A letter condemning Palestinian incitement against Israel has won support from 46 members of Congress. The letter, which asks President Obama to push the Palestinian Authority to stamp out “all vestiges of incitement,” was circulated two weeks ago by Reps. Steve Rothman and Steve Austria. Organizers originally planned to get signatures from members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and a subcommittee on foreign operations. But additional members of Congress reportedly began signing onto the letter, after J Street launched a campaign opposing it.
“We were only targeting those two committees, that’s it. Before J Street put out their email, no one else knew about. How would they know about it? [We] sent out the letter to only staffers on Foreign Ops and Foreign Affairs,” a Hill staffer who helped organize the letter told me. “When J Street opposed the letter in the way they did, it got a lot more press.”
Signatories included Reps. Jan Schakowsky and Russ Carnahan, two of J Street’s most prominent supporters in Congress. A similar letter addressed to Hillary Clinton was backed by 27 senators earlier this week.
Just in case you didn’t think the situation in Libya was sufficiently incoherent, we now learn this:
Members of the NATO alliance have sternly warned the rebels in Libya not to attack civilians as they push against the regime of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, according to senior military and government officials.
As NATO takes over control of airstrikes in Libya and the Obama administration considers new steps to tip the balance of power there, the coalition has told the rebels that the fog of war will not shield them from possible bombardment by NATO planes and missiles, just as the regime’s forces have been punished. Read More
Not only that, the meeting took place during a university-sponsored trip partially funded by the Jewish Federation of Orange County, the Jerusalem Post reports:
A 2009 letter obtained from the University of California- Irvine and addressed to the university’s chancellor from Jewish Federations of Orange County divulges that students on a university-sponsored trip to the Middle East met with a “notable Hamas figure,” Aziz Duwaik, in an “unapproved” meeting in September 2009.
The trip was run by the Olive Tree Initiative (OTI), a student-led initiative which “aims to promote dialogue and discussion regarding the Israeli-Arab conflict,” according to its website. The group’s funding is derived at least in part from Jewish federations.
What’s curious is why this is coming to light now, over a year after the meeting occurred. Numerous Jewish federations across the country have been hit with a spate of bad PR recently, and this is just the latest example. The letter obtained by the Jerusalem Post, however, shows that JFOC was unaware of the meeting until after it took place, and was rightfully appalled to learn about it afterward. The federation also demanded in the letter that the university launch a full investigation into the incident, though it’s unclear what the outcome of that was.
Some may criticize JFOC for not making this issue public back in 2009. But it otherwise sounds like the federation took the appropriate action. And the real blame clearly lies with UC-Irvine. According to the Post, “UC-Irvine graduate students and faculty were reportedly in charge of making arrangements for the trip.” This raises several questions: How was the meeting with Hamas coordinated? Did faculty or graduate students have contacts within the terrorist organization prior to the trip? What was the purpose of the meeting? And why were students told to keep the encounter a secret afterward?
UC-Irvine is already facing a federal probe for alleged anti-Semitic incidents on campus. The fact that its employees were involved in planning such a trip is just one more disturbing piece of a larger trend.
Earlier this month, the White House announced that President Obama would be receiving a “transparency” award from good-government groups – a piece of news that was met with well-deserved mockery from the press. The White House responded by canceling the award ceremony without explanation.
But now Politico is reporting that Obama accepted the award this week in a secret, closed-door meeting with government transparency groups:
This time, Obama met quietly in the Oval Office with Gary Bass of OMB Watch, Tom Blanton of the National Security Archive, Danielle Brian of the Project on Government Oversight, Lucy Dalglish of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, and Patrice McDermott of OpenTheGovernment.org, without disclosing the meeting on his public schedule or letting photographers or print reporters into the room.
Obama’s timing could not have been more inopportune, as the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee starts investigating the administration’s foot-dragging on FOIA requests today. The president has received heavy criticism from reporters and open-government groups for his administration’s lack of transparency.
