Commentary Magazine


Posts For: November 15, 2010

Dems Continue to Entertain

Just because the Democrats lost an election and chose to anoint the woman who led the political equivalent of Pickett’s Charge (I know the much-maligned George Pickett was simply following directions from Robert E. Lee, but let’s not get sidetracked) doesn’t mean that they have finished providing fodder for the GOP. Far from it. The circus was in full swing today:

Members of the House ethics committee began deliberating charges Monday that Representative Charles B. Rangel violated Congressional rules, after an unusual public hearing that was abbreviated by the longtime congressman’s dramatic exit from the proceedings.

Mr. Rangel, who appeared at the inquiry alone, stunned the packed hearing room by walking out after complaining that he had no lawyer because he could not afford the millions of dollars in legal fees he had racked up during the two-year investigation.

Yes, the classic definition of chutzpah is a defendant who murders his parents and throws himself upon the mercy of the court as an orphan; but a tax cheat and Dominican Republic condo owner complaining he’s too poor to pay lawyers to defend him on ethics charges is pretty darn close. The committee was having none of it:

In a rebuke to Mr. Rangel, members noted that he had been advised repeatedly, starting as early as September 2008, that he was well within his rights to set up a defense fund to raise money for his legal expenses. Mr. Rangel and his defense team from the firm Zuckerman Spaeder parted ways several weeks ago.

With Mr. Rangel’s chair empty, the committee’s chief counsel presented what he said was “uncontested evidence” that the congressman’s fund-raising and failure to disclose his assets or pay taxes on a Dominican villa had violated Congressional rules.

A little late, and only after an electoral thumping, I think the Congress is finally going to be draining that swamp — starting with the Rangel cesspool.

Just because the Democrats lost an election and chose to anoint the woman who led the political equivalent of Pickett’s Charge (I know the much-maligned George Pickett was simply following directions from Robert E. Lee, but let’s not get sidetracked) doesn’t mean that they have finished providing fodder for the GOP. Far from it. The circus was in full swing today:

Members of the House ethics committee began deliberating charges Monday that Representative Charles B. Rangel violated Congressional rules, after an unusual public hearing that was abbreviated by the longtime congressman’s dramatic exit from the proceedings.

Mr. Rangel, who appeared at the inquiry alone, stunned the packed hearing room by walking out after complaining that he had no lawyer because he could not afford the millions of dollars in legal fees he had racked up during the two-year investigation.

Yes, the classic definition of chutzpah is a defendant who murders his parents and throws himself upon the mercy of the court as an orphan; but a tax cheat and Dominican Republic condo owner complaining he’s too poor to pay lawyers to defend him on ethics charges is pretty darn close. The committee was having none of it:

In a rebuke to Mr. Rangel, members noted that he had been advised repeatedly, starting as early as September 2008, that he was well within his rights to set up a defense fund to raise money for his legal expenses. Mr. Rangel and his defense team from the firm Zuckerman Spaeder parted ways several weeks ago.

With Mr. Rangel’s chair empty, the committee’s chief counsel presented what he said was “uncontested evidence” that the congressman’s fund-raising and failure to disclose his assets or pay taxes on a Dominican villa had violated Congressional rules.

A little late, and only after an electoral thumping, I think the Congress is finally going to be draining that swamp — starting with the Rangel cesspool.

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RE: A Significant Letter

I agree with both Pete and Jen that this is a significant development. Along with Senator McConnell’s admission today that earmarks are unacceptable to the American electorate, we’re off to a good post-election start.

The letter from the group of distinguished economists, writers, and investors reminds me of another letter, written in 1930, regarding the Smoot-Hawley Tariff. What came to be known as the Smoot-Hawley Tariff (after its Congressional sponsors, Sen. Reed Smoot and Rep.Willis Hawley) started out as a campaign promise to American farmers by Herbert Hoover to provide relief from foreign competition because of a deep and persistent drop in food prices. (Blame Henry Ford: the disappearance of horses and mules from farms and roadways caused vast area of land once devoted to fodder crops to be turned over to human food production.)

But the passage through Congress went badly out of control. Hoover had wanted reductions in industrial tariffs to offset any increase in agricultural ones. Instead, a lobbyists’ feeding frenzy erupted, and tariffs went up across the board. Even tombstone manufacturers got increased tariff protection. No fewer than 1028 economists, including many of great distinction such as Irving Fischer, wrote a letter to Hoover pleading with him to veto the bill. Thomas Lamont of J. P. Morgan & Co. wrote later that “I almost went down on my knees to beg Herbert Hoover to veto the asinine Hawley-Smoot tariff. That act intensified nationalism all over the world.” Henry Ford personally went to the White House to urge a veto of what he called “an economic stupidity.”

Hoover hated the bill as it was presented to him, calling it (in private) “vicious, extortionate, and obnoxious.” But heavily pressed by his fellow Republicans and the party’s industrial base, he signed it regardless. The result was disaster. American exports declined by 78 percent in the next two years, and the tariff was one of the major government mistakes that converted an ordinary recession into the Great Depression.

Will Bernanke be a latter-day Herbert Hoover? Let’s hope not, but I wouldn’t bet against it, alas.

I agree with both Pete and Jen that this is a significant development. Along with Senator McConnell’s admission today that earmarks are unacceptable to the American electorate, we’re off to a good post-election start.

The letter from the group of distinguished economists, writers, and investors reminds me of another letter, written in 1930, regarding the Smoot-Hawley Tariff. What came to be known as the Smoot-Hawley Tariff (after its Congressional sponsors, Sen. Reed Smoot and Rep.Willis Hawley) started out as a campaign promise to American farmers by Herbert Hoover to provide relief from foreign competition because of a deep and persistent drop in food prices. (Blame Henry Ford: the disappearance of horses and mules from farms and roadways caused vast area of land once devoted to fodder crops to be turned over to human food production.)

But the passage through Congress went badly out of control. Hoover had wanted reductions in industrial tariffs to offset any increase in agricultural ones. Instead, a lobbyists’ feeding frenzy erupted, and tariffs went up across the board. Even tombstone manufacturers got increased tariff protection. No fewer than 1028 economists, including many of great distinction such as Irving Fischer, wrote a letter to Hoover pleading with him to veto the bill. Thomas Lamont of J. P. Morgan & Co. wrote later that “I almost went down on my knees to beg Herbert Hoover to veto the asinine Hawley-Smoot tariff. That act intensified nationalism all over the world.” Henry Ford personally went to the White House to urge a veto of what he called “an economic stupidity.”

Hoover hated the bill as it was presented to him, calling it (in private) “vicious, extortionate, and obnoxious.” But heavily pressed by his fellow Republicans and the party’s industrial base, he signed it regardless. The result was disaster. American exports declined by 78 percent in the next two years, and the tariff was one of the major government mistakes that converted an ordinary recession into the Great Depression.

Will Bernanke be a latter-day Herbert Hoover? Let’s hope not, but I wouldn’t bet against it, alas.

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Netanyahu Chooses the Lesser of Two Evils

The debate over Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s decision to renew a settlement-building freeze in the West Bank has been rightly characterized by my colleagues Jennifer Rubin, Evelyn Gordon, and J.E. Dyer as a measure that will not advance the basic interests of the United States or Israel and that will undermine the slim chances for a genuine peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. Others are also correct when they point out that this decision, like virtually every other concession made by Israel since the start of the Oslo process in 1993, strengthens the incorrect perception that the Palestinians are the only lawful owners of all of the West Bank.

But as much as Oslo has been completely discredited by the Palestinians’ refusal to make peace, Netanyahu cannot afford to act as if the desire of the United States to pursue another round of peace talks is irrelevant. President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton may be among the last people on Planet Earth to fail to understand that Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas has neither the will nor the interest in signing a peace accord, no matter where Israel’s borders are drawn. Their decision — to hound Netanyahu to renew the freeze for 90 days even after a 10-month freeze was ignored by the Palestinians — is an absurd policy that mires the administration in a dead-end process that can win them no laurels and few thanks from a Muslim world that Obama is still clearly interested in appeasing.

Yet would it have been prudent of Netanyahu to simply say no indefinitely? Another three months of a freeze won’t do more to undermine Israel’s rights or security than the previous 17 years of fruitless negotiations have done, whereas another spat with the White House that could have been blamed on Israel would worsen the country’s position.

It is true, as Evelyn Gordon has written, that Israel will get no credit from an international community that is hostile to the existence of the Jewish state. But it is also true that actions that highlight the true obstacle to peace — Palestinian irredentism — are essential to maintaining the bipartisan, across-the-board support for Israel here in the United States. As much as Netanyahu would have been justified in bluntly and publicly telling Obama and Clinton that their demand for another freeze was wrong, that would have meant putting his country in the position to be accused of saying “no” to peace. Such a charge would be a lie, but it would have strengthened the hand of those in the Obama administration who want to distance the United States from Israel, and it would also have been exactly what Abbas wanted because it would allow him to avoid being the one to say “no” to more talks or ultimately to an agreement. In the game of chicken being played by Israel and the Palestinians, all the settlement freeze has done is to put more pressure on Abbas to jump out of the talks, illustrating once again that peace is something that will only be achieved by a change in the political culture of the Palestinians.

