Commentary Magazine


Posts For: November 11, 2010

Jihadist Prayer Sessions on Capitol Hill?!

A longtime reader passes on this astounding report:

An Al Qaeda leader, the head of a designated terror organization and a confessed jihadist-in-training are among a “Who’s Who” of controversial figures who have participated in weekly prayer sessions on Capitol Hill since the 2001 terror attacks, an investigation by FoxNews.com reveals.

The Congressional Muslim Staff Association (CMSA) has held weekly Friday Jummah prayers for more than a decade, and guest preachers are often invited to lead the service. The group held prayers informally for about eight years before gaining official status in 2006 under the sponsorship of Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., one of two Muslims currently serving in Congress. The second Muslim congressman, Rep. Andre Carson, D-Ind., joined as co-sponsor after he was elected in 2008.

The guest imams include Major Nadal Hassan’s e-mail pal, Anwar al-Awlaki (although his appearance was just after the 9/11 attacks). This is the rest of the jihad roster: Read More

A longtime reader passes on this astounding report:

An Al Qaeda leader, the head of a designated terror organization and a confessed jihadist-in-training are among a “Who’s Who” of controversial figures who have participated in weekly prayer sessions on Capitol Hill since the 2001 terror attacks, an investigation by FoxNews.com reveals.

The Congressional Muslim Staff Association (CMSA) has held weekly Friday Jummah prayers for more than a decade, and guest preachers are often invited to lead the service. The group held prayers informally for about eight years before gaining official status in 2006 under the sponsorship of Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., one of two Muslims currently serving in Congress. The second Muslim congressman, Rep. Andre Carson, D-Ind., joined as co-sponsor after he was elected in 2008.

The guest imams include Major Nadal Hassan’s e-mail pal, Anwar al-Awlaki (although his appearance was just after the 9/11 attacks). This is the rest of the jihad roster:

Randall “Ismail” Royer, a former communications associate for the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), who confessed in 2004 to receiving jihadist training in Pakistan. He is serving a 20-year prison term.

Esam Omeish, the former president of the Muslim American Society, who was forced to resign from the Virginia Commission on Immigration in 2007 after calling for “the jihad way,” among other remarks.

Salam Al-Marayati, president of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, who was forced to step down from a national terrorism committee post in 1999 for pro-terrorist comments.

— Abdulaziz Othman Al-Twaijri, the head of a division of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, considered a foreign agent by the U.S.

While their convictions and most egregious actions postdated their sermons on the Hill, these were controversial, extremist figures. For example:

Nihad Awad, executive director of CAIR, can also be seen at the Awlaki prayer session. Awad has spoken out in support of Hamas and attended a 1993 Hamas meeting in Philadelphia that was wiretapped by the FBI, according to public record and court documents from the Holy Land Foundation trial. CAIR was named as an unindicted co-conspirator in the trial.

Last year, the FBI severed ties with CAIR due to evidence of the group’s ties to networks supporting Hamas, which the State Department has designated as a terrorist group, according to documents obtained by the Investigative Project on Terrorism, a watchdog group.

The staffers who organized this and their defenders will no doubt attribute all the concern to Islamophobia and plead that they are loyal Americans opposed to violent jihad. But here’s the problem: CAIR had “a heavy hand in selecting and bringing in outside guests.” So what is CAIR — which the FBI has tagged as a terrorist front group — doing acting as a sort of  speakers’ bureau for Capitol Hill Muslims?

Even when there was abundant evidence of their terrorist connections, the preachers still led the prayer groups. A case in point is Anwar Hajjaj:

Hajjaj, tax filings show, was president of Taibah International Aid Association, which was designated as a terrorist organization by the U.S. Treasury Department in 2004 for its ties to a network funneling money to Hamas.

Hajjaj and Usama bin Laden’s nephew, Abdullah bin Laden, co-founded World Assembly of Muslim Youth, which the FBI has deemed a “suspected terrorist organization” since 1996, according to a complaint filed in New York federal court on behalf of the families of Sept. 11 victims. The judge refused to dismiss the charges against the World Assembly in September, saying the charges against it were “sufficient to demonstrate that they are knowingly and intentionally providing material support to Al Qaeda.” Hajaj’s involvement with CMSA dates back at least to 2006, according to reports.

Fox has other eye-popping examples. So what in the world were the CMSA staffers and their congressional bosses thinking? Are they oblivious to the radical nature of their guests? Or are they sympathetic to their views? But more important, what will Congress do about the CMSA and the congressmen who attended? Isn’t a full investigation warranted at the very least?

Be prepared for the “Islamophobe!” hysterics. We’ve no right to meddle in the prayer groups of Muslims? Oh, yes we do when those attending are jihadists committed to the murder of Americans and those attending are charged with defending our country. And let’s find out who the true “moderate” Muslims are. They will be the ones calling for an inquiry and condemning the jihadist-led prayer sessions.

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Netanyahu Isn’t the One Playing Politics on Iran

Israeli leaders are often rightly warned to avoid the temptation to tiptoe into the muddy waters of American partisan politics. That is a lesson that current Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu learned during his first term in office during the 1990s, when he answered the antipathy of the Clinton administration by cozying up to the Republicans. Though Clinton had done everything but go door to door asking Israeli voters to back Shimon Peres and Labor instead of Netanyahu and Likud in Israel’s 1996 parliamentary election, Netanyahu’s clear preference for the GOP was a mistake that did Israel no good and Clinton little harm.

That is the sort of mistake that Netanyahu has avoided since coming back to the prime minister’s office in 2009. Though President Obama has picked fights with Israel as he sought to distance the United States from its ally in a futile bid for popularity in the Muslim world and treated Netanyahu abominably, the prime minister has wisely never voiced a single complaint and has frustrated those in the White House who foolishly thought they could unseat him. But these rope-a-dope tactics are not only frustrating for the Obami. They are driving some Israeli left-wingers crazy, too.

That’s the spirit of a piece published yesterday at Politico by Alon Pinkas, Israel’s former consul general in New York City. He accuses Netanyahu of violating the unwritten rule prohibiting prime ministers from partisan activities here. What’s his evidence? The speech Netanyahu gave to the General Assembly of North American Jewish Federations in which he called for the assertion of a threat of force to respond to the nuclear threat from Iran. Netanyahu said that while he hoped that sanctions would work to convince Iran to abandon its nuclear ambitions, a credible threat of force must be on the table. Since U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates soon responded that sanctions are working (a position that no serious person actually believes), Pinkas concludes that Netanyahu violated a tradition of non-partisanship. After that, he goes on to switch gears and then rehearse the arguments often heard from Jewish Democrats that even raising the issue of support for Israel in U.S. elections is somehow not kosher.

Such arguments are nonsense.

First, worrying about Iran has never been the sole preserve of the Republicans. For example, a certain Democratic presidential candidate named Barack Obama made a number of pledges that he would never allow Iran to go nuclear on his watch. Many Democrats as well as Republicans have sounded the alarm about Iran as Obama spent his first year in office pursuing a feckless policy of “engagement” with the ayatollahs and then watched in dismay as he spent his second year assembling a coalition that could only muster support for tepid sanctions that have made no impression on the Iranians.

But what his piece illustrates is that it is Pinkas who is playing American party politics, not Netanyahu. By decrying the claim of some Republicans that some Democrats have been unsupportive of Israel, all Pinkas is doing is demonstrating that he dislikes the GOP and sympathizes with the Democrats. There’s nothing wrong with that, but if that’s how he feels, then perhaps he should move here, become a citizen, and get a vote. (Oddly enough, a few years ago Pinkas actually made a bid to become the head of the American Jewish Congress and almost got the job, until it was learned that it was a violation of Israeli law for a diplomat to take such a position so soon after leaving his post. Eventually, even the members of that moribund organization realized that the idea of an unemployed Israeli diplomat becoming the head of an American group was ridiculous.)

Contrary to Pinkas’s assertion, accountability is the one thing all friends of Israel should welcome. If either a Democrat or a Republican takes stances that are unhelpful to Israel, he or she ought to pay a political price at the ballot box. Taking the issue of support for Israel off the table does nothing to encourage politicians of either party to make good on their campaign promises to defend the Jewish state.

By expressing the justified concerns of Israelis about the existential threat facing their country from Iran, Netanyahu was doing exactly what he should be doing. By injecting himself into party squabbles here on behalf of his friends in the Democratic Party and by attempting to undermine his prime minister’s mission with a false allegation of partisanship, Pinkas demonstrated how out of touch he is with the realities of both Israeli and American politics.

