Commentary Magazine


Posts For: November 24, 2010

TSA Scanners vs. Profiling Redux

As they say in Congress, I would like to expand and clarify my previous remarks on TSA security screening. Abby Wisse Schachter at the New York Post has a thoughtful response taking issue with my endorsement of body scanners and pat-downs. She concedes that racial/ethnic profiling doesn’t work, but goes on to argue:

I differ with Boot when he dismisses behavioral profiling because it isn’t a perfect cure-all. Wouldn’t it be possible to profile everyone in line at security by conducting an interview to suss out an individual [who] seems like they might be a security threat based on their behavior, then have a second layer of pat-downs and nudie screening for those who didn’t pass the interview? Why is it necessary to essentially terrorize children in order to provide security which if we’re being realistic is not going to work 100 percent of the time. I’m not convinced the TSA has exhausted the benefits of other less invasive security techniques that they can plausibly claim this is the only way to go.

I was not dismissing behavioral profiling. I think it is vital and necessary but insufficient. To truly secure anything, you need multiple defenses. Thus military bases have an outer and an inner perimeter so that if the first is breached, the second will stand. In the same way, we need various defenses to stop terrorists from hitting our aviation system. Behavioral profiling is certainly part of it. So is interviewing at least some passengers. But there are limits to how far we can go with interviews. This is something that Israeli airport security personnel do extensively (I always seem to get asked if I’m Jewish and to name my rabbi), but they have the luxury of guarding only one airport. In the U.S., we have hundreds and hundreds of airports with thousands of flights every day. Imagine subjecting every single passenger to the kind of (sometimes lengthy) interrogation that Israeli security personnel do. It would slow the entire system to a crawl and generate more complaints than the body scanners. It would also be much more difficult to do because you would have to train tens of thousands of personnel in very difficult interrogation techniques. Far easier to train them to monitor a body scanner or to pat you down.

Even when done by well-trained Israeli operatives, the interviews are sometimes insufficient. That is made clear by this account (from the website of Israel’s security agency, Shabak) of a 1988 attempted bombing of an El Al flight from London to Tel Aviv:

The passenger, a 32 year old Irish woman named Anne-Marie Murphy, who was six months pregnant, arrived at the check-in desk some forty minutes before it closed. She was approached and questioned by the deputy security officer as part of routine passenger security checks.

No suspicious signs were revealed during her questioning. The passenger, who gave the impression of being a simple woman, responded in the negative when asked if she had been given anything to bring to Israel. During the questioning she was calm, and revealed no sign of nervousness. In the check of her baggage, suspicious signs came to light: a Commodore scientific calculator with an electric cable was found; the bag raised suspicion due to its unexpectedly heavy weight. The security officer’s examination of the bag revealed explosives concealed in the bottom of the bag, under a double panel. He called the police, and the passenger was arrested.

Turns out Ms. Murphy — who did not fit the profile of a terrorist or act like one — had been given a bomb by her Jordanian boyfriend. In this case, only physical examination of her luggage revealed the device. But that wouldn’t work with some of the more recent al-Qaeda bombers, who are secreting explosives in their underwear or elsewhere on their person. The only way they can be reliably detected is with the body scanners and pat-downs that the TSA is now rolling out.

By all means, we should do various kinds of profiling and interviewing, but we also need another line of defense. This is it.

As they say in Congress, I would like to expand and clarify my previous remarks on TSA security screening. Abby Wisse Schachter at the New York Post has a thoughtful response taking issue with my endorsement of body scanners and pat-downs. She concedes that racial/ethnic profiling doesn’t work, but goes on to argue:

I differ with Boot when he dismisses behavioral profiling because it isn’t a perfect cure-all. Wouldn’t it be possible to profile everyone in line at security by conducting an interview to suss out an individual [who] seems like they might be a security threat based on their behavior, then have a second layer of pat-downs and nudie screening for those who didn’t pass the interview? Why is it necessary to essentially terrorize children in order to provide security which if we’re being realistic is not going to work 100 percent of the time. I’m not convinced the TSA has exhausted the benefits of other less invasive security techniques that they can plausibly claim this is the only way to go.

I was not dismissing behavioral profiling. I think it is vital and necessary but insufficient. To truly secure anything, you need multiple defenses. Thus military bases have an outer and an inner perimeter so that if the first is breached, the second will stand. In the same way, we need various defenses to stop terrorists from hitting our aviation system. Behavioral profiling is certainly part of it. So is interviewing at least some passengers. But there are limits to how far we can go with interviews. This is something that Israeli airport security personnel do extensively (I always seem to get asked if I’m Jewish and to name my rabbi), but they have the luxury of guarding only one airport. In the U.S., we have hundreds and hundreds of airports with thousands of flights every day. Imagine subjecting every single passenger to the kind of (sometimes lengthy) interrogation that Israeli security personnel do. It would slow the entire system to a crawl and generate more complaints than the body scanners. It would also be much more difficult to do because you would have to train tens of thousands of personnel in very difficult interrogation techniques. Far easier to train them to monitor a body scanner or to pat you down.

Even when done by well-trained Israeli operatives, the interviews are sometimes insufficient. That is made clear by this account (from the website of Israel’s security agency, Shabak) of a 1988 attempted bombing of an El Al flight from London to Tel Aviv:

The passenger, a 32 year old Irish woman named Anne-Marie Murphy, who was six months pregnant, arrived at the check-in desk some forty minutes before it closed. She was approached and questioned by the deputy security officer as part of routine passenger security checks.

No suspicious signs were revealed during her questioning. The passenger, who gave the impression of being a simple woman, responded in the negative when asked if she had been given anything to bring to Israel. During the questioning she was calm, and revealed no sign of nervousness. In the check of her baggage, suspicious signs came to light: a Commodore scientific calculator with an electric cable was found; the bag raised suspicion due to its unexpectedly heavy weight. The security officer’s examination of the bag revealed explosives concealed in the bottom of the bag, under a double panel. He called the police, and the passenger was arrested.

Turns out Ms. Murphy — who did not fit the profile of a terrorist or act like one — had been given a bomb by her Jordanian boyfriend. In this case, only physical examination of her luggage revealed the device. But that wouldn’t work with some of the more recent al-Qaeda bombers, who are secreting explosives in their underwear or elsewhere on their person. The only way they can be reliably detected is with the body scanners and pat-downs that the TSA is now rolling out.

By all means, we should do various kinds of profiling and interviewing, but we also need another line of defense. This is it.

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Korea at Thanksgiving

Most veterans have spent a Thanksgiving on duty. Many have spent Thanksgiving overseas. Some — a growing number — have spent it on alert or in combat. Veterans the world over know what the troops in South Korea said to each other on Tuesday, when North Korea started shooting: “Well, there goes Thanksgiving.”

The timing is uncanny. On November 24, 1950, a month after the discovery of Chinese troops in the war, General Douglas MacArthur launched what became known as the “Home by Christmas” offensive with the U.S. Eighth Army and South Korean II Corps along the Ch’ongch’on River, deep in North Korea. In the previous months, U.S. forces had landed at Inchon and, with other coalition troops, recaptured Seoul. There had been some contact with the Chinese army in November, but the assessment was that the Chinese intended to demonstrate force and then withdraw across their border. MacArthur didn’t expect the fierce resistance his forces would encounter, nor was there any hint of it on the first day of the offensive. The Eighth Army troops had put together a Thanksgiving feast on November 23, and spirits were high.

Much of the battle lore of the Korean conflict comes from the bloody campaign that followed. It dragged into December and saw the fighting retreat of the Eighth Army and South Korean II Corps through North Korea, at the onset of the coldest winter in 100 years. U.S. troops were unprepared for the nights in which temperatures dropped to -30 degrees F. The carnage was punctuated by the slaughter of coalition troops in the “Gauntlet”: the valley through which ran the road to Sunchon. The Eighth Army lost more than 11,000 soldiers in the offensive, but an exact count could never be established. Records had been lost, and whole units destroyed, in the retreat.

On Thanksgiving Day 60 years later, I am thankful that America and South Korea came back from that retreat to fight again. There is a poignant oddity in a 57-year armistice; there are many things to say about failed policies, shaky political nerves, and wrong priorities. But as Kim Jong-il fires an artillery barrage at the South and issues hysterical threats, I am thankful that South Korea today is free, well-armed, and intensively drilled. I am thankful that we have 28,000 troops in South Korea, and plenty of Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps forces in Japan. These factors alone are Kim’s biggest deterrent. He knows they will perform well even if there is ambiguity in the policy governing their operations.

It’s Thanksgiving in Korea again, and our forces there are on alert. They are a dedicated volunteer force; they believe in their mission and purpose. They will keep faith with those who fought before them — and with all those who have missed many a Thanksgiving standing watch over American security in the years since the “Home for Christmas” campaign of 1950.

Most veterans have spent a Thanksgiving on duty. Many have spent Thanksgiving overseas. Some — a growing number — have spent it on alert or in combat. Veterans the world over know what the troops in South Korea said to each other on Tuesday, when North Korea started shooting: “Well, there goes Thanksgiving.”