Netanyahu must live with a situation where his only ally-state is led by a man who is still uncomfortable with Israel and unwilling to abandon his hubristic belief that he can succeed in making peace where all who have gone before him have failed. Obama has another two years left in his current term and 12 months or so before the requirements of his quest for re-election may serve to deter him from further putting the screws to Israel. During this period, Netanyahu may face a decision about whether Israel will strike at Iran’s nuclear project. Another war with Hezbollah in Lebanon or Hamas in Gaza may also be forced upon the Jewish state during this time frame.

There are no guarantees that this concession, like all those made by Israel before this, will strengthen Israel’s hand in gaining support for its right of self-defense, but doing so will surely make it easier for Israel to make its case before the American people, especially at a time when the White House must be considered essentially unfriendly to Jerusalem. Under the circumstances, Netanyahu cannot be blamed for deciding that giving in on the freeze — when it is obvious that the Palestinians will not take advantage of the opening — is the lesser of two evils.

The debate over Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s decision to renew a settlement-building freeze in the West Bank has been rightly characterized by my colleagues Jennifer Rubin, Evelyn Gordon, and J.E. Dyer as a measure that will not advance the basic interests of the United States or Israel and that will undermine the slim chances for a genuine peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. Others are also correct when they point out that this decision, like virtually every other concession made by Israel since the start of the Oslo process in 1993, strengthens the incorrect perception that the Palestinians are the only lawful owners of all of the West Bank.

But as much as Oslo has been completely discredited by the Palestinians’ refusal to make peace, Netanyahu cannot afford to act as if the desire of the United States to pursue another round of peace talks is irrelevant. President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton may be among the last people on Planet Earth to fail to understand that Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas has neither the will nor the interest in signing a peace accord, no matter where Israel’s borders are drawn. Their decision — to hound Netanyahu to renew the freeze for 90 days even after a 10-month freeze was ignored by the Palestinians — is an absurd policy that mires the administration in a dead-end process that can win them no laurels and few thanks from a Muslim world that Obama is still clearly interested in appeasing.

Yet would it have been prudent of Netanyahu to simply say no indefinitely? Another three months of a freeze won’t do more to undermine Israel’s rights or security than the previous 17 years of fruitless negotiations have done, whereas another spat with the White House that could have been blamed on Israel would worsen the country’s position.

It is true, as Evelyn Gordon has written, that Israel will get no credit from an international community that is hostile to the existence of the Jewish state. But it is also true that actions that highlight the true obstacle to peace — Palestinian irredentism — are essential to maintaining the bipartisan, across-the-board support for Israel here in the United States. As much as Netanyahu would have been justified in bluntly and publicly telling Obama and Clinton that their demand for another freeze was wrong, that would have meant putting his country in the position to be accused of saying “no” to peace. Such a charge would be a lie, but it would have strengthened the hand of those in the Obama administration who want to distance the United States from Israel, and it would also have been exactly what Abbas wanted because it would allow him to avoid being the one to say “no” to more talks or ultimately to an agreement. In the game of chicken being played by Israel and the Palestinians, all the settlement freeze has done is to put more pressure on Abbas to jump out of the talks, illustrating once again that peace is something that will only be achieved by a change in the political culture of the Palestinians.

Netanyahu must live with a situation where his only ally-state is led by a man who is still uncomfortable with Israel and unwilling to abandon his hubristic belief that he can succeed in making peace where all who have gone before him have failed. Obama has another two years left in his current term and 12 months or so before the requirements of his quest for re-election may serve to deter him from further putting the screws to Israel. During this period, Netanyahu may face a decision about whether Israel will strike at Iran’s nuclear project. Another war with Hezbollah in Lebanon or Hamas in Gaza may also be forced upon the Jewish state during this time frame.

There are no guarantees that this concession, like all those made by Israel before this, will strengthen Israel’s hand in gaining support for its right of self-defense, but doing so will surely make it easier for Israel to make its case before the American people, especially at a time when the White House must be considered essentially unfriendly to Jerusalem. Under the circumstances, Netanyahu cannot be blamed for deciding that giving in on the freeze — when it is obvious that the Palestinians will not take advantage of the opening — is the lesser of two evils.

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Holder — a People Pleaser!

Another entry in the Eric Holder “Can you believe this?” file comes with this report (h/t Main Justice):

In January, after a review by the Office of Professional Responsibility concluded that the authors of the torture memos had committed professional misconduct, Holder allowed the supervisor of that office, David Margolis, to overturn the committee’s conclusion and absolve the lawyers of wrongdoing. Sources close to Holder say that he was disappointed by Margolis’s decision and believed the finding of misconduct was correct — but was unwilling to overrule a nonpolitical employee on such a sensitive issue.

Disappointed? Indeed, he must have been, for the entire mission of DOJ in the first two years of the administration seems to have been defined by a “not Bush” or “get Bushies” mentality. Don’t let the civil rights laws be applied against Black defendants. Don’t follow the Office of Legal Counsel opinion on DC voting rights. Release detainee-abuse photos. Go after John Yoo and Jay Bybee. The problem, however, was that each of these highly politicized decisions was legally flawed and politically untenable even to those in the Department. After all, career attorneys at DOJ did not welcome the investigation of one set of lawyers by a new administration, which took issue with the policy calls of its predecessors.

The rest of the lengthy piece is mostly a rehash of the stories we have heard before — the White House vs. DOJ on terror policy and self-congratulation about the Obama team’s record on civil rights (well, for certain types of cases). But this sums up Holder’s central flaw fairly well and explains why, after replete evidence of his role in the pardon of Marc Rich and Puerto Rican terrorists, he never should have been confirmed:

Like any good political appointee, he was prepared to defend the policy whether he liked it or not. And in that case, maybe it didn’t matter what he supported; promoting the policy was supporting it. I was reminded of something one of his friends had told me, a former DOJ official who has known Holder since the beginning of his career: “Eric has this instinct to please. That’s his weakness. He doesn’t have to be told what to do — he’s willing to do whatever it takes. It’s his survival mechanism in Washington.”

But it makes for a rotten attorney general. And in the case of the Obama administration, it made for a top lawyer far too willing to accommodate the worst leftist impulses in the White House and in the increasingly politicized ranks of the Justice Department. Maybe Holder should start spending more time with his family.

Another entry in the Eric Holder “Can you believe this?” file comes with this report (h/t Main Justice):

In January, after a review by the Office of Professional Responsibility concluded that the authors of the torture memos had committed professional misconduct, Holder allowed the supervisor of that office, David Margolis, to overturn the committee’s conclusion and absolve the lawyers of wrongdoing. Sources close to Holder say that he was disappointed by Margolis’s decision and believed the finding of misconduct was correct — but was unwilling to overrule a nonpolitical employee on such a sensitive issue.

Disappointed? Indeed, he must have been, for the entire mission of DOJ in the first two years of the administration seems to have been defined by a “not Bush” or “get Bushies” mentality. Don’t let the civil rights laws be applied against Black defendants. Don’t follow the Office of Legal Counsel opinion on DC voting rights. Release detainee-abuse photos. Go after John Yoo and Jay Bybee. The problem, however, was that each of these highly politicized decisions was legally flawed and politically untenable even to those in the Department. After all, career attorneys at DOJ did not welcome the investigation of one set of lawyers by a new administration, which took issue with the policy calls of its predecessors.

The rest of the lengthy piece is mostly a rehash of the stories we have heard before — the White House vs. DOJ on terror policy and self-congratulation about the Obama team’s record on civil rights (well, for certain types of cases). But this sums up Holder’s central flaw fairly well and explains why, after replete evidence of his role in the pardon of Marc Rich and Puerto Rican terrorists, he never should have been confirmed:

Like any good political appointee, he was prepared to defend the policy whether he liked it or not. And in that case, maybe it didn’t matter what he supported; promoting the policy was supporting it. I was reminded of something one of his friends had told me, a former DOJ official who has known Holder since the beginning of his career: “Eric has this instinct to please. That’s his weakness. He doesn’t have to be told what to do — he’s willing to do whatever it takes. It’s his survival mechanism in Washington.”

But it makes for a rotten attorney general. And in the case of the Obama administration, it made for a top lawyer far too willing to accommodate the worst leftist impulses in the White House and in the increasingly politicized ranks of the Justice Department. Maybe Holder should start spending more time with his family.

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Tea Party Wins on Earmarks

Elections are wondrous things. Sen. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who previously expressed some skepticism about doing away with earmarks, has heard the voters. On the Senate floor today he declared:

I have seen a lot of elections in my life, but I have never seen an election like the one we had earlier this month. The 2010 midterm election was a “change” election the likes of which I have never seen, and the change that people want, above all, is right here in Washington.

Most Americans are deeply unhappy with their government, more so than at any other time in decades. And after the way lawmakers have done business up here over the last couple of years, it’s easy to see why. But it’s not enough to point out the faults of the party in power. Americans want change, not mere criticism. And that means that all of us in Washington need to get serious about changing the way we do business, even on things we have defended in the past, perhaps for good reason. …

I have thought about these things long and hard over the past few weeks. I’ve talked with my members. I’ve listened to them. Above all, I have listened to my constituents.  And what I’ve concluded is that on the issue of congressional earmarks, as the leader of my party in the Senate, I have to lead first by example. Nearly every day that the Senate’s been in session for the past two years, I have come down to this spot and said that Democrats are ignoring the wishes of the American people. When it comes to earmarks, I won’t be guilty of the same thing.