Israeli leaders are often rightly warned to avoid the temptation to tiptoe into the muddy waters of American partisan politics. That is a lesson that current Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu learned during his first term in office during the 1990s, when he answered the antipathy of the Clinton administration by cozying up to the Republicans. Though Clinton had done everything but go door to door asking Israeli voters to back Shimon Peres and Labor instead of Netanyahu and Likud in Israel’s 1996 parliamentary election, Netanyahu’s clear preference for the GOP was a mistake that did Israel no good and Clinton little harm.

That is the sort of mistake that Netanyahu has avoided since coming back to the prime minister’s office in 2009. Though President Obama has picked fights with Israel as he sought to distance the United States from its ally in a futile bid for popularity in the Muslim world and treated Netanyahu abominably, the prime minister has wisely never voiced a single complaint and has frustrated those in the White House who foolishly thought they could unseat him. But these rope-a-dope tactics are not only frustrating for the Obami. They are driving some Israeli left-wingers crazy, too.

That’s the spirit of a piece published yesterday at Politico by Alon Pinkas, Israel’s former consul general in New York City. He accuses Netanyahu of violating the unwritten rule prohibiting prime ministers from partisan activities here. What’s his evidence? The speech Netanyahu gave to the General Assembly of North American Jewish Federations in which he called for the assertion of a threat of force to respond to the nuclear threat from Iran. Netanyahu said that while he hoped that sanctions would work to convince Iran to abandon its nuclear ambitions, a credible threat of force must be on the table. Since U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates soon responded that sanctions are working (a position that no serious person actually believes), Pinkas concludes that Netanyahu violated a tradition of non-partisanship. After that, he goes on to switch gears and then rehearse the arguments often heard from Jewish Democrats that even raising the issue of support for Israel in U.S. elections is somehow not kosher.

Such arguments are nonsense.

First, worrying about Iran has never been the sole preserve of the Republicans. For example, a certain Democratic presidential candidate named Barack Obama made a number of pledges that he would never allow Iran to go nuclear on his watch. Many Democrats as well as Republicans have sounded the alarm about Iran as Obama spent his first year in office pursuing a feckless policy of “engagement” with the ayatollahs and then watched in dismay as he spent his second year assembling a coalition that could only muster support for tepid sanctions that have made no impression on the Iranians.

But what his piece illustrates is that it is Pinkas who is playing American party politics, not Netanyahu. By decrying the claim of some Republicans that some Democrats have been unsupportive of Israel, all Pinkas is doing is demonstrating that he dislikes the GOP and sympathizes with the Democrats. There’s nothing wrong with that, but if that’s how he feels, then perhaps he should move here, become a citizen, and get a vote. (Oddly enough, a few years ago Pinkas actually made a bid to become the head of the American Jewish Congress and almost got the job, until it was learned that it was a violation of Israeli law for a diplomat to take such a position so soon after leaving his post. Eventually, even the members of that moribund organization realized that the idea of an unemployed Israeli diplomat becoming the head of an American group was ridiculous.)

Contrary to Pinkas’s assertion, accountability is the one thing all friends of Israel should welcome. If either a Democrat or a Republican takes stances that are unhelpful to Israel, he or she ought to pay a political price at the ballot box. Taking the issue of support for Israel off the table does nothing to encourage politicians of either party to make good on their campaign promises to defend the Jewish state.

By expressing the justified concerns of Israelis about the existential threat facing their country from Iran, Netanyahu was doing exactly what he should be doing. By injecting himself into party squabbles here on behalf of his friends in the Democratic Party and by attempting to undermine his prime minister’s mission with a false allegation of partisanship, Pinkas demonstrated how out of touch he is with the realities of both Israeli and American politics.

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Whoa, Obama’s Not Down for the Count Yet!

Larry Sabato, who is not given to wild predictions, writes:

Obama may be able to count on the 200 electoral votes in the Democratic states, but if his reelection had been scheduled last week, he might well have lost every swing state—all of which he won in 2008. After all, most Republican candidates for top offices did quite well in every swing state on November 2. If you combine the 158 electoral votes in these swing states with the 180 votes in the solidly Republican states, the GOP nominee would have 338, far more than the 270 needed for election. (The chart’s electoral votes are based on the new expected allocation from the 2010 Census.) … There’s only one logical conclusion to be drawn: President Barack Obama is down for the count, will have an early lame duck presidency, and will be out of the White House in two years.

OK, I’m not going there yet. Obama could, for example, embrace radical spending cuts, win a standoff with Iran, and see unemployment drop to low single digits. Well, he could. Or the Republicans could nominate someone so objectionable that they alienate independent voters. (Hence, the effort to find Mr. Right — Chris Christie? Paul Ryan?)

Sabato’s answer is that Obama can’t realign himself to become acceptable again to a majority of voters. (“Barack Obama lacks the political skills necessary to adjust to the new realities of divided government. Unlike Bill Clinton, Obama is an inflexible liberal who couldn’t find the center with both hands, even if his career depended on it.”)

To all this, conservatives can only say “Amen.” But before they start ordering a rug to replace the history-challenged one on the Oval Office floor, they should keep in mind two things. First, the GOP is entirely capable of nominating candidates that turn off key swing voters. Harry Reid, Michael Bennet, and Chris Coons suddenly became highly electable when their opponents proved problematic. Second, I wouldn’t yet underestimate Obama. He’s already talking compromise on the Bush tax cuts and erasing the Afghanistan-war troop deadline.

Sabato may be correct, but we won’t know for a while. And Republicans, unless they want to spend another term outside the White House, had better find the most principled conservative who is electable. The lesson of 2010 is that not every Republican is.

UPDATE: Larry Sabato says it’s all a parody. Well, the danger for Republicans is that they take this talk all too seriously.

Larry Sabato, who is not given to wild predictions, writes:

Obama may be able to count on the 200 electoral votes in the Democratic states, but if his reelection had been scheduled last week, he might well have lost every swing state—all of which he won in 2008. After all, most Republican candidates for top offices did quite well in every swing state on November 2. If you combine the 158 electoral votes in these swing states with the 180 votes in the solidly Republican states, the GOP nominee would have 338, far more than the 270 needed for election. (The chart’s electoral votes are based on the new expected allocation from the 2010 Census.) … There’s only one logical conclusion to be drawn: President Barack Obama is down for the count, will have an early lame duck presidency, and will be out of the White House in two years.

OK, I’m not going there yet. Obama could, for example, embrace radical spending cuts, win a standoff with Iran, and see unemployment drop to low single digits. Well, he could. Or the Republicans could nominate someone so objectionable that they alienate independent voters. (Hence, the effort to find Mr. Right — Chris Christie? Paul Ryan?)

Sabato’s answer is that Obama can’t realign himself to become acceptable again to a majority of voters. (“Barack Obama lacks the political skills necessary to adjust to the new realities of divided government. Unlike Bill Clinton, Obama is an inflexible liberal who couldn’t find the center with both hands, even if his career depended on it.”)

To all this, conservatives can only say “Amen.” But before they start ordering a rug to replace the history-challenged one on the Oval Office floor, they should keep in mind two things. First, the GOP is entirely capable of nominating candidates that turn off key swing voters. Harry Reid, Michael Bennet, and Chris Coons suddenly became highly electable when their opponents proved problematic. Second, I wouldn’t yet underestimate Obama. He’s already talking compromise on the Bush tax cuts and erasing the Afghanistan-war troop deadline.

Sabato may be correct, but we won’t know for a while. And Republicans, unless they want to spend another term outside the White House, had better find the most principled conservative who is electable. The lesson of 2010 is that not every Republican is.

UPDATE: Larry Sabato says it’s all a parody. Well, the danger for Republicans is that they take this talk all too seriously.

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A Bad Idea for GOP: Early Presidential Candidate Debates

Today, NBC and Politico announced they would co-host the first Republican presidential debate sometime in the spring of 2011. Presumably they are using the benchmark of April 2007, when the first Democratic debate for 2008 was held in South Carolina. There are so many ways in which this is a terrible idea for Republicans that it’s hard to count them, but here are a few:

1) An incentive for the lunatic fringe: An announcement like this lowers the barrier for entry to the race. Anybody looking for a little attention, or to get a chance to “go viral” with a snappy video-friendly performance highlighting a candidacy with no hope of ultimate success, might be able to get himself-herself into this thing. What if, just to take one bizarre possibility, the evil-crazy pseudo-pastor Fred Phelps of Kansas were to declare himself a candidate for the presidency in the Republican Party a week before the debate so that he could preach his “God hates fags” and “God wants veterans to die” gospel?