The timing is uncanny. On November 24, 1950, a month after the discovery of Chinese troops in the war, General Douglas MacArthur launched what became known as the “Home by Christmas” offensive with the U.S. Eighth Army and South Korean II Corps along the Ch’ongch’on River, deep in North Korea. In the previous months, U.S. forces had landed at Inchon and, with other coalition troops, recaptured Seoul. There had been some contact with the Chinese army in November, but the assessment was that the Chinese intended to demonstrate force and then withdraw across their border. MacArthur didn’t expect the fierce resistance his forces would encounter, nor was there any hint of it on the first day of the offensive. The Eighth Army troops had put together a Thanksgiving feast on November 23, and spirits were high.

Much of the battle lore of the Korean conflict comes from the bloody campaign that followed. It dragged into December and saw the fighting retreat of the Eighth Army and South Korean II Corps through North Korea, at the onset of the coldest winter in 100 years. U.S. troops were unprepared for the nights in which temperatures dropped to -30 degrees F. The carnage was punctuated by the slaughter of coalition troops in the “Gauntlet”: the valley through which ran the road to Sunchon. The Eighth Army lost more than 11,000 soldiers in the offensive, but an exact count could never be established. Records had been lost, and whole units destroyed, in the retreat.

On Thanksgiving Day 60 years later, I am thankful that America and South Korea came back from that retreat to fight again. There is a poignant oddity in a 57-year armistice; there are many things to say about failed policies, shaky political nerves, and wrong priorities. But as Kim Jong-il fires an artillery barrage at the South and issues hysterical threats, I am thankful that South Korea today is free, well-armed, and intensively drilled. I am thankful that we have 28,000 troops in South Korea, and plenty of Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps forces in Japan. These factors alone are Kim’s biggest deterrent. He knows they will perform well even if there is ambiguity in the policy governing their operations.

It’s Thanksgiving in Korea again, and our forces there are on alert. They are a dedicated volunteer force; they believe in their mission and purpose. They will keep faith with those who fought before them — and with all those who have missed many a Thanksgiving standing watch over American security in the years since the “Home for Christmas” campaign of 1950.

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Shut Up, the Fed Defenders Explained

Doug Holtz-Eakin defends himself and his fellow signatories on their letter to the Fed taking exception with the $600B bond-buying spree. He covers a number of bases, but the first is the most interesting:

Conservatives are politicizing the Fed.  I consider this the most ironic complaint of all. The letter makes a substantive critique of quantitative easing. It does not say “Republicans would run the Fed better” or “monetary policy decisions should be voted on by the Congress” or anything else that might be genuinely politicizing the Fed.

Instead, the issue became “political” the moment that the QE II defenders asserted that it was a political attack. It is disappointing that when presented with a serious critique by academics, think tank analysts, and market participants the immediate response is “it must be a conservative attack on the Fed.” Note that implicitly this also carries the message: “I’d never consider that conservatives have ideas or that I might learn something from them.”  So sad.

And, seriously, if you don’t want the Fed to be politicized, stop having the President and the Secretary of the Treasury defending it around the globe. Administrations should say nothing about the Fed when they disagree — or when they agree.

Not only is this dead-on; it’s also a familiar storyline. If we object to the Ground Zero mosque, it’s Islamophobia. If we object to New START, it’s just partisanship. If we attend health-care town-hall meetings or Tea Parties, we are fanning violence and hate. You see the theme.

There are a couple of reasons why liberals behave in this fashion, starting with intellectual laziness. The ad hominem attacks require no argumentation or analysis. But there is also, I think, a good deal of projection going on. The left assumes that the right is willing to imperil America in order to bring down the president, as the left did under George W. Bush. (The fact that the right has backed the increasingly unpopular war in Afghanistan is one example of cognitive dissonance for which the left has no explanation.)

Here’s the thing: when Obama proposes an extension of all the Bush tax cuts, puts the threat of military force against Iran back on the table in a credible manner, slashes entitlement programs, or declares a moratorium on new business regulations, we’ll have his back. But if he — or the Fed — persists in doing things inimical to a secure and prosperous country, we’re going to let him have it. It’s sort of like a democracy.

Doug Holtz-Eakin defends himself and his fellow signatories on their letter to the Fed taking exception with the $600B bond-buying spree. He covers a number of bases, but the first is the most interesting:

Conservatives are politicizing the Fed.  I consider this the most ironic complaint of all. The letter makes a substantive critique of quantitative easing. It does not say “Republicans would run the Fed better” or “monetary policy decisions should be voted on by the Congress” or anything else that might be genuinely politicizing the Fed.

Instead, the issue became “political” the moment that the QE II defenders asserted that it was a political attack. It is disappointing that when presented with a serious critique by academics, think tank analysts, and market participants the immediate response is “it must be a conservative attack on the Fed.” Note that implicitly this also carries the message: “I’d never consider that conservatives have ideas or that I might learn something from them.”  So sad.

And, seriously, if you don’t want the Fed to be politicized, stop having the President and the Secretary of the Treasury defending it around the globe. Administrations should say nothing about the Fed when they disagree — or when they agree.

Not only is this dead-on; it’s also a familiar storyline. If we object to the Ground Zero mosque, it’s Islamophobia. If we object to New START, it’s just partisanship. If we attend health-care town-hall meetings or Tea Parties, we are fanning violence and hate. You see the theme.

There are a couple of reasons why liberals behave in this fashion, starting with intellectual laziness. The ad hominem attacks require no argumentation or analysis. But there is also, I think, a good deal of projection going on. The left assumes that the right is willing to imperil America in order to bring down the president, as the left did under George W. Bush. (The fact that the right has backed the increasingly unpopular war in Afghanistan is one example of cognitive dissonance for which the left has no explanation.)

Here’s the thing: when Obama proposes an extension of all the Bush tax cuts, puts the threat of military force against Iran back on the table in a credible manner, slashes entitlement programs, or declares a moratorium on new business regulations, we’ll have his back. But if he — or the Fed — persists in doing things inimical to a secure and prosperous country, we’re going to let him have it. It’s sort of like a democracy.

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Why Do Israeli Settlers Love Sarah Palin?

On a visit to Israel, Ben Smith makes note of an interesting trend. He reports that while most Israelis don’t seem to have any preference for which Republican they want to win the presidential nomination, Israeli settlers are huge fans of Sarah Palin. Smith surmises that this is because they relate on a personal level to the former Alaska governor and also appreciate her vocal support for settlements:

Aside from a sort of general sympathy between settlers — who see themselves as frontiersmen of sorts — and the former Alaska governor, they’ve also gotten specific — if somewhat hazy — encouragement from Palin.

She said in 2009 that “I believe that the Jewish settlements should be allowed to be expanded upon, because that population of Israel is going to grow. More and more Jewish people will be flocking to Israel in the days and weeks and months ahead. And I don’t think that the Obama administration has any right to tell Israel that the Jewish settlements cannot expand.”

She also wrote this month to new members of Congress that Jerusalem is “not a settlement,” which is also the Obama administration’s formal line.

Palin’s first argument about an increasing number of Jews making aliyah is slightly off-target. There hasn’t been a recent major surge in American Jews moving to Israel, and most of the Jews who do move there don’t reside in the settlements. Also, many Israelis would argue that legal ownership of the land gives them the right to expand the settlements regardless of population growth.

While I agree with Smith’s point that Palin’s popularity is partially due to her opinions on the settlements, I think a more significant trend is that she’s viewed as a sort of antagonist to President Obama. Many of the other potential Republicans presidential nominees are strong supporters of Israel. The difference is that few have gotten as much attention as Palin for publicly challenging Obama, and none of them have run on a presidential ticket against him.

Obama’s approval rating has hovered in the single digits in Israel, and it’s certainly lower than that among settlers. The president has been criticized for demanding a freeze in settlement construction as a precondition for peace talks, and his relationship with President Benjamin Netanyahu has been notoriously icy.

Palin represents the anti-Obama — she is the loudest opposition voice that the GOP has at the moment. Given that, it makes sense that the settlers approve.

On a visit to Israel, Ben Smith makes note of an interesting trend. He reports that while most Israelis don’t seem to have any preference for which Republican they want to win the presidential nomination, Israeli settlers are huge fans of Sarah Palin. Smith surmises that this is because they relate on a personal level to the former Alaska governor and also appreciate her vocal support for settlements:

Aside from a sort of general sympathy between settlers — who see themselves as frontiersmen of sorts — and the former Alaska governor, they’ve also gotten specific — if somewhat hazy — encouragement from Palin.

She said in 2009 that “I believe that the Jewish settlements should be allowed to be expanded upon, because that population of Israel is going to grow. More and more Jewish people will be flocking to Israel in the days and weeks and months ahead. And I don’t think that the Obama administration has any right to tell Israel that the Jewish settlements cannot expand.”

She also wrote this month to new members of Congress that Jerusalem is “not a settlement,” which is also the Obama administration’s formal line.

Palin’s first argument about an increasing number of Jews making aliyah is slightly off-target. There hasn’t been a recent major surge in American Jews moving to Israel, and most of the Jews who do move there don’t reside in the settlements. Also, many Israelis would argue that legal ownership of the land gives them the right to expand the settlements regardless of population growth.

