The Palestinian Authority’s campaign to bypass negotiations and gain recognition for an independent state received an important boost yesterday from the International Monetary Fund. The IMF issued a report about the economy in the West Bank and Gaza, which will be formally presented an international donors conference for the Palestinians next week in Brussels.
The report is a resounding endorsement of the policies enacted by Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad. The PA is “now able to conduct the sound economic policies expected of a future well-functioning Palestinian state, given its solid track record in reforms and institution-building in the public finance and financial areas,” the IMF says. Fayyad’s efforts to transform the PA from the corrupt terror state created by Yasir Arafat after the Oslo Accords has been widely praised by both Americans and Israelis. But even those who vouch for the good intentions and skill of the American-educated technocrat would have to acknowledge that he has only just begun to change the mafia-style political culture of the PA.
Although polls show President Obama falling out of favor with the general public, he still has a 55 percent approval rating among 18-29 year olds. Clearly a lot of young people like him. But will that be enough to win their campaign support?
Obviously there will be plenty of young Democratic and liberal activists who will hit the campaign trail for him. But back in 2007 and 2008, Obama wasn’t just promoted by partisans, but also by the popular culture. That, along with his last campaign’s highly distinctive branding, could end up working against him.
Students didn’t just wear Obama tees during the last election because they liked his politics. They wore them because the shirts were wildly popular. Obama picked up countless celebrity endorsements, music videos and tabloid magazine covers–all free publicity, and most of it unhesitatingly positive.
The problem with the Obama-craze of 2008 is that trends go out of style. Looking back, Obama’s extreme popularity now comes off as dated, even a bit corny. He’ll probably still win the youth vote. But it seems far less likely that ordinary, non-political college students will walk around looking like a free billboard for the Obama reelection bid. It will be up to his campaign to make up for the loss of cheap publicity.
Yesterday I plumbed the shallowness of the Washington Post’s Dana Milbank in a short piece that my former White House colleague Karl Rove sent around on his Twitter account. Milbank was not pleased. “Is this the same Karl Rove and Pete Wehner who were ‘architects’ of a $6 trillion rise in federal debt? Welcome to the cause!” Milbank Tweeted back.
Since Milbank seems eager to keep a dialogue going, let’s accommodate him, shall we?
As a follow-up to “What Justice Goldstone Knew and When He Knew It,” I have posted at Jewish Current Issues the texts of the opening statements (as prepared for delivery) of Peter Berkowitz and Abraham Bell at the March 28 Stanford Law School debate, as well as the rebuttal that Berkowitz prepared for delivery. Stanford has posted a video of the debate, which includes the statements made by Goldstone at the event.
Taken together, the Berkowitz/Bell statements are a concise and powerful indictment of the Goldstone Report—one that Justice Goldstone heard firsthand at Stanford three days before he published his now-famous Washington Post op-ed, in which he stated the Report would have been different if he had known what he knows now.
A lot has been written about the Goldstone Report; these two statements, precisely because they are short and were delivered orally, communicate the fundamental problems with the Goldstone Report in a manner that even its author could not ignore.
At the Council on Foreign Relations, Elliott Abrams notices some good news from Egypt. According to a new poll from the International Peace Institute, 63 percent of Egyptians are in favor of the peace treaty with Israel, while only 14 percent oppose it. In addition, a whopping 82 percent support continued liberalization of the country and the economy, while only 10 percent have a favorable opinion of the head of the Muslim Brotherhood.
The one downside is the wide support for Amre Moussa, with 80 percent of Egyptians favoring him. But for the most part, the poll is a great sign for supporters of Egyptian democratization.
Abrams observes that “the data in this poll suggest that fears of a Muslim Brotherhood takeover of Egypt may be overblown. Egyptians may be susceptible to demagogic appeals from politicians, but at least for now the poll indicates that many have a sensible view of their country’s economic and political situation.”
The poll should at least dispel fears that the pro-democracy movement was simply a small anomaly. In fact, the data show that it’s the pro-Islamist movement that is out of touch with mainstream views. But this popular sentiment doesn’t mean that the road to democratization in Egypt will be easy. As Max wrote earlier, one of the major obstacles will now be organizing liberal political parties that can compete with the Brotherhood.
If President Obama’s speech at the National Action Network gala last night is a preview of his reelection campaign, we can expect it to be dismayingly similar to 2008–a lot of vague promises and a few mentions of substantial achievements.