The director of one of these government watchdogs, Steve Aftergood of the Project on Government Secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists, told Politico that perhaps the award was meant to be “aspirational,” like the president’s premature Nobel Peace Prize. Maybe. Of course, considering Obama’s track record on the peace issue, that may not be the sort of comparison the president wants to encourage.
Both Alana and Peter commented this morning on potential Republican presidential candidates who have said some very silly things. It is, of course, the silly season in the 2012 presidential race right now, with nobody but political junkies paying any attention.
But I do not think that Donald Trump is a serious candidate, even in his own mind. He likes media attention as much as a six-year-old likes ice cream and this is a good way to get it at little cost. But he has no more chance of being elected–or even winning a caucus or primary–than I do (and, just in case, I herewith issue a Sherman). How many wives has he been through now? Could anyone take seriously a 64-year-old candidate with that I’m-only-36 hairdo he sports?
Newt is another matter. Read More
The New York Times‘s Carlotta Gall has filed a heartening report from Kabul: “The Afghan Taliban,” she writes, “are showing signs of increasing strain after a number of killings, arrests and internal disputes that have reached them even in their haven in Pakistan.” The details of what is happening in Pakistan are murky: are Taliban commanders being killed by rivals, by the Pakistani ISI, or by U.S. agents? No one seems sure. But what is happening in Afghanistan is clear: U.S. forces are ratcheting up the pressure on the Taliban, as I saw for myself on my latest visit to Afghanistan a few weeks ago. As Gall writes:
The Taliban have been under stress since American forces doubled their presence in southern Afghanistan last year and greatly increased the number of special forces raids targeting Taliban commanders. … While there is still some debate over the insurgents’ overall strength, Pakistanis with deep knowledge of the Afghan Taliban say that they have suffered heavy losses in the last year and that they are struggling in some areas to continue the fight…One Taliban commander from Kunar Province said losses had been so high that he was considering going over to the side of the Afghan government in order to get assistance for his beleaguered community. Read More
That’s not to say he actually believes that President Obama wasn’t born in the U.S., or that the president is a Muslim, or any of the other inflammatory things he’s insinuated on the talk-show circuit over the past few weeks. But let’s say Trump is serious about actually winning the GOP nomination.
Over the years Trump has flip-flopped so many times on so many issues, while hopping from party to party, that he knows he has a credibility problem with the Republican base. The point is, Trump doesn’t really grasp the intellectual basis behind conservative principles, and apparently has no interest in learning. So instead of attempting to explain his contradictory stances and focusing on actual policy issues, he seems simply to be mimicking the way he believes a conservative base favorite acts. The result looks like Newt Gingrich’s recent routine, but without what Gingrich passes off as subtlety.
Trump looks at the movement and thinks he can shore up quick credibility by betting on birtherism and Muslim-baiting – things based on wild conspiracy theories, and having absolutely nothing to do with conservative principles. His performance might get attention now, but he’s in for a rude awakening once serious contenders begin entering the field.
I am currently traveling in East Asia and have been able to follow the war in Libya–or whatever we’re calling it this week–only intermittently. But I have been impressed that the Obama administration has been moving in the right direction after a rocky start. The president finally delivered an overdue primetime address to the American people explaining the rationale for this military effort: “When our interests and values are at stake, we have a responsibility to act. That’s what happened in Libya over the course of these last six weeks.”