Make no mistake. I know the good that has come from the projects I have helped support throughout my state. I don’t apologize for them. But there is simply no doubt that the abuse of this practice has caused Americans to view it as a symbol of the waste and the out-of-control spending that every Republican in Washington is determined to fight. And unless people like me show the American people that we’re willing to follow through on small or even symbolic things, we risk losing them on our broader efforts to cut spending and rein in government.

That’s why today I am announcing that I will join the Republican Leadership in the House in support of a moratorium on earmarks in the 112th Congress.

Chalk one up for the Tea Party. As I said earlier today, it simply isn’t tenable for Republicans to oppose measures like this. Moreover, if this is any indication, the media-driven narrative of the Tea Party vs. the establishment will quickly fade as both halves of the party make common cause in trying to re-establish the GOP as the party of fiscal discipline.

Elections are wondrous things. Sen. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who previously expressed some skepticism about doing away with earmarks, has heard the voters. On the Senate floor today he declared:

I have seen a lot of elections in my life, but I have never seen an election like the one we had earlier this month. The 2010 midterm election was a “change” election the likes of which I have never seen, and the change that people want, above all, is right here in Washington.

Most Americans are deeply unhappy with their government, more so than at any other time in decades. And after the way lawmakers have done business up here over the last couple of years, it’s easy to see why. But it’s not enough to point out the faults of the party in power. Americans want change, not mere criticism. And that means that all of us in Washington need to get serious about changing the way we do business, even on things we have defended in the past, perhaps for good reason. …

I have thought about these things long and hard over the past few weeks. I’ve talked with my members. I’ve listened to them. Above all, I have listened to my constituents.  And what I’ve concluded is that on the issue of congressional earmarks, as the leader of my party in the Senate, I have to lead first by example. Nearly every day that the Senate’s been in session for the past two years, I have come down to this spot and said that Democrats are ignoring the wishes of the American people. When it comes to earmarks, I won’t be guilty of the same thing.

Make no mistake. I know the good that has come from the projects I have helped support throughout my state. I don’t apologize for them. But there is simply no doubt that the abuse of this practice has caused Americans to view it as a symbol of the waste and the out-of-control spending that every Republican in Washington is determined to fight. And unless people like me show the American people that we’re willing to follow through on small or even symbolic things, we risk losing them on our broader efforts to cut spending and rein in government.

That’s why today I am announcing that I will join the Republican Leadership in the House in support of a moratorium on earmarks in the 112th Congress.

Chalk one up for the Tea Party. As I said earlier today, it simply isn’t tenable for Republicans to oppose measures like this. Moreover, if this is any indication, the media-driven narrative of the Tea Party vs. the establishment will quickly fade as both halves of the party make common cause in trying to re-establish the GOP as the party of fiscal discipline.

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RE: A Bad Deal All Around

Jennifer and Evelyn, between them, have covered pretty comprehensively the problems with latest settlement-freeze deal. I note, however, that the generally left-leaning Economist picked up on the aspect of the deal that concerns me the most and isn’t getting a lot of attention. Jennifer alludes to it with this passage:

And as for the promise to veto UN resolutions attacking Israel or declaring a Palestinian state, why should Israel have to give anything to Obama for simply adhering to past U.S. policy? My Israel guru remarks, “This shows the Obama mentality that we veto as a difficult favor for Israel, rather than out of principle.”

The Economist is blunter: “Is America bribing Bibi or blackmailing him?” One problem with the Obama administration’s action is that it can so easily be read as blackmail. It’s basic diplomatic competence to avoid creating such implications if they are unintended.

Independent of nations or circumstances, the U.S. posture should, on principle, oppose the peremptory creation of new nations against the will of UN member states. Making this principle conditional, for transient bargaining purposes, is a grave strategic error. A number of our own allies have ethnic-nationalist insurgencies, border disputes, or both – nations like Spain, Greece, Turkey, and Japan. Russia, China, and India have them as well. They are able to deal with their problems as ongoing but relatively minor nuisances largely because the momentum of global expectations is with the principles of national sovereignty and order.

The Obama deal offered to Israel contains too broad a hint that America’s commitment to those principles might be conditional. Perhaps Team Obama sees Israel as a case so special that nothing done in relation to it has meaning for the principles of international relations. But the rest of the world’s nations don’t share that view – nor do their insurgencies or their respective border antagonists. What they see is the trend of actions by the United States. This is a destabilizing move and a very ill-advised one.

Jennifer and Evelyn, between them, have covered pretty comprehensively the problems with latest settlement-freeze deal. I note, however, that the generally left-leaning Economist picked up on the aspect of the deal that concerns me the most and isn’t getting a lot of attention. Jennifer alludes to it with this passage:

And as for the promise to veto UN resolutions attacking Israel or declaring a Palestinian state, why should Israel have to give anything to Obama for simply adhering to past U.S. policy? My Israel guru remarks, “This shows the Obama mentality that we veto as a difficult favor for Israel, rather than out of principle.”

The Economist is blunter: “Is America bribing Bibi or blackmailing him?” One problem with the Obama administration’s action is that it can so easily be read as blackmail. It’s basic diplomatic competence to avoid creating such implications if they are unintended.

Independent of nations or circumstances, the U.S. posture should, on principle, oppose the peremptory creation of new nations against the will of UN member states. Making this principle conditional, for transient bargaining purposes, is a grave strategic error. A number of our own allies have ethnic-nationalist insurgencies, border disputes, or both – nations like Spain, Greece, Turkey, and Japan. Russia, China, and India have them as well. They are able to deal with their problems as ongoing but relatively minor nuisances largely because the momentum of global expectations is with the principles of national sovereignty and order.

The Obama deal offered to Israel contains too broad a hint that America’s commitment to those principles might be conditional. Perhaps Team Obama sees Israel as a case so special that nothing done in relation to it has meaning for the principles of international relations. But the rest of the world’s nations don’t share that view – nor do their insurgencies or their respective border antagonists. What they see is the trend of actions by the United States. This is a destabilizing move and a very ill-advised one.

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Karzai’s Words, and His Actions

Hamid Karzai has caused considerable consternation with his weekend interview with the Washington Post. He told Post editors and reporters: “The time has come to reduce military operations. The time has come to reduce the presence of, you know, boots in Afghanistan . . . to reduce the intrusiveness into the daily Afghan life…. It’s not desirable for the Afghan people either to have 100,000 or more foreign troops going around the country endlessly.” He also criticized “night raids”–Special Operations raids that occur at night–as he has in the past.

The Post reports that General Petraeus expressed “astonishment and disappointment” as his remarks which seem to fly in the face of NATO’s strategy. Today Karzai’s spokesman was rapidly backtracking, stressing that Karzai’s comments about the desirability of a troop pullout were “conditioned on the ability of the Afghan security forces to take responsibility.” The spokesman made clear that Karzai supports NATO’s goal to begin withdrawing in 2014.

This kerfuffle reminds me of many similar statements made over the years by Prime Minister Maliki in Iraq. As I noted in this 2008 Washington Post op-ed, Maliki, too, has had a history of calling for U.S. troop withdrawals:

In May 2006, shortly after becoming prime minister, he claimed, “Our forces are capable of taking over the security in all Iraqi provinces within a year and a half.”

In October 2006, when violence was spinning out of control, Maliki declared that it would be “only a matter of months” before his security forces could “take over the security portfolio entirely and keep some multinational forces only in a supporting role.”

President Bush wisely ignored Maliki. Instead of withdrawing U.S. troops, he sent more. The prime minister wasn’t happy. On Dec. 15, 2006, the Wall Street Journal reported, “Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has flatly told Gen. George Casey, the top American military commander in Iraq, that he doesn’t want more U.S. personnel deployed to the country, according to U.S. military officials.” When the surge went ahead anyway, Maliki gave it an endorsement described in news accounts as “lukewarm.”

I suggested in the op-ed that it was wise to judge Maliki by what he did, not what he said. For all of his public doubts about the U.S. troop presence he generally supported American actions behind-the-scenes–although often only after considerable arm-twisting from Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker.

Karzai, too, should be judged by his actions, rather than by his occasional expressions of public frustration with the coalition. He has not done anything as dramatic as Maliki, who ordered his security forces to clear Basra and Sadr City of the Sadrist militia, but he has taken some positive steps such as agreeing to the setting up of the Afghan Local Police program to augment the Afghan security forces.

Moreover, some of his criticisms of international forces are on the mark–the U.S. and its allies have done much to fuel corruption in Afghanistan, as he complains, and their employment of local security forces has often been a contributor to instability. Yet at the end of the day Afghanistan would be far more insecure without an America troop presence, and that is something I suspect Karzai, for all his misguided public statements, actually realizes.