While I agree with Smith’s point that Palin’s popularity is partially due to her opinions on the settlements, I think a more significant trend is that she’s viewed as a sort of antagonist to President Obama. Many of the other potential Republicans presidential nominees are strong supporters of Israel. The difference is that few have gotten as much attention as Palin for publicly challenging Obama, and none of them have run on a presidential ticket against him.

Obama’s approval rating has hovered in the single digits in Israel, and it’s certainly lower than that among settlers. The president has been criticized for demanding a freeze in settlement construction as a precondition for peace talks, and his relationship with President Benjamin Netanyahu has been notoriously icy.

Palin represents the anti-Obama — she is the loudest opposition voice that the GOP has at the moment. Given that, it makes sense that the settlers approve.

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Cut Defense Spending NOW?

The attack on North Korea — an act of war by any definition, even if not acknowledged as such — is a timely reminder that the suggestions floating around to cut defense spending are misguided. The Foreign Policy Initiative explains:

America’s military has come under severe strain in the last decade, fighting two wars, preparing for the many potential challenges of the future, and contending with a growing number of aging, worn-out weapons systems. Yet as the debate in Washington about reducing America’s deficit gathers steam, there are increasing calls to make deep cuts in the defense budget. The fiscal effects of such reductions are miniscule—saving perhaps $100 billion over many years against projected annual deficits of more than $1.4 trillion—but the impact on the U.S. military is major. Greater still would be the effects of diminished American power in an increasingly “multipolar” world. …

There is a common misconception that the military has enjoyed ballooning budgets since the beginning of the decade. In reality, the baseline defense budget (not including the costs of the-wars) grew from only 3 to 3.5 percent of GDP from the end of the Clinton administration to the time George W. Bush left office, delaying modernization and procurement efforts across all the armed services. “Going to war with the army you have,” to paraphrase former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, has exacerbated this problem, gobbling up the remaining service life of older systems; nine-plus years of war have only increased this “modernization deficit.” Further reductions, on top of the more than $300 billion Secretary Gates has already cut in proposed procurement of new weapon systems, will dangerously erode the technological edge that America’s armed forces depend upon, and deserve.

The frenzy to cut defense spending is in reality an entirely political ploy: to get liberals on board with cuts in massive entitlement and discretionary spending, fiscal hawks are willing to throw defense spending into the mix. But this ignores the real and multiplying threats we face, especially under a president whose reticence seems only to have whetted the appetites of aggressive regimes.

The result of the lower-defense-spending fetish is that the way we have traditionally looked at defense spending and national security has been reversed. Presidents of both parties have attempted to assess the threats we face and from that determine what expenditures we need. It is imperfect at best, since congressmen and senators are not shy about asking for goodies for their districts and states. But at least the effort is made to gear spending to national security needs. But in the rush to cut defense spending, this process is reversed: we are told by liberal Democrats, conservative neo-isolationists, and budget hawks that because of the need to cut spending, we need to reassess our national security commitments. It is quite frankly a non sequitur. Al-Qaeda, North Korea, Iran, and the rest are only growing bolder. If the defense cutters were honest, they’d say they are willing to make us less safe to get liberals to accept domestic spending cuts. But that sounds daft. And it is.

As the 2012 GOP presidential contenders scramble for visibility, they would do well to take on this issue — and those who think that in an increasingly dangerous world we should be spending less to defend ourselves.

The attack on North Korea — an act of war by any definition, even if not acknowledged as such — is a timely reminder that the suggestions floating around to cut defense spending are misguided. The Foreign Policy Initiative explains:

America’s military has come under severe strain in the last decade, fighting two wars, preparing for the many potential challenges of the future, and contending with a growing number of aging, worn-out weapons systems. Yet as the debate in Washington about reducing America’s deficit gathers steam, there are increasing calls to make deep cuts in the defense budget. The fiscal effects of such reductions are miniscule—saving perhaps $100 billion over many years against projected annual deficits of more than $1.4 trillion—but the impact on the U.S. military is major. Greater still would be the effects of diminished American power in an increasingly “multipolar” world. …

There is a common misconception that the military has enjoyed ballooning budgets since the beginning of the decade. In reality, the baseline defense budget (not including the costs of the-wars) grew from only 3 to 3.5 percent of GDP from the end of the Clinton administration to the time George W. Bush left office, delaying modernization and procurement efforts across all the armed services. “Going to war with the army you have,” to paraphrase former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, has exacerbated this problem, gobbling up the remaining service life of older systems; nine-plus years of war have only increased this “modernization deficit.” Further reductions, on top of the more than $300 billion Secretary Gates has already cut in proposed procurement of new weapon systems, will dangerously erode the technological edge that America’s armed forces depend upon, and deserve.

The frenzy to cut defense spending is in reality an entirely political ploy: to get liberals on board with cuts in massive entitlement and discretionary spending, fiscal hawks are willing to throw defense spending into the mix. But this ignores the real and multiplying threats we face, especially under a president whose reticence seems only to have whetted the appetites of aggressive regimes.

The result of the lower-defense-spending fetish is that the way we have traditionally looked at defense spending and national security has been reversed. Presidents of both parties have attempted to assess the threats we face and from that determine what expenditures we need. It is imperfect at best, since congressmen and senators are not shy about asking for goodies for their districts and states. But at least the effort is made to gear spending to national security needs. But in the rush to cut defense spending, this process is reversed: we are told by liberal Democrats, conservative neo-isolationists, and budget hawks that because of the need to cut spending, we need to reassess our national security commitments. It is quite frankly a non sequitur. Al-Qaeda, North Korea, Iran, and the rest are only growing bolder. If the defense cutters were honest, they’d say they are willing to make us less safe to get liberals to accept domestic spending cuts. But that sounds daft. And it is.

As the 2012 GOP presidential contenders scramble for visibility, they would do well to take on this issue — and those who think that in an increasingly dangerous world we should be spending less to defend ourselves.

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In North Korea, a Lesson on Iran

Here’s a sobering paragraph from a New York Times report on North Korea:

When North Korea set off a nuclear test last year just months after Mr. Obama took office, the United States won passage of a United Nations Security Council resolution that imposed far harsher sanctions. The sanctions gave countries the right, and responsibility, to board North Korean ships and planes that landed at ports around the world and to inspect them for weapons. The effort seemed partly successful — but the equipment in the centrifuge plant is so new that it is clear that the trade restrictions did not stop the North from building what Siegfried S. Hecker, the visiting scientist, called an “ultramodern” nuclear complex.

We should keep this in mind when considering the prospect of “biting sanctions” on Iran. North Korea is a starved and isolated gulag state run by a family of delusional paranoids, and it managed to find willing international nuclear collaborators and elude the eyes of an international sanctions regime. Iran boasts of trading partners around the globe, and its regional rise incentivizes still more alliances and state-clients. If the malfunctional Kim regime can evade the kind of intrusive sanctions that were slapped on Pyongyang, what hope is there that Tehran will break under the weight of inconsistent trade and banking embargoes?

Here’s a sobering paragraph from a New York Times report on North Korea:

When North Korea set off a nuclear test last year just months after Mr. Obama took office, the United States won passage of a United Nations Security Council resolution that imposed far harsher sanctions. The sanctions gave countries the right, and responsibility, to board North Korean ships and planes that landed at ports around the world and to inspect them for weapons. The effort seemed partly successful — but the equipment in the centrifuge plant is so new that it is clear that the trade restrictions did not stop the North from building what Siegfried S. Hecker, the visiting scientist, called an “ultramodern” nuclear complex.

We should keep this in mind when considering the prospect of “biting sanctions” on Iran. North Korea is a starved and isolated gulag state run by a family of delusional paranoids, and it managed to find willing international nuclear collaborators and elude the eyes of an international sanctions regime. Iran boasts of trading partners around the globe, and its regional rise incentivizes still more alliances and state-clients. If the malfunctional Kim regime can evade the kind of intrusive sanctions that were slapped on Pyongyang, what hope is there that Tehran will break under the weight of inconsistent trade and banking embargoes?

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Now THIS Is a Motion

A genuinely delightful moment at the bar, courtesy of a lawyer named Bennett Epstein and Judge Kimba Wood of the Southern District of New York (hat tip: Jennifer Courtian Troy):

November 17,2010

Hon. Kimba M. Wood
Re: United States v. Lacey, et aI.

Dear Judge Wood:

I represent Mark Barnett in the above matter, which is scheduled for trial beginning November 29th. Please consider this letter as an application in limine for a brief recess in the  middle of the trial on the grounds known (perhaps not now, but hereafter) as a “writ of possible simcha.”*

The facts are as follows: My beautiful daughter, Eva, married and with a doctorate no less, and her husband, Ira Greenberg (we like him, too) live in Philadelphia and are expecting their first child on December 3rd, tfu tfu tfu.** They do not know whether it will be a boy or a girl, although from the oval shape of Eva’s tummy, many of the friends and family are betting male (which I think is a mere bubbameiseh*** but secretly hope is true).

Should the child be a girl. not much will happen in the way of public celebration. Some may even be disappointed, but will do their best to conceal this by saying, “as long as it’s a healthy baby.” healthy baby”. My wife will run to Philly immediately, but I will probably be able wait until the next weekend. There will be happiness, though muted, and this application will be mooted as well.

