Commentary Magazine


Posts For: October 20, 2010

Tea Leaves and the Taliban

In the New York Times report that NATO has escorted Taliban leaders to talks in Kabul, there is a slight but eye-catching overemphasis on the importance of withholding the names of the Taliban. The Times cites a request from U.S. and Afghan officials that the names be withheld for fear of retaliation against the Taliban delegates by Pakistani intelligence or other Taliban. But a moment’s reflection informs us that the Taliban leaders’ associates know exactly who they are — and there are plenty of cell phones in Afghanistan and Pakistan. It cannot be a secret for long who went to Kabul.

Strictly necessary or not, the security warning to the Times appears oddly pointed, fingering the Pakistani intelligence agency with an uncharacteristic lack of dissimulation about Pakistan’s quality as an antiterrorism ally. It is attributed to an Afghan official, but it comes across as representative of general concerns held also by the U.S. There seems to have been no attempt by Obama’s officials to leave a different impression. Intentionally or by default, the security warning serves as the rhetorical cutting of a tether: the end of a politically unifying narrative about the Afghan conflict and the beginning of something else. What that something else will be is not clear, but the central role of the Taliban in this strategic hinge point is informative.

The Times and others have picked up on the fact that the “discussions [in Kabul] appear to be unfolding without the approval of Pakistan’s leaders … The Afghan government seems to be trying to seek a reconciliation agreement that does not directly involve Pakistan.” If the U.S. is backing this play — and our concern about secrecy for the Taliban negotiators suggests we are – that’s a major development in our policy. Revealing such developments obliquely through oracles and signs is becoming a tiresome pattern with the Obama administration. It certainly doesn’t burnish our image of integrity as a global power. And as the Times points out, with masterly understatement, this particular policy shift “could backfire by provoking the Pakistanis.”

I agree with Max Boot that the military situation in Afghanistan is not such as to force the Taliban to negotiate. But the apparent import of the outreach to the Taliban is divorced from that consideration. This looks like evidence of an emerging policy initiative to exclude Pakistani influence from the reconciliation talks, independent of security conditions in Afghanistan.

If that is a misperception, it’s an awfully big and significant one to leave uncorrected. The U.S. headlines have been full of Pakistani perfidy for weeks now; my impression from the Obama administration’s effective silence has been that it has no interest in counteracting the animus that naturally arises in the American public in the face of such themes. In a rare editorial last week, Ryan Crocker, former ambassador to Pakistan and Iraq, was moved to defend the difficult situation of the Pakistani government, urging the U.S. administration not to turn its back on partnership with the struggling democracy. He appears to be swimming against the tide of headlines and administration policy.

Something that requires no divination to understand is the goal of the Taliban. Long War Journal’s Threat Matrix blog reports that the Taliban website, Voice of Jihad, has posted a demand that the U.S. guarantee in writing to withdraw its troops on a specified timeline (i.e., July 2011), as a good-faith gesture toward reconciliation talks. It’s hard to ignore the uncanny similarity of this demand to Hezbollah’s demand for the same guarantee from a prospective Maliki government in Iraq. Maliki’s Hezbollah-backed coalition with the radical Shia cleric al-Sadr is emerging as a fait accompli in Baghdad, in spite of U.S. opposition; the Taliban cannot be pessimistic about their own chances with reconciliation talks and a withdrawal timeline.

In the New York Times report that NATO has escorted Taliban leaders to talks in Kabul, there is a slight but eye-catching overemphasis on the importance of withholding the names of the Taliban. The Times cites a request from U.S. and Afghan officials that the names be withheld for fear of retaliation against the Taliban delegates by Pakistani intelligence or other Taliban. But a moment’s reflection informs us that the Taliban leaders’ associates know exactly who they are — and there are plenty of cell phones in Afghanistan and Pakistan. It cannot be a secret for long who went to Kabul.

Strictly necessary or not, the security warning to the Times appears oddly pointed, fingering the Pakistani intelligence agency with an uncharacteristic lack of dissimulation about Pakistan’s quality as an antiterrorism ally. It is attributed to an Afghan official, but it comes across as representative of general concerns held also by the U.S. There seems to have been no attempt by Obama’s officials to leave a different impression. Intentionally or by default, the security warning serves as the rhetorical cutting of a tether: the end of a politically unifying narrative about the Afghan conflict and the beginning of something else. What that something else will be is not clear, but the central role of the Taliban in this strategic hinge point is informative.

The Times and others have picked up on the fact that the “discussions [in Kabul] appear to be unfolding without the approval of Pakistan’s leaders … The Afghan government seems to be trying to seek a reconciliation agreement that does not directly involve Pakistan.” If the U.S. is backing this play — and our concern about secrecy for the Taliban negotiators suggests we are – that’s a major development in our policy. Revealing such developments obliquely through oracles and signs is becoming a tiresome pattern with the Obama administration. It certainly doesn’t burnish our image of integrity as a global power. And as the Times points out, with masterly understatement, this particular policy shift “could backfire by provoking the Pakistanis.”

I agree with Max Boot that the military situation in Afghanistan is not such as to force the Taliban to negotiate. But the apparent import of the outreach to the Taliban is divorced from that consideration. This looks like evidence of an emerging policy initiative to exclude Pakistani influence from the reconciliation talks, independent of security conditions in Afghanistan.

If that is a misperception, it’s an awfully big and significant one to leave uncorrected. The U.S. headlines have been full of Pakistani perfidy for weeks now; my impression from the Obama administration’s effective silence has been that it has no interest in counteracting the animus that naturally arises in the American public in the face of such themes. In a rare editorial last week, Ryan Crocker, former ambassador to Pakistan and Iraq, was moved to defend the difficult situation of the Pakistani government, urging the U.S. administration not to turn its back on partnership with the struggling democracy. He appears to be swimming against the tide of headlines and administration policy.

Something that requires no divination to understand is the goal of the Taliban. Long War Journal’s Threat Matrix blog reports that the Taliban website, Voice of Jihad, has posted a demand that the U.S. guarantee in writing to withdraw its troops on a specified timeline (i.e., July 2011), as a good-faith gesture toward reconciliation talks. It’s hard to ignore the uncanny similarity of this demand to Hezbollah’s demand for the same guarantee from a prospective Maliki government in Iraq. Maliki’s Hezbollah-backed coalition with the radical Shia cleric al-Sadr is emerging as a fait accompli in Baghdad, in spite of U.S. opposition; the Taliban cannot be pessimistic about their own chances with reconciliation talks and a withdrawal timeline.

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Israel, Iran, and Senate Races

To his credit, Ron Kampeas reverses course and supports Mark Kirk’s push-back against the assertions made by Democratic surrogates that Kirk had nothing to do with the sanctions bill. It seems as though other reports had the goods:

Let me revise my assessment Monday of the smackdown between Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.), the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and Rep. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), running for Illinois’ open U.S. Senate seat, is not a win for Kirk on points — it’s a knockout, for Kirk.

Folks intimately involved in preparing Kirk’s  bill sanctioning Iran’s energy sector have contacted me (and not Republicans) — and they say it indeed provided the template for Berman’s original sanctions bill. Berman says Kirk’s claims that he framed the bill are wrong, and that Kirk had nothing to do with the bill.

He continues that “I gather some of the same folks reached out to Foreign Policy The Cable’s Josh Rogin, and he had the more thorough version up first” — which actually cited JTA’s own reporting. Kudos for reversing field, but perhaps next time Kampeas can reach out to the out-reachers to confirm the facts before he writes his column.

Kampeas might consider a walk-back on his assessment of Joe Sestak as well. Kampeas thinks the newest ECI ad is too tough, asserting: “Sestak is a consistent yes vote on pro-Israel legislation so ‘record of hostility’ would seem to overstate it, even for a partisan release.” It’s really not. In fact, when Sestak asserted that he had a 100 percent pro-AIPAC voting record, Jewish officials struck back hard. A Jewish official reached out to Ben Smith on that one:

“There are serious concerns about Joe Sestak’s record related to Israel throughout the pro-Israel community,” said an official with a major pro-Israel organization in Washington. “Not only has he said that Chuck Hagel is the Senator he admires most, which is unusual enough, but when comes to actual decisions that have affected Israel and our relationship with them, he has gone the wrong way several times. It’s the height of chutzpah for him to suggest he has a good record, let alone a 100 percent one, on these issues.”

Are the ECI and RJC ads tough? Yes. Do they accurately depict Sestak and reflect deep concern regarding his record by pro-Israel activists, including many Democrats? Absolutely.