Hamid Karzai has caused considerable consternation with his weekend interview with the Washington Post. He told Post editors and reporters: “The time has come to reduce military operations. The time has come to reduce the presence of, you know, boots in Afghanistan . . . to reduce the intrusiveness into the daily Afghan life…. It’s not desirable for the Afghan people either to have 100,000 or more foreign troops going around the country endlessly.” He also criticized “night raids”–Special Operations raids that occur at night–as he has in the past.

The Post reports that General Petraeus expressed “astonishment and disappointment” as his remarks which seem to fly in the face of NATO’s strategy. Today Karzai’s spokesman was rapidly backtracking, stressing that Karzai’s comments about the desirability of a troop pullout were “conditioned on the ability of the Afghan security forces to take responsibility.” The spokesman made clear that Karzai supports NATO’s goal to begin withdrawing in 2014.

This kerfuffle reminds me of many similar statements made over the years by Prime Minister Maliki in Iraq. As I noted in this 2008 Washington Post op-ed, Maliki, too, has had a history of calling for U.S. troop withdrawals:

In May 2006, shortly after becoming prime minister, he claimed, “Our forces are capable of taking over the security in all Iraqi provinces within a year and a half.”

In October 2006, when violence was spinning out of control, Maliki declared that it would be “only a matter of months” before his security forces could “take over the security portfolio entirely and keep some multinational forces only in a supporting role.”

President Bush wisely ignored Maliki. Instead of withdrawing U.S. troops, he sent more. The prime minister wasn’t happy. On Dec. 15, 2006, the Wall Street Journal reported, “Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has flatly told Gen. George Casey, the top American military commander in Iraq, that he doesn’t want more U.S. personnel deployed to the country, according to U.S. military officials.” When the surge went ahead anyway, Maliki gave it an endorsement described in news accounts as “lukewarm.”

I suggested in the op-ed that it was wise to judge Maliki by what he did, not what he said. For all of his public doubts about the U.S. troop presence he generally supported American actions behind-the-scenes–although often only after considerable arm-twisting from Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker.

Karzai, too, should be judged by his actions, rather than by his occasional expressions of public frustration with the coalition. He has not done anything as dramatic as Maliki, who ordered his security forces to clear Basra and Sadr City of the Sadrist militia, but he has taken some positive steps such as agreeing to the setting up of the Afghan Local Police program to augment the Afghan security forces.

Moreover, some of his criticisms of international forces are on the mark–the U.S. and its allies have done much to fuel corruption in Afghanistan, as he complains, and their employment of local security forces has often been a contributor to instability. Yet at the end of the day Afghanistan would be far more insecure without an America troop presence, and that is something I suspect Karzai, for all his misguided public statements, actually realizes.

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RE: A Significant Letter

I concur with Pete and the e21 authors. The e21 group not only has the benefit of Pete’s wisdom but that of a number of other key thinkers also. Keith Hennessey, formerly Assistant to the President for Economic Policy and Director of the National Economic Council under President Bush; Bill Kristol; and Andrew Laperriere, a Managing Director of International Strategy and Investment Group Inc., are on its board of advisers. And its staff and contributors includes impressive, serious economic and policy gurus. We’ll be hearing more from them in the days and weeks ahead. The group that released an open letter signed by a list of economists, business leaders, and policy wonks (including Michael Boskin, Roger Hertog, Amity Shlaes, Paul Singer, and John Taylor) is certainly going to be of critical importance in the public discussion ahead.

As the Wall Street Journal points out, this group is not alone in raising concerns about the Fed’s printing press. The e21 group has been discussing the issue with Republican office holders and potential 2012 candidates and has come on the heels of criticism of the plan both by Rep. Paul Ryan and Sarah Palin. The report explains:

“Printing money is no substitute for pro-growth fiscal policy,” said Rep. Mike Pence, an Indiana Republican who has been privy to early discussions with the group of conservatives rallying opposition to the Fed plan. He said the signatories to the letter “represent a growing chorus of Americans who know that we should be seeking to stimulate our economy with tax relief, spending restraint and regulatory reform rather than masking our fundamental problems by artificially creating inflation.”

The Fed faces potential pressure of a different sort from the left as well. Some prominent Democratic congressmen, including the current chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, have endorsed the quantitative-easing move.

If nothing else, the letter and the emergence on the scene of a group like e21 will demonstrate that Republicans are serious about weighty economic issues and focused on the long-term health of the dollar and the U.S. economy. The party of no — which really was never only about no — is getting some intellectual heft. This is good for it, but even more important for the country and the public debate.

I concur with Pete and the e21 authors. The e21 group not only has the benefit of Pete’s wisdom but that of a number of other key thinkers also. Keith Hennessey, formerly Assistant to the President for Economic Policy and Director of the National Economic Council under President Bush; Bill Kristol; and Andrew Laperriere, a Managing Director of International Strategy and Investment Group Inc., are on its board of advisers. And its staff and contributors includes impressive, serious economic and policy gurus. We’ll be hearing more from them in the days and weeks ahead. The group that released an open letter signed by a list of economists, business leaders, and policy wonks (including Michael Boskin, Roger Hertog, Amity Shlaes, Paul Singer, and John Taylor) is certainly going to be of critical importance in the public discussion ahead.

As the Wall Street Journal points out, this group is not alone in raising concerns about the Fed’s printing press. The e21 group has been discussing the issue with Republican office holders and potential 2012 candidates and has come on the heels of criticism of the plan both by Rep. Paul Ryan and Sarah Palin. The report explains:

“Printing money is no substitute for pro-growth fiscal policy,” said Rep. Mike Pence, an Indiana Republican who has been privy to early discussions with the group of conservatives rallying opposition to the Fed plan. He said the signatories to the letter “represent a growing chorus of Americans who know that we should be seeking to stimulate our economy with tax relief, spending restraint and regulatory reform rather than masking our fundamental problems by artificially creating inflation.”

The Fed faces potential pressure of a different sort from the left as well. Some prominent Democratic congressmen, including the current chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, have endorsed the quantitative-easing move.

If nothing else, the letter and the emergence on the scene of a group like e21 will demonstrate that Republicans are serious about weighty economic issues and focused on the long-term health of the dollar and the U.S. economy. The party of no — which really was never only about no — is getting some intellectual heft. This is good for it, but even more important for the country and the public debate.

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A Settlement Freeze Makes Serious Talks Less Likely

Jennifer listed several good reasons to dislike Barack Obama’s latest proposal for a settlement freeze. Here’s one more: it makes serious final-status negotiations even less likely.

To see why, consider last week’s astonishing editorial in the Kuwaiti daily Arab Times. In it, editor-in-chief Ahmed Al-Jarallah urged Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas to imitate Egyptian President Anwar Sadat “and start unconditional negotiations” with Israel.

It’s a remarkable piece in many respects: its clear-eyed recognition that the Arab world exploits the Palestinians rather than helping them (“the slogan traders in Iran, Lebanon and Syria … [are] using these poor people as fighting tools”); its candid acknowledgement that Palestinians have blown previous opportunities, like the autonomy plan mandated by the 1978 peace treaty with Egypt (“they should have taken this opportunity and built on it”); and its call for unconditional negotiations, defying the Arab consensus, to avoid missing another opportunity (Sadat, he noted, regained his land by so doing, while if talks fail, that would at least “cause international embarrassment for Israel”). No Western leader has said anything half so honest or courageous.

But the minute Al-Jarallah explains why he deems this necessary, it’s obvious why neither Abbas nor the West discerns the same necessity: Palestinians, he said, must act, because Israeli settlement construction means “the longer the waiting period, the lesser the space” for the Palestinian state-to-be.

In reality, as both Abbas and Western leaders know, refusing to make a deal has proven a surefire way for Palestinians to increase the amount of land on offer. Four decades ago, Israel’s left proposed the Allon Plan, under which Israel would cede 70 percent of the territories. By 2000, Ehud Barak was offering 88 percent. The Clinton plan upped the figure to about 94 percent, and in 2008, Ehud Olmert offered almost 100 percent (after territorial swaps). Each time the Palestinians refused an offer, either Jerusalem or Washington sweetened the deal in the hopes of finally getting them to say yes.

There aren’t many territorial sweeteners left to add, but plenty of concessions remain available on other issues. And there’s no risk of losing the territorial gains because no offer, once made, has ever been taken off the table: Olmert’s offer, for instance, is now viewed by the West as the starting point for new talks, and Israel faces enormous pressure to accept that dictate.

Abbas thus has every incentive to keep saying no: he won’t lose any concession already pocketed, and he’ll probably gain new ones.

Therefore, if the West really wants a deal, it must ensure that saying no does have consequences: that far from netting the Palestinians additional gains, it will endanger those already achieved. In other words, it needs to make them think time is running out for a viable deal. And there’s only one way to do that — by settlement construction massive enough to threaten to make additional settlements too big to be evacuated.

By instead demanding a settlement freeze, Obama ensures the Palestinians can drag their feet with no negative consequences because nothing will change on the ground. So nobody should be surprised if that’s exactly what they do.

Jennifer listed several good reasons to dislike Barack Obama’s latest proposal for a settlement freeze. Here’s one more: it makes serious final-status negotiations even less likely.