However, should the baby be a boy, then hoo hah****! Hordes of friends and family will arrive from around the globe and descend on Philadelphia for the joyous celebration mandated by the halacha***** to take place during daylight hours on the eighth day, known as the bris******. The eighth day after December 3rd could be right in the middle of the trial. My presence at the bris is not strictly commanded, although my absence will never be forgotten by those that matter.

So please consider this an application for maybe, tfu tfu tfu, a day off during the trial, if the foregoing occurs on a weekday. I will let the Court (and the rest of the world) know as soon as I do, and promise to bring pictures.

Very truly yours,

* Yiddish (and Hebrew) for “celebration of a happy event.”

**Another Yiddishisrn, found in other cultures as well. that requires we spit to ward off the “evil eye” when discussing an upcoming simcha.

***As you may have already guessed, Yiddish for “old wives tale”. A “mere bubbameiseh” is somewhat less reliable.

**** Yiddish for “a big fuss”.

*****Jewish law (citation omitted).

******Hebrew for “covenant”, for the Covenant of Abraham, i.e, ritual circumcision, joyous to everyone except, apparently, the baby.

Wood’s handwritten response:

Wood

A genuinely delightful moment at the bar, courtesy of a lawyer named Bennett Epstein and Judge Kimba Wood of the Southern District of New York (hat tip: Jennifer Courtian Troy):

November 17,2010

Hon. Kimba M. Wood
Re: United States v. Lacey, et aI.

Dear Judge Wood:

I represent Mark Barnett in the above matter, which is scheduled for trial beginning November 29th. Please consider this letter as an application in limine for a brief recess in the  middle of the trial on the grounds known (perhaps not now, but hereafter) as a “writ of possible simcha.”*

The facts are as follows: My beautiful daughter, Eva, married and with a doctorate no less, and her husband, Ira Greenberg (we like him, too) live in Philadelphia and are expecting their first child on December 3rd, tfu tfu tfu.** They do not know whether it will be a boy or a girl, although from the oval shape of Eva’s tummy, many of the friends and family are betting male (which I think is a mere bubbameiseh*** but secretly hope is true).

Should the child be a girl. not much will happen in the way of public celebration. Some may even be disappointed, but will do their best to conceal this by saying, “as long as it’s a healthy baby.” healthy baby”. My wife will run to Philly immediately, but I will probably be able wait until the next weekend. There will be happiness, though muted, and this application will be mooted as well.

However, should the baby be a boy, then hoo hah****! Hordes of friends and family will arrive from around the globe and descend on Philadelphia for the joyous celebration mandated by the halacha***** to take place during daylight hours on the eighth day, known as the bris******. The eighth day after December 3rd could be right in the middle of the trial. My presence at the bris is not strictly commanded, although my absence will never be forgotten by those that matter.

So please consider this an application for maybe, tfu tfu tfu, a day off during the trial, if the foregoing occurs on a weekday. I will let the Court (and the rest of the world) know as soon as I do, and promise to bring pictures.

Very truly yours,

* Yiddish (and Hebrew) for “celebration of a happy event.”

**Another Yiddishisrn, found in other cultures as well. that requires we spit to ward off the “evil eye” when discussing an upcoming simcha.

***As you may have already guessed, Yiddish for “old wives tale”. A “mere bubbameiseh” is somewhat less reliable.

**** Yiddish for “a big fuss”.

*****Jewish law (citation omitted).

******Hebrew for “covenant”, for the Covenant of Abraham, i.e, ritual circumcision, joyous to everyone except, apparently, the baby.

Wood’s handwritten response:

Wood

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RE: North Korea–Obama Sends a Stern Letter to the Editor

John, you’re being too hard on the president. He’s only writing the letter to the editor because Kim Jong-il refused to have a beer summit with him. I’m quite sure that had President Obama fulfilled his debate promise to have a little chit-chat with Kim, Ahmadinejad, and the Castro brothers, the former two would have abandoned their nuclear-weapons programs and Cuba would be libre today.

John, you’re being too hard on the president. He’s only writing the letter to the editor because Kim Jong-il refused to have a beer summit with him. I’m quite sure that had President Obama fulfilled his debate promise to have a little chit-chat with Kim, Ahmadinejad, and the Castro brothers, the former two would have abandoned their nuclear-weapons programs and Cuba would be libre today.

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Could 2012 Be Worse?

As we’ve noted, 2012 may be another perilous outing for Democratic incumbent congressmen and senators. The number of Democratic senators on the ballot in the next cycle (23, including the two independents who caucus with the Dems) and their location in many Red States that in a presidential year will likely have some help from the top of the ticket suggests some opportunities for the GOP. Public Policy Polling zeroes in on one example:

One of the most interesting findings on our Montana poll was Max Baucus’ extremely low level of popularity in the state. Only 38% of voters expressed support for his job performance while 53% disapproved. At this point pretty much all of his support from Republicans has evaporated with only 13% approving of him and although his numbers with Democrats aren’t bad at 70/21, they’re not nearly as strong as Jon Tester’s which are 87/6.

Baucus’ plight is similar to that of a number of other Senators who tried to have it both ways on health care, watering down the bill but still voting for it in the end.

That is a nice way of saying that while they posed as “moderate” Democrats, they voted like liberals. Baucus isn’t up for re-election until 2014, but there are a batch like him who face the voters in 2012: Jon Tester, Bill Nelson, Jim Webb, Claire McCaskill, Ben Nelson, Sherrod Brown, and Kent Conrad, for starters. That’s a total of seven Democrats who voted for (were all the 60th vote for) ObamaCare, supported the stimulus plan, and come from states (Montana, Florida, Virginia, Missouri, Nebraska, Ohio, and North Dakota) that are quite likely to vote for a Republican for president. And the way things are going, you might add Bob Casey (Pennsylvania) and Herb Kohl (Wisconsin), who may have gone too far left in their states.

That’s an awful lot of states in the mix. The most immediate impact of this may be a higher degree of independence from the White House and the Obama agenda than these Democrats demonstrated in the first two years of Obama’s term. That suggests some openings for bipartisan action by the Republicans and the vulnerable Democrats. Bush tax cuts? Spending restraint? Yes, these issues and much more.

As we’ve noted, 2012 may be another perilous outing for Democratic incumbent congressmen and senators. The number of Democratic senators on the ballot in the next cycle (23, including the two independents who caucus with the Dems) and their location in many Red States that in a presidential year will likely have some help from the top of the ticket suggests some opportunities for the GOP. Public Policy Polling zeroes in on one example:

One of the most interesting findings on our Montana poll was Max Baucus’ extremely low level of popularity in the state. Only 38% of voters expressed support for his job performance while 53% disapproved. At this point pretty much all of his support from Republicans has evaporated with only 13% approving of him and although his numbers with Democrats aren’t bad at 70/21, they’re not nearly as strong as Jon Tester’s which are 87/6.

Baucus’ plight is similar to that of a number of other Senators who tried to have it both ways on health care, watering down the bill but still voting for it in the end.

That is a nice way of saying that while they posed as “moderate” Democrats, they voted like liberals. Baucus isn’t up for re-election until 2014, but there are a batch like him who face the voters in 2012: Jon Tester, Bill Nelson, Jim Webb, Claire McCaskill, Ben Nelson, Sherrod Brown, and Kent Conrad, for starters. That’s a total of seven Democrats who voted for (were all the 60th vote for) ObamaCare, supported the stimulus plan, and come from states (Montana, Florida, Virginia, Missouri, Nebraska, Ohio, and North Dakota) that are quite likely to vote for a Republican for president. And the way things are going, you might add Bob Casey (Pennsylvania) and Herb Kohl (Wisconsin), who may have gone too far left in their states.

That’s an awful lot of states in the mix. The most immediate impact of this may be a higher degree of independence from the White House and the Obama agenda than these Democrats demonstrated in the first two years of Obama’s term. That suggests some openings for bipartisan action by the Republicans and the vulnerable Democrats. Bush tax cuts? Spending restraint? Yes, these issues and much more.

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The Public Be Damned

Jonathan noted yesterday that foreign critics are outraged by Israel’s passage of a law this week mandating referenda on certain types of territorial concessions. But their outrage doesn’t hold a candle to that of Israel’s own left.

In today’s editorial, for instance, Haaretz complained bitterly that “the public is being given veto power over crucial decisions on foreign policy and security issues.” By “handcuffing the political leadership’s moves in the peace process,” it charged, Israel is spitting in the world’s face.

Labor Party chairman and Defense Minister Ehud Barak similarly complained that “this is not a good law,” because the world will think “Israel is rejecting peace and is handcuffing itself to avoid progress in the diplomatic process.”

These arguments are mind-boggling. First, why should anyone in the democratic world object to giving the public a say in “crucial decisions on foreign policy and security”? Haaretz’s editors would evidently prefer a dictatorship of Plato’s philosopher-king, with themselves on the throne. But democracies are supposed to give the public a say in crucial decisions.

That’s why Britain, for instance, held a referendum on joining the European Economic Community, while France held one on leaving Algeria. In the U.S., this goal is achieved by requiring treaties to be ratified by a two-thirds Senate majority, which is unachievable without significant bipartisan consensus.

But the even more shocking assumption behind these plaints is that, given a choice, the public would reject any deal likely to be signed — yet the government should sign it anyway, and the public be damned.