To his credit, Ron Kampeas reverses course and supports Mark Kirk’s push-back against the assertions made by Democratic surrogates that Kirk had nothing to do with the sanctions bill. It seems as though other reports had the goods:

Let me revise my assessment Monday of the smackdown between Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.), the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and Rep. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), running for Illinois’ open U.S. Senate seat, is not a win for Kirk on points — it’s a knockout, for Kirk.

Folks intimately involved in preparing Kirk’s  bill sanctioning Iran’s energy sector have contacted me (and not Republicans) — and they say it indeed provided the template for Berman’s original sanctions bill. Berman says Kirk’s claims that he framed the bill are wrong, and that Kirk had nothing to do with the bill.

He continues that “I gather some of the same folks reached out to Foreign Policy The Cable’s Josh Rogin, and he had the more thorough version up first” — which actually cited JTA’s own reporting. Kudos for reversing field, but perhaps next time Kampeas can reach out to the out-reachers to confirm the facts before he writes his column.

Kampeas might consider a walk-back on his assessment of Joe Sestak as well. Kampeas thinks the newest ECI ad is too tough, asserting: “Sestak is a consistent yes vote on pro-Israel legislation so ‘record of hostility’ would seem to overstate it, even for a partisan release.” It’s really not. In fact, when Sestak asserted that he had a 100 percent pro-AIPAC voting record, Jewish officials struck back hard. A Jewish official reached out to Ben Smith on that one:

“There are serious concerns about Joe Sestak’s record related to Israel throughout the pro-Israel community,” said an official with a major pro-Israel organization in Washington. “Not only has he said that Chuck Hagel is the Senator he admires most, which is unusual enough, but when comes to actual decisions that have affected Israel and our relationship with them, he has gone the wrong way several times. It’s the height of chutzpah for him to suggest he has a good record, let alone a 100 percent one, on these issues.”

Are the ECI and RJC ads tough? Yes. Do they accurately depict Sestak and reflect deep concern regarding his record by pro-Israel activists, including many Democrats? Absolutely.

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West Virginia Going to the GOP?

After several polls showing the race narrowing, today’s Rasmussen poll reports:

Republican John Raese has now opened up a seven-point lead over West Virginia Governor Joe Manchin in perhaps the most improbably close U.S. Senate contest in the country. It’s Raese’s biggest lead yet.

A new Rasmussen Reports telephone survey of Likely West Virginia Voters finds Raese with 50% support to Manchin’s 43%. Two percent (2%) like some other candidate in the race, and five percent (5%) are undecided.

Maybe this is all static — slight movement within the margin of error. Or maybe in the debate, and in Manchin’s ad touting ObamaCare, voters were reminded that the way to stop the Obama agenda is to send to Washington D.C. lawmakers who, well, oppose the Obama agenda. And besides, Manchin is a popular governor (“69% of the state’s voters approve of the job Manchin is doing as governor”), so voters may have figured out that they can have both Raese and Manchin.

After several polls showing the race narrowing, today’s Rasmussen poll reports:

Republican John Raese has now opened up a seven-point lead over West Virginia Governor Joe Manchin in perhaps the most improbably close U.S. Senate contest in the country. It’s Raese’s biggest lead yet.

A new Rasmussen Reports telephone survey of Likely West Virginia Voters finds Raese with 50% support to Manchin’s 43%. Two percent (2%) like some other candidate in the race, and five percent (5%) are undecided.

Maybe this is all static — slight movement within the margin of error. Or maybe in the debate, and in Manchin’s ad touting ObamaCare, voters were reminded that the way to stop the Obama agenda is to send to Washington D.C. lawmakers who, well, oppose the Obama agenda. And besides, Manchin is a popular governor (“69% of the state’s voters approve of the job Manchin is doing as governor”), so voters may have figured out that they can have both Raese and Manchin.

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What to Do About Pakistan?

In the New York Times, Zalmay Khalilzad, former U.S. ambassador to Kabul and Baghdad, suggests getting “tough” with Pakistan. Good idea, but how? He writes: “The United States should demand that Pakistan shut down all sanctuaries and military support programs for insurgents or else we will carry out operations against those insurgent havens, with or without Pakistani consent.”

That is, in fact, pretty much what the U.S. has been threatening since 2001. By now such threats ring hollow because we haven’t carried them out — and for good reason. How are we to suppose to clear out “insurgent havens” without Pakistani consent? Are we going to send tens of thousands of troops into the Federally Administered Tribal Areas? Not likely. Maybe step up drone strikes? That we can do, but Predators would hardly clear out the terrorists. And in return for violating Pakistani sovereignty, we would be vulnerable to Pakistani counter-pressure, from closing the supply routes for U.S. forces in Afghanistan to ending cooperation with the drone strikes against al-Qaeda.

Khalilzad proposes sweeteners for the Pakistanis, such as providing “long-term assistance to Pakistan, focused on developing not only its security apparatus, but also its civil society, economy, and democratic institutions” and facilitating “a major diplomatic effort … to improve relations between India and Pakistan.” Again, been there and done that.

Last year Congress approved a five-year, $7.5 billion package of nonmilitary aid to Pakistan. Now the Obama administration is asking for $2 billion more in military aid. That’s a lot of money in a place like Pakistan, and yet there is no sign that it has done or will do much good. Given how U.S. foreign aid is routinely stolen or used for inappropriate projects (Afghanistan and Iraq are both textbook examples), we can have little confidence that all this money is going to lead to a fundamental reorientation of Pakistani foreign policy. Nor will U.S. efforts to mediate between Pakistan and India — something we’ve done before — affect the fundamental calculations of Pakistan’s army, which views the Taliban and Haqqani Network as instruments of Pakistani statecraft in Afghanistan.

I don’t know how to reorient Pakistani policy; I don’t think anyone does. It would help, however, if President Obama made it clear that we’re not leaving Afghanistan next July. As Khalilzad rightly notes, “Pakistani military leaders believe that our current surge will be the last push before we begin a face-saving troop drawdown next July. They are confident that if they continue to frustrate our military and political strategy — even actively impede reconciliation between Kabul and Taliban groups willing to make peace — pro-Pakistani forces will have the upper hand in Afghanistan after the United States departs.”

In the New York Times, Zalmay Khalilzad, former U.S. ambassador to Kabul and Baghdad, suggests getting “tough” with Pakistan. Good idea, but how? He writes: “The United States should demand that Pakistan shut down all sanctuaries and military support programs for insurgents or else we will carry out operations against those insurgent havens, with or without Pakistani consent.”

That is, in fact, pretty much what the U.S. has been threatening since 2001. By now such threats ring hollow because we haven’t carried them out — and for good reason. How are we to suppose to clear out “insurgent havens” without Pakistani consent? Are we going to send tens of thousands of troops into the Federally Administered Tribal Areas? Not likely. Maybe step up drone strikes? That we can do, but Predators would hardly clear out the terrorists. And in return for violating Pakistani sovereignty, we would be vulnerable to Pakistani counter-pressure, from closing the supply routes for U.S. forces in Afghanistan to ending cooperation with the drone strikes against al-Qaeda.

Khalilzad proposes sweeteners for the Pakistanis, such as providing “long-term assistance to Pakistan, focused on developing not only its security apparatus, but also its civil society, economy, and democratic institutions” and facilitating “a major diplomatic effort … to improve relations between India and Pakistan.” Again, been there and done that.

Last year Congress approved a five-year, $7.5 billion package of nonmilitary aid to Pakistan. Now the Obama administration is asking for $2 billion more in military aid. That’s a lot of money in a place like Pakistan, and yet there is no sign that it has done or will do much good. Given how U.S. foreign aid is routinely stolen or used for inappropriate projects (Afghanistan and Iraq are both textbook examples), we can have little confidence that all this money is going to lead to a fundamental reorientation of Pakistani foreign policy. Nor will U.S. efforts to mediate between Pakistan and India — something we’ve done before — affect the fundamental calculations of Pakistan’s army, which views the Taliban and Haqqani Network as instruments of Pakistani statecraft in Afghanistan.

I don’t know how to reorient Pakistani policy; I don’t think anyone does. It would help, however, if President Obama made it clear that we’re not leaving Afghanistan next July. As Khalilzad rightly notes, “Pakistani military leaders believe that our current surge will be the last push before we begin a face-saving troop drawdown next July. They are confident that if they continue to frustrate our military and political strategy — even actively impede reconciliation between Kabul and Taliban groups willing to make peace — pro-Pakistani forces will have the upper hand in Afghanistan after the United States departs.”

