israeli, she was an attractive target. It isn’t money the Islamists are after, she explains. “We don’t need your money; we need big ads retracting the story,” she quotes a Saudi prince. The name of the game here is to silence Western media.

But “I hadn’t done anything wrong” she says. “It was never tried on the merits. I wanted to stop it.” So she countersued the Saudi in New York court. While sympathetic, the court issued an opinion declaring that it lacked jurisdiction over the case. She didn’t stop there. She went to the New York legislature, which in a few months passed what became known as “Rachel’s law,” making clear that foreign libel judgments against U.S. journalists that run afoul of the First Amendment are not enforceable in the U.S. She then went to Capitol Hill and testified before Congress. Sponsored in the House by Democrat Steve Cohen and in the Senate by Pat Leahy and Jeff Sessions, the SPEECH Act was signed into law in August.

The reaction of the White House, not to mention the mainstream media, was oddly muted. Ehrenfeld explains that there was no signing ceremony, “Yet there’s a signing ceremony when they name some tree.” She also tells me that a joint op-ed by Sens. Sessions and Leahy was rejected by major publications, including the New York Times. (The Times did not respond to my request for comment.) She says, “Something very strange is going on.” Are the administration and mainstream media uncomfortable advertising the Saudi connection to terror funding and the need for such legislation? Ehrenfeld asserts that in both Britain and the U.S., media outlets have “caved to political correctness.” She warns that monetary interests (“Greed is the mother of all evil, ” she remarks) and the politicization of the press and the plaintiff’s bar in England have worked hand in hand to insulate Muslim groups from scrutiny.

I asked her if she sees a connection between “libel tourism” (the name for use of the UK courts to intimidate journalists) and the current furor over supposed, but unproven, Islamophobia in the U.S. She responds emphatically, “Wealthy Muslims are trying to dictate what the media does.” She explains that the Saudis and others go to great pains to “train” U.S. journalists, invite them on junkets, and press their view that accusations of terrorism are libelous and/or stem from bigotry. “It is very important to expose those who are enemies of both Israel and the U.S.,” Ehrenfeld says. “The same organizations are out to harm both the U.S. and Israel.” In Europe, she explains, foes of the U.S. and Israel are “supporting anti-Israel and anti-American groups. Take the flotilla incident. … Anti-Israel propaganda is increasing.” British journalists may be prevented from reporting by threat of litigation, “but here in America, we can do that without being sued.”

On a personal note, she adds that “it sometimes takes a new American to demand First Amendment rights, while Americans [by birth] are blase. My parents were in the Irgun and won against the Brits. I came to America. And I won against the Brits too.” Yes, she did.

Her implication is clear: if the mainstream media and the chattering class fall silent and cease researching, investigating and commenting on terror connections because of economic pressure and the reign of political correctness, the First Amendment will be severely weakened, and terrorists and their sponsors will escape scrutiny. Whether by libel tourism or accusations of Islamophobia, the Islamic radicals will use all available means to ensure that they can continue to conduct the jihadist war from the shadows. They will certainly succeed unless others join Rachel Ehrenfeld and refuse to be silenced.

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Oren to American Jews: Prepare Yourselves

Michael Oren in his Kol Nidre remarks at Adas Israel in Washington D.C. gave a rousing defense of Israeli democracy:

Israeli democracy is rambunctious and intensely personal, placing the premium on individual participation. In our family, I can attest, my wife and I have never voted for the same party. Our son also went his own way politically. Together with his friends, he started a political party in our living room that now holds two seats on the Jerusalem municipality.

At 62 years old, Israel’s democracy is older than more than half of the democratic governments in the world, which, in turn, account for less than half of the world’s existing nations. Israel is one of the handful of democracies that has never succumbed to periods of undemocratic rule. And Israel has achieved this extraordinary record in spite of the fact that it is the only democracy never to know a nanosecond of peace and which has endured pressures that would have crushed most other democracies long ago. In a region inhospitable—even fatal—to government by and of the people, Israel’s democracy thrives.

He had this to say about the peace process:

You know that to create that neighboring state that you’re going to have to give up some land, but not just any land, but land regarded as sacred by the majority of the Jewish people for more than three thousand years. You know that a great many of your countrymen have made their homes in these areas and that numerous Israelis have given their lives in their defense. You know that Israel has in the past withdrawn from territories in an effort to generate peace but that it received no peace but rather war. And, lastly, you know that many Arabs view the two-state solution as a two stage solution in which the ultimate stage is Israel’s dissolution.