To see why, consider last week’s astonishing editorial in the Kuwaiti daily Arab Times. In it, editor-in-chief Ahmed Al-Jarallah urged Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas to imitate Egyptian President Anwar Sadat “and start unconditional negotiations” with Israel.

It’s a remarkable piece in many respects: its clear-eyed recognition that the Arab world exploits the Palestinians rather than helping them (“the slogan traders in Iran, Lebanon and Syria … [are] using these poor people as fighting tools”); its candid acknowledgement that Palestinians have blown previous opportunities, like the autonomy plan mandated by the 1978 peace treaty with Egypt (“they should have taken this opportunity and built on it”); and its call for unconditional negotiations, defying the Arab consensus, to avoid missing another opportunity (Sadat, he noted, regained his land by so doing, while if talks fail, that would at least “cause international embarrassment for Israel”). No Western leader has said anything half so honest or courageous.

But the minute Al-Jarallah explains why he deems this necessary, it’s obvious why neither Abbas nor the West discerns the same necessity: Palestinians, he said, must act, because Israeli settlement construction means “the longer the waiting period, the lesser the space” for the Palestinian state-to-be.

In reality, as both Abbas and Western leaders know, refusing to make a deal has proven a surefire way for Palestinians to increase the amount of land on offer. Four decades ago, Israel’s left proposed the Allon Plan, under which Israel would cede 70 percent of the territories. By 2000, Ehud Barak was offering 88 percent. The Clinton plan upped the figure to about 94 percent, and in 2008, Ehud Olmert offered almost 100 percent (after territorial swaps). Each time the Palestinians refused an offer, either Jerusalem or Washington sweetened the deal in the hopes of finally getting them to say yes.

There aren’t many territorial sweeteners left to add, but plenty of concessions remain available on other issues. And there’s no risk of losing the territorial gains because no offer, once made, has ever been taken off the table: Olmert’s offer, for instance, is now viewed by the West as the starting point for new talks, and Israel faces enormous pressure to accept that dictate.

Abbas thus has every incentive to keep saying no: he won’t lose any concession already pocketed, and he’ll probably gain new ones.

Therefore, if the West really wants a deal, it must ensure that saying no does have consequences: that far from netting the Palestinians additional gains, it will endanger those already achieved. In other words, it needs to make them think time is running out for a viable deal. And there’s only one way to do that — by settlement construction massive enough to threaten to make additional settlements too big to be evacuated.

By instead demanding a settlement freeze, Obama ensures the Palestinians can drag their feet with no negative consequences because nothing will change on the ground. So nobody should be surprised if that’s exactly what they do.

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It’s the Everything, Stupid

A few weeks ago, we learned that the Obama administration granted get-out-of-ObamaCare waivers to 30 big-time employers. Now we find out that the number of organizations and businesses that have broken free of the job killing policy is at 111 and growing. The president who came to office proudly signing executive orders condemning his predecessor’s policies is now quietly signing hall passes exempting Americans from his own.

For the first 20 months of the Obama presidency, the world watched to see if the ambitious, progressive superstar who talked loftily about real change would actually confer some magical metamorphosis upon the country. Even those of us who doubted his superhuman abilities harbored a small fear that he had the talent and the polish to pull it off.  His campaign performance was brilliant and his election, by the time it happened, felt like a matter of national fate. But after he was sworn in, we watched his ideology and his increasingly evident incompetence duke it out for pride of place. We hoped that where he wanted to apply extreme liberal ideas, his ineptitude would trip him up. Read More

A few weeks ago, we learned that the Obama administration granted get-out-of-ObamaCare waivers to 30 big-time employers. Now we find out that the number of organizations and businesses that have broken free of the job killing policy is at 111 and growing. The president who came to office proudly signing executive orders condemning his predecessor’s policies is now quietly signing hall passes exempting Americans from his own.

For the first 20 months of the Obama presidency, the world watched to see if the ambitious, progressive superstar who talked loftily about real change would actually confer some magical metamorphosis upon the country. Even those of us who doubted his superhuman abilities harbored a small fear that he had the talent and the polish to pull it off.  His campaign performance was brilliant and his election, by the time it happened, felt like a matter of national fate. But after he was sworn in, we watched his ideology and his increasingly evident incompetence duke it out for pride of place. We hoped that where he wanted to apply extreme liberal ideas, his ineptitude would trip him up.

What happened could not have been predicted: the campus progressivism and the incompetence fused. Obama pushed through an enormous fiscal stimulus and a calamitous healthcare policy, both of which were not only unapologetically redistributive but structurally unsound as well. As Harvard economist Jeffrey Miron said of the stimulus, “even the components with a plausible justification were designed in the least productive and most redistributionist way possible.”  A labyrinthine bureaucratic architecture and a tangle of regulatory loose ends similarly doomed ObamaCare.

On foreign policy, the same thing happened. President Obama not only approached foreign provocateurs with harmful progressive notions of Western guilt and omni-directional empathy; his green foreign policy team bungled overtures and gambits, so that world leaders ceased to take America seriously, even as an apology nation.  While antagonists forged greater alliances, friends complained about the un-seriousness of American policy. The world took the measure of the commander in chief and pronounced him a lightweight.

Now, with the waiting game over and with the midterm elections having hemmed in the administration, we have a president who is, halfway into his term, ineffective. At this point, he’s likely to pivot to foreign affairs where he’s less constrained by the conservative realignment in Congress. But look at how that’s going. During a 10-day tour of Asia, Obama failed to secure a key trade agreement with South Korea and got nowhere with China on its harmful currency devaluation. At the same time, Obama’s ill-conceived personal request that Iraqi President Jalal Talabani step aside and allow Iyad Allawi to become Iraq’s new president was immediately rebuffed. Even as our troops make progress in Afghanistan, President Hamid Karzai tells the Washington Post, “The time has come to reduce the presence of, you know, boots in Afghanistan… to reduce the intrusiveness into the daily Afghan life.” A burst of military success is not enough in Afghanistan. The U.S. needs to be in for the long haul, so that our allies don’t cut survival deals with our enemies. If we’re not staying long enough to keep Afghanistan on course, Karzai wants his waiver too. Many pundits are misinterpreting Obama’s foreign policy headaches. It’s not that world leaders are responding to Americans’ midterm disapproval; it’s that they too are unimpressed.

No American should be pleased about any of this. Those who were initially afraid of Obama’s power and his ideological designs now have a new concern of equal importance: his powerlessness.  Recently, Walter Russell Mead wrote at his American Interest blog, “No president in my lifetime has fallen from heaven to earth as rapidly as President Obama.” If he keeps falling, he takes us with him. Waivers are a start, but the enormous work of reversal and restoration has not yet properly begun. We’d all do well to hope for a little of that early executive determination and sense of purpose.

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A Significant Letter

The Wall Street Journal has an article this morning about an open letter sent to Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, a letter signed by leading economists and investors.

The letter says this:

We believe the Federal Reserve’s large-scale asset purchase plan (so-called “quantitative easing”) should be reconsidered and discontinued.  We do not believe such a plan is necessary or advisable under current circumstances.  The planned asset purchases risk currency debasement and inflation, and we do not think they will achieve the Fed’s objective of promoting employment.

We subscribe to your statement in the Washington Post on November 4 that “the Federal Reserve cannot solve all the economy’s problems on its own.”  In this case, we think improvements in tax, spending and regulatory policies must take precedence in a national growth program, not further monetary stimulus.

We disagree with the view that inflation needs to be pushed higher, and worry that another round of asset purchases, with interest rates still near zero over a year into the recovery, will distort financial markets and greatly complicate future Fed efforts to normalize monetary policy.

The Fed’s purchase program has also met broad opposition from other central banks and we share their concerns that quantitative easing by the Fed is neither warranted nor helpful in addressing either U.S. or global economic problems.

Given the list of influential individuals signing this letter, it is sure to set the financial world (and therefore the political world) abuzz. That is all to the good. We need a vigorous debate about the Fed’s plan to buy $600 billion in additional U.S. Treasury bonds. It will, after all, have the effect of monetizing the debt and devaluing the dollar, and it risks triggering inflation. And oh, by the way, it won’t create jobs.

It is exactly the wrong policy at exactly the wrong time.

Defenders of the Fed’s policy will undoubtedly argue that this letter (which was largely organized and coordinated by the economic website e21, which I’m delighted to be affiliated with) amounts to a political attack on the independence of the Fed. That assertion is silly. Are we to believe that in a free society, the Fed and its policies are somehow immune to criticism – that when the Chairman speaks, no contrary voices are allowed to be heard?

The letter to Chairman Bernanke doesn’t argue that the Fed doesn’t have the right or the power to pursue its policy; it is simply questioning the wisdom of those policies. And its policies are manifestly unwise. It will deliver another body blow to an economy that is already weak and reeling.

This debate reminds me nothing so much as the economic debates that took place in 1981, at the dawn of the Reagan presidency, when issues that were thought to be somewhat esoteric (like monetary policy) were at the heart of our economic and political conversations. We learned then that the right monetary policy can make a huge contribution to economic growth. And we are leaning now that the wrong monetary policy can do the opposite.