Like Jonathan, I think Israelis would in fact support any reasonable agreement. But no reasonable agreement would ever be brought to a referendum, because the law requires a referendum only if an agreement doesn’t pass the Knesset by a two-thirds majority. And any reasonable agreement would easily surpass this threshold.

The history of Israeli diplomatic agreements amply proves this point. The treaties with both Egypt and Jordan did pass the Knesset by a two-thirds majority, and both, despite producing a colder peace than Israelis hoped, have stood the test of time. In contrast, not a single agreement with the Palestinians ever came close to achieving a two-thirds majority — and every single one has proved a bloody failure.

Nor is this mere coincidence. The Jordanian and Egyptian treaties won sweeping majorities because both countries’ leaders had proved their commitment to peace: Anwar Sadat by his dramatic visit to the Knesset, in defiance of the pan-Arab boycott on Israel, and Jordan’s King Hussein by decades of quiet security cooperation. And both treaties succeeded because these leaders truly wanted peace.

The Palestinian agreements won only narrow majorities because many Israelis weren’t convinced that the Palestinians wanted peace. And these agreements failed because this skepticism proved well-founded.

Thus the referendum law won’t prevent any deal actually worth signing. Nor will it prevent another bad deal on the West Bank, since it applies only to territory annexed by Israel. But it will at least prevent a bad deal over East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights. And therefore, its passage is genuine cause for rejoicing.

Jonathan noted yesterday that foreign critics are outraged by Israel’s passage of a law this week mandating referenda on certain types of territorial concessions. But their outrage doesn’t hold a candle to that of Israel’s own left.

In today’s editorial, for instance, Haaretz complained bitterly that “the public is being given veto power over crucial decisions on foreign policy and security issues.” By “handcuffing the political leadership’s moves in the peace process,” it charged, Israel is spitting in the world’s face.

Labor Party chairman and Defense Minister Ehud Barak similarly complained that “this is not a good law,” because the world will think “Israel is rejecting peace and is handcuffing itself to avoid progress in the diplomatic process.”

These arguments are mind-boggling. First, why should anyone in the democratic world object to giving the public a say in “crucial decisions on foreign policy and security”? Haaretz’s editors would evidently prefer a dictatorship of Plato’s philosopher-king, with themselves on the throne. But democracies are supposed to give the public a say in crucial decisions.

That’s why Britain, for instance, held a referendum on joining the European Economic Community, while France held one on leaving Algeria. In the U.S., this goal is achieved by requiring treaties to be ratified by a two-thirds Senate majority, which is unachievable without significant bipartisan consensus.

But the even more shocking assumption behind these plaints is that, given a choice, the public would reject any deal likely to be signed — yet the government should sign it anyway, and the public be damned.

Like Jonathan, I think Israelis would in fact support any reasonable agreement. But no reasonable agreement would ever be brought to a referendum, because the law requires a referendum only if an agreement doesn’t pass the Knesset by a two-thirds majority. And any reasonable agreement would easily surpass this threshold.

The history of Israeli diplomatic agreements amply proves this point. The treaties with both Egypt and Jordan did pass the Knesset by a two-thirds majority, and both, despite producing a colder peace than Israelis hoped, have stood the test of time. In contrast, not a single agreement with the Palestinians ever came close to achieving a two-thirds majority — and every single one has proved a bloody failure.

Nor is this mere coincidence. The Jordanian and Egyptian treaties won sweeping majorities because both countries’ leaders had proved their commitment to peace: Anwar Sadat by his dramatic visit to the Knesset, in defiance of the pan-Arab boycott on Israel, and Jordan’s King Hussein by decades of quiet security cooperation. And both treaties succeeded because these leaders truly wanted peace.

The Palestinian agreements won only narrow majorities because many Israelis weren’t convinced that the Palestinians wanted peace. And these agreements failed because this skepticism proved well-founded.

Thus the referendum law won’t prevent any deal actually worth signing. Nor will it prevent another bad deal on the West Bank, since it applies only to territory annexed by Israel. But it will at least prevent a bad deal over East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights. And therefore, its passage is genuine cause for rejoicing.

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The Fed Writes What May Be Obama’s Obituary

Yesterday came the news that the Federal Reserve expects unemployment to hover around 9 percent throughout 2011 and possibly decline to 8 percent by the end of 2012. It’s worth noting that we don’t have much reason to trust that the Federal Reserve knows anything about anything these days. The prognosticative skills of its officials and reports have proved scandalously poor over the past few years, just as its policies have suggested exactly the kind of inconstancy, desperation, and politicization that the Federal Reserve system was designed to avoid.

So with those caveats, which are substantial, we can still be assured of one thing: if unemployment is that high in 2012, Barack Obama will not win a second term. Democrats can intone the words “Sarah Palin” all they want as a desperate hope for salvation from Republican rule. But the simple fact of the matter is that if we enter into a fourth year of unemployment at levels unseen except for periods of a few months since the 1930s — after spending somewhere north of $1 trillion to try to bring the number down and with the Fed printing as much as $2 trillion to pump up growth — any Republican, and I mean any Republican, who can get the nomination will win.

Indeed, if unemployment is higher than the Fed now is expecting at the beginning of 2012, I think it’s entirely possible that Obama would not run for a second term. Continued parlous economic news through 2011 will surely create the condition for a serious primary challenger, as I talk about in my lead article in COMMENTARY’s December issue, as will continued trouble in Afghanistan.

One reason for the depth of the difficulty here is the degree to which the United States remains a consumer-driven economy. If a tenth of the country has little or no disposable income, that limits the possibilities for economic growth and a roaring recovery. Even worse, the psychic effect of years of bad economic news depresses consumer spending in every sector.

And the uncertainty created by the current political-economic climate, in which no one knows what will happen to tax rates and what will happen to health-care plans and what will happen to housing, contributes to the worries of small businesses (traditionally the engines of job growth, especially at the tail end of a downturn) about taking on new workers.

It’s a dangerous loop. So now, having to invest hope in the Fed’s newest round of quantitative easing working in his favor, Obama must simultaneously pray that the Fed is wrong about all that other stuff. Even if it is, he’s going to have a tough road ahead.

Yesterday came the news that the Federal Reserve expects unemployment to hover around 9 percent throughout 2011 and possibly decline to 8 percent by the end of 2012. It’s worth noting that we don’t have much reason to trust that the Federal Reserve knows anything about anything these days. The prognosticative skills of its officials and reports have proved scandalously poor over the past few years, just as its policies have suggested exactly the kind of inconstancy, desperation, and politicization that the Federal Reserve system was designed to avoid.

So with those caveats, which are substantial, we can still be assured of one thing: if unemployment is that high in 2012, Barack Obama will not win a second term. Democrats can intone the words “Sarah Palin” all they want as a desperate hope for salvation from Republican rule. But the simple fact of the matter is that if we enter into a fourth year of unemployment at levels unseen except for periods of a few months since the 1930s — after spending somewhere north of $1 trillion to try to bring the number down and with the Fed printing as much as $2 trillion to pump up growth — any Republican, and I mean any Republican, who can get the nomination will win.

Indeed, if unemployment is higher than the Fed now is expecting at the beginning of 2012, I think it’s entirely possible that Obama would not run for a second term. Continued parlous economic news through 2011 will surely create the condition for a serious primary challenger, as I talk about in my lead article in COMMENTARY’s December issue, as will continued trouble in Afghanistan.

One reason for the depth of the difficulty here is the degree to which the United States remains a consumer-driven economy. If a tenth of the country has little or no disposable income, that limits the possibilities for economic growth and a roaring recovery. Even worse, the psychic effect of years of bad economic news depresses consumer spending in every sector.

And the uncertainty created by the current political-economic climate, in which no one knows what will happen to tax rates and what will happen to health-care plans and what will happen to housing, contributes to the worries of small businesses (traditionally the engines of job growth, especially at the tail end of a downturn) about taking on new workers.

It’s a dangerous loop. So now, having to invest hope in the Fed’s newest round of quantitative easing working in his favor, Obama must simultaneously pray that the Fed is wrong about all that other stuff. Even if it is, he’s going to have a tough road ahead.

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Pence Raises His Profile

We had the Mitch Daniels flutter. Then it was the John Thune ripple (if you missed it, don’t worry — most of the country did). Now we are seeing some signs that Mike Pence is seriously considering a 2102 presidential run — and that movement conservatives are seriously looking him over. In my e-mail in-box I have word that “U.S. Congressman Mike Pence will give a major economic speech to members of the Detroit Economic Club on Monday, November 29th.”

There is this profile:

Pence identifies himself as a fiscal and social conservative and has the voting record to prove it. Elected in 2000, when compassionate conservatism was trendy, he has never been afraid to play the Grinch, voting against big-spending initiatives such as No Child Left Behind, Medicare Part D, and TARP. Pence has displayed the same kind of consistency on social issues, establishing a solidly pro-life record over the last decade.

That will likely pass muster with the Tea Party crowd. And unlike Daniels, who has already alarmed social conservatives, value voters are rather comfortable with him:

“When I travel around the country,” says Gary Bauer, president of the social-conservative organization American Values, “conservative audiences seem to feel that they would love to see someone new emerge who had the sort of Reaganesque qualities that are so effective in American politics. I can imagine easily a scenario where Mike Pence could get traction and end up emerging as the candidate.”