Even though this was the first address to his political base since announcing his candidacy for reelection, Obama spent little time discussing what he has accomplished in office. The president glancingly alluded to Wall Street reform, health care, and Race to the Top, but then told the audience to go to his website for a “long list” of other successes.
Instead, most of his speech consisted of talk about the problems facing America, and reminders that change “comes slowly.”
This morning, Speaker of the House John Boehner, a Republican, went before the microphones to discuss the negotiations over the budget. He said that he and the Democrats represented by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and the White House had been closer to agreement last night on a measure to forestall the government’s running out of money on Friday than they were this morning
Of course things were better last night. Doubtless polling came in this morning that confirmed the polling that’s already been showing this debate moving in the direction of the Democrats. Though in point of fact the government will only be shut down if Democrats refuse to agree to legislation voted by the Republican House, apparently the American people will be inclined to blame the shutdown on the Republicans. And Democrats know that the activist base of the Republican party already believes the budget cuts Boehner is aiming for—$40 billion—are too low.
It’s a sweet spot for Democrats, in other words. They get to shut down the government and convince the American people that it’s actually the Republicans who are shutting down the government; or they will force the Republicans to move in their direction. The only problem is the government shutdown itself.
The State Department has apparently gotten around to condemning Terry Jones for “the burning of the Holy Koran that occurred several days ago.” Alana has already covered this controversy in a domestic context, especially as regards the spectacle of U.S. lawmakers threatening to hold hearings and pretending that they don’t know the First Amendment exists. Unless they find a “Muslim mob” exception somewhere toward the back of the Constitution, it’s going to be pretty difficult to hold anything but pro forma hearings.
As far as misunderstanding free speech goes, though, U.S. government officials are simply outmatched by our vaunted international partners. For unreflexive sophistry, this statement is almost impossible to beat. On a tour of Mazar-e Sharif, where seven UN workers were killed in rioting last weekend, UN Afghan Mission head Staffan de Mistura told the BBC that the murders
should not deter the UN presence, activities in this country in this delicate and particularly crucial period. . . . I don’t think we should blaming any Afghan for the news, we should blaming the person who has produced the news, in other words the one who burnt the Koran. . . . Freedom of speech does not mean freedom of offending culture, religion, traditions.
At the risk of sounding pedantic, I am pretty sure freedom of speech means exactly the freedom to offend culture, religion, or traditions. It’s difficult to imagine what use it might have except telling someone that his culture, religion, or traditions need to be reevaluated, abandoned, or at the very least excluded as the basis for public policy. Such “offensive” speech is the first step toward prying closely held beliefs away from the institutions that shelter them, which is the prerequisite for a liberal democracy.
There’s an argument to be made that our multinational, transnational, and international allies can’t really make any sense of liberal democracy—and maybe we ought to consider that before we ask for their help in future nation-building projects.
The same week that President Obama broke one major campaign promise, he reminds his base about a previous one he reneged on. Though the president pledged to end the war in Iraq within 16 months of taking office, 47,000 troops still remain in the country, and many will likely stay past the Dec. 31, 2011 final withdrawal date:
“We are willing to have a presence beyond (2011), but we’ve got a lot of commitments,” [Defense Secretary Robert Gates] said…
“So if folks here are going to want us to have a presence, we’re going to need to get on with it pretty quickly in terms of our planning,” he added. “I think there is interest in having a continuing presence. The politics are such that we’ll just have to wait and see because the initiative ultimately has to come from the Iraqis.”
There’s no doubt that the Iraqis want U.S. troops to stay, especially in places like Kirkuk with high ethnic tensions. But more than that, they need the troops to stay. The Iraqi military has purchased American equipment that entails U.S. training and maintenance assistance – and some of that equipment won’t even be delivered until past the withdrawal deadline.
In the Washington Post columnist David Ignatius has the latest report on how the Muslim Brotherhood is trying to take advantage of political flux in Egypt to grab power for itself. All indications are that most Egyptians do not want its fundamentalist rule; certainly the primary impetus behind the Tahrir Square protests was not a desire to remake Egypt in Iran’s image.
But the Brotherhood has long been the best-organized non-governmental force in the country and now it is flexing its organizational muscle on behalf of its candidates in upcoming elections which have been scheduled so soon, thanks to a recent referendum on constitutional change, that more liberal leaders will have a hard time organizing their forces.
Chris Chivers is a former Marine officer and an experienced combat correspondent. So his take on