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We Are Not Defensive!

Yesterday, in typically measured and tightly reasoned fashion, Michael Gerson made the case that the president is a snob. This is not an observation unique to Gerson. Every outlet from the New York Times to the Daily Beast to the Weekly Standard has remarked on Obama’s serial habit of denigrating fellow Americans. But Obama’s defining characteristic may not be his snobbery.

It is, as we have seen in the nonstop attacks on all but the remaining true believers, his thin-skinnedness. The White House sees dupes or rabid enemies at Fox News, Gallup, the Chamber of Commerce, and Tea Party gatherings. So David Axelrod, perhaps the president’s adviser, feels compelled to come out and declare that the president is not a snob. Yes, a bit reminiscent of Nixon’s “I am not a crook.” And equally ineffective.

It is an error that the White House has repeated throughout its first two years: elevating critics while diminishing the president’s own standing. It makes one pine for a president with a superior temperament.

Yesterday, in typically measured and tightly reasoned fashion, Michael Gerson made the case that the president is a snob. This is not an observation unique to Gerson. Every outlet from the New York Times to the Daily Beast to the Weekly Standard has remarked on Obama’s serial habit of denigrating fellow Americans. But Obama’s defining characteristic may not be his snobbery.

It is, as we have seen in the nonstop attacks on all but the remaining true believers, his thin-skinnedness. The White House sees dupes or rabid enemies at Fox News, Gallup, the Chamber of Commerce, and Tea Party gatherings. So David Axelrod, perhaps the president’s adviser, feels compelled to come out and declare that the president is not a snob. Yes, a bit reminiscent of Nixon’s “I am not a crook.” And equally ineffective.

It is an error that the White House has repeated throughout its first two years: elevating critics while diminishing the president’s own standing. It makes one pine for a president with a superior temperament.

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Ads Like You’ve Never Seen

Jack Conway isn’t going to win the Kentucky Senate race, but he will be remembered as the candidate with the single worst ad in the 2010 midterm cycle. How do we know? Well, it gave birth to one of the most effective counterpunches – a montage of liberal Democrats ripping Conway for attacking Rand Paul’s religious beliefs.

Howard Kurtz at his new Daily Beast perch observes that Conway’s is only the worst of a bad lot. It’s been an especially nasty season for Democratic ads:

We’re talking ugly stuff here …

“The party is doing stuff that is too hot for candidates,” says Evan Tracey, who tracks television advertising as president of the nonpartisan Campaign Media Analysis Group. “You see ad after ad going at them right between the eyes. It’s personal, it’s cutting. It’s ‘here’s what we found in the oppo dump and we’re going to put it in the worst light possible.’”

Kurtz provides a useful compendium of some of the more outlandish ones. He observes that the ads “represent the kind of scorched-earth tactics that strategists employ when their clients are in danger of losing, and losing big. The party is spending heavily on these aerial attacks.” Yes, negative ads sometimes “work,” but by going beyond the bounds of normal political combat, the candidates, like Conway, risk making themselves appear desperate and ethically challenged. And to the degree that independents hate partisanship, these ads are likely to be a major turnoff.

On the bright side, it does seem that the mainstream media and liberal punditocracy are embarrassed by all this. Alas, they had hoped for so much more from the Hope ‘n Change president.

Jack Conway isn’t going to win the Kentucky Senate race, but he will be remembered as the candidate with the single worst ad in the 2010 midterm cycle. How do we know? Well, it gave birth to one of the most effective counterpunches – a montage of liberal Democrats ripping Conway for attacking Rand Paul’s religious beliefs.

Howard Kurtz at his new Daily Beast perch observes that Conway’s is only the worst of a bad lot. It’s been an especially nasty season for Democratic ads:

We’re talking ugly stuff here …

“The party is doing stuff that is too hot for candidates,” says Evan Tracey, who tracks television advertising as president of the nonpartisan Campaign Media Analysis Group. “You see ad after ad going at them right between the eyes. It’s personal, it’s cutting. It’s ‘here’s what we found in the oppo dump and we’re going to put it in the worst light possible.’”

Kurtz provides a useful compendium of some of the more outlandish ones. He observes that the ads “represent the kind of scorched-earth tactics that strategists employ when their clients are in danger of losing, and losing big. The party is spending heavily on these aerial attacks.” Yes, negative ads sometimes “work,” but by going beyond the bounds of normal political combat, the candidates, like Conway, risk making themselves appear desperate and ethically challenged. And to the degree that independents hate partisanship, these ads are likely to be a major turnoff.

On the bright side, it does seem that the mainstream media and liberal punditocracy are embarrassed by all this. Alas, they had hoped for so much more from the Hope ‘n Change president.

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The Most Ineffective Campaign Ever

First, they ran against George W. Bush. Then against the Chamber of Commerce. Then against the “loony” Tea Party. None of the Dems’ antics have worked:

Democratic attacks on Republicans and the Tea Party for being too extreme are failing to sway voters, according to The Hill 2010 Midterm Election Poll.

Only 15 percent of likely Democratic voters said they were voting to “ensure extreme right-wing candidates are not elected to Congress.

Independents, who are the largest bloc of undecided voters and are vital to Democrats if the party is to retain its House majority, are also unconvinced by warnings about extremism. Only 14 percent of them said they would vote for a Democrat to avoid electing an extreme right-wing candidate; 11 percent said they would vote Republican to avoid electing an extreme left-wing candidate. . .

The resulting data underscore a broad worry among Democratic strategists that the party’s message is too muddled to rally voters, and that it’s already too late to turn around a looming electoral debacle.

Two things are at work here. First, with an exception here or there, the Tea Party–backed candidates don’t seem all that extreme. What’s extreme is spending trillions, running up the debt, and telling the public that nationalized health care will save money. Compared to that, the vow to stop it is downright sane to most voters’ way of thinking. And second, the messengers — especially Obama — have very little credibility. Nancy Pelosi calling anyone extreme simply isn’t going to influence anybody who isn’t already a committed liberal.

I agree with this take:

“I think the Democrats have really done themselves a disservice by demeaning the Tea Party movement, because you have many independents and conservative Democrats sympathetic to those Tea Party concerns,” Republican strategist Kevin Madden said. …

“There’s a very consistent thread running through all of the Republican messaging to voters right now,” said Madden. “Washington, D.C., represents the status quo, and that means out-of-control spending and deficits.”

Voters figure that, hey, if a Sharron Angle or a Ken Buck is a little unpolished and a bit ambitious in the aim to curb government, so what? If the alternative is a more liberal policy, they’ll gladly sign up with the “extremists.”

First, they ran against George W. Bush. Then against the Chamber of Commerce. Then against the “loony” Tea Party. None of the Dems’ antics have worked:

Democratic attacks on Republicans and the Tea Party for being too extreme are failing to sway voters, according to The Hill 2010 Midterm Election Poll.

Only 15 percent of likely Democratic voters said they were voting to “ensure extreme right-wing candidates are not elected to Congress.

Independents, who are the largest bloc of undecided voters and are vital to Democrats if the party is to retain its House majority, are also unconvinced by warnings about extremism. Only 14 percent of them said they would vote for a Democrat to avoid electing an extreme right-wing candidate; 11 percent said they would vote Republican to avoid electing an extreme left-wing candidate. . .

The resulting data underscore a broad worry among Democratic strategists that the party’s message is too muddled to rally voters, and that it’s already too late to turn around a looming electoral debacle.

Two things are at work here. First, with an exception here or there, the Tea Party–backed candidates don’t seem all that extreme. What’s extreme is spending trillions, running up the debt, and telling the public that nationalized health care will save money. Compared to that, the vow to stop it is downright sane to most voters’ way of thinking. And second, the messengers — especially Obama — have very little credibility. Nancy Pelosi calling anyone extreme simply isn’t going to influence anybody who isn’t already a committed liberal.

I agree with this take:

“I think the Democrats have really done themselves a disservice by demeaning the Tea Party movement, because you have many independents and conservative Democrats sympathetic to those Tea Party concerns,” Republican strategist Kevin Madden said. …

“There’s a very consistent thread running through all of the Republican messaging to voters right now,” said Madden. “Washington, D.C., represents the status quo, and that means out-of-control spending and deficits.”

Voters figure that, hey, if a Sharron Angle or a Ken Buck is a little unpolished and a bit ambitious in the aim to curb government, so what? If the alternative is a more liberal policy, they’ll gladly sign up with the “extremists.”