Moreover, as Reuters was the first to report, CIA and MI6 officers, along with British SAS and SAS commandos, have been inserted into Libya to work with the rebels and enhance their combat effectiveness by coordinating with coalition airpower–something that I have believed from the first was essential to the success of this mission. But the administration is still debating whether or not to arm the rebels. I can understand hesitations because of the ever-present specter of repeating our mistakes in Afghanistan in the 1980s, when U.S. support was funneled by Pakistan’s ISI to the most extreme Islamist elements of the Afghan mujahideen. But we can help mitigate such dangers in Libya by directing any arms supplies through Western agents–not letting a third party like the ISI take charge of our aid program. More aid to the rebels appears needed because they are locked in a seesaw battle on the ground. Notwithstanding the embarrassing defection of his foreign minister, Moammar Qaddafi may be able to hold out for an extended time unless we ramp up the pressure even further. Read More
Newt Gingrich is worried. His concern is this: “I have two grandchildren — Maggie is 11, Robert is 9. I am convinced that if we do not decisively win the struggle over the nature of America, by the time they’re my age they will be in a secular atheist country, potentially one dominated by radical Islamists and with no understanding of what it once meant to be an American.”
Now I’m confident that America will not become either a “secular atheist country” or one “dominated by radical Islamists.” But what I’m sure of is that it won’t become both. Radical Islamists and secular atheists are not easily reconcilable. As others have pointed out, the combination of the two is very nearly impossible.
Our problems are challenging enough; they are not in need of magnification. For example, assimilation into American culture is important and the recruitment by terrorists of young Muslims living in the United States is a real concern. But that is quite different than arguing that unless we “decisively win the struggle over the nature of America,” we will become a nation dominated by radical Islamists. What the times require is rhetoric that is precise, careful, and measured rather than loose and even apocalyptic.
The AFL-CIO is all about the war against the evil, anti-union Koch brothers – just as long as nobody boycotts any of the Koch companies that employ massive numbers of union employees. Ben Smith notes this interesting contradiction from the AFL-CIO blog:
A number of organizations are advocating a boycott of the products that come from companies owned by the Koch family. This is problematic for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that it could potentially hurt the wrong people.
The Koch brothers own Georgia Pacific. It is an American consumer goods company that makes everyday products like facial tissue, napkins, paper towels, paper cups and the like. Their plants are great examples of American advanced manufacturing. Incidentally, GP makes most of its products here in America. The company’s workforce is highly unionized. In fact, 80 percent of its mills are under contract with one or more labor union. It is not inaccurate to say that these are among the best-paid manufacturing jobs in America.
Georgia Pacific runs over 300 manufacturing facilities, and employs over 40,000 workers, according to its website. By employing such a high number of union members, the AFL-CIO says the Koch brothers put the labor movement in an awkward situation. “This presents a dilemma and a paradox,” laments the AFL-CIO on its blog. “While the Koch brothers are credited with advocating an agenda and groups that are clearly hostile to labor and labor’s agenda, the brothers’ company in practice and in general has positive and productive collective bargaining relationships with its unions.”
Does the nefariousness of the Koch brothers know no bounds? Clearly they only unionized their company in order to undermine future potential boycotts and fracture the pro-labor left.
As far as complaints about the Obama administration, this one is admittedly minor. Still, it’s one worth lodging.
President Obama has repeatedly said that Muammar Qaddafi has by his recent actions “lost the legitimacy to rule” Libya and “lost the confidence of his own people.” Which raises the question: when did Qaddafi ever have the legitimacy to rule or the confidence of his own people? The answer, of course, is never; that is one of the distinctions between despots and elected leaders of liberal societies. Qaddafi never had legitimacy, which is also true of Egypt’s Mubarak, Syria’s Assad, Iran’s Ahmadinejad, and most of the rulers of the Arab Middle East. One exception, of course, is Iraq post-Saddam.
What the president has been trying to say, I think, is that Qaddafi, long a malevolent figure, crossed a moral line with his brutal (and in some cases mercenary-led) attacks on his own people. But Mr. Obama should not argue that Qaddafi has lost what he has never had.
As I say, this complaint is relatively negligible. Still, words matter, and the president should use them more carefully than he has.
March 29 was supposed to have been a big day regarding U.S. sanctions relating to Iran. For six months, the State Department has been investigating international firms involved in Iran’s petroleum sector, including various Chinese, Turkish and Venezuelan companies. Under the “Comprehensive Iran Sanctions and Divestment Act” (CISADA), the Department’s determinations were due by March 29.