2) The panel of pygmies: It could well be, aside from the lunatic possibility, that not a single person who might actually win the nomination would be present on the stage. It would make sense in the new political atmosphere for serious potential candidates not to declare themselves early this cycle. It’s no longer necessary for fundraising; the only thing that speaks to the need for an early declaration is getting the right kind of staff on the ground in Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina. But the operatives in those states would themselves be wise to keep their options open for a while in 2011 rather than commit early. It’s true that the two eventual front-runners in the 2008 Democratic primary were on that stage in April 2007. But so were Chris Dodd, Bill Richardson, John Edwards, Joe Biden, Dennis Kucinich, and Mike Gravel (remember him? of course you don’t). Was the debate of any value to any Democrat seriously thinking about whom to vote for? Was it even of any use to any of the people on stage other than Kucinich and Gravel, who got a little boost from leftist throw-your-vote-away types?

3) Party mockery: The outlier effect would have a dual purpose for the organizations running it — first, the outliers will surely make some kind of news by being ridiculous in some fashion, and that, in turn, will help cast the Republican effort to make a serious run at Barack Obama in 2012 into something of a joke.

There’s nothing to be done about this. Politico and NBC will extend whatever invitations they extend, and candidates eager for any kind of attention will appear. But very little good can come of this.

Today, NBC and Politico announced they would co-host the first Republican presidential debate sometime in the spring of 2011. Presumably they are using the benchmark of April 2007, when the first Democratic debate for 2008 was held in South Carolina. There are so many ways in which this is a terrible idea for Republicans that it’s hard to count them, but here are a few:

1) An incentive for the lunatic fringe: An announcement like this lowers the barrier for entry to the race. Anybody looking for a little attention, or to get a chance to “go viral” with a snappy video-friendly performance highlighting a candidacy with no hope of ultimate success, might be able to get himself-herself into this thing. What if, just to take one bizarre possibility, the evil-crazy pseudo-pastor Fred Phelps of Kansas were to declare himself a candidate for the presidency in the Republican Party a week before the debate so that he could preach his “God hates fags” and “God wants veterans to die” gospel?

2) The panel of pygmies: It could well be, aside from the lunatic possibility, that not a single person who might actually win the nomination would be present on the stage. It would make sense in the new political atmosphere for serious potential candidates not to declare themselves early this cycle. It’s no longer necessary for fundraising; the only thing that speaks to the need for an early declaration is getting the right kind of staff on the ground in Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina. But the operatives in those states would themselves be wise to keep their options open for a while in 2011 rather than commit early. It’s true that the two eventual front-runners in the 2008 Democratic primary were on that stage in April 2007. But so were Chris Dodd, Bill Richardson, John Edwards, Joe Biden, Dennis Kucinich, and Mike Gravel (remember him? of course you don’t). Was the debate of any value to any Democrat seriously thinking about whom to vote for? Was it even of any use to any of the people on stage other than Kucinich and Gravel, who got a little boost from leftist throw-your-vote-away types?

3) Party mockery: The outlier effect would have a dual purpose for the organizations running it — first, the outliers will surely make some kind of news by being ridiculous in some fashion, and that, in turn, will help cast the Republican effort to make a serious run at Barack Obama in 2012 into something of a joke.

There’s nothing to be done about this. Politico and NBC will extend whatever invitations they extend, and candidates eager for any kind of attention will appear. But very little good can come of this.

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Debt Commission Surprises

Yuval Levin writes of the preliminary debt commission report:

If this is the Obama administration’s starting position in the conversation about deficit and debt reduction, it will be a serious position and a constructive conversation. They will obviously need to be willing to move rightward on some key issues (especially the entire health-care question, which is the report’s most glaring and serious weakness, and is at the heart of our crisis of public finances). But on social security, discretionary spending, and many of the proposed tax reforms, this is a very good start.

I would add a few thoughts. If Obama embraces it, this would be a meaningful reach to pick up independent voters’ support. They are among the most aggrieved by the fiscal train wreck (which Obama has worsened). But the president has a problem: his left flank has already rebelled. (The hysterical reaction by Nancy Pelosi tells you there are some really good things in the proposal.) So can Obama risk alienating what shriveled part of the base he still has? At some point, the threat, however remote, of a primary challenge begins to affect these decisions.

Second, it is quite extraordinary that the plan puts forth a credible version of tax reform. Did you expect the commission to come forward with a reduction in the corporate tax rate and a top individual rate of 24 percent? I sure didn’t. This represents a fundamental shift for Democrats, at least those on the panel who embraced the essential principles of the Reagan and Bush tax cuts. But, you say, what about the changes to the home mortgage deduction? We’ll have to do the math, but with a drastic reduction in individual rates, they may be “worth it.” And, bluntly, it would also cause people to more closely examine how much house they can afford. (If you trust the market, once the subsidy goes away, demand would lessen and prices should come down, making housing somewhat more affordable.)

And finally, we need to be clear-eyed about the defense cuts. We are fighting a global war on terrorism, may find ourselves embroiled in a military confrontation with Iran, and must continue to build missile defense systems. The cuts have to be assessed in light of our security needs and the threats we face. Republicans who embrace a robust, internationalist foreign policy should be wary.

In sum, I’m mildly shocked it was as good as it was. Conservatives would do well to embrace the chunks of it they can and offer plausible alternatives to the rest (e.g., repealing ObamaCare, for starters).

Yuval Levin writes of the preliminary debt commission report:

If this is the Obama administration’s starting position in the conversation about deficit and debt reduction, it will be a serious position and a constructive conversation. They will obviously need to be willing to move rightward on some key issues (especially the entire health-care question, which is the report’s most glaring and serious weakness, and is at the heart of our crisis of public finances). But on social security, discretionary spending, and many of the proposed tax reforms, this is a very good start.

I would add a few thoughts. If Obama embraces it, this would be a meaningful reach to pick up independent voters’ support. They are among the most aggrieved by the fiscal train wreck (which Obama has worsened). But the president has a problem: his left flank has already rebelled. (The hysterical reaction by Nancy Pelosi tells you there are some really good things in the proposal.) So can Obama risk alienating what shriveled part of the base he still has? At some point, the threat, however remote, of a primary challenge begins to affect these decisions.

Second, it is quite extraordinary that the plan puts forth a credible version of tax reform. Did you expect the commission to come forward with a reduction in the corporate tax rate and a top individual rate of 24 percent? I sure didn’t. This represents a fundamental shift for Democrats, at least those on the panel who embraced the essential principles of the Reagan and Bush tax cuts. But, you say, what about the changes to the home mortgage deduction? We’ll have to do the math, but with a drastic reduction in individual rates, they may be “worth it.” And, bluntly, it would also cause people to more closely examine how much house they can afford. (If you trust the market, once the subsidy goes away, demand would lessen and prices should come down, making housing somewhat more affordable.)

And finally, we need to be clear-eyed about the defense cuts. We are fighting a global war on terrorism, may find ourselves embroiled in a military confrontation with Iran, and must continue to build missile defense systems. The cuts have to be assessed in light of our security needs and the threats we face. Republicans who embrace a robust, internationalist foreign policy should be wary.

In sum, I’m mildly shocked it was as good as it was. Conservatives would do well to embrace the chunks of it they can and offer plausible alternatives to the rest (e.g., repealing ObamaCare, for starters).

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Burma Election Farce

Burma is yet another example of the Obama team’s failed strategy of engaging totalitarian regimes. We were going to lessen Burma’s isolation and see if we could lure them back into the “international community.” This, like the elections there on Sunday, has proved to be a farce. This report explains:

Frustration over Sunday’s national election in Myanmar is rising as evidence mounts that government-backed candidates dominated the polls amid reports of voting irregularities.

Myanmar’s secretive military regime has only slowly released official results. As of Thursday, the government’s Union Solidarity and Development Party had won 140 of the 182 contested parliamentary seats whose outcome was reported by election officials. Prime Minister Thein Sein and other prominent members of the ruling junta were among the winners. …

“We knew it was going to be bad, but not this bad,” said one Yangon resident, a travel-company owner who said he opposes the military regime.

Several opposition groups, including the party of famed pro-democracy advocate Aung San Suu Kyi, which was disbanded by the government earlier this year, have said they believe there may have been widespread fraud, and are considering raising more-formal complaints.

Suu Kyi remains under house arrest, and with tempers rising, it is unclear whether the government will release her.

So what does this say of the Obama policy? For two years the White House essentially gave Burma a free pass. Now the administration is very upset to find fraud going on there. But would the government have shown more restraint had we tightened, rather than loosened, the screws and had we made clear the consequences of government-authorized thuggery? We don’t know, but certainly we would have preserved our moral standing and given support to those struggling under the thumb of the despotic government. Maybe now we’ll finally cast aside “engagement” — along with Keynesian economics and a host of other bad policies and faulty assumptions championed by the administration.