What, then, Mr. or Ms. Prime Minister, do you do?

He didn’t actually answer the question, a telling sign that there is no good answer. But he was crystal clear on Iran:

Support us as we grapple with these towering challenges. Back us in our efforts to defend ourselves from terrorist rockets. Uphold us if we have to make painful sacrifices for peace or if we decide that the terms of the proposed treaty fail to justify those sacrifices. Stand with us as we resist Iran’s efforts to acquire nuclear weapons. Respect the decisions we take through our democratic system and respect the risks that we, more than any other nation, take.

Let us—Israelis and the American Jews—united by our faith, our peoplehood, and our common love for democracy. Let us assume responsibility for our decisions, crushingly difficult though they may often be, and appreciative of the quandaries our leaders face. When we call out, let us answer one another with the assurance that no challenge—no paradoxes, no Ninevehs [a reference to the Jonah story read on Yom Kippur]—can defeat us.

The final and closing comments suggest it is time to get real, to put aside the fantasy that Swiss cheese sanctions are going to break the mullahs’ will. Obama is, we are told, preparing to call for more “engagement” with Iran — a ludicrous and dangerous suggestion that indicates he’s not remotely serious about ending the threat of a nuclear Iran. So Oren is telling — perhaps pleading — with American Jews to stand by Israel if in fact Obama shirks his obligations as leader of the Free World. After all, should Israel be forced to act on its own, it will be defending our national security interests as much as its own. Someone’s got to do it, and we should count ourselves fortunate that we need not depend solely on the feckless Obama administration, which still deludes itself that we have some other viable alternative to military force if we are to stand behind two presidents’ pledges that a nuclear-armed Iran is “unacceptable.”

Michael Oren in his Kol Nidre remarks at Adas Israel in Washington D.C. gave a rousing defense of Israeli democracy:

Israeli democracy is rambunctious and intensely personal, placing the premium on individual participation. In our family, I can attest, my wife and I have never voted for the same party. Our son also went his own way politically. Together with his friends, he started a political party in our living room that now holds two seats on the Jerusalem municipality.

At 62 years old, Israel’s democracy is older than more than half of the democratic governments in the world, which, in turn, account for less than half of the world’s existing nations. Israel is one of the handful of democracies that has never succumbed to periods of undemocratic rule. And Israel has achieved this extraordinary record in spite of the fact that it is the only democracy never to know a nanosecond of peace and which has endured pressures that would have crushed most other democracies long ago. In a region inhospitable—even fatal—to government by and of the people, Israel’s democracy thrives.

He had this to say about the peace process:

You know that to create that neighboring state that you’re going to have to give up some land, but not just any land, but land regarded as sacred by the majority of the Jewish people for more than three thousand years. You know that a great many of your countrymen have made their homes in these areas and that numerous Israelis have given their lives in their defense. You know that Israel has in the past withdrawn from territories in an effort to generate peace but that it received no peace but rather war. And, lastly, you know that many Arabs view the two-state solution as a two stage solution in which the ultimate stage is Israel’s dissolution.

What, then, Mr. or Ms. Prime Minister, do you do?

He didn’t actually answer the question, a telling sign that there is no good answer. But he was crystal clear on Iran:

Support us as we grapple with these towering challenges. Back us in our efforts to defend ourselves from terrorist rockets. Uphold us if we have to make painful sacrifices for peace or if we decide that the terms of the proposed treaty fail to justify those sacrifices. Stand with us as we resist Iran’s efforts to acquire nuclear weapons. Respect the decisions we take through our democratic system and respect the risks that we, more than any other nation, take.

Let us—Israelis and the American Jews—united by our faith, our peoplehood, and our common love for democracy. Let us assume responsibility for our decisions, crushingly difficult though they may often be, and appreciative of the quandaries our leaders face. When we call out, let us answer one another with the assurance that no challenge—no paradoxes, no Ninevehs [a reference to the Jonah story read on Yom Kippur]—can defeat us.