On March 29, the State Department issued a press release ominously entitled “Iran Sanctions Announcement:”
Today, the United States is taking further action to increase pressure on Iran for its failure to meet its international obligations with regard to its nuclear program. … [T]he State Department is sanctioning Belarusneft, a state-owned Belarusian energy company … In a thorough review, the Department confirmed that Belarusneft entered into a $500 million contract with the NaftIran Intertrade Company in 2007 for the development of the Jofeir oilfield in Iran. Read More
Uganda announced today that it would be happy to take in Muammar Qaddafi, should the Libyan dictator decide to end his brutal reign of violence and flee the country.
It sounds unjust that Qaddafi could live out a long life in some African refuge, especially after he’s massacred so many. But the U.S. and allies haven’t ruled out giving the despot a clear exit route, according to Reuters. “The United States, Britain and Qatar, which joined others at a meeting on Libya in London on Tuesday, suggested Gaddafi and his family could be allowed to go into exile if they took up the offer quickly to end six weeks of bloodshed,” the news service reported.
As Qaddafi’s options grows bleaker by the day, and Americans become more anxious for President Obama to outline an exit strategy for the war in Libya, allowing him an escape hatch might begin to look increasingly attractive. But this isn’t an alternative we can afford right now. There are other dictators like Qaddafi currently struggling to suppress similar uprisings – and they are keeping a close eye on his fate. If Qaddafi is able to massacre thousands of his people, drive his country into civil war, force the U.S. and its allies to intervene militarily, and then slip out of the country with no repercussions, then others will believe they can do the same.
The chance for Qaddafi to take asylum elsewhere has already passed. He made his decision, and now he has to face the consequences – hopefully at the hands of those who suffered under his rule for so many decades.
Viktor Kotsev, in Asia Times Online, has an excellent article on the economic factors in the Syrian unrest. Besides being hit hard by rising food prices, the Syrian people have been enduring water rationing far more rigorous than California’s. Residents of Damascus are often denied water service for more than half of each day. In the rural areas water service is limited to 3 days a week; tens of thousands have left their ancestral homes for cities like Daraa, where the Assad regime has now killed dozens of protesters.
Kotsev quotes a Syrian dissident framing his nation’s economic woes in these terms:
The coming Syrian revolution will be led by two million young Syrian women unable to find economically independent husbands and forced to embrace celibacy (Ansa’a) because of rampant unemployment and economic deprivation … Read More
On Sunday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton – when asked about why we’re involving ourselves in Libya but not Syria – said this about Bashar Assad: “Many of the Members of Congress of both parties who have gone to Syria in recent months have said they believe he’s a reformer.” For understandable reasons – more about that in a moment– those comments didn’t fly very well. So it was time for a retake.
Yesterday, when asked about her statement at a press conference, Secretary Clinton said, “Well, first, Jay [Solomon], as you rightly pointed out, I referenced opinions of others. That was not speaking either for myself or for the administration.” Read More
Maybe not, according to Sen. Harry Reid’s logic. Citing to a new CNN poll out today showing that 47 percent of Americans have a negative opinion of the Tea Party, Reid announced that the movement has lost its influence. ”The country doesn’t care much about the Tea Party,” he said on the Senate floor today. “There is a new CNN poll out today that says this very directly.”
“The people who care about the tea party are a very small number who care about them positively,” he added. “Those who care about them negatively is very high.”
So based on that criteria, Reid must be truly despondent to also learn that the country doesn’t care about President Obama. As Peter noted, a Quinnipiac poll out today showed that 48 percent of American voters disapprove of the president.
Of course, the comparison isn’t perfect, since the CNN poll surveyed all Americans, while the Quinnipiac one surveyed only likely voters. But the Quinnipiac poll should still have Democrats worried. Not only did it show Obama’s lowest approval rating ever for that polling service, but it also found that voters say 50-41 that he shouldn’t be reelected – which is also his lowest reelection score ever.