Burma is yet another example of the Obama team’s failed strategy of engaging totalitarian regimes. We were going to lessen Burma’s isolation and see if we could lure them back into the “international community.” This, like the elections there on Sunday, has proved to be a farce. This report explains:

Frustration over Sunday’s national election in Myanmar is rising as evidence mounts that government-backed candidates dominated the polls amid reports of voting irregularities.

Myanmar’s secretive military regime has only slowly released official results. As of Thursday, the government’s Union Solidarity and Development Party had won 140 of the 182 contested parliamentary seats whose outcome was reported by election officials. Prime Minister Thein Sein and other prominent members of the ruling junta were among the winners. …

“We knew it was going to be bad, but not this bad,” said one Yangon resident, a travel-company owner who said he opposes the military regime.

Several opposition groups, including the party of famed pro-democracy advocate Aung San Suu Kyi, which was disbanded by the government earlier this year, have said they believe there may have been widespread fraud, and are considering raising more-formal complaints.

Suu Kyi remains under house arrest, and with tempers rising, it is unclear whether the government will release her.

So what does this say of the Obama policy? For two years the White House essentially gave Burma a free pass. Now the administration is very upset to find fraud going on there. But would the government have shown more restraint had we tightened, rather than loosened, the screws and had we made clear the consequences of government-authorized thuggery? We don’t know, but certainly we would have preserved our moral standing and given support to those struggling under the thumb of the despotic government. Maybe now we’ll finally cast aside “engagement” — along with Keynesian economics and a host of other bad policies and faulty assumptions championed by the administration.

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House Republicans Go 2 for 2

Things are looking up for the Republicans. First, John Boehner – in contrast to Nancy Pelosi’s habit of calling expensive aircraft to ferry her around, like some people call cabs — announced that flying commercial is fine for him. Good move. Good symbolism. It’s small, but Republicans are notorious for getting small things wrong.

Second, Michele Bachmann dropped out of the contest for the chair of the Republican conference. Jeb Hensarling — an impressive, wonkish conservative backed by everyone from Paul Ryan to Kevin McCarthy to Eric Cantor — will take over the job, one for which he is exceptionally well-suited. Here again, everyone played it right. Bachmann avoided a fight and the embarrassment of losing. She gave a classy endorsement of Hensarling, and he accepted it graciously. The GOP didn’t “sell out” to some mushy moderate but instead got a capable conservative in the role. And the Tea Party continues its political maturation: you have to know your stuff and not just hurl the fiercest rhetoric to earn fellow conservatives’ respect.

You think maybe this “Tea Party vs. the experienced insiders” stuff is overblown? Me too.

Things are looking up for the Republicans. First, John Boehner – in contrast to Nancy Pelosi’s habit of calling expensive aircraft to ferry her around, like some people call cabs — announced that flying commercial is fine for him. Good move. Good symbolism. It’s small, but Republicans are notorious for getting small things wrong.

Second, Michele Bachmann dropped out of the contest for the chair of the Republican conference. Jeb Hensarling — an impressive, wonkish conservative backed by everyone from Paul Ryan to Kevin McCarthy to Eric Cantor — will take over the job, one for which he is exceptionally well-suited. Here again, everyone played it right. Bachmann avoided a fight and the embarrassment of losing. She gave a classy endorsement of Hensarling, and he accepted it graciously. The GOP didn’t “sell out” to some mushy moderate but instead got a capable conservative in the role. And the Tea Party continues its political maturation: you have to know your stuff and not just hurl the fiercest rhetoric to earn fellow conservatives’ respect.

You think maybe this “Tea Party vs. the experienced insiders” stuff is overblown? Me too.

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Is There a Replacement for Syria’s Friend in the Senate?

As the calendar ticks off the last days of Arlen Specter’s 30-year reign in the United States Senate, it appears that one of his colleagues might be assuming a role that the Pennsylvanian had long cherished: that of the Assad clan’s American interlocutor.

For decades, Specter embarrassed the Senate and many of his Jewish supporters and donors with his regular visits to Damascus, where he schmoozed with Syrian dictator Hafez Assad and then, after the elder Assad’s death, his son Bashar, who succeeded his father as that country’s leader. It was a good deal for both the senator and the Syrians. Specter got to play diplomat, with the United States Treasury picking up the tab, while the Syrians had a permanent advocate for engagement with the Assad regime no matter how atrocious its behavior had been. To his credit, Specter did use his cordial relationship with the Assads to help rescue the remnants of Syrian Jewry, but that was accomplished 18 years ago. Since then, Specter’s frequent flyer miles to Damascus served no constructive purpose other than to further inflate the senator’s considerable ego.

But with Specter headed to retirement after losing his bid for re-election, Sen. John Kerry appears to be picking up the slack in the Syrian appeasement category. Today’s New York Times quoted the 2004 Democratic presidential candidate as saying that his recent trip to Damascus encouraged him to believe that engagement with Syria was a good idea. Syria’s return to control in Lebanon and successful efforts to undermine the international investigation of the 2005 assassination of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, as well as its refusal to distance itself from Iran as the Obama administration had hoped, have discouraged many of even the most determined Arabists in Washington. But Kerry said, “I remain absolutely convinced there is an opportunity to have a different relationship with Syria.”

As Senate Foreign Relations Committee chair, Kerry can muster up a better rationale for his international travels than Specter did, and reportedly went to Syria at the behest of an Obama administration that remains desperate to preserve the illusion that its engagement policies are not a complete bust even if it is evident that Syria has no interest in abandoning its ally Iran, allowing Lebanon to be free, or making peace with Israel.

While back-channel diplomacy can have its uses every once in a while, the sort of freelance diplomacy practiced by Specter served Syria’s interests more than those of the United States. Now that he’s out of the picture, it would be unfortunate if Kerry, or any of his other colleagues who love to spend congressional recesses on taxpayer-financed road trips, allowed the Assad clan to think that they can continue to bamboozle Washington. The message from everyone in the capital to Damascus must be crystal clear: if it wants better relations with the United States, it will have to alter its behavior.

As the calendar ticks off the last days of Arlen Specter’s 30-year reign in the United States Senate, it appears that one of his colleagues might be assuming a role that the Pennsylvanian had long cherished: that of the Assad clan’s American interlocutor.

For decades, Specter embarrassed the Senate and many of his Jewish supporters and donors with his regular visits to Damascus, where he schmoozed with Syrian dictator Hafez Assad and then, after the elder Assad’s death, his son Bashar, who succeeded his father as that country’s leader. It was a good deal for both the senator and the Syrians. Specter got to play diplomat, with the United States Treasury picking up the tab, while the Syrians had a permanent advocate for engagement with the Assad regime no matter how atrocious its behavior had been. To his credit, Specter did use his cordial relationship with the Assads to help rescue the remnants of Syrian Jewry, but that was accomplished 18 years ago. Since then, Specter’s frequent flyer miles to Damascus served no constructive purpose other than to further inflate the senator’s considerable ego.

But with Specter headed to retirement after losing his bid for re-election, Sen. John Kerry appears to be picking up the slack in the Syrian appeasement category. Today’s New York Times quoted the 2004 Democratic presidential candidate as saying that his recent trip to Damascus encouraged him to believe that engagement with Syria was a good idea. Syria’s return to control in Lebanon and successful efforts to undermine the international investigation of the 2005 assassination of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, as well as its refusal to distance itself from Iran as the Obama administration had hoped, have discouraged many of even the most determined Arabists in Washington. But Kerry said, “I remain absolutely convinced there is an opportunity to have a different relationship with Syria.”

As Senate Foreign Relations Committee chair, Kerry can muster up a better rationale for his international travels than Specter did, and reportedly went to Syria at the behest of an Obama administration that remains desperate to preserve the illusion that its engagement policies are not a complete bust even if it is evident that Syria has no interest in abandoning its ally Iran, allowing Lebanon to be free, or making peace with Israel.

While back-channel diplomacy can have its uses every once in a while, the sort of freelance diplomacy practiced by Specter served Syria’s interests more than those of the United States. Now that he’s out of the picture, it would be unfortunate if Kerry, or any of his other colleagues who love to spend congressional recesses on taxpayer-financed road trips, allowed the Assad clan to think that they can continue to bamboozle Washington. The message from everyone in the capital to Damascus must be crystal clear: if it wants better relations with the United States, it will have to alter its behavior.

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A Coalition Government Is Formed in Iraq

So it appears that a government is finally going to be formed in Iraq, after eight agonizing months of politicking.

As usual, Iraqi politicos waited until the 11th hour and a bit beyond to reach a deal, but that they finally managed to bridge their differences is a hopeful sign for that troubled country’s future as an emerging democracy.