The conventional wisdom is that a House member can’t win the presidency. I don’t buy that — the conventional wisdom also told us that Hillary Clinton would win and that a newly elected senator with no executive or foreign policy experience couldn’t be elected. As I’ve said several times, forget the election rulebook.

In a crowded field with no clear-cut front-runner, a candidate with a solid conservative record can, if he picks his spots, “break out” of the pack. A debate, a YouTube moment, or a face-off with the president can elevate a candidate like Pence. The greatest challenge he faces, I would argue, is to differentiate himself from the other, traditional Republicans (e.g., Mitt Romney, John Thune, Mitch Daniels). Why him and not one of them?

The challenge, I would argue, for the GOP is to find a Tea Party–friendly figure who is still capable of expanding the base and capturing key independent voters. There aren’t many contenders who fit that bill — Chris Christie and Paul Ryan may be the most widely discussed among GOP activists and serious conservative wonks. But Pence, if he runs a smart race and can break through the clutter, might make it into that category. We’ll find out in the next few months how serious — and effective — he is convincing both Tea Party activists and mainstream Republicans that he can fuse the two wings of the GOP.

We had the Mitch Daniels flutter. Then it was the John Thune ripple (if you missed it, don’t worry — most of the country did). Now we are seeing some signs that Mike Pence is seriously considering a 2102 presidential run — and that movement conservatives are seriously looking him over. In my e-mail in-box I have word that “U.S. Congressman Mike Pence will give a major economic speech to members of the Detroit Economic Club on Monday, November 29th.”

There is this profile:

Pence identifies himself as a fiscal and social conservative and has the voting record to prove it. Elected in 2000, when compassionate conservatism was trendy, he has never been afraid to play the Grinch, voting against big-spending initiatives such as No Child Left Behind, Medicare Part D, and TARP. Pence has displayed the same kind of consistency on social issues, establishing a solidly pro-life record over the last decade.

That will likely pass muster with the Tea Party crowd. And unlike Daniels, who has already alarmed social conservatives, value voters are rather comfortable with him:

“When I travel around the country,” says Gary Bauer, president of the social-conservative organization American Values, “conservative audiences seem to feel that they would love to see someone new emerge who had the sort of Reaganesque qualities that are so effective in American politics. I can imagine easily a scenario where Mike Pence could get traction and end up emerging as the candidate.”

The conventional wisdom is that a House member can’t win the presidency. I don’t buy that — the conventional wisdom also told us that Hillary Clinton would win and that a newly elected senator with no executive or foreign policy experience couldn’t be elected. As I’ve said several times, forget the election rulebook.

In a crowded field with no clear-cut front-runner, a candidate with a solid conservative record can, if he picks his spots, “break out” of the pack. A debate, a YouTube moment, or a face-off with the president can elevate a candidate like Pence. The greatest challenge he faces, I would argue, is to differentiate himself from the other, traditional Republicans (e.g., Mitt Romney, John Thune, Mitch Daniels). Why him and not one of them?

The challenge, I would argue, for the GOP is to find a Tea Party–friendly figure who is still capable of expanding the base and capturing key independent voters. There aren’t many contenders who fit that bill — Chris Christie and Paul Ryan may be the most widely discussed among GOP activists and serious conservative wonks. But Pence, if he runs a smart race and can break through the clutter, might make it into that category. We’ll find out in the next few months how serious — and effective — he is convincing both Tea Party activists and mainstream Republicans that he can fuse the two wings of the GOP.

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Liberal Jews for New START

The Obama administration’s struggle to push forward on ratification of New START is becoming more wacky by the day. Now it has roused Jewish groups with a bizarre linkage argument:

While the White House continues to negotiate with Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ) in an attempt to convince him to allow a vote on the New START treaty this year, it is also undertaking a massive effort behind the scenes to rally foreign governments and non-governmental organizations to support the treaty’s ratification and put public pressure on Republicans to yield.

As part of that effort, the White House has been in contact with pro-Israel and pro-Jewish organizations, encouraging them to be vocal about their support for the New START treaty, and warning them that the failure of the treaty could have negative implications for the drive to halt Iran’s nuclear program.

This would make more sense, I suppose, if we hadn’t “paid” for reset in so many other ways (e.g., silence on human rights abuses) or if Russia had been more helpful on Iran (refraining from helping to build and activate the Bushehr plant). But the ever-gullible liberal Jewish groups are more than happy to accommodate: “Over the last three days, three major pro-Israel organizations issued strong statements of support for New START: the National Jewish Democratic Council (NJDC), the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), and the American Council for World Jewry (ACWJ).”

Who’s missing from this? AIPAC, the largest and most prominent Jewish group when it comes to influencing Congress. AIPAC has wisely decided not to fritter away its credibility on an issue that has nothing to do with Israel. Nor is the Israeli government, already risking its credibility with the planes-for-a-freeze gambit, about to facilitate this maneuver:

“We have no position on the treaty. We are staying above the political discussion in Washington,” one Israeli official told The Cable. The official could not confirm rumors we’ve heard that the administration asked Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren to speak out, but that Oren declined. Recently, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak has been strengthening ties with Russia, even saying in September, “Our views on many challenges of today are close or identical.”

Playing the Jewish card tells us two things. First, most liberal Jews and the organizations that reflect their views are a long way from breaking the “sick addiction” to this president and to the Democratic Party more generally. And second, the Obama administration is frantic to pass the treaty and pass it now. The more it tries, the more the GOP senators with real concerns may wonder: why the rush? Why shouldn’t the new senators get a chance to weigh in?

The Obama administration’s struggle to push forward on ratification of New START is becoming more wacky by the day. Now it has roused Jewish groups with a bizarre linkage argument:

While the White House continues to negotiate with Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ) in an attempt to convince him to allow a vote on the New START treaty this year, it is also undertaking a massive effort behind the scenes to rally foreign governments and non-governmental organizations to support the treaty’s ratification and put public pressure on Republicans to yield.

As part of that effort, the White House has been in contact with pro-Israel and pro-Jewish organizations, encouraging them to be vocal about their support for the New START treaty, and warning them that the failure of the treaty could have negative implications for the drive to halt Iran’s nuclear program.

This would make more sense, I suppose, if we hadn’t “paid” for reset in so many other ways (e.g., silence on human rights abuses) or if Russia had been more helpful on Iran (refraining from helping to build and activate the Bushehr plant). But the ever-gullible liberal Jewish groups are more than happy to accommodate: “Over the last three days, three major pro-Israel organizations issued strong statements of support for New START: the National Jewish Democratic Council (NJDC), the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), and the American Council for World Jewry (ACWJ).”

Who’s missing from this? AIPAC, the largest and most prominent Jewish group when it comes to influencing Congress. AIPAC has wisely decided not to fritter away its credibility on an issue that has nothing to do with Israel. Nor is the Israeli government, already risking its credibility with the planes-for-a-freeze gambit, about to facilitate this maneuver:

“We have no position on the treaty. We are staying above the political discussion in Washington,” one Israeli official told The Cable. The official could not confirm rumors we’ve heard that the administration asked Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren to speak out, but that Oren declined. Recently, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak has been strengthening ties with Russia, even saying in September, “Our views on many challenges of today are close or identical.”

Playing the Jewish card tells us two things. First, most liberal Jews and the organizations that reflect their views are a long way from breaking the “sick addiction” to this president and to the Democratic Party more generally. And second, the Obama administration is frantic to pass the treaty and pass it now. The more it tries, the more the GOP senators with real concerns may wonder: why the rush? Why shouldn’t the new senators get a chance to weigh in?

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North Korea — Obama Sends a Stern Letter to the Editor

William F. Buckley Jr. told a great anecdote about an English couple in the South of France outraged because they received terrible service at the local inn. “Je vais ecrire une lettre fache a The Times,” said the enraged Briton — I’m going to write an stern letter to The Times. The purest expression of impotent provincialism. And here we are, with North Korea yet again, and the president is doing exactly the equivalent of threatening to send a stern letter to The Times — expressing outrage, declaring we stand with South Korea … and resuming talks with the North. UPDATE: Oh, and we’re sending a carrier group. That’s always terrifying.

William F. Buckley Jr. told a great anecdote about an English couple in the South of France outraged because they received terrible service at the local inn. “Je vais ecrire une lettre fache a The Times,” said the enraged Briton — I’m going to write an stern letter to The Times. The purest expression of impotent provincialism. And here we are, with North Korea yet again, and the president is doing exactly the equivalent of threatening to send a stern letter to The Times — expressing outrage, declaring we stand with South Korea … and resuming talks with the North. UPDATE: Oh, and we’re sending a carrier group. That’s always terrifying.

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A Refreshing Change

It’s too early to declare a trend. But the near-simultaneous publication of calls for an Arab gesture toward Israel from two unlikely sources — president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations Leslie Gelb and Haaretz columnist Akiva Eldar — represents a refreshing change from the usual discourse about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, in which only Israel is ever expected to give.