In addition, the poll found that voters oppose the war in Libya 47-41 percent. Since Americans tend to be more supportive of military interventions at the beginning, this isn’t a good sign.
As John noted earlier, the latest Gallup survey, shows the country is split down the middle on President Obama’s handling of the situation in Libya, with 44 percent approving, 44 percent disapproving, and 12 percent undecided. These are very low numbers for a president near the outset of a military campaign. These numbers should be seen in the context of a recent Reuters/Ipsos poll that showed that only 17 percent of Americans see President Obama as a strong and decisive military leader. And those number, in turn, should be seen in the context of today’s release of a Quinnipiac University poll showing that fully one-half of the registered voters it surveyed believe that the president does not deserve a second term in office, while only 41 percent say he does. Both are all-time lows.
These numbers are related to one another. Perceived weakness in a president can be acidic. I would be surprised if the president’s speech on Monday helped reassure the public. What will matter, though, isn’t the effect of Obama’s speech (which will soon be forgotten) but the results of his policies. That is what he will be judged on. For now, if I were a member of the president’s political team, these numbers would concern me. A lot.
Commentators here and elsewhere have dissected the belated strengths and considerable weaknesses of the president’s speech on Libya. But no one has noted that the speech is yet another piece of evidence that this administration regards foreign policy as a problem to be overcome as rapidly as possible, not as an enduring challenge with serious consequences. Barack Obama remains eager to get to the serious business of domestic policy.
Before he was elected, Obama displayed no serious interest in foreign policy. Nor – except for his childhood travels – did he have any substantive experience abroad. The only post-World War II presidents who could compete with him in this regard are Carter (hardly an encouraging comparison) and Clinton (who had the good fortune to be elected in the supposedly placid 1990s). The foreign policy lesson he learned from his predecessor was very simple: if you want to keep your presidency alive politically, avoid Iraq. The frequency which with he harps on that lesson testifies to its power. Read More
Another request has gone out about whether professors on a state payroll used their offices to play partisan politics; and the political left is again screaming about the end of academic freedom. In the wake of the controversy over inquiries into whether a University of Wisconsin professor who has been a vocal participant in the union/GOP squabbles in that state used his taxpayer funded perch to do so, a Michigan think tank is asking the same question about academics at a number of state-supported institutions in that state.
The Freedom of Information Act requests made by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy about professors at the University of Michigan, Michigan State, and Wayne State Universities is drawing predictable screams of horror from those who think these probes are intended to silence critics of Republicans who have advocated for changes in collective bargaining by public employee unions. The New York Times quotes Greg Scholtz, the director of academic freedom for the American Association of University Professors as saying that this “will have a chilling effect on academic freedom. We’ve never seen FOIA requests used like this before.” Read More
Syrian leader Bashar Al-Assad was expected to announce the lifting of the country’s 50-year old emergency law late last night, but he didn’t even give up that one token concession during his speech:
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad defied expectations and dashed widespread hopes Wednesday when he made no mention of lifting a state of emergency in a national address.He acknowledged that Syrians want reform and that the government has not met their needs in a rambling 45-minute speech to the National Assembly, but he made few concrete promises after weeks of anti-government demonstrations that have left 73 people dead, according to Human Rights Watch.
The fact that Assad is digging in his heels on this issue will probably only further enflame the mass demonstrations across the country. The lifting of the law wouldn’t have been more than a symbolic victory for the protesters, but Assad’s rigidity suggests that he may be readying for a fight with the opposition.
The Obama administration needs to condemn Assad strongly on this. Over the weekend, Hillary Clinton spoke of the Syrian leader’s reputation as a “reformer” – those sort of statements need to end immediately. Lifting the emergency law would have been a simple (and not especially impactful) step for Assad to take. That he didn’t even do this shows that he’s completely unwilling to make even the smallest concession of his power, and it’s a troubling sign that a more violent government crackdown may be looming.