It’s hard to know what took so long, since the deal that has finally been reached is not too different from what was envisioned in the beginning: Nouri al-Maliki remains as prime minister, but Ayad Allawi’s Iraqiya bloc, which won the most votes, will get the speakership of parliament along with the leadership of a new committee that will oversee national security policy. The Kurds, meanwhile, retain the symbolic presidency, which will continue to be held by Jalal Talabani. There are more details to be ironed out, of course, including the exact distribution of cabinet seats; it will be important that the Sadrists be kept out of positions of responsibility.

However the posts are distributed, this will be an unwieldy coalition government that will hardly be a model of efficiency. But that’s preferable to the alternative. The wounds of civil war in Iraq are still too raw to risk having Allawi’s bloc go into opposition, as surely would have happened in a more mature parliamentary democracy. In Iraq, that would have risked giving Sunnis a feeling of disenfranchisement, which might have led them to take up arms again.

Painful as this government-formation process was, the good news is that Iraq hasn’t gone to pieces. There have been occasional, horrific terrorist acts, but overall violence has remained low. Economic development has continued, with the Wall Street Journal reporting today on how Basra has become an oil boomtown. Expect even greater oil riches to be tapped once the new government takes office and ensures some political stability.

That Iraq has continued to inch forward despite the paralysis of its politicos is a tribute to the good sense of the Iraqi people and to the growing competency of the Iraqi security forces — supported, lest we forget, by 50,000 U.S. troops who still remain. The Obama administration also deserves some props for finally getting down to business in Baghdad with a new ambassador focused on forming a government, eschewing the more hands-off posture of his predecessor.

The first order of business now is to ensure that the gains Iraq has made don’t evaporate in the future. That means negotiating a new U.S.-Iraqi security accord that will allow U.S. troops to remain post-2011 to train the Iraqi security forces and to act implicitly as a peacekeeping force to ensure that tensions don’t boil over into renewed violence.

So it appears that a government is finally going to be formed in Iraq, after eight agonizing months of politicking.

As usual, Iraqi politicos waited until the 11th hour and a bit beyond to reach a deal, but that they finally managed to bridge their differences is a hopeful sign for that troubled country’s future as an emerging democracy.

It’s hard to know what took so long, since the deal that has finally been reached is not too different from what was envisioned in the beginning: Nouri al-Maliki remains as prime minister, but Ayad Allawi’s Iraqiya bloc, which won the most votes, will get the speakership of parliament along with the leadership of a new committee that will oversee national security policy. The Kurds, meanwhile, retain the symbolic presidency, which will continue to be held by Jalal Talabani. There are more details to be ironed out, of course, including the exact distribution of cabinet seats; it will be important that the Sadrists be kept out of positions of responsibility.

However the posts are distributed, this will be an unwieldy coalition government that will hardly be a model of efficiency. But that’s preferable to the alternative. The wounds of civil war in Iraq are still too raw to risk having Allawi’s bloc go into opposition, as surely would have happened in a more mature parliamentary democracy. In Iraq, that would have risked giving Sunnis a feeling of disenfranchisement, which might have led them to take up arms again.

Painful as this government-formation process was, the good news is that Iraq hasn’t gone to pieces. There have been occasional, horrific terrorist acts, but overall violence has remained low. Economic development has continued, with the Wall Street Journal reporting today on how Basra has become an oil boomtown. Expect even greater oil riches to be tapped once the new government takes office and ensures some political stability.

That Iraq has continued to inch forward despite the paralysis of its politicos is a tribute to the good sense of the Iraqi people and to the growing competency of the Iraqi security forces — supported, lest we forget, by 50,000 U.S. troops who still remain. The Obama administration also deserves some props for finally getting down to business in Baghdad with a new ambassador focused on forming a government, eschewing the more hands-off posture of his predecessor.

The first order of business now is to ensure that the gains Iraq has made don’t evaporate in the future. That means negotiating a new U.S.-Iraqi security accord that will allow U.S. troops to remain post-2011 to train the Iraqi security forces and to act implicitly as a peacekeeping force to ensure that tensions don’t boil over into renewed violence.

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A Good Word for — and from — the White House

Obama’s chief economic adviser inside the White House, Austan Goolsbee — formerly a professor at the University of Chicago — offers a terrific three-minute explanation of the president’s trip to Asia and its macroeconomic purpose distributed over YouTube. Goolsbee, who once hosted a TV show about the economy on the History Channel, provides here an almost perfect example of the way policymakers can use the multimedia possibilities of the Internet to explain what they are seeking to accomplish.

Obama’s chief economic adviser inside the White House, Austan Goolsbee — formerly a professor at the University of Chicago — offers a terrific three-minute explanation of the president’s trip to Asia and its macroeconomic purpose distributed over YouTube. Goolsbee, who once hosted a TV show about the economy on the History Channel, provides here an almost perfect example of the way policymakers can use the multimedia possibilities of the Internet to explain what they are seeking to accomplish.

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Retreat from Retreat?

We are told that the administration is to “tweak” its message on Afghanistan. But it sounds more like it is throwing in the towel on the most wrongheaded aspect of its Afghanistan policy:

In a move away from President Obama’s deadline of July 2011 for the start of an American drawdown from Afghanistan, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, all cited 2014 this week as the key date for handing over the defense of Afghanistan to the Afghans themselves. Implicit in their message, delivered at a security and diplomatic conference in Australia, was that the United States would be fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan for at least four more years.

That’s no tweak; it’s an acknowledgment that a deadline devised by political hacks for partisan purposes (i.e., to keep the base from freaking out) is being discarded. About time. As always, no Obama maneuver can forgo dissembling: “There’s not really any change, but what we’re trying to do is to get past that July 2011 obsession so that people can see what the president’s strategy really entails,’ a senior administration official said Wednesday.” That obsession was the president’s, who last emphasized it from the Oval Office in a prime-time speech.

One of those aforementioned hacks is running for mayor of Chicago, and the other is about to depart for the 2012 campaign. More important, the liberal base has already absorbed the midterm losses and won’t have another chance to wreak havoc on Obama until 2012. So now the White House can do it right:

The message shift is effectively a victory for the military, which has long said that the July 2011 deadline undermined its mission by making Afghans reluctant to work with troops perceived to be leaving shortly. “They say you’ll leave in 2011 and the Taliban will chop their heads off,” Cpl. Lisa Gardner, a Marine based in Helmand Province, told a reporter this past spring. This summer Gen. James T. Conway, then the Marine Corps’s commandant, went so far as to say that the deadline “was probably giving our enemy sustenance.”

Last year the White House insisted on the July deadline to inject a sense of urgency into the Afghans to get their security in order — military officials acknowledge that it has partly worked — but also to quiet critics in the Democratic Party upset about Mr. Obama’s escalation of the war and his decision to order 30,000 more troops to the country.

Don’t get me wrong. The decision is the correct one. But this is pathetic. Obama didn’t have the political courage to do what was plainly in our strategic interests, with men on the field of battle, when he feared electoral consequences. Only when the coast is clear can he do the right thing. How completely not-Bush.

We are told that the administration is to “tweak” its message on Afghanistan. But it sounds more like it is throwing in the towel on the most wrongheaded aspect of its Afghanistan policy:

In a move away from President Obama’s deadline of July 2011 for the start of an American drawdown from Afghanistan, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, all cited 2014 this week as the key date for handing over the defense of Afghanistan to the Afghans themselves. Implicit in their message, delivered at a security and diplomatic conference in Australia, was that the United States would be fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan for at least four more years.

That’s no tweak; it’s an acknowledgment that a deadline devised by political hacks for partisan purposes (i.e., to keep the base from freaking out) is being discarded. About time. As always, no Obama maneuver can forgo dissembling: “There’s not really any change, but what we’re trying to do is to get past that July 2011 obsession so that people can see what the president’s strategy really entails,’ a senior administration official said Wednesday.” That obsession was the president’s, who last emphasized it from the Oval Office in a prime-time speech.

One of those aforementioned hacks is running for mayor of Chicago, and the other is about to depart for the 2012 campaign. More important, the liberal base has already absorbed the midterm losses and won’t have another chance to wreak havoc on Obama until 2012. So now the White House can do it right:

The message shift is effectively a victory for the military, which has long said that the July 2011 deadline undermined its mission by making Afghans reluctant to work with troops perceived to be leaving shortly. “They say you’ll leave in 2011 and the Taliban will chop their heads off,” Cpl. Lisa Gardner, a Marine based in Helmand Province, told a reporter this past spring. This summer Gen. James T. Conway, then the Marine Corps’s commandant, went so far as to say that the deadline “was probably giving our enemy sustenance.”

Last year the White House insisted on the July deadline to inject a sense of urgency into the Afghans to get their security in order — military officials acknowledge that it has partly worked — but also to quiet critics in the Democratic Party upset about Mr. Obama’s escalation of the war and his decision to order 30,000 more troops to the country.