The Wall Street Journal has an article this morning about an open letter sent to Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, a letter signed by leading economists and investors.

The letter says this:

We believe the Federal Reserve’s large-scale asset purchase plan (so-called “quantitative easing”) should be reconsidered and discontinued.  We do not believe such a plan is necessary or advisable under current circumstances.  The planned asset purchases risk currency debasement and inflation, and we do not think they will achieve the Fed’s objective of promoting employment.

We subscribe to your statement in the Washington Post on November 4 that “the Federal Reserve cannot solve all the economy’s problems on its own.”  In this case, we think improvements in tax, spending and regulatory policies must take precedence in a national growth program, not further monetary stimulus.

We disagree with the view that inflation needs to be pushed higher, and worry that another round of asset purchases, with interest rates still near zero over a year into the recovery, will distort financial markets and greatly complicate future Fed efforts to normalize monetary policy.

The Fed’s purchase program has also met broad opposition from other central banks and we share their concerns that quantitative easing by the Fed is neither warranted nor helpful in addressing either U.S. or global economic problems.

Given the list of influential individuals signing this letter, it is sure to set the financial world (and therefore the political world) abuzz. That is all to the good. We need a vigorous debate about the Fed’s plan to buy $600 billion in additional U.S. Treasury bonds. It will, after all, have the effect of monetizing the debt and devaluing the dollar, and it risks triggering inflation. And oh, by the way, it won’t create jobs.

It is exactly the wrong policy at exactly the wrong time.

Defenders of the Fed’s policy will undoubtedly argue that this letter (which was largely organized and coordinated by the economic website e21, which I’m delighted to be affiliated with) amounts to a political attack on the independence of the Fed. That assertion is silly. Are we to believe that in a free society, the Fed and its policies are somehow immune to criticism – that when the Chairman speaks, no contrary voices are allowed to be heard?

The letter to Chairman Bernanke doesn’t argue that the Fed doesn’t have the right or the power to pursue its policy; it is simply questioning the wisdom of those policies. And its policies are manifestly unwise. It will deliver another body blow to an economy that is already weak and reeling.

This debate reminds me nothing so much as the economic debates that took place in 1981, at the dawn of the Reagan presidency, when issues that were thought to be somewhat esoteric (like monetary policy) were at the heart of our economic and political conversations. We learned then that the right monetary policy can make a huge contribution to economic growth. And we are leaning now that the wrong monetary policy can do the opposite.

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Can Obama Triangulate?

Bill Kristol is optimistic. On Fox News Sunday, he predicted:

We’re going to have an agreement on extending current tax rates for three or four years, I think. We’re going to have an agreement that we shouldn’t have earmarks. There’ll be an agreement on some spending cuts. There’ll be an agreement on prosecuting the war in Afghanistan.

All of this makes perfect sense for Republicans. They will dispel the notion that they are wackos incapable of governing. The positions outlined above are not divisive ones within the Republican Party. Yes, GOP Senate leadership has expressed skepticism about the value of an earmark ban, but if one is proposed, no Republican would be inclined  to vote against it.

As for the Democrats, each of these issues will exacerbate the split between the left and the far left. The same House members who are cheering Nancy Pelosi’s  plan to stay on as minority leader, the netroot activists, and the liberal blogosphere will be in an uproar on spending cuts (we already had a preview when the debt commission released its preliminary report), tax cuts for the “rich,” and a Bush-like commitment to Afghanistan (i.e., the withdrawal of the withdrawal deadline). It’s not going to make Obama’s life easier within his own party; on the contrary, the howls and screeches will get worse.

Does this help Obama, showing how reasonable he is? Well, there will be plenty to show he is not so amenable to the voters’ wishes or the concerns of business. He is, so far, refusing to deal on ObamaCare, a major irritant to independent and conservative voters and a barrier to meaningful deficit-cutting. The danger here is that, as he often does, Obama winds up pleasing no one. His base is increasingly grouchy and dispirited; his adversaries don’t take his promises of fiscal sobriety seriously. But at this point, Obama has no choice — his 2008 coalition has fractured, and he has lost independents. If he does nothing, he’s a one-term president; so he might as well try something else. Unless, of course, he can’t bring himself to break faith with the hard left.

Bill Kristol is optimistic. On Fox News Sunday, he predicted:

We’re going to have an agreement on extending current tax rates for three or four years, I think. We’re going to have an agreement that we shouldn’t have earmarks. There’ll be an agreement on some spending cuts. There’ll be an agreement on prosecuting the war in Afghanistan.

All of this makes perfect sense for Republicans. They will dispel the notion that they are wackos incapable of governing. The positions outlined above are not divisive ones within the Republican Party. Yes, GOP Senate leadership has expressed skepticism about the value of an earmark ban, but if one is proposed, no Republican would be inclined  to vote against it.

As for the Democrats, each of these issues will exacerbate the split between the left and the far left. The same House members who are cheering Nancy Pelosi’s  plan to stay on as minority leader, the netroot activists, and the liberal blogosphere will be in an uproar on spending cuts (we already had a preview when the debt commission released its preliminary report), tax cuts for the “rich,” and a Bush-like commitment to Afghanistan (i.e., the withdrawal of the withdrawal deadline). It’s not going to make Obama’s life easier within his own party; on the contrary, the howls and screeches will get worse.

Does this help Obama, showing how reasonable he is? Well, there will be plenty to show he is not so amenable to the voters’ wishes or the concerns of business. He is, so far, refusing to deal on ObamaCare, a major irritant to independent and conservative voters and a barrier to meaningful deficit-cutting. The danger here is that, as he often does, Obama winds up pleasing no one. His base is increasingly grouchy and dispirited; his adversaries don’t take his promises of fiscal sobriety seriously. But at this point, Obama has no choice — his 2008 coalition has fractured, and he has lost independents. If he does nothing, he’s a one-term president; so he might as well try something else. Unless, of course, he can’t bring himself to break faith with the hard left.

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The Bush Brothers and the Freedom Agenda

State of the Union has become the most interesting and best hosted Sunday talk show. Unlike ABC, CNN went for a down-the-middle, no-nonsense interviewer in Candy Crowley. Crowley is able to extract real news — in part because she listens to the answers and asks effective follow-ups. Sunday was no exception. She sat down with George W. Bush and then with Jeb Bush as well.

The newsiest tidbit was Jeb’s apparent openness to a presidential run — but not in 2012:

GEORGE W. BUSH: … I urged [Jeb] to seriously consider running for president, because I think he’d be a great president. But he’s chosen not to run this time, and I finally have believed him.

CROWLEY: See? So you’re getting some place. And you noticed “this time.”

JEB BUSH: You know what? You never say never about anything. I answer the questions forthrightly about 2012.

But just as interesting was the reminder that the so-called “freedom agenda” was central to Bush’s presidency (in obvious contrast to  Obama’s). Asked about the war in Afghanistan, Bush answered:

GEORGE W. BUSH: Well, there’s — first of all, Afghanistan was the site where extremists were able to find a safe haven to attack.

CROWLEY: But they’re mostly gone at this point in Afghanistan.

GEORGE W. BUSH: I wouldn’t make that assumption. Oh, in Afghanistan, yes, but it’s not to say they couldn’t come back if a regime that was welcoming them would give them safe haven again.

I would say that, put yourself in the position of a young girl in Afghanistan, and realize that her life will be incredibly brutalized and/or thwarted by people like the Taliban. And the fundamental question, is it worth it? That’s the question we’ve got to ask. Does it matter to our own national security, or does it matter to our conscience that women will be mistreated? I argue it does. And I understand it’s difficult.

On Iraq he sounded a similar theme: “I think somebody’s going to look back some day and say thank goodness the United States believed in the universality of freedom and liberated 25 million and gave the Iraqis a chance to have their own free — free society.”

Also evident is the devotion of both the Bush brothers to immigration reform:

JEB BUSH: Rick Scott got a majority of the Hispanic vote in Florida. We elected two Hispanic governors, Susana Martinez and Brian Sandoval. There were congressmen and women elected of Hispanic origin.

I think the problem is not just a West Coast problem, but it is a big-time California problem. And I think part of it relates to tone.

If you’re watching TV, and someone is kind of legitimately angry that we can’t control our border, and sending signals that it’s them and us, and, by the way, you’re not “us,” you’re “them,” it doesn’t matter what else people turn out. If they’re not — feel like they’re welcome, they’re not going to listen to the message.

CROWLEY: And how does the Republican Party sort of reach out on that? Because immigration reform, you tried.

GEORGE W. BUSH: I did. And I believe the best way to secure the border is to have a comprehensive approach, and said so during an Oval Office address.

The language got carried away though. I mean, people — the issue kind of spiraled out of control and sent bad signals.

I think the Republican Party can attract Latinos through good education policy, good small business policy, good policy toward our veterans. And there have been times when Latinos have voted Republican and times when they haven’t. And so we always need to learn from the past and be sensitive about the future. …

JEB BUSH: Yes. And at the same time, Latino, or Hispanic, as we call people of Hispanic origin in Florida, Hispanics want the border controlled. A great nation has to control its border for national security purposes, for all sorts of purposes. And so I don’t know anybody that says, yes, let’s just open up our border to create chaos.