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Talks with the Taliban?

Newspaper front pages seem to be full of stories about talks with the Taliban. It is breathlessly reported that NATO has facilitated the travel of senior Taliban and Haqqani Network leaders to Kabul for discussions with President Hamid Karzai and his inner circle. There is nothing wrong with such talks, nor is there anything particularly novel about them. It is the Afghan way to talk to your opponents as well as your friends; after all, their positions could be switched before long. Indeed, some families have sons in both the Taliban and the government.

But don’t expect a breakthrough anytime soon. As CIA Director Leon Panetta sagely said: “If there are elements that wish to reconcile and get reintegrated, that ought to be obviously explored. But I still have not seen anything that indicates that at this point a serious effort is being made to reconcile.”

I don’t see any serious effort at reconciliation either. For that to happen the Taliban will have to suffer more military defeats than they have endured so far. The coalition is just starting to push back in a major way against the insurgency with a comprehensive counterinsurgency plan that includes everything from troops surging into enemy-held areas to increased Special Operations raids and air strikes to attempts to reduce the corrupt uses of foreign-aid money. All of this will take some time to come to fruition, and only when the enemy realizes that there is no way they can shoot their way into power will you see a serious splintering of the Taliban.

A good target of opportunity may arise next summer when President Obama’s deadline for troop withdrawals comes around. The Taliban have been telling anyone who will listen that the Americans are headed out the door. Assuming that any troop withdrawals next summer are small and largely symbolic, the Taliban may well be shocked to discover that they will be hammered just as hard after July 2011 as they were before. That could create a psychological breaking point for at least some of the Taliban, who may decide at that point that their best bet for collecting a pension would mandate leaving the insurgency. But we aren’t at that point yet, so I wouldn’t put too much stock into hyped media reports of talks with the Taliban.

Newspaper front pages seem to be full of stories about talks with the Taliban. It is breathlessly reported that NATO has facilitated the travel of senior Taliban and Haqqani Network leaders to Kabul for discussions with President Hamid Karzai and his inner circle. There is nothing wrong with such talks, nor is there anything particularly novel about them. It is the Afghan way to talk to your opponents as well as your friends; after all, their positions could be switched before long. Indeed, some families have sons in both the Taliban and the government.

But don’t expect a breakthrough anytime soon. As CIA Director Leon Panetta sagely said: “If there are elements that wish to reconcile and get reintegrated, that ought to be obviously explored. But I still have not seen anything that indicates that at this point a serious effort is being made to reconcile.”

I don’t see any serious effort at reconciliation either. For that to happen the Taliban will have to suffer more military defeats than they have endured so far. The coalition is just starting to push back in a major way against the insurgency with a comprehensive counterinsurgency plan that includes everything from troops surging into enemy-held areas to increased Special Operations raids and air strikes to attempts to reduce the corrupt uses of foreign-aid money. All of this will take some time to come to fruition, and only when the enemy realizes that there is no way they can shoot their way into power will you see a serious splintering of the Taliban.

A good target of opportunity may arise next summer when President Obama’s deadline for troop withdrawals comes around. The Taliban have been telling anyone who will listen that the Americans are headed out the door. Assuming that any troop withdrawals next summer are small and largely symbolic, the Taliban may well be shocked to discover that they will be hammered just as hard after July 2011 as they were before. That could create a psychological breaking point for at least some of the Taliban, who may decide at that point that their best bet for collecting a pension would mandate leaving the insurgency. But we aren’t at that point yet, so I wouldn’t put too much stock into hyped media reports of talks with the Taliban.

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Mean and Ignorant!

Fresh from a column on how mean GOP women are, Maureen Dowd today writes about how ignorant they are. She reviews the well-known list of gaffes — but only those of Republican women. Apparently Harry Reid, Barbara Boxer, Blanche Lincoln, and the rest are scholars one and all. But then Dowd writes something odd, even for her:

On Saturday, at a G.O.P. rally in Anaheim, Calif., Palin mockingly noted that you won’t find her invoking Mao or Saul Alinsky. She says she believes in American exceptionalism. But when it comes to the people running the country, exceptionalism is suspect; leaders should be — as Palin, O’Donnell and Angle keep saying — just like you.

OK, now that’s dumb. American exceptionalism — the idea that America is endowed with great assets and plays a unique role in the world — has absolutely nothing to do with whether it’s a good idea to have a Harvard grad or a University of Idaho grad in the Oval Office. The desire to dump elites in no way diminishes one’s faith in American exceptionalism. To the contrary, it is the elites who have learned to disdain the projection of American power and values. So, yes, you can in fact favor candidates without elite baggage and believe in the unique role of America in the world.

Of course, Christine O’Donnell is now the useful model for portraying all conservative women as dopes. But what will Dowd and her ilk do when O’Donnell loses? Sarah Palin, the queen bee they fear and resent the most, has been on a roll. She understood that ObamaCare meant rationing; that renunciation of first-strike nuclear power against a biological or chemical attack was daft; that Keynesian economics was bunk; and that animus toward Israel and indifference to our allies more generally was dangerous. What’s ignorant about all that?

I’m not going to defend the gaffes by conservative candidates, male or female, or make the argument that they don’t matter when running for office. They do, especially when these candidates have already been tagged by the mainstream press (whose own brilliance was so stunning that they were certain the surge would fail and that Obama was a political genius) as intellectually deficient, as Palin has. But the ideas that they embrace are not the product of ignorance. They are rooted in time-tested principles of free market economics, limited government, and, yes, American exceptionalism.

At least conservative women have not made the meta-errors of the type that imperil Obama and his Democrats (not to mention our country). So better, then, for Dowd to keep the arguments trivial, personal, and mean. Otherwise, the Gray Lady’s venom-spitting columnist might have to engage in some real policy critiques. And who thinks Dowd is remotely up to that?

Fresh from a column on how mean GOP women are, Maureen Dowd today writes about how ignorant they are. She reviews the well-known list of gaffes — but only those of Republican women. Apparently Harry Reid, Barbara Boxer, Blanche Lincoln, and the rest are scholars one and all. But then Dowd writes something odd, even for her:

On Saturday, at a G.O.P. rally in Anaheim, Calif., Palin mockingly noted that you won’t find her invoking Mao or Saul Alinsky. She says she believes in American exceptionalism. But when it comes to the people running the country, exceptionalism is suspect; leaders should be — as Palin, O’Donnell and Angle keep saying — just like you.

OK, now that’s dumb. American exceptionalism — the idea that America is endowed with great assets and plays a unique role in the world — has absolutely nothing to do with whether it’s a good idea to have a Harvard grad or a University of Idaho grad in the Oval Office. The desire to dump elites in no way diminishes one’s faith in American exceptionalism. To the contrary, it is the elites who have learned to disdain the projection of American power and values. So, yes, you can in fact favor candidates without elite baggage and believe in the unique role of America in the world.

Of course, Christine O’Donnell is now the useful model for portraying all conservative women as dopes. But what will Dowd and her ilk do when O’Donnell loses? Sarah Palin, the queen bee they fear and resent the most, has been on a roll. She understood that ObamaCare meant rationing; that renunciation of first-strike nuclear power against a biological or chemical attack was daft; that Keynesian economics was bunk; and that animus toward Israel and indifference to our allies more generally was dangerous. What’s ignorant about all that?

I’m not going to defend the gaffes by conservative candidates, male or female, or make the argument that they don’t matter when running for office. They do, especially when these candidates have already been tagged by the mainstream press (whose own brilliance was so stunning that they were certain the surge would fail and that Obama was a political genius) as intellectually deficient, as Palin has. But the ideas that they embrace are not the product of ignorance. They are rooted in time-tested principles of free market economics, limited government, and, yes, American exceptionalism.

At least conservative women have not made the meta-errors of the type that imperil Obama and his Democrats (not to mention our country). So better, then, for Dowd to keep the arguments trivial, personal, and mean. Otherwise, the Gray Lady’s venom-spitting columnist might have to engage in some real policy critiques. And who thinks Dowd is remotely up to that?

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The Comedy Central President

Timothy Noah at left-leaning Slate is nervous about the upcoming Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart rally:

There’s still a lot we don’t fully understand about the Tea Partiers and the political independents who have lost faith in Obama. But one thing we should all be pretty clear on by now is that they hate, hate, hate anything that smacks of elitism. The spectacle of affluent 18-to-34-year-olds blanketing the Mall to snicker at jokes about wingnut ignoramuses and Bible thumpers will, I fear, have the effect of a red cape waved before a bull. Stewart and Colbert aren’t supposed to want to affect the midterm elections, and for the most part I believe they don’t. But let Republicans regain the House (and maybe even the Senate) in part because Comedy Central used mockery not merely to burlesque political protest but also, to some inevitable extent, to practice it—and I think Stewart and Colbert will be sorry they came.