Don’t get me wrong. The decision is the correct one. But this is pathetic. Obama didn’t have the political courage to do what was plainly in our strategic interests, with men on the field of battle, when he feared electoral consequences. Only when the coast is clear can he do the right thing. How completely not-Bush.

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Blood Libel: The Sequel

Claire Berlinski’s must-read article in the September issue of Standpoint describes how the overwhelming majority of Turks have no idea what really happened earlier this year aboard the Turkish Mavi Marmara vessel, where an Israeli boarding party enforcing the blockade of Gaza was ambushed in a premeditated attack with knives and iron bars.

She canvassed Istanbul — where she lives — with a Turkish documentary filmmaker and interviewed a number of local people about that now-notorious incident. None knew the Israelis acted in self-defense when they shot their attackers.

“The men and women to whom we spoke,” she wrote, “were astonished when we told them that Israeli officials had invited the ship to disembark at Ashdod and deliver the aid overland. But they were not disbelieving — and importantly, when we told them this, it changed their view. Many spontaneously said that they knew they could not trust what they heard in the news, that the situation confused them and that something about the story just didn’t sound right.”

Unfortunately, few Turks will ever know what really happened that night. The Turkish media reported a grossly distorted version of the events, describing the attackers as “activists” and the Israelis who fought back as murderers. Most Turks can’t read or speak foreign languages and are therefore unable to learn the truth from newspapers abroad.

A new Turkish film may make the big lie all but permanent in the minds of millions of Turkish people. Kurtlar Vadisi Filistin, or Valley of the Wolves: Palestine, is the sequel to the notorious Valley of the Wolves: Iraq, which was released in 2006. The first installment portrays American soldiers massacring civilians at an Iraqi wedding party and harvesting the internal organs of prisoners to sell to Israelis.

The trailer for the second installment begins with an obviously false portrayal of the Mavi Marmara incident, and a later scene shows Israeli soldiers shooting more than a dozen handcuffed prisoners in the back.

The film’s main character is a Turkish special agent who sets out to avenge those killed on the boat by assassinating the Israeli commander in charge at the time, who is cartoonishly outfitted with an eye patch. “Our hero acts for the rights of the oppressed,” says Zübeyr Sasmaz, the director. “We’re talking about things people don’t want to hear,” says Necati Şaşmaz, one of the actors. “Up until now we have seen only Western heroes such as Rambo and James Bond. For the first time in the history of cinema there is an undefeatable protagonist from the Middle East.”

It’s too bad the story is based on a lie.

The first film in this libelous series was the most expensive ever produced in the country, and this one is slated to cost even more. It’s sure to be a big hit. Hopefully, the Turkish documentary filmmaker Clair Berlinski is working with can push back a little, at least.

Claire Berlinski’s must-read article in the September issue of Standpoint describes how the overwhelming majority of Turks have no idea what really happened earlier this year aboard the Turkish Mavi Marmara vessel, where an Israeli boarding party enforcing the blockade of Gaza was ambushed in a premeditated attack with knives and iron bars.

She canvassed Istanbul — where she lives — with a Turkish documentary filmmaker and interviewed a number of local people about that now-notorious incident. None knew the Israelis acted in self-defense when they shot their attackers.

“The men and women to whom we spoke,” she wrote, “were astonished when we told them that Israeli officials had invited the ship to disembark at Ashdod and deliver the aid overland. But they were not disbelieving — and importantly, when we told them this, it changed their view. Many spontaneously said that they knew they could not trust what they heard in the news, that the situation confused them and that something about the story just didn’t sound right.”

Unfortunately, few Turks will ever know what really happened that night. The Turkish media reported a grossly distorted version of the events, describing the attackers as “activists” and the Israelis who fought back as murderers. Most Turks can’t read or speak foreign languages and are therefore unable to learn the truth from newspapers abroad.

A new Turkish film may make the big lie all but permanent in the minds of millions of Turkish people. Kurtlar Vadisi Filistin, or Valley of the Wolves: Palestine, is the sequel to the notorious Valley of the Wolves: Iraq, which was released in 2006. The first installment portrays American soldiers massacring civilians at an Iraqi wedding party and harvesting the internal organs of prisoners to sell to Israelis.

The trailer for the second installment begins with an obviously false portrayal of the Mavi Marmara incident, and a later scene shows Israeli soldiers shooting more than a dozen handcuffed prisoners in the back.

The film’s main character is a Turkish special agent who sets out to avenge those killed on the boat by assassinating the Israeli commander in charge at the time, who is cartoonishly outfitted with an eye patch. “Our hero acts for the rights of the oppressed,” says Zübeyr Sasmaz, the director. “We’re talking about things people don’t want to hear,” says Necati Şaşmaz, one of the actors. “Up until now we have seen only Western heroes such as Rambo and James Bond. For the first time in the history of cinema there is an undefeatable protagonist from the Middle East.”

It’s too bad the story is based on a lie.

The first film in this libelous series was the most expensive ever produced in the country, and this one is slated to cost even more. It’s sure to be a big hit. Hopefully, the Turkish documentary filmmaker Clair Berlinski is working with can push back a little, at least.

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Which Failed Leader Will Hang On?

There are parallel storylines that will tell us something about the two parties’ abilities to course correct. On one hand, we have Nancy Pelosi, who is determined to hang on past her expiration date. And then there is Michael Steele, whom GOP insiders have essentially already decided to oust.

The Democrats are conflicted and nervous; Pelosi is determined to steamroll the doubters:

At least 15 Democrats have said publicly that they have lost faith in her ability to lead — a number backed up by as many as two dozen more who are indicating the same thing privately, while others haven’t yet taken sides.

Liberal Reps. Peter DeFazio (Ore.) and Marcy Kaptur (Ohio) sent a letter to colleagues asking them to support a plan to forestall leadership elections until December — a clear effort to give the anti-Pelosi forces time to coalesce. Democratic leaders plan to go forward with the leadership contests Nov. 17, according to sources familiar with a Wednesday afternoon conference call. …

Even the New York Times’ editorial page has called on Pelosi to step aside.

(You gotta love the “even.”) Pelosi isn’t going quietly. “The shocker — and the true point of contention in Democratic ranks according to some party insiders — is that Pelosi is not ceding any power. She already claims to have the votes to keep the job of Democratic leader — leaving top lieutenants Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and James Clyburn (D-S.C.) to engage in a caucus-splitting battle for the No. 2 job of minority whip.” Is she posturing, or does she have the votes? Listen, she blew one vote on TARP, and not since then has she permitted a vote on any significant measure for which she did not already have the votes. If they vote next week, Pelosi wins.

Meanwhile, not a soul in the RNC is conflicted about Steele’s future. As I pointed out yesterday, the GOP insiders have already coalesced around the idea of booting him out. This report echoes what I have been hearing:

Several influential RNC members told POLITICO there is widespread — and wild — speculation about possible challengers to Steele. But the top priority of many committee members, the sources said, isn’t necessarily coming to agreement on Steele’s replacement but rather ensuring he won’t have the votes to be reelected.

“There is a growing conversation amongst the members to take a look at what the options are and to identify what kind of chairman we need for the next cycle,” added another RNC member who spoke anonymously in order to be more frank. …

“I like Michael Steele. I have worked to support Michael in the committee while he’s been chairman,” [Haley’s nephew Henry] Barbour told POLITICO. “But it’s clear to me that we need a change for the next election cycle.”

Now Steele’s side won an extraordinary midterm victory, no thanks to him; Pelosi’s team was thumped, a direct result of the agenda she forced her caucus to support. Yet Pelosi could well survive, while Steele will almost certainly not. Interesting how quickly the Dems became the party of the status quo.

There are parallel storylines that will tell us something about the two parties’ abilities to course correct. On one hand, we have Nancy Pelosi, who is determined to hang on past her expiration date. And then there is Michael Steele, whom GOP insiders have essentially already decided to oust.

The Democrats are conflicted and nervous; Pelosi is determined to steamroll the doubters:

At least 15 Democrats have said publicly that they have lost faith in her ability to lead — a number backed up by as many as two dozen more who are indicating the same thing privately, while others haven’t yet taken sides.

Liberal Reps. Peter DeFazio (Ore.) and Marcy Kaptur (Ohio) sent a letter to colleagues asking them to support a plan to forestall leadership elections until December — a clear effort to give the anti-Pelosi forces time to coalesce. Democratic leaders plan to go forward with the leadership contests Nov. 17, according to sources familiar with a Wednesday afternoon conference call. …

Even the New York Times’ editorial page has called on Pelosi to step aside.