Gelb served as assistant secretary of state under Jimmy Carter and spent years as a New York Times correspondent. One would expect someone with that resume to be reflexively pro-Palestinian, and indeed, in a Daily Beast article on Sunday, he opposed an emerging U.S.-Israeli deal on a settlement freeze for being “overly generous” and reducing American leverage over Israel.

But that makes the article’s conclusion, which Jennifer quoted at length yesterday, all the more stunning. What is needed to promote peace, he said, is a “dramatic step” by Palestinian leaders: Mahmoud Abbas and Salam Fayyad should emulate Anwar Sadat and go to the Knesset and “pledge acceptance of ‘a Jewish state of Israel.’”

Eldar’s column on Monday was perhaps even more shocking. I’ve read hundreds of Eldar columns in recent years, and they have one unchanging theme: the absence of peace is 100 percent Israel’s fault. But in this one, for the first time I can remember, he attacked Arab leaders for “treating dialogue with Israeli society as part of ‘normalization’ — the ‘fruits of peace’ that the Israelis will get to taste only after they pledge to withdraw from all the territories,” instead of understanding, as Sadat did, that the risks of withdrawal won’t seem worth taking unless Israelis are assured of peace beforehand. And he concluded:

Indeed, what would happen if [Egyptian] President Hosni Mubarak, Jordanian King Abdullah and Saudi King Abdullah, together with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, laid a wreath at Yad Vashem, and promised from the Knesset rostrum, “No more war”? That would be much easier for them than what Israel is being asked to do: evacuate tens of thousands of people from the settlements and divide Jerusalem.

It seems like common sense: surely a mere statement is easier than evacuating tens of thousands of fellow citizens. Moreover, as Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman noted this week, if the Palestinians are really so desperate for a state, then it’s hard to understand why Israel is the one constantly being asked to “pay another additional price for the joy of conducting negotiations” aimed at giving them one.

But of course, if the world began demanding gestures from the Palestinians or the Saudis, the inevitable refusal might finally force it to confront the truth: both are still unwilling to recognize the Jewish state’s right to exist. That’s why Abbas, Fayyad, and Saudi Arabia’s Abdullah never will come to the Knesset to make the statements Gelb and Eldar suggest. And that’s why most of the international community, unwilling to give up its delusions of peace, will never ask it of them.

It’s too early to declare a trend. But the near-simultaneous publication of calls for an Arab gesture toward Israel from two unlikely sources — president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations Leslie Gelb and Haaretz columnist Akiva Eldar — represents a refreshing change from the usual discourse about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, in which only Israel is ever expected to give.

Gelb served as assistant secretary of state under Jimmy Carter and spent years as a New York Times correspondent. One would expect someone with that resume to be reflexively pro-Palestinian, and indeed, in a Daily Beast article on Sunday, he opposed an emerging U.S.-Israeli deal on a settlement freeze for being “overly generous” and reducing American leverage over Israel.

But that makes the article’s conclusion, which Jennifer quoted at length yesterday, all the more stunning. What is needed to promote peace, he said, is a “dramatic step” by Palestinian leaders: Mahmoud Abbas and Salam Fayyad should emulate Anwar Sadat and go to the Knesset and “pledge acceptance of ‘a Jewish state of Israel.’”

Eldar’s column on Monday was perhaps even more shocking. I’ve read hundreds of Eldar columns in recent years, and they have one unchanging theme: the absence of peace is 100 percent Israel’s fault. But in this one, for the first time I can remember, he attacked Arab leaders for “treating dialogue with Israeli society as part of ‘normalization’ — the ‘fruits of peace’ that the Israelis will get to taste only after they pledge to withdraw from all the territories,” instead of understanding, as Sadat did, that the risks of withdrawal won’t seem worth taking unless Israelis are assured of peace beforehand. And he concluded:

Indeed, what would happen if [Egyptian] President Hosni Mubarak, Jordanian King Abdullah and Saudi King Abdullah, together with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, laid a wreath at Yad Vashem, and promised from the Knesset rostrum, “No more war”? That would be much easier for them than what Israel is being asked to do: evacuate tens of thousands of people from the settlements and divide Jerusalem.

It seems like common sense: surely a mere statement is easier than evacuating tens of thousands of fellow citizens. Moreover, as Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman noted this week, if the Palestinians are really so desperate for a state, then it’s hard to understand why Israel is the one constantly being asked to “pay another additional price for the joy of conducting negotiations” aimed at giving them one.

But of course, if the world began demanding gestures from the Palestinians or the Saudis, the inevitable refusal might finally force it to confront the truth: both are still unwilling to recognize the Jewish state’s right to exist. That’s why Abbas, Fayyad, and Saudi Arabia’s Abdullah never will come to the Knesset to make the statements Gelb and Eldar suggest. And that’s why most of the international community, unwilling to give up its delusions of peace, will never ask it of them.

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The Five No’s

Jeffrey Goldberg writes wistfully about the “peace process”:

I wish the Israelis had taken serious steps to reverse the settlement process; and I wish that Hamas would go away; and I wish that the Palestinian Authority didn’t argue that the Jews have no connection to the Western Wall (talk about unhelpful!).

There is not much one can do about Goldberg’s latter two wishes. Hamas is not going to go away (even though the Palestinian Authority promised to dismantle it as part of Phase I of the Roadmap); Hamas controls half the putative Palestinian state – and the Palestinians elected it to control their legislature. Elections that might reverse that are not going to happen any time soon, if ever.

Nor is it possible to do anything about Goldberg’s third wish. The PA’s argument that Jews have no connection to the Western Wall is not a new one; it is the argument Yasir Arafat made directly to Bill Clinton in the Oval Office on January 2, 2001, while rejecting the Clinton Parameters. Ten years of unhelpful! The PA’s Ministry of Information “study” posted on its website this week announces that “no Muslim or Arab or Palestinian had the right to give up one stone” of the Wall. So this too is not going to change any time soon, if ever.

But at least Goldberg’s first wish came true: while Hamas was consolidating its power and the PA was asserting that there was no Jewish connection to the Western Wall, Israel took five serious steps to reverse the settlement process:

  1. At Camp David in July 2000, Israel offered the PA a state on substantially all the West Bank and Gaza, which would have required the dismantlement of all settlements other than those adjacent to Jerusalem and/or necessary for defensible borders.
  2. In December 2000, Israel accepted the Clinton Parameters, which would have required the dismantlement of even more settlements.
  3. In 2005, Israel dismantled all 21 settlements in Gaza, giving the Palestinians the opportunity to “live side by side in peace and security”™ with Israel.
  4. In 2008, Israel made another offer of a state to the PA on all the West Bank (after land swaps) and Gaza, demonstrating again that it would dismantle settlements for peace.
  5. In 2009, Israel declared a 10-month moratorium on West Bank settlement-building to meet the Palestinian precondition to negotiations for still another offer of a state.

Five serious steps, five Palestinian rejections.

I would re-phrase Goldberg’s first wish as “I wish the PA had responded to Israel’s five serious steps regarding settlements.” But the PA is not going to respond any time soon, if ever. The problem is not the settlements, or the problem would have been solved long ago. What part of five no’s do those arguing for a sixth step not understand?

Jeffrey Goldberg writes wistfully about the “peace process”:

I wish the Israelis had taken serious steps to reverse the settlement process; and I wish that Hamas would go away; and I wish that the Palestinian Authority didn’t argue that the Jews have no connection to the Western Wall (talk about unhelpful!).

There is not much one can do about Goldberg’s latter two wishes. Hamas is not going to go away (even though the Palestinian Authority promised to dismantle it as part of Phase I of the Roadmap); Hamas controls half the putative Palestinian state – and the Palestinians elected it to control their legislature. Elections that might reverse that are not going to happen any time soon, if ever.

Nor is it possible to do anything about Goldberg’s third wish. The PA’s argument that Jews have no connection to the Western Wall is not a new one; it is the argument Yasir Arafat made directly to Bill Clinton in the Oval Office on January 2, 2001, while rejecting the Clinton Parameters. Ten years of unhelpful! The PA’s Ministry of Information “study” posted on its website this week announces that “no Muslim or Arab or Palestinian had the right to give up one stone” of the Wall. So this too is not going to change any time soon, if ever.

But at least Goldberg’s first wish came true: while Hamas was consolidating its power and the PA was asserting that there was no Jewish connection to the Western Wall, Israel took five serious steps to reverse the settlement process:

  1. At Camp David in July 2000, Israel offered the PA a state on substantially all the West Bank and Gaza, which would have required the dismantlement of all settlements other than those adjacent to Jerusalem and/or necessary for defensible borders.
  2. In December 2000, Israel accepted the Clinton Parameters, which would have required the dismantlement of even more settlements.
  3. In 2005, Israel dismantled all 21 settlements in Gaza, giving the Palestinians the opportunity to “live side by side in peace and security”™ with Israel.
  4. In 2008, Israel made another offer of a state to the PA on all the West Bank (after land swaps) and Gaza, demonstrating again that it would dismantle settlements for peace.
  5. In 2009, Israel declared a 10-month moratorium on West Bank settlement-building to meet the Palestinian precondition to negotiations for still another offer of a state.

Five serious steps, five Palestinian rejections.