Well, if it will make him feel better, the House is already pretty much lost, and the Senate isn’t going to be decided by sneering comics. It does, however, remind us that the “cool” set was originally entranced with the “cool” candidate Obama. Why? Well, aside from liberalism (Hillary Clinton had that after all), they shared a contempt for the Bible-and-gun huggers, a suspicion that their fellow citizens were dolts and racists, and a confidence that they were smarter than just about anyone else. Appropriately, in the final week of the campaign, Obama is appearing on The Daily Show. The host and his audience are indeed the president’s base.

Noah is nervous that it’s dangerous to the liberals’ cause to take this act out in public, where the voters might get the idea that Obama’s supporters are snickering at them. Well, they are. And Obama’s affinity for those who ooze contempt for Americans goes a long way toward explaining why he is now so estranged from the people he seeks to lead.

Timothy Noah at left-leaning Slate is nervous about the upcoming Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart rally:

There’s still a lot we don’t fully understand about the Tea Partiers and the political independents who have lost faith in Obama. But one thing we should all be pretty clear on by now is that they hate, hate, hate anything that smacks of elitism. The spectacle of affluent 18-to-34-year-olds blanketing the Mall to snicker at jokes about wingnut ignoramuses and Bible thumpers will, I fear, have the effect of a red cape waved before a bull. Stewart and Colbert aren’t supposed to want to affect the midterm elections, and for the most part I believe they don’t. But let Republicans regain the House (and maybe even the Senate) in part because Comedy Central used mockery not merely to burlesque political protest but also, to some inevitable extent, to practice it—and I think Stewart and Colbert will be sorry they came.

Well, if it will make him feel better, the House is already pretty much lost, and the Senate isn’t going to be decided by sneering comics. It does, however, remind us that the “cool” set was originally entranced with the “cool” candidate Obama. Why? Well, aside from liberalism (Hillary Clinton had that after all), they shared a contempt for the Bible-and-gun huggers, a suspicion that their fellow citizens were dolts and racists, and a confidence that they were smarter than just about anyone else. Appropriately, in the final week of the campaign, Obama is appearing on The Daily Show. The host and his audience are indeed the president’s base.

Noah is nervous that it’s dangerous to the liberals’ cause to take this act out in public, where the voters might get the idea that Obama’s supporters are snickering at them. Well, they are. And Obama’s affinity for those who ooze contempt for Americans goes a long way toward explaining why he is now so estranged from the people he seeks to lead.

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Extending the Settlement Freeze Would Undermine a Vital Israeli Security Interest

Thomas Friedman argues in today’s New York Times that Israel should extend its freeze on settlement construction because when a key ally like America “asks Israel to do something that in no way touches on its vital security … there is only one right answer: ‘Yes.’” Friedman is, of course, correct that countries should help allies anytime they can do so without great cost to themselves. Where he’s wrong is in saying that no vital Israeli security interest is at stake.

It’s true that Israel has no real security interest in a few more houses here or there. But it does have a vital security interest in ultimately securing defensible borders, which can’t be done without retaining some territory on the other side of the Green Line under any deal. And continuing the settlement freeze would undermine Israel’s negotiating position on this issue.

Israel’s need for defensible borders was first recognized in UN Security Council Resolution 242, which is still considered the basis for resolving the conflict: this resolution deliberately demanded an Israeli withdrawal “from territories” captured in 1967 rather than from “all the territories,” as the Arabs had wanted, to enable Israel to retain some of this land.

As Lord Caradon, the British UN ambassador who drafted it, later said, “It would have been wrong to demand that Israel return to its positions of June 4, 1967, because those positions were undesirable and artificial.” Similarly, America’s then-ambassador to the UN, Arthur Goldberg, said the resolution’s goal was to secure “less than a complete withdrawal of Israeli forces … inasmuch as Israel’s prior frontiers had proved to be notably insecure.”

Many settlements were subsequently built for precisely this purpose: to thicken Israel’s narrow pre-1967 waist and create a buffer around its major population center (the greater Tel Aviv area), its capital (Jerusalem), and its only international airport (Ben-Gurion).

Israel’s experience with previous withdrawals from Lebanon and Gaza — which, as Friedman admitted, gained it nothing but rocket fire in return — has only made this more important. Even with the new Iron Dome anti-rocket system, a territorial buffer is essential to protect these vital areas from short-range rockets: not only can the system not stop weapons launched from less than 4.5 kilometers away, but it’s economically prohibitive against anything beyond very occasional fire.

Thus Israel has a valid security-based claim to these areas, and a onetime, temporary building moratorium as a goodwill gesture to promote peace, like the one Israel instituted last November, doesn’t undermine it. But extending the freeze would, because that implies the moratorium isn’t a onetime goodwill gesture on Israel’s part, but — as most of the world indeed claims — a necessary condition for progress, since this land a priori belongs to the Palestinians, and Israel has no right to it.

Israel can’t stop other countries from rejecting its claim to this land. But for Jerusalem to itself denigrate this claim by extending the freeze would undermine its negotiating position on a vital security issue: defensible borders. And that is something no country with any vestige of a survival instinct should agree to do.

Thomas Friedman argues in today’s New York Times that Israel should extend its freeze on settlement construction because when a key ally like America “asks Israel to do something that in no way touches on its vital security … there is only one right answer: ‘Yes.’” Friedman is, of course, correct that countries should help allies anytime they can do so without great cost to themselves. Where he’s wrong is in saying that no vital Israeli security interest is at stake.

It’s true that Israel has no real security interest in a few more houses here or there. But it does have a vital security interest in ultimately securing defensible borders, which can’t be done without retaining some territory on the other side of the Green Line under any deal. And continuing the settlement freeze would undermine Israel’s negotiating position on this issue.

Israel’s need for defensible borders was first recognized in UN Security Council Resolution 242, which is still considered the basis for resolving the conflict: this resolution deliberately demanded an Israeli withdrawal “from territories” captured in 1967 rather than from “all the territories,” as the Arabs had wanted, to enable Israel to retain some of this land.

As Lord Caradon, the British UN ambassador who drafted it, later said, “It would have been wrong to demand that Israel return to its positions of June 4, 1967, because those positions were undesirable and artificial.” Similarly, America’s then-ambassador to the UN, Arthur Goldberg, said the resolution’s goal was to secure “less than a complete withdrawal of Israeli forces … inasmuch as Israel’s prior frontiers had proved to be notably insecure.”

Many settlements were subsequently built for precisely this purpose: to thicken Israel’s narrow pre-1967 waist and create a buffer around its major population center (the greater Tel Aviv area), its capital (Jerusalem), and its only international airport (Ben-Gurion).

Israel’s experience with previous withdrawals from Lebanon and Gaza — which, as Friedman admitted, gained it nothing but rocket fire in return — has only made this more important. Even with the new Iron Dome anti-rocket system, a territorial buffer is essential to protect these vital areas from short-range rockets: not only can the system not stop weapons launched from less than 4.5 kilometers away, but it’s economically prohibitive against anything beyond very occasional fire.

Thus Israel has a valid security-based claim to these areas, and a onetime, temporary building moratorium as a goodwill gesture to promote peace, like the one Israel instituted last November, doesn’t undermine it. But extending the freeze would, because that implies the moratorium isn’t a onetime goodwill gesture on Israel’s part, but — as most of the world indeed claims — a necessary condition for progress, since this land a priori belongs to the Palestinians, and Israel has no right to it.

Israel can’t stop other countries from rejecting its claim to this land. But for Jerusalem to itself denigrate this claim by extending the freeze would undermine its negotiating position on a vital security issue: defensible borders. And that is something no country with any vestige of a survival instinct should agree to do.

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Web Exclusive: Blank Tablet: Distorted Defense of Boycott Discredits Publication

What qualifies a publication for consideration as a serious contributor to the national Jewish conversation? Tablet magazine is an online publication that appears to aspire to such a status despite the fact that it mixes political and literary commentary with breezier lifestyle articles. But it is getting increasingly difficult to look at this website without wondering: what exactly is Tablet’s conception of serious commentary on Jewish issues and Israel?