(You gotta love the “even.”) Pelosi isn’t going quietly. “The shocker — and the true point of contention in Democratic ranks according to some party insiders — is that Pelosi is not ceding any power. She already claims to have the votes to keep the job of Democratic leader — leaving top lieutenants Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and James Clyburn (D-S.C.) to engage in a caucus-splitting battle for the No. 2 job of minority whip.” Is she posturing, or does she have the votes? Listen, she blew one vote on TARP, and not since then has she permitted a vote on any significant measure for which she did not already have the votes. If they vote next week, Pelosi wins.

Meanwhile, not a soul in the RNC is conflicted about Steele’s future. As I pointed out yesterday, the GOP insiders have already coalesced around the idea of booting him out. This report echoes what I have been hearing:

Several influential RNC members told POLITICO there is widespread — and wild — speculation about possible challengers to Steele. But the top priority of many committee members, the sources said, isn’t necessarily coming to agreement on Steele’s replacement but rather ensuring he won’t have the votes to be reelected.

“There is a growing conversation amongst the members to take a look at what the options are and to identify what kind of chairman we need for the next cycle,” added another RNC member who spoke anonymously in order to be more frank. …

“I like Michael Steele. I have worked to support Michael in the committee while he’s been chairman,” [Haley’s nephew Henry] Barbour told POLITICO. “But it’s clear to me that we need a change for the next election cycle.”

Now Steele’s side won an extraordinary midterm victory, no thanks to him; Pelosi’s team was thumped, a direct result of the agenda she forced her caucus to support. Yet Pelosi could well survive, while Steele will almost certainly not. Interesting how quickly the Dems became the party of the status quo.

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The Military Elephant in the Room

Here’s a topic that wasn’t on the agenda at this week’s United Jewish Communities General Assembly, but should have been: how young American Jews’ ignorance of military matters affects their relationship to Israel.

Speaking in an unrelated context, after his film Lebanon was named a finalist for six European Film Academy awards last week, Israeli director Samuel Maoz told Haaretz he was surprised at how “young audiences in Europe, particularly Britain and Scandinavia,” reacted to the film, which depicts an Israeli tank crew’s experiences on the first day of the 1982 Lebanon War:

A lot of people who saw the film [abroad] told me they were sure the Israeli soldier was a kind of killer who goes around Gaza killing children, and all of a sudden, when they see “Lebanon,” they understand he is a person like them, thinking and agonizing over what to do, dealing with conflicts and situations forced upon him.

What Maoz said of young Europeans is equally true of young American Jews. Most have never served in the army themselves, nor have most of their friends: neither Jews nor their circle of liberal, highly educated non-Jewish peers are prominently represented in America’s all-volunteer military. Consequently, they have no concept of the agonizing dilemmas combat entails, especially against foes who deliberately fight from among civilian populations, or the mistakes that inevitably happen amid the fog of war.

Thus when they see pictures of dead children in Gaza, they lack the knowledge and experience to understand that in wartime, children can be killed despite the best intentions and the most careful precautions. As a result, they all too easily believe, like their European peers, that “the Israeli soldier was a kind of killer.” And that inevitably fosters alienation from Israel: how could any self-respecting, moral individual identify with a nation of killers?

This issue doesn’t exist for American Jews of my parents’ generation. Back then, America still had the draft, so most Jews either served themselves or at least knew people who did. Thus they know that most soldiers are decent people like themselves, not ruthless killers, and they understand that civilians often die in wartime despite not being intentionally targeted.

But America isn’t likely to reinstate the draft, nor are American Jews likely to start volunteering for the military in large numbers. And Israel’s need to fight wars is unfortunately not likely to disappear anytime soon. Thus if the American Jewish community wants to address the growing alienation from Israel of some of its younger members, it must start thinking about how to give young Jews some understanding of what combat entails despite the fact that neither they nor their friends are ever likely to serve.

Films like Maoz’s might be one option. Bringing Israeli soldiers — or American Jewish veterans — to talk to young Jews about their own experiences might be another. American Jewish leaders can doubtless come up with many other creative ideas.

But first, they have to acknowledge that this elephant in the room exists, and must be dealt with. Ignoring it won’t make it go away.

Here’s a topic that wasn’t on the agenda at this week’s United Jewish Communities General Assembly, but should have been: how young American Jews’ ignorance of military matters affects their relationship to Israel.

Speaking in an unrelated context, after his film Lebanon was named a finalist for six European Film Academy awards last week, Israeli director Samuel Maoz told Haaretz he was surprised at how “young audiences in Europe, particularly Britain and Scandinavia,” reacted to the film, which depicts an Israeli tank crew’s experiences on the first day of the 1982 Lebanon War:

A lot of people who saw the film [abroad] told me they were sure the Israeli soldier was a kind of killer who goes around Gaza killing children, and all of a sudden, when they see “Lebanon,” they understand he is a person like them, thinking and agonizing over what to do, dealing with conflicts and situations forced upon him.

What Maoz said of young Europeans is equally true of young American Jews. Most have never served in the army themselves, nor have most of their friends: neither Jews nor their circle of liberal, highly educated non-Jewish peers are prominently represented in America’s all-volunteer military. Consequently, they have no concept of the agonizing dilemmas combat entails, especially against foes who deliberately fight from among civilian populations, or the mistakes that inevitably happen amid the fog of war.

Thus when they see pictures of dead children in Gaza, they lack the knowledge and experience to understand that in wartime, children can be killed despite the best intentions and the most careful precautions. As a result, they all too easily believe, like their European peers, that “the Israeli soldier was a kind of killer.” And that inevitably fosters alienation from Israel: how could any self-respecting, moral individual identify with a nation of killers?

This issue doesn’t exist for American Jews of my parents’ generation. Back then, America still had the draft, so most Jews either served themselves or at least knew people who did. Thus they know that most soldiers are decent people like themselves, not ruthless killers, and they understand that civilians often die in wartime despite not being intentionally targeted.

But America isn’t likely to reinstate the draft, nor are American Jews likely to start volunteering for the military in large numbers. And Israel’s need to fight wars is unfortunately not likely to disappear anytime soon. Thus if the American Jewish community wants to address the growing alienation from Israel of some of its younger members, it must start thinking about how to give young Jews some understanding of what combat entails despite the fact that neither they nor their friends are ever likely to serve.

Films like Maoz’s might be one option. Bringing Israeli soldiers — or American Jewish veterans — to talk to young Jews about their own experiences might be another. American Jewish leaders can doubtless come up with many other creative ideas.

But first, they have to acknowledge that this elephant in the room exists, and must be dealt with. Ignoring it won’t make it go away.

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A UN Disgrace, Again

The good news is that Iran won’t be joining the UN women’s rights panel after all. The bad news: Saudi Arabia will. This is not a joke — well the UN is, but not this incident.

Yes, Saudi Arabia. You know, the country that brought us this, this, and this. Or, if you prefer, there is our own State Department’s evaluation of the Saudi’s violent misogyny. The administration doesn’t do much, but it sure does document the monstrous treatment of women and girls in the Kingdom of Saud:

During the year the following significant human rights problems were reported: no right to change the government peacefully; disappearances; torture and physical abuse; poor prison and detention center conditions; arbitrary arrest and incommunicado detention; denial of public trials and lack of due process in the judicial system; political prisoners; restrictions on civil liberties such as freedoms of speech (including the Internet), assembly, association, movement, and severe restrictions on religious freedom; and corruption and lack of government transparency. Violence against women, violations of the rights of children, and discrimination on the basis of gender, religion, sect, and ethnicity were common. …

The government views marital relations between spouses as contractual and did not recognize spousal rape. According to the law, if a man rapes a woman, she is viewed as being at fault for illegal mixing of genders and is punished along with her attacker. Statistics on incidents of rape were not available, but press reports and observers indicated rape against women and boys was a serious problem. …

There were no laws specifically prohibiting domestic violence. Government officials stated that the government did not clearly define domestic violence and that procedures for dealing with cases varied from one government body to another. …

Discrimination against women was a significant problem. After her February 2008 visit, the UN special rapporteur on violence against women, while acknowledging progress in the status of women and particularly women’s access to education, noted the lack of women’s autonomy, freedom of movement, and economic independence; discriminatory practices surrounding divorce and child custody; the absence of a law criminalizing violence against women; and difficulties preventing women from escaping abusive environments.

Forgive me if I don’t take Obama’s and Hillary Clinton’s occasional rhetorical flourishes on human rights seriously. When it comes to action, they are inert. Read More

The good news is that Iran won’t be joining the UN women’s rights panel after all. The bad news: Saudi Arabia will. This is not a joke — well the UN is, but not this incident.