So, once the border is controlled, and people view it that way, and there’s a perception, it’s benchmarked, and people say yes, then I think you’re going to find that there is common ground to change our immigration policy to help us grow faster as a nation and to welcome people that work hard and play by the rules to create prosperity for us.

None of the brothers got credit from the left for their efforts on immigration reform, while many on the right continue to savage the notion of comprehensive immigration reform — even the Bush formulation (border security first).

Likewise, Bush’s foreign policy was vilified by the Democratic party, which from FDR through JFK was in favor of a freedom-promoting foreign policy. But that’s a faint memory now. Bush’s emphasis on democracy promotion and human rights was the subject of such disdain, that it has taken the current administration two years to drop its aversion to even discussing these topics.

The Crowley interview is a timely reminder that Republicans should be wary of a cramped, batten-down-the-hatches form of conservatism. The political saleability of modern conservatism and its success domestically and overseas are not based solely, or even primarily, on an oppositional agenda (no to spending, no to foreign commitments, no to immigrants). Rather it is the quintessential freedom agenda — free markets, pro-growth policies, a robust assertion of American power and interests oversees, a beacon for and defender of victims of despotism, and a big tent GOP. As the Republicans ready themselves for the 2012 primary, they should not forget that limited government is not an end unto itself, but rather a necessary condition for our freedom and prosperity. Whether on defense spending, immigration, or the war against Islamic terror, conservatives would do well to keep that in mind.

State of the Union has become the most interesting and best hosted Sunday talk show. Unlike ABC, CNN went for a down-the-middle, no-nonsense interviewer in Candy Crowley. Crowley is able to extract real news — in part because she listens to the answers and asks effective follow-ups. Sunday was no exception. She sat down with George W. Bush and then with Jeb Bush as well.

The newsiest tidbit was Jeb’s apparent openness to a presidential run — but not in 2012:

GEORGE W. BUSH: … I urged [Jeb] to seriously consider running for president, because I think he’d be a great president. But he’s chosen not to run this time, and I finally have believed him.

CROWLEY: See? So you’re getting some place. And you noticed “this time.”

JEB BUSH: You know what? You never say never about anything. I answer the questions forthrightly about 2012.

But just as interesting was the reminder that the so-called “freedom agenda” was central to Bush’s presidency (in obvious contrast to  Obama’s). Asked about the war in Afghanistan, Bush answered:

GEORGE W. BUSH: Well, there’s — first of all, Afghanistan was the site where extremists were able to find a safe haven to attack.

CROWLEY: But they’re mostly gone at this point in Afghanistan.

GEORGE W. BUSH: I wouldn’t make that assumption. Oh, in Afghanistan, yes, but it’s not to say they couldn’t come back if a regime that was welcoming them would give them safe haven again.

I would say that, put yourself in the position of a young girl in Afghanistan, and realize that her life will be incredibly brutalized and/or thwarted by people like the Taliban. And the fundamental question, is it worth it? That’s the question we’ve got to ask. Does it matter to our own national security, or does it matter to our conscience that women will be mistreated? I argue it does. And I understand it’s difficult.

On Iraq he sounded a similar theme: “I think somebody’s going to look back some day and say thank goodness the United States believed in the universality of freedom and liberated 25 million and gave the Iraqis a chance to have their own free — free society.”

Also evident is the devotion of both the Bush brothers to immigration reform:

JEB BUSH: Rick Scott got a majority of the Hispanic vote in Florida. We elected two Hispanic governors, Susana Martinez and Brian Sandoval. There were congressmen and women elected of Hispanic origin.

I think the problem is not just a West Coast problem, but it is a big-time California problem. And I think part of it relates to tone.

If you’re watching TV, and someone is kind of legitimately angry that we can’t control our border, and sending signals that it’s them and us, and, by the way, you’re not “us,” you’re “them,” it doesn’t matter what else people turn out. If they’re not — feel like they’re welcome, they’re not going to listen to the message.

CROWLEY: And how does the Republican Party sort of reach out on that? Because immigration reform, you tried.

GEORGE W. BUSH: I did. And I believe the best way to secure the border is to have a comprehensive approach, and said so during an Oval Office address.

The language got carried away though. I mean, people — the issue kind of spiraled out of control and sent bad signals.

I think the Republican Party can attract Latinos through good education policy, good small business policy, good policy toward our veterans. And there have been times when Latinos have voted Republican and times when they haven’t. And so we always need to learn from the past and be sensitive about the future. …

JEB BUSH: Yes. And at the same time, Latino, or Hispanic, as we call people of Hispanic origin in Florida, Hispanics want the border controlled. A great nation has to control its border for national security purposes, for all sorts of purposes. And so I don’t know anybody that says, yes, let’s just open up our border to create chaos.

So, once the border is controlled, and people view it that way, and there’s a perception, it’s benchmarked, and people say yes, then I think you’re going to find that there is common ground to change our immigration policy to help us grow faster as a nation and to welcome people that work hard and play by the rules to create prosperity for us.

None of the brothers got credit from the left for their efforts on immigration reform, while many on the right continue to savage the notion of comprehensive immigration reform — even the Bush formulation (border security first).

Likewise, Bush’s foreign policy was vilified by the Democratic party, which from FDR through JFK was in favor of a freedom-promoting foreign policy. But that’s a faint memory now. Bush’s emphasis on democracy promotion and human rights was the subject of such disdain, that it has taken the current administration two years to drop its aversion to even discussing these topics.

The Crowley interview is a timely reminder that Republicans should be wary of a cramped, batten-down-the-hatches form of conservatism. The political saleability of modern conservatism and its success domestically and overseas are not based solely, or even primarily, on an oppositional agenda (no to spending, no to foreign commitments, no to immigrants). Rather it is the quintessential freedom agenda — free markets, pro-growth policies, a robust assertion of American power and interests oversees, a beacon for and defender of victims of despotism, and a big tent GOP. As the Republicans ready themselves for the 2012 primary, they should not forget that limited government is not an end unto itself, but rather a necessary condition for our freedom and prosperity. Whether on defense spending, immigration, or the war against Islamic terror, conservatives would do well to keep that in mind.

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A Bad Deal All Around

It’s hard to understand how either the U.S. or Israel gets much out of a proposed 90- day settlement moratorium, which Bibi is prepared to present to his cabinet. Yes, Obama is pleased that this shows Bibi is “serious,” but that is yet another bit of Obama condescension. Has Israel not shown that repeatedly — by entering into peace talks that inevitably increase killings of Jews and by multiple proposals to give the Palestinians their own state? It is true that, yes, Israel gets a bribe promise of 20 F-35s.

But both Israel and the U.S. are the worse for this deal. Bibi is merely perpetuating the myth that the negotiations are about settlements; after promising Israel would not extend the settlement freeze, he has now damaged his own credibility. Moreover, as a savvy Israel hand points out to me, “What surprises me is how little he gets out of this: much of what is promised is promised when peace comes, not now.” While it’s nice to get free F-35s, the Israelis could have purchased those additional planes without giving in on the settlement issue. And as for the promise to veto UN resolutions attacking Israel or declaring a Palestinian state, why should Israel have to give anything to Obama for simply adhering to past U.S. policy? My Israel guru remarks, “This shows the Obama mentality that we veto as a difficult favor for Israel, rather than out of principle.”

But, most important, the extension is at best a meaningless postponment of the inevitable — a refusal by the Palestinians to enter into and enforce a peace deal that would mark recognition of the Jewish state and cessation of Palestinian terrorism. Does anyone really imagine that another 90 days — or 90 weeks for that matter — will make any difference? The only result is a negative one for Israel, the U.S., and the West. Israel’s credibility is damaged, the non-peace talks (that continue to promote friction between the U.S. and Israel) are extended with virtually no chance of success, the world obsesses a little longer over the Palestinian-Israel conflict, and, meanwhile, those centrifuges keep spinning in Iran.

And will Israel get “credit” for this? Puleez. The” international community” and the left will holler that the freeze does not include East Jerusalem. Surely by now Bibi should know that capitulation never pays dividends for the Jewish state.

It’s hard to understand how either the U.S. or Israel gets much out of a proposed 90- day settlement moratorium, which Bibi is prepared to present to his cabinet. Yes, Obama is pleased that this shows Bibi is “serious,” but that is yet another bit of Obama condescension. Has Israel not shown that repeatedly — by entering into peace talks that inevitably increase killings of Jews and by multiple proposals to give the Palestinians their own state? It is true that, yes, Israel gets a bribe promise of 20 F-35s.

But both Israel and the U.S. are the worse for this deal. Bibi is merely perpetuating the myth that the negotiations are about settlements; after promising Israel would not extend the settlement freeze, he has now damaged his own credibility. Moreover, as a savvy Israel hand points out to me, “What surprises me is how little he gets out of this: much of what is promised is promised when peace comes, not now.” While it’s nice to get free F-35s, the Israelis could have purchased those additional planes without giving in on the settlement issue. And as for the promise to veto UN resolutions attacking Israel or declaring a Palestinian state, why should Israel have to give anything to Obama for simply adhering to past U.S. policy? My Israel guru remarks, “This shows the Obama mentality that we veto as a difficult favor for Israel, rather than out of principle.”