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

What qualifies a publication for consideration as a serious contributor to the national Jewish conversation? Tablet magazine is an online publication that appears to aspire to such a status despite the fact that it mixes political and literary commentary with breezier lifestyle articles. But it is getting increasingly difficult to look at this website without wondering: what exactly is Tablet’s conception of serious commentary on Jewish issues and Israel?

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

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Transformational All Right

If you are a Democrat, it’s painful to read the news these days. The latest survey of impending doom:

A vigorous post-Labor Day Democratic offensive has failed to diminish the resurgent Republicans’ lead among likely voters, leaving the GOP poised for major gains in congressional elections two weeks away, according to a new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll.

Among likely voters, Republicans hold a 50% to 43% edge, up from a three-percentage-point lead a month ago.

In the broader category of registered voters, 46% favor a Democratic-controlled Congress, compared with 44% who want Republican control. But in the 92 House districts considered most competitive, the GOP’s lead among registered voters is 14 points, underscoring the Democrats’ challenge in maintaining their hold on the House.

Actually, that would mean that the “vigorous post-Labor Day Democratic offensive” made matters worse. The question is not whether the Democratic donors are lagging their Republican counterparts, but rather — why would anyone throw their money away in this fashion? I suppose hope springs eternal that suddenly the country will learn to love one-party liberal rule.

And as for the impact of the Tea Partiers:

Tea-party supporters now make up 35% of the voters likely to turn out Nov. 2. Among that group, Republicans lead 84% to 10%. Just 56% of voters who supported Mr. Obama in 2008 say they are very interested in the midterm elections, compared with 77% of those who voted for Republican presidential candidate John McCain.

In other words, the Tea Party has not divided the GOP but boosted support and enthusiasm.

There are individual races and specific candidates who will provide drama and a few surprises, especially on the Senate side. For every Christine O’Donnell, there will be a Marco Rubio for the GOP. When the dust settles, Congress will be transformed. Appropriate, isn’t it, as a response to a president who sought to transform America in ways the public plainly didn’t like.

If you are a Democrat, it’s painful to read the news these days. The latest survey of impending doom:

A vigorous post-Labor Day Democratic offensive has failed to diminish the resurgent Republicans’ lead among likely voters, leaving the GOP poised for major gains in congressional elections two weeks away, according to a new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll.

Among likely voters, Republicans hold a 50% to 43% edge, up from a three-percentage-point lead a month ago.

In the broader category of registered voters, 46% favor a Democratic-controlled Congress, compared with 44% who want Republican control. But in the 92 House districts considered most competitive, the GOP’s lead among registered voters is 14 points, underscoring the Democrats’ challenge in maintaining their hold on the House.

Actually, that would mean that the “vigorous post-Labor Day Democratic offensive” made matters worse. The question is not whether the Democratic donors are lagging their Republican counterparts, but rather — why would anyone throw their money away in this fashion? I suppose hope springs eternal that suddenly the country will learn to love one-party liberal rule.

And as for the impact of the Tea Partiers:

Tea-party supporters now make up 35% of the voters likely to turn out Nov. 2. Among that group, Republicans lead 84% to 10%. Just 56% of voters who supported Mr. Obama in 2008 say they are very interested in the midterm elections, compared with 77% of those who voted for Republican presidential candidate John McCain.

In other words, the Tea Party has not divided the GOP but boosted support and enthusiasm.

There are individual races and specific candidates who will provide drama and a few surprises, especially on the Senate side. For every Christine O’Donnell, there will be a Marco Rubio for the GOP. When the dust settles, Congress will be transformed. Appropriate, isn’t it, as a response to a president who sought to transform America in ways the public plainly didn’t like.

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Who Decides What’s ‘Beyond the Pale’ of the Republican Party?

In a speech to the Hudson Institute last week, Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels, in accepting the Herman Kahn Award, spoke admiringly of Kahn. Daniels quoted from Kahn’s 1982 book, The Coming Boom (it can be found near the 27-minute mark): “It would be most useful to redesign the tax system to discourage consumption and encourage savings and investment. One obvious possibility is a value added tax and a flat income tax, with the only exception being a lower standard deduction.” Daniels went on to add: “That might suit our current situation pretty well. It might also fit Bill Simon’s line in the late 70s that the nation should have a tax system that looks like someone designed it on purpose.”

Governor Daniels’s statement was too much for Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform, who said:

This is outside the bounds of acceptable modern Republican thought, and it is only the zone of extremely left-wing Democrats who publicly talk about those things because all Democrats pretending to be moderates wouldn’t touch it with a 10-foot poll. Absent some explanation, such as large quantities of crystal meth, this is disqualifying. This is beyond the pale.

Grover has given himself quite a task: defining for the rest of us what is “outside the bounds of acceptable modern Republican thought.” What Daniels said is not simply wrong; it is “disqualifying.” Read More

In a speech to the Hudson Institute last week, Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels, in accepting the Herman Kahn Award, spoke admiringly of Kahn. Daniels quoted from Kahn’s 1982 book, The Coming Boom (it can be found near the 27-minute mark): “It would be most useful to redesign the tax system to discourage consumption and encourage savings and investment. One obvious possibility is a value added tax and a flat income tax, with the only exception being a lower standard deduction.” Daniels went on to add: “That might suit our current situation pretty well. It might also fit Bill Simon’s line in the late 70s that the nation should have a tax system that looks like someone designed it on purpose.”

Governor Daniels’s statement was too much for Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform, who said:

This is outside the bounds of acceptable modern Republican thought, and it is only the zone of extremely left-wing Democrats who publicly talk about those things because all Democrats pretending to be moderates wouldn’t touch it with a 10-foot poll. Absent some explanation, such as large quantities of crystal meth, this is disqualifying. This is beyond the pale.

Grover has given himself quite a task: defining for the rest of us what is “outside the bounds of acceptable modern Republican thought.” What Daniels said is not simply wrong; it is “disqualifying.”

Norquist has been an influential figure in the conservative movement for a generation, but his response to Governor Daniels is almost laughably self-important. He acts as if he were speaking ex cathedra. There is an imperiousness and intolerance to Norquist’s words, an effort to shut down debate rather than to engage it. This approach shouldn’t be used in any case — but to employ it against arguably the nation’s most successful governor is very unwise.

As this article in Human Events (!) points out, Daniels’s record as governor is extremely impressive and quite conservative, from job growth to championing free-market reforms to limiting the size of government to cutting taxes. (Daniels did raise taxes, but overall, Human Events points out, “the tax cuts far outweighed the increases.”)

I’d add that one of Daniels’s more attractive qualities is that he’s an idea-oriented politician. He’s clearly at home in the realm of ideas, can speak knowledgeable and easily about them, and likes to provoke discussion and different ways of thinking. It may well be that what Herman Kahn recommended in the early 1980s is a flawed proposal, but what Daniels said hardly qualifies as heresy. For Norquist, however, Daniels is an apostate (apparently for the second time). He needs to be read out of the movement. Perhaps the same standard would have applied to Ronald Reagan, who in 1982 signed what at the time was the largest tax increase in American history (the TEFRA tax).

Norquist’s words reveal a cast of mind that conservatism would be better to avoid. It is the kind of attitude that has come to define many modern universities, which are among the most illiberal and intellectually rigid and stifling institutions in America. A healthy, self-confident conservative movement doesn’t declare what Daniels said to be “outside the bounds of acceptable modern Republican thought”; rather, it allows for and even encourages genuine debate and creative thinking, the probing of ideas and holding them up to scrutiny, self-examination, and self-reflection. Let’s leave it to others to employ the tactics found in a George Orwell novel.

Prior to the fall of the Berlin Wall, Vaclav Havel wrote a powerful essay about Eastern Europe. He spoke about a system committed to “eliminating all expressions of nonconformity” and that had become “ossified.” He went on to speak about the greengrocer who has to put a slogan in his window in order to contribute “to the panorama that everyone is very aware of.” This panorama, Havel went on to write, had a subliminal message: “it reminds people where they are living and what is expected of them. It tells them what everyone else is doing, and indicates to them what they must do as well, if they don’t want to be excluded, to fall into isolation.”

Conservatism found such a system repugnant then. We shouldn’t begin to borrow from it now.

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Thomas Friedman’s Additional Test

Thomas Friedman unloads on Israel, asserting that it is “behaving like a spoiled child” because Netanyahu will not agree to a new settlement-construction moratorium without additional assurances:

Just one time you would like Israel to say, “You know, Mr. President, we’re dubious that a continued settlement freeze will have an impact. But you think it will, so, let’s test it. This one’s for you.”