I would re-phrase Goldberg’s first wish as “I wish the PA had responded to Israel’s five serious steps regarding settlements.” But the PA is not going to respond any time soon, if ever. The problem is not the settlements, or the problem would have been solved long ago. What part of five no’s do those arguing for a sixth step not understand?

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North Korea Playing the U.S. — Still

Try as he might, Obama can’t escape being a wartime president and foreign-policy-crisis manager. That’s the world in which we live, and it keeps intruding into his desired agenda:

North Korea’s deadly attack on a populated South Korean island dramatically escalated the conflict between the two countries, leaving Seoul and its allies hunting for a response that would stave off more attacks but stop short of sparking war.

Artillery fire from the North came out of clear skies Tuesday afternoon and pounded an island near a disputed maritime border for more than an hour. Yeonpyeong Island’s 1,200 civilians scattered as shells exploded and homes and buildings caught fire, witnesses said, with many residents hunkering down in bomb shelters or fleeing on boats.

This act of provocation was met with tough talk, but produced more questions than answers:

The United Nations, European Union, Japan and others condemned the attack, with Russia and China calling for a cooling of tensions on the peninsula. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called Tuesday’s exchange “one of the gravest incidents since the end of the Korean War.”

President Barack Obama strongly affirmed the U.S. commitment to defend South Korea. Mr. Obama called Mr. Lee to say the U.S. stands “shoulder-to-shoulder” with the ally and would work with the international community to condemn the “outrageous” attack, the Associated Press reported.

But what do the flurry of words mean, and what is the value of a shoulder-to-shoulder commitment while South Korea’s ships are at risk and its territory is violated? One senses quite clearly that Obama is being tested. After all, what did he do when Syria violated the UN resolution? What has he done about the Russian occupation of Georgia? The proliferation of non-actions has emboldened the North Koreans, as it has all the rogue states. And now Obama has his hands full.

Before word of the attack, former ambassador and potential 2012 presidential candidate John R. Bolton wrote in reference to the newly discovered nuclear facility in Yongbyon that we’ve been “played” by North Korea ever since the Clinton administration. He does not spare the Bush administration either:

Worse, in President George W. Bush’s second term, an assertive group of deniers in the State Department and the intelligence community claimed or implied that North Korea did not have a substantial or ongoing uranium-enrichment program. They denied that the North Koreans had conceded as much in 2002 and that there was sufficient evidence of a continuing program. The intelligence community downgraded its confidence level in its earlier conclusion, not because of contradictory information but because it had not subsequently acquired significant new data. State Department negotiators scorned the idea that the North had a serious enrichment capability. …

The last thing Washington should do now is resurrect the failed six-party talks or start bilateral negotiations with the North. Instead, serious efforts need to be made with China on reunifying the Korean peninsula, a goal made ever more urgent by the clear transition of power now underway in Pyongyang as Kim Jong Il faces the actuarial tables. North Korea’s threat will only end when it does, and that day cannot come soon enough.

What is clear is that the North Koreans perceive no downside to acts of aggression against their neighbor. So long as Obama has only words in response, the barrages are not likely to end. And meanwhile, Iran and our other foes look on.

Try as he might, Obama can’t escape being a wartime president and foreign-policy-crisis manager. That’s the world in which we live, and it keeps intruding into his desired agenda:

North Korea’s deadly attack on a populated South Korean island dramatically escalated the conflict between the two countries, leaving Seoul and its allies hunting for a response that would stave off more attacks but stop short of sparking war.

Artillery fire from the North came out of clear skies Tuesday afternoon and pounded an island near a disputed maritime border for more than an hour. Yeonpyeong Island’s 1,200 civilians scattered as shells exploded and homes and buildings caught fire, witnesses said, with many residents hunkering down in bomb shelters or fleeing on boats.

This act of provocation was met with tough talk, but produced more questions than answers:

The United Nations, European Union, Japan and others condemned the attack, with Russia and China calling for a cooling of tensions on the peninsula. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called Tuesday’s exchange “one of the gravest incidents since the end of the Korean War.”

President Barack Obama strongly affirmed the U.S. commitment to defend South Korea. Mr. Obama called Mr. Lee to say the U.S. stands “shoulder-to-shoulder” with the ally and would work with the international community to condemn the “outrageous” attack, the Associated Press reported.

But what do the flurry of words mean, and what is the value of a shoulder-to-shoulder commitment while South Korea’s ships are at risk and its territory is violated? One senses quite clearly that Obama is being tested. After all, what did he do when Syria violated the UN resolution? What has he done about the Russian occupation of Georgia? The proliferation of non-actions has emboldened the North Koreans, as it has all the rogue states. And now Obama has his hands full.

Before word of the attack, former ambassador and potential 2012 presidential candidate John R. Bolton wrote in reference to the newly discovered nuclear facility in Yongbyon that we’ve been “played” by North Korea ever since the Clinton administration. He does not spare the Bush administration either:

Worse, in President George W. Bush’s second term, an assertive group of deniers in the State Department and the intelligence community claimed or implied that North Korea did not have a substantial or ongoing uranium-enrichment program. They denied that the North Koreans had conceded as much in 2002 and that there was sufficient evidence of a continuing program. The intelligence community downgraded its confidence level in its earlier conclusion, not because of contradictory information but because it had not subsequently acquired significant new data. State Department negotiators scorned the idea that the North had a serious enrichment capability. …

The last thing Washington should do now is resurrect the failed six-party talks or start bilateral negotiations with the North. Instead, serious efforts need to be made with China on reunifying the Korean peninsula, a goal made ever more urgent by the clear transition of power now underway in Pyongyang as Kim Jong Il faces the actuarial tables. North Korea’s threat will only end when it does, and that day cannot come soon enough.

What is clear is that the North Koreans perceive no downside to acts of aggression against their neighbor. So long as Obama has only words in response, the barrages are not likely to end. And meanwhile, Iran and our other foes look on.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

A good question. “Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman on Tuesday slammed the world’s response to North Korea’s attack on its southern neighbor, saying the international community was showing weakness in the face of aggression. … ‘How will the world be able to stop Iran if it can’t stop North Korea,’ Lieberman said.”

A good example of the power of the Tea Party. “In one of the biggest election surprises of the year, Ann Marie Buerkle is officially the winner in New York’s 25th congressional district. Ms. Buerkle was ahead by some 800 votes on Election Day, and after several thousand absentee ballots were finally counted her lead held up. Ms. Buerkle is a nurse and mother of six who had never sought political office. She knocked off Dan Maffei, a life long politician and a protégé of scandal-plagued Charlie Rangel.”

A good bit of advice. “The incoming class of House Republicans is being urged to re-read the Constitution, carefully deal with the press and become very familiar with congressional ethics rules.”

A “good grief” report: “Fed lowers economic expectations for 2011.” They could be lower?

A good reminder that our awful policy toward North Korea is a bipartisan undertaking. Charles Krauthammer on the revelations of an advanced nuclear plan in North Korea: “The farce began 16 years ago when the Clinton administration concluded what was called the framework agreement in which the deal was they would freeze and then dismantle their plutonium program in return for all kinds of goodies, including two nuclear reactors that we would construct, and a lot of, a lot of economic support.”

A good reason not to send your kid to NYU. “A New York University arts professor might not have eyes on the back of his head, but he’s coming pretty close. Wafaa Bilal, a visual artist widely recognized for his interactive and performance pieces, had a small digital camera implanted in the back of his head — all in the name of art.”

Not a good thing for Mitt Romney’s outreach to the Tea Party crowd. President “Read My Lips,” George H.W. Bush, endorsed him for president.

A good question. “Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman on Tuesday slammed the world’s response to North Korea’s attack on its southern neighbor, saying the international community was showing weakness in the face of aggression. … ‘How will the world be able to stop Iran if it can’t stop North Korea,’ Lieberman said.”

A good example of the power of the Tea Party. “In one of the biggest election surprises of the year, Ann Marie Buerkle is officially the winner in New York’s 25th congressional district. Ms. Buerkle was ahead by some 800 votes on Election Day, and after several thousand absentee ballots were finally counted her lead held up. Ms. Buerkle is a nurse and mother of six who had never sought political office. She knocked off Dan Maffei, a life long politician and a protégé of scandal-plagued Charlie Rangel.”

A good bit of advice. “The incoming class of House Republicans is being urged to re-read the Constitution, carefully deal with the press and become very familiar with congressional ethics rules.”

A “good grief” report: “Fed lowers economic expectations for 2011.” They could be lower?

A good reminder that our awful policy toward North Korea is a bipartisan undertaking. Charles Krauthammer on the revelations of an advanced nuclear plan in North Korea: “The farce began 16 years ago when the Clinton administration concluded what was called the framework agreement in which the deal was they would freeze and then dismantle their plutonium program in return for all kinds of goodies, including two nuclear reactors that we would construct, and a lot of, a lot of economic support.”

A good reason not to send your kid to NYU. “A New York University arts professor might not have eyes on the back of his head, but he’s coming pretty close. Wafaa Bilal, a visual artist widely recognized for his interactive and performance pieces, had a small digital camera implanted in the back of his head — all in the name of art.”

Not a good thing for Mitt Romney’s outreach to the Tea Party crowd. President “Read My Lips,” George H.W. Bush, endorsed him for president.

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