But, most important, the extension is at best a meaningless postponment of the inevitable — a refusal by the Palestinians to enter into and enforce a peace deal that would mark recognition of the Jewish state and cessation of Palestinian terrorism. Does anyone really imagine that another 90 days — or 90 weeks for that matter — will make any difference? The only result is a negative one for Israel, the U.S., and the West. Israel’s credibility is damaged, the non-peace talks (that continue to promote friction between the U.S. and Israel) are extended with virtually no chance of success, the world obsesses a little longer over the Palestinian-Israel conflict, and, meanwhile, those centrifuges keep spinning in Iran.

And will Israel get “credit” for this? Puleez. The” international community” and the left will holler that the freeze does not include East Jerusalem. Surely by now Bibi should know that capitulation never pays dividends for the Jewish state.

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The First Test

Elections matter. Not only in number of Republicans but also in their zest for fiscal restraint, the Senate is soon to be a very different place. As the Wall Street Journal editors note:

On earmarks, the House GOP leadership has rallied behind a ban, and 11 of 13 newly elected Republicans in the Senate—including Marco Rubio, Pat Toomey, Ron Johnson and Rand Paul—campaigned against these special- interest spending projects that are typically dropped into bills with little debate or scrutiny. A Senate earmark moratorium is sponsored by veterans Tom Coburn (Oklahoma) and Jim DeMint (South Carolina) and newly elected Kelly Ayotte (New Hampshire).

Some Senate veterans are either indifferent or actively hostile to the idea. Yes, it’s true the earmarks are chump change when it comes to entitlement spending, but then so is public funding of the NPR. The importance lies in the symbolism and the message it sends in larger budget fights:

After tolerating Democratic earmarks for two years, President Obama is also now pushing an earmark ban, and Republicans will give him a major talking point if they maintain earmarks as usual. If this means Senators have to give up some of their own spending priorities, then they have only themselves to blame for making earmarks so notorious.

If it were only about earmarks, the tussle would hardly be noteworthy. But it is, instead, a test as to how readily the Tea Party’s agenda — fiscal restraint, smaller government, Congressional accountability — can be integrated in the GOP’s agenda. If the Old Bulls of the Senate win this one, the outlook is not good for larger, more controversial undertakings. As for the House, this is the first of many instances, I suspect, in which it will lead the debate and set the example.

Elections matter. Not only in number of Republicans but also in their zest for fiscal restraint, the Senate is soon to be a very different place. As the Wall Street Journal editors note:

On earmarks, the House GOP leadership has rallied behind a ban, and 11 of 13 newly elected Republicans in the Senate—including Marco Rubio, Pat Toomey, Ron Johnson and Rand Paul—campaigned against these special- interest spending projects that are typically dropped into bills with little debate or scrutiny. A Senate earmark moratorium is sponsored by veterans Tom Coburn (Oklahoma) and Jim DeMint (South Carolina) and newly elected Kelly Ayotte (New Hampshire).

Some Senate veterans are either indifferent or actively hostile to the idea. Yes, it’s true the earmarks are chump change when it comes to entitlement spending, but then so is public funding of the NPR. The importance lies in the symbolism and the message it sends in larger budget fights:

After tolerating Democratic earmarks for two years, President Obama is also now pushing an earmark ban, and Republicans will give him a major talking point if they maintain earmarks as usual. If this means Senators have to give up some of their own spending priorities, then they have only themselves to blame for making earmarks so notorious.

If it were only about earmarks, the tussle would hardly be noteworthy. But it is, instead, a test as to how readily the Tea Party’s agenda — fiscal restraint, smaller government, Congressional accountability — can be integrated in the GOP’s agenda. If the Old Bulls of the Senate win this one, the outlook is not good for larger, more controversial undertakings. As for the House, this is the first of many instances, I suspect, in which it will lead the debate and set the example.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

“Soul-searching” at the White House? Not so much. “‘There isn’t going to be a reset button. That’s not their style,’ said a Democratic strategist who works with the White House on several issues. ‘They don’t like pivots, and they also believe they’re right.’”

Nancy Pelosi is the right leader to show the country that the Dems “get it”? Not so much, according to Heath Shuler: “Shuler believes that his party didn’t get the message on Election Day when voters kicked Democrats out of majority control of the House if his caucus keeps Pelosi at the top of their leadership team. ‘I hope that with so many members that we need to go in a different direction, that we have to be able to recruit or get back those members of Congress that lost, and I just don’t see that path happening if she’s at the top of the Democrats,’ Shuler said.” He says he’ll run against Pelosi, but maybe he’s in the wrong party.

Would Russ Feingold be a formidable primary challenger to Barack Obama? Not so much, says Mara Liasson: “There’d have to be a real anti-war movement in the country for Russ Feingold to try to capture and lead. But there’s not even that.”

Have the Obami learned anything about their Middle East policy failures? Not so much. The U.S. is goading Bibi to offer a 90-day freeze (why should this freeze produce a different result than the last one?), but the PA is already grousing. “Earlier on Sunday, Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat expressed strong reservations about the U.S. proposal, because it would only apply to the West Bank and not east Jerusalem, the Palestinians’ hoped-for capital.”

Is Obama still the media’s darling? Not so much. “The Democratic president left for Asia just three days after his party suffered big defeats in mid-term elections at the hands of voters worried over the sputtering U.S. economy and unemployment stuck near 10 percent for more than a year. The trip was intended to counteract that frustration with a stress on opening new markets for American goods and improving the jobs picture, so the timing was especially tough. ‘The coverage has been quite negative. The dominant narrative is an embattled president representing a weakened nation,’ said William Galston, a senior fellow in governance studies at the Brookings Institution in Washington. ‘All in all, not the kind of trip a president who has just suffered an electoral rebuff needs,’ he said.”

So the Obama team is going to be more transparent and connect more successfully with the American people? Not so much. “From the administration’s stance on a presidential commission’s controversial recommendations for Social Security and Medicare cuts, to Republican demands that Obama veto any bills containing earmarks, Axelrod offered few specifics on administration plans during interviews on NBC’s ‘Meet the Press’ and ‘Fox News Sunday.’” So why bother going on? It’s hard to solve the alleged “communication” problem if you don’t have anything to communicate.

Iran wants to negotiate about its nuclear program? Not so much. “They have yet to agree on venue, a length for the talks or even the subject. Iran says it is willing to talk about everything but its uranium enrichment program; the other countries – the United States, Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany – want to talk mostly about the entire nuclear program.”

“Soul-searching” at the White House? Not so much. “‘There isn’t going to be a reset button. That’s not their style,’ said a Democratic strategist who works with the White House on several issues. ‘They don’t like pivots, and they also believe they’re right.’”

Nancy Pelosi is the right leader to show the country that the Dems “get it”? Not so much, according to Heath Shuler: “Shuler believes that his party didn’t get the message on Election Day when voters kicked Democrats out of majority control of the House if his caucus keeps Pelosi at the top of their leadership team. ‘I hope that with so many members that we need to go in a different direction, that we have to be able to recruit or get back those members of Congress that lost, and I just don’t see that path happening if she’s at the top of the Democrats,’ Shuler said.” He says he’ll run against Pelosi, but maybe he’s in the wrong party.

Would Russ Feingold be a formidable primary challenger to Barack Obama? Not so much, says Mara Liasson: “There’d have to be a real anti-war movement in the country for Russ Feingold to try to capture and lead. But there’s not even that.”

Have the Obami learned anything about their Middle East policy failures? Not so much. The U.S. is goading Bibi to offer a 90-day freeze (why should this freeze produce a different result than the last one?), but the PA is already grousing. “Earlier on Sunday, Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat expressed strong reservations about the U.S. proposal, because it would only apply to the West Bank and not east Jerusalem, the Palestinians’ hoped-for capital.”

Is Obama still the media’s darling? Not so much. “The Democratic president left for Asia just three days after his party suffered big defeats in mid-term elections at the hands of voters worried over the sputtering U.S. economy and unemployment stuck near 10 percent for more than a year. The trip was intended to counteract that frustration with a stress on opening new markets for American goods and improving the jobs picture, so the timing was especially tough. ‘The coverage has been quite negative. The dominant narrative is an embattled president representing a weakened nation,’ said William Galston, a senior fellow in governance studies at the Brookings Institution in Washington. ‘All in all, not the kind of trip a president who has just suffered an electoral rebuff needs,’ he said.”

So the Obama team is going to be more transparent and connect more successfully with the American people? Not so much. “From the administration’s stance on a presidential commission’s controversial recommendations for Social Security and Medicare cuts, to Republican demands that Obama veto any bills containing earmarks, Axelrod offered few specifics on administration plans during interviews on NBC’s ‘Meet the Press’ and ‘Fox News Sunday.’” So why bother going on? It’s hard to solve the alleged “communication” problem if you don’t have anything to communicate.

Iran wants to negotiate about its nuclear program? Not so much. “They have yet to agree on venue, a length for the talks or even the subject. Iran says it is willing to talk about everything but its uranium enrichment program; the other countries – the United States, Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany – want to talk mostly about the entire nuclear program.”

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