I think he means that just two times he would like Israel to say it.

Last year, Obama demanded a settlement freeze — after reneging on agreements about such a freeze that had governed the peace process for the prior six years and refusing to endorse the presidential letter given to Israel in exchange for the dismantlement of every settlement in Gaza. The proposed deal was a construction freeze in exchange for small steps toward normalization with Israel that the U.S. would obtain from Arab states. Obama failed to get anything from the Arab states, but Israel announced a 10-month moratorium anyway. It had no impact at all.

Friedman writes that he has “no idea whether the Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas, has the will and the guts to make peace with Israel” but thinks Abbas should be tested with another moratorium. No idea?

He knows that Abbas’s term of office expired nearly two years ago and that Abbas is “President Abbas” only in the sense that George Mitchell is “Senator Mitchell.” He knows Abbas declined an offer of a state on 100 percent of the West Bank (after land swaps) with a shared Jerusalem. He knows Abbas has stated he will “never” recognize Israel as a Jewish state nor negotiate any land swap. He knows Abbas cannot make peace even with Hamas, which controls half the putative Palestinian state. He knows Abbas has repeatedly canceled elections and that the idea of the Palestinian Authority as a stable democratic entity is a joke. He knows Abbas has declared he will never waive the “right of return,” which makes a peace agreement impossible even if every other issue could be resolved. He knows Abbas has taken no steps to prepare his public for any of the compromises that would be necessary for a peace agreement. How many tests does Abbas have to fail before Thomas Friedman has an idea?

Would it be too much to ask that Abbas first give his Bir Zeit speech? Or that Obama commit to veto any Palestinian state that does not result from direct negotiations that provide Israel with defensible borders? Or would that be acting like a spoiled child?

Thomas Friedman unloads on Israel, asserting that it is “behaving like a spoiled child” because Netanyahu will not agree to a new settlement-construction moratorium without additional assurances:

Just one time you would like Israel to say, “You know, Mr. President, we’re dubious that a continued settlement freeze will have an impact. But you think it will, so, let’s test it. This one’s for you.”

I think he means that just two times he would like Israel to say it.

Last year, Obama demanded a settlement freeze — after reneging on agreements about such a freeze that had governed the peace process for the prior six years and refusing to endorse the presidential letter given to Israel in exchange for the dismantlement of every settlement in Gaza. The proposed deal was a construction freeze in exchange for small steps toward normalization with Israel that the U.S. would obtain from Arab states. Obama failed to get anything from the Arab states, but Israel announced a 10-month moratorium anyway. It had no impact at all.

Friedman writes that he has “no idea whether the Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas, has the will and the guts to make peace with Israel” but thinks Abbas should be tested with another moratorium. No idea?

He knows that Abbas’s term of office expired nearly two years ago and that Abbas is “President Abbas” only in the sense that George Mitchell is “Senator Mitchell.” He knows Abbas declined an offer of a state on 100 percent of the West Bank (after land swaps) with a shared Jerusalem. He knows Abbas has stated he will “never” recognize Israel as a Jewish state nor negotiate any land swap. He knows Abbas cannot make peace even with Hamas, which controls half the putative Palestinian state. He knows Abbas has repeatedly canceled elections and that the idea of the Palestinian Authority as a stable democratic entity is a joke. He knows Abbas has declared he will never waive the “right of return,” which makes a peace agreement impossible even if every other issue could be resolved. He knows Abbas has taken no steps to prepare his public for any of the compromises that would be necessary for a peace agreement. How many tests does Abbas have to fail before Thomas Friedman has an idea?

Would it be too much to ask that Abbas first give his Bir Zeit speech? Or that Obama commit to veto any Palestinian state that does not result from direct negotiations that provide Israel with defensible borders? Or would that be acting like a spoiled child?

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New Challenges for Pro-Israel Activists

Former UN ambassador John Bolton, as he is wont to do, sounds a warning:

Once past Nov. 2 and faced with the impending and embarrassing collapse of direct talks, President Obama may well be moved to punish Israel or at least fashion a teachable moment out of his diplomatic failure.

The Obama administration has a jaundiced view of Israel, but actual U.S. recognition of “Palestine” seems a remote prospect in the near term. The domestic political firestorm for the president—already likely to be badly wounded in midterm elections and deeply concerned about his own prospects in two years—would simply be too much.

A more indirect but still effective course is to let statehood emerge through a Security Council resolution. Prior U.S. administrations would unquestionably have voted “no,” thus vetoing such a proposal, but Mr. Obama’s penchant for publicly pressuring Israel is a foreshadow that Washington may decide not to play its traditional role. While even Mr. Obama is unlikely to instruct a “yes” vote on a Security Council resolution affirming a Palestinian state and subsequent U.N. membership, one could readily envision the administration abstaining. That would allow a near-certain majority, perhaps 14-0, to adopt the resolution.

In any other administration, this would be inconceivable; however, this administration is like no other. Yes, this would be a major step forward for the delegitimizers. (“By defining ‘Palestine’ to include territory Israel considers its own, such a resolution would delegitimize both Israel’s authority and settlements beyond the 1967 lines, and its goal of an undivided Jerusalem as its capital.”) Yes, it would be politically unpopular, given the country’s pro-Israel orientation. And yes, it would send a dangerous signal to Iran that Israel’s fate is not tied to our own, and that Israel’s existential threat is Israel’s problem alone.

But the possibility is real given Obama’s track record, the leaks about an imposed peace deal, and the president’s own rhetoric. (“In his September 2009 speech at the U.N., for example, he supported a Palestinian state ‘with contiguous territory that ends the occupation that began in 1967.’”) So what should pro-Israel groups and lawmakers do?

Well, come January, one or both houses of Congress will be in GOP hands. It is time to start using the power of the bully pulpit (in the form of resolutions) and the purse (to defund the UN Human Rights Council, for example) to push back on the Obama assault on Israel.  A shot across the bow of the White House — a resolution condemning any effort to impose a deal or divide territory that does not arise from direct negotiations — would be a good start.

But as frightening a prospect as all this is, it pales in comparison to the threat to which Obama turns a blind eye: a nuclear-armed revolutionary Islamic state. This is quite a bit more difficult. The Congress can’t order a military strike if needed. But here, too, pro-Israel advocates and lawmakers should not dally. A declaration of support for Israel, oversight hearings on the paltry results from sanctions, and a robust effort to inform and rally the American people are all needed. Mainstream Jewish pro-Israel groups have been befuddled by the administration, falling prey to the same non-direct, non-peace-talk obsession that has snared the Obami. They should reorient themselves to dual missions: heading off any scheme to unilaterally recognize a Palestinian state and encouraging the administration to stand by its declaration that a nuclear-armed Iran is truly “unacceptable.”

Former UN ambassador John Bolton, as he is wont to do, sounds a warning:

Once past Nov. 2 and faced with the impending and embarrassing collapse of direct talks, President Obama may well be moved to punish Israel or at least fashion a teachable moment out of his diplomatic failure.

The Obama administration has a jaundiced view of Israel, but actual U.S. recognition of “Palestine” seems a remote prospect in the near term. The domestic political firestorm for the president—already likely to be badly wounded in midterm elections and deeply concerned about his own prospects in two years—would simply be too much.

A more indirect but still effective course is to let statehood emerge through a Security Council resolution. Prior U.S. administrations would unquestionably have voted “no,” thus vetoing such a proposal, but Mr. Obama’s penchant for publicly pressuring Israel is a foreshadow that Washington may decide not to play its traditional role. While even Mr. Obama is unlikely to instruct a “yes” vote on a Security Council resolution affirming a Palestinian state and subsequent U.N. membership, one could readily envision the administration abstaining. That would allow a near-certain majority, perhaps 14-0, to adopt the resolution.

In any other administration, this would be inconceivable; however, this administration is like no other. Yes, this would be a major step forward for the delegitimizers. (“By defining ‘Palestine’ to include territory Israel considers its own, such a resolution would delegitimize both Israel’s authority and settlements beyond the 1967 lines, and its goal of an undivided Jerusalem as its capital.”) Yes, it would be politically unpopular, given the country’s pro-Israel orientation. And yes, it would send a dangerous signal to Iran that Israel’s fate is not tied to our own, and that Israel’s existential threat is Israel’s problem alone.

But the possibility is real given Obama’s track record, the leaks about an imposed peace deal, and the president’s own rhetoric. (“In his September 2009 speech at the U.N., for example, he supported a Palestinian state ‘with contiguous territory that ends the occupation that began in 1967.’”) So what should pro-Israel groups and lawmakers do?