Yes, Saudi Arabia. You know, the country that brought us this, this, and this. Or, if you prefer, there is our own State Department’s evaluation of the Saudi’s violent misogyny. The administration doesn’t do much, but it sure does document the monstrous treatment of women and girls in the Kingdom of Saud:

During the year the following significant human rights problems were reported: no right to change the government peacefully; disappearances; torture and physical abuse; poor prison and detention center conditions; arbitrary arrest and incommunicado detention; denial of public trials and lack of due process in the judicial system; political prisoners; restrictions on civil liberties such as freedoms of speech (including the Internet), assembly, association, movement, and severe restrictions on religious freedom; and corruption and lack of government transparency. Violence against women, violations of the rights of children, and discrimination on the basis of gender, religion, sect, and ethnicity were common. …

The government views marital relations between spouses as contractual and did not recognize spousal rape. According to the law, if a man rapes a woman, she is viewed as being at fault for illegal mixing of genders and is punished along with her attacker. Statistics on incidents of rape were not available, but press reports and observers indicated rape against women and boys was a serious problem. …

There were no laws specifically prohibiting domestic violence. Government officials stated that the government did not clearly define domestic violence and that procedures for dealing with cases varied from one government body to another. …

Discrimination against women was a significant problem. After her February 2008 visit, the UN special rapporteur on violence against women, while acknowledging progress in the status of women and particularly women’s access to education, noted the lack of women’s autonomy, freedom of movement, and economic independence; discriminatory practices surrounding divorce and child custody; the absence of a law criminalizing violence against women; and difficulties preventing women from escaping abusive environments.

Forgive me if I don’t take Obama’s and Hillary Clinton’s occasional rhetorical flourishes on human rights seriously. When it comes to action, they are inert.

Now wouldn’t you think in his Muslim Outreach stop in Indonesia he’d reach out to some Muslim Women? In a speech long on Muslim suck-uppery, Obama found time to root for non-direct, non-peace talks to, I guess, resume. But a plea for women and girls to be treated as human beings (rather than as chattel) in the Muslim world? Nothing. Not even in Afghanistan. This is the single sentence that remotely touches on the topic of women in Muslim countries:

Now, I stayed here for four years — a time that helped shape my childhood; a time that saw the birth of my wonderful sister, Maya; a time that made such an impression on my mother that she kept returning to Indonesia over the next 20 years to live and to work and to travel — and to pursue her passion of promoting opportunity in Indonesia’s villages, especially opportunity for women and for girls.

That’s it. What could he have said? Here’s my suggestion:

If through the good offices of our military — especially our women soldiers — we could help Afghani women unravel themselves from centuries of complicity in their own oppression and see themselves not as defiled, unclean, perpetually wanton creatures to be hidden away as if they were carriers of plague, but rather as noble members of the human race endowed with greatness and blessings: the giving of life, the tending to it mercifully and lovingly, and, most important, the imparting of lessons in real virtue — self-acceptance to their daughters and just plain acceptance to their sons — that would be gaining hearts and minds indeed.

It would be ludicrous to expect that, or even a watered-down version of it, to come from Obama’s lips. So those hoping for improvement in Obama’s human rights policy should clue in. Obama’s dedication to human rights, and to international oppression of women specifically, is precisely the same as it has always been: nonexistent.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Imagine if the Bush administration had pulled this. “An inspector general says the White House edited a report about the administration’s moratorium on offshore oil drilling to make it appear that scientists and experts supported the idea of a six-month ban on new drilling. The Interior Department’s inspector general says the changes resulted ‘in the implication that the moratorium recommendation had been peer reviewed.’ But it hadn’t been.” Reminds you of Elena Kagan’s stunt about the outside experts’ report on partial-birth abortion, doesn’t it?

Imagine if our president sounded like Canada’s prime minister on Israel. “We must be relentless in exposing this new anti-Semitism for what it is. Of course, like any country, Israel may be subjected to fair criticism. And like any free country, Israel subjects itself to such criticism — healthy, necessary, democratic debate. But when Israel, the only country in the world whose very existence is under attack — is consistently and conspicuously singled out for condemnation, I believe we are morally obligated to take a stand. Demonization, double standards, delegitimization, the three D’s, it is the responsibility of us all to stand up to them.” Read the whole thing.

Imagine if the media scrutinized Obama on Afghanistan the way it did his predecessor on Iraq. “A White House review of President Obama’s Afghanistan strategy next month will judge ‘how this current approach is working’ but will not suggest alternatives if aspects of the policy are found to be failing, a senior administration official said Tuesday.” Appalling.

Imagine if Chris Christie were given a chance to get the federal government’s fiscal house in order. Oh my! He keeps this up and there will be “Draft Christie!” movements in every state.

Imagine how much the debt commission could have saved if it had recommended shelving ObamaCare. “The Bowles-Simpson proposal would leave in place the entire trillion-dollar monstrosity. … The fundamental problem here is that it is not possible to build a bipartisan budget framework on a foundation that includes a partisan health-care plan with sweeping implications for future spending levels. To have a bipartisan budget requires a bipartisan health plan. And that means repealing Obamacare and starting over.”

Imagine if Obama had pulled the plug on this months ago. Eric Holder says he’s “close to a decision” on a civilian trial for KSM. With the new GOP Congress, I think there is no chance KSM is going to see the inside of an Article III courtroom, and the Obami know it. Get ready for an about-face on this one.

Imagine if Obama listened to sane advice on the Middle East. “Why does the president continue to harp on settlements in East Jerusalem, as opposed to expansion of West Bank settlements that would be dismantled under the terms of any peace agreement between the parties? Obama may feel that he has crossed a Rubicon and must push forward. Or he may feel that he must put Netanyahu in his place. … Whatever the reason, Obama’s behavior in Indonesia, and his constant harping on the construction issue, has complicated his avowed search for an agreement between Israelis and Palestinians. … The peace process is stalemated, and it is up to the president, who has, perhaps unwittingly, brought on this latest dead end on the long-standing saga of Israeli-Palestinian misery, to come up with a way that lets both sides move forward, even if it means that he personally has to take several steps back in order to do so.”

Imagine if the Bush administration had pulled this. “An inspector general says the White House edited a report about the administration’s moratorium on offshore oil drilling to make it appear that scientists and experts supported the idea of a six-month ban on new drilling. The Interior Department’s inspector general says the changes resulted ‘in the implication that the moratorium recommendation had been peer reviewed.’ But it hadn’t been.” Reminds you of Elena Kagan’s stunt about the outside experts’ report on partial-birth abortion, doesn’t it?

Imagine if our president sounded like Canada’s prime minister on Israel. “We must be relentless in exposing this new anti-Semitism for what it is. Of course, like any country, Israel may be subjected to fair criticism. And like any free country, Israel subjects itself to such criticism — healthy, necessary, democratic debate. But when Israel, the only country in the world whose very existence is under attack — is consistently and conspicuously singled out for condemnation, I believe we are morally obligated to take a stand. Demonization, double standards, delegitimization, the three D’s, it is the responsibility of us all to stand up to them.” Read the whole thing.

Imagine if the media scrutinized Obama on Afghanistan the way it did his predecessor on Iraq. “A White House review of President Obama’s Afghanistan strategy next month will judge ‘how this current approach is working’ but will not suggest alternatives if aspects of the policy are found to be failing, a senior administration official said Tuesday.” Appalling.

Imagine if Chris Christie were given a chance to get the federal government’s fiscal house in order. Oh my! He keeps this up and there will be “Draft Christie!” movements in every state.

Imagine how much the debt commission could have saved if it had recommended shelving ObamaCare. “The Bowles-Simpson proposal would leave in place the entire trillion-dollar monstrosity. … The fundamental problem here is that it is not possible to build a bipartisan budget framework on a foundation that includes a partisan health-care plan with sweeping implications for future spending levels. To have a bipartisan budget requires a bipartisan health plan. And that means repealing Obamacare and starting over.”

Imagine if Obama had pulled the plug on this months ago. Eric Holder says he’s “close to a decision” on a civilian trial for KSM. With the new GOP Congress, I think there is no chance KSM is going to see the inside of an Article III courtroom, and the Obami know it. Get ready for an about-face on this one.

Imagine if Obama listened to sane advice on the Middle East. “Why does the president continue to harp on settlements in East Jerusalem, as opposed to expansion of West Bank settlements that would be dismantled under the terms of any peace agreement between the parties? Obama may feel that he has crossed a Rubicon and must push forward. Or he may feel that he must put Netanyahu in his place. … Whatever the reason, Obama’s behavior in Indonesia, and his constant harping on the construction issue, has complicated his avowed search for an agreement between Israelis and Palestinians. … The peace process is stalemated, and it is up to the president, who has, perhaps unwittingly, brought on this latest dead end on the long-standing saga of Israeli-Palestinian misery, to come up with a way that lets both sides move forward, even if it means that he personally has to take several steps back in order to do so.”

Read Less




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