The final and closing comments suggest it is time to get real, to put aside the fantasy that Swiss cheese sanctions are going to break the mullahs’ will. Obama is, we are told, preparing to call for more “engagement” with Iran — a ludicrous and dangerous suggestion that indicates he’s not remotely serious about ending the threat of a nuclear Iran. So Oren is telling — perhaps pleading — with American Jews to stand by Israel if in fact Obama shirks his obligations as leader of the Free World. After all, should Israel be forced to act on its own, it will be defending our national security interests as much as its own. Someone’s got to do it, and we should count ourselves fortunate that we need not depend solely on the feckless Obama administration, which still deludes itself that we have some other viable alternative to military force if we are to stand behind two presidents’ pledges that a nuclear-armed Iran is “unacceptable.”

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Joe Sestak is heading for defeat. In the latest poll, he trails Pat Toomey by nine points.

Asked about the Sestak campaign, Snarlin’ Arlen Specter tells reporters he’s heading for the squash courts.

John Boehner’s advice must have hit home. Obama says that some of his economic team may be heading home. Obama in Chicago told a town hall gathering: “I have not made any determinations about personnel. I think Larry Summers and Tim Geithner have done an outstanding job, as have my whole economic team. This is tough, the work that they do. They’ve been at it for two years. And, you know, they’re going to have a whole range of decisions about family that’ll factor into this as well.”

Congressmen are heading for the campaign trail early. No need to stay in town to face a tough vote on the Bush tax cuts. “House leaders are considering adjourning as early as the end of this week, which would give lawmakers five and a half weeks to campaign before the Nov. 2 election but could also leave them exposed to allegations that they didn’t finish their work in Washington.” It’s pathetic, really.

Heading for 15 percent? “An estimated 192,000 Nevadans were out of work in August, pushing the state’s unemployment rate to 14.4 percent, according to the state Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation.” Harry Reid says he’s responsible for nothing.

Obama is heading for more of this as long as unemployment remains high across the country: “President Barack Obama on Monday said times were still tough for many Americans, as he defended his policies during aggressive questioning after the worst U.S. recession since the 1930s was declared over. As audience members at a townhall-style meeting voiced exasperation and disappointment at his administration, and one woman said she was ‘exhausted’ from defending him, Obama stressed he understood that people were frustrated.”

The peace talks are heading nowhere: “Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said in a Monday night interview with Palestinian news source Ma’an that ‘Israel was free to call itself the Israeli Zionist Jewish Empire.’ The PA leader made cynical remarks to Ma’an shortly after Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu called upon Abbas to recognize Israel as a Jewish state.” Maybe Jordan should be called the Palestinian state. It is, you know.

Joe Sestak is heading for defeat. In the latest poll, he trails Pat Toomey by nine points.

Asked about the Sestak campaign, Snarlin’ Arlen Specter tells reporters he’s heading for the squash courts.

John Boehner’s advice must have hit home. Obama says that some of his economic team may be heading home. Obama in Chicago told a town hall gathering: “I have not made any determinations about personnel. I think Larry Summers and Tim Geithner have done an outstanding job, as have my whole economic team. This is tough, the work that they do. They’ve been at it for two years. And, you know, they’re going to have a whole range of decisions about family that’ll factor into this as well.”

Congressmen are heading for the campaign trail early. No need to stay in town to face a tough vote on the Bush tax cuts. “House leaders are considering adjourning as early as the end of this week, which would give lawmakers five and a half weeks to campaign before the Nov. 2 election but could also leave them exposed to allegations that they didn’t finish their work in Washington.” It’s pathetic, really.

Heading for 15 percent? “An estimated 192,000 Nevadans were out of work in August, pushing the state’s unemployment rate to 14.4 percent, according to the state Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation.” Harry Reid says he’s responsible for nothing.

Obama is heading for more of this as long as unemployment remains high across the country: “President Barack Obama on Monday said times were still tough for many Americans, as he defended his policies during aggressive questioning after the worst U.S. recession since the 1930s was declared over. As audience members at a townhall-style meeting voiced exasperation and disappointment at his administration, and one woman said she was ‘exhausted’ from defending him, Obama stressed he understood that people were frustrated.”

The peace talks are heading nowhere: “Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said in a Monday night interview with Palestinian news source Ma’an that ‘Israel was free to call itself the Israeli Zionist Jewish Empire.’ The PA leader made cynical remarks to Ma’an shortly after Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu called upon Abbas to recognize Israel as a Jewish state.” Maybe Jordan should be called the Palestinian state. It is, you know.

Read Less




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