Well, come January, one or both houses of Congress will be in GOP hands. It is time to start using the power of the bully pulpit (in the form of resolutions) and the purse (to defund the UN Human Rights Council, for example) to push back on the Obama assault on Israel.  A shot across the bow of the White House — a resolution condemning any effort to impose a deal or divide territory that does not arise from direct negotiations — would be a good start.

But as frightening a prospect as all this is, it pales in comparison to the threat to which Obama turns a blind eye: a nuclear-armed revolutionary Islamic state. This is quite a bit more difficult. The Congress can’t order a military strike if needed. But here, too, pro-Israel advocates and lawmakers should not dally. A declaration of support for Israel, oversight hearings on the paltry results from sanctions, and a robust effort to inform and rally the American people are all needed. Mainstream Jewish pro-Israel groups have been befuddled by the administration, falling prey to the same non-direct, non-peace-talk obsession that has snared the Obami. They should reorient themselves to dual missions: heading off any scheme to unilaterally recognize a Palestinian state and encouraging the administration to stand by its declaration that a nuclear-armed Iran is truly “unacceptable.”

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Sestak Pounded on Foreign Policy

Depending on which poll you like, the Pennsylvania Senate race is either very close or not. But what is certain is that foreign policy is playing a more prominent role in this race than in just about any other contest.

Joe Sestak is being hit by the Republican Jewish Coalition for his support for KSM’s civilian trial. Meanwhile, the Emergency Committee for Israel is ramping up, having launched a new PAC. And Sestak is again front and center in the PAC’s debut ad, hitting him for keynoting for CAIR, signing the Gaza 54 letter, and refusing to sign a bipartisan letter in support of Israel.

So where are Sestak’s J Street backers? Well, it might be a bit dicey for the George Soros front group to go up on the air, especially with Obama hammering away at mysterious foreign money. It is telling that in the final two weeks of the campaign, Sestak’s extremism on Israel and foreign policy more generally remain a millstone around his neck. Once more we see that a J Street endorsement, or more specifically clinging to the J Street line, is about the worst thing to happen to a liberal candidate. Well, that and having Obama in the White House.

Depending on which poll you like, the Pennsylvania Senate race is either very close or not. But what is certain is that foreign policy is playing a more prominent role in this race than in just about any other contest.

Joe Sestak is being hit by the Republican Jewish Coalition for his support for KSM’s civilian trial. Meanwhile, the Emergency Committee for Israel is ramping up, having launched a new PAC. And Sestak is again front and center in the PAC’s debut ad, hitting him for keynoting for CAIR, signing the Gaza 54 letter, and refusing to sign a bipartisan letter in support of Israel.

So where are Sestak’s J Street backers? Well, it might be a bit dicey for the George Soros front group to go up on the air, especially with Obama hammering away at mysterious foreign money. It is telling that in the final two weeks of the campaign, Sestak’s extremism on Israel and foreign policy more generally remain a millstone around his neck. Once more we see that a J Street endorsement, or more specifically clinging to the J Street line, is about the worst thing to happen to a liberal candidate. Well, that and having Obama in the White House.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

I’m sure it is going to be blamed on the Chamber of Commerce: “Gallup finds 21% of Americans satisfied with the way things are going in the United States at this time. If that figure does not improve considerably in the next two weeks, it would be the lowest level of U.S. satisfaction Gallup has measured at the time of a midterm election in more than 30 years of tracking this measure.”

If Jimmy Carter is talking about Israel, it’s going to be slanderous: “Former President Jimmy Carter said Tuesday that Palestinians are ‘living in a cage’ in Gaza and that the militant group Hamas must be included in all major efforts for peace.” Oh, and Obama’s Medal of Freedom winner Mary Robinson was along for the trip.

Now that the PA has bugged out of direct non-peace talks, Israeli leaders are right to be concerned that the next step is going to be an attempt to impose a peace deal. Ambassador Michael Oren is having none of it: “Like Ben-Gurion, Netanyahu will not allow the United Nations, or any other organization, to dictate our borders. They will be determined through negotiations.”

If he’s not taking responsibility for the economy or his party’s train wreck now, there’s no way he’s going to be sticking around to explain the election results: “President Obama is giving Republicans a 10-day window to set the agenda for a lame-duck session and the new legislative year by leaving the country right after the midterm elections.” In short, run away!

Jack Conway is going to be the winner of one contest, according to Jason Zengerle: “There are still two weeks left until the midterm elections, but it’s not too early to declare a winner in the contest for the most despicable political ad of this campaign season. … When the debate was over, Paul refused to shake Conway’s hand. Frankly, I don’t blame him. First, no candidate over the age of, say, 30 should be held politically accountable for anything he or she did in college—short of gross academic misconduct or committing a felony. Second, and more importantly, a politician’s religious faith should simply be off-limits.”

Matt Continetti explains that it’s not going to be easy for Sarah Palin to get the GOP nod: “Palin needs to run a campaign in which she demonstrates the ability to stay on message, raise significant sums of money from a broad group of donors, demonstrate familiarity with the intricacies of domestic and foreign policy, and present a unifying theme of American strength, at home and abroad. It’s a tall order, I know. But the next Republican president will do all these things.” At least she’ll have the argument that an Ivy League degree is irrelevant to the presidency.

It’s going to be a long two years: “[T]he Obama administration is still absorbing the fact that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has to date rejected a proposed American compromise package that would have offered various security and other assurances to Israel in exchange for a 60-day renewal of a partial West Bank settlement freeze that expired last month. The American team is said to be frustrated and upset at Netanyahu’s dismissal to date of the package, which was drafted by the NSC’s Dennis Ross in close consultation with Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Israeli negotiator Yitzhak Molho.” They didn’t see this coming? Now that is scary.

I’m sure it is going to be blamed on the Chamber of Commerce: “Gallup finds 21% of Americans satisfied with the way things are going in the United States at this time. If that figure does not improve considerably in the next two weeks, it would be the lowest level of U.S. satisfaction Gallup has measured at the time of a midterm election in more than 30 years of tracking this measure.”

If Jimmy Carter is talking about Israel, it’s going to be slanderous: “Former President Jimmy Carter said Tuesday that Palestinians are ‘living in a cage’ in Gaza and that the militant group Hamas must be included in all major efforts for peace.” Oh, and Obama’s Medal of Freedom winner Mary Robinson was along for the trip.

Now that the PA has bugged out of direct non-peace talks, Israeli leaders are right to be concerned that the next step is going to be an attempt to impose a peace deal. Ambassador Michael Oren is having none of it: “Like Ben-Gurion, Netanyahu will not allow the United Nations, or any other organization, to dictate our borders. They will be determined through negotiations.”

If he’s not taking responsibility for the economy or his party’s train wreck now, there’s no way he’s going to be sticking around to explain the election results: “President Obama is giving Republicans a 10-day window to set the agenda for a lame-duck session and the new legislative year by leaving the country right after the midterm elections.” In short, run away!

Jack Conway is going to be the winner of one contest, according to Jason Zengerle: “There are still two weeks left until the midterm elections, but it’s not too early to declare a winner in the contest for the most despicable political ad of this campaign season. … When the debate was over, Paul refused to shake Conway’s hand. Frankly, I don’t blame him. First, no candidate over the age of, say, 30 should be held politically accountable for anything he or she did in college—short of gross academic misconduct or committing a felony. Second, and more importantly, a politician’s religious faith should simply be off-limits.”

Matt Continetti explains that it’s not going to be easy for Sarah Palin to get the GOP nod: “Palin needs to run a campaign in which she demonstrates the ability to stay on message, raise significant sums of money from a broad group of donors, demonstrate familiarity with the intricacies of domestic and foreign policy, and present a unifying theme of American strength, at home and abroad. It’s a tall order, I know. But the next Republican president will do all these things.” At least she’ll have the argument that an Ivy League degree is irrelevant to the presidency.

It’s going to be a long two years: “[T]he Obama administration is still absorbing the fact that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has to date rejected a proposed American compromise package that would have offered various security and other assurances to Israel in exchange for a 60-day renewal of a partial West Bank settlement freeze that expired last month. The American team is said to be frustrated and upset at Netanyahu’s dismissal to date of the package, which was drafted by the NSC’s Dennis Ross in close consultation with Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Israeli negotiator Yitzhak Molho.” They didn’t see this coming? Now that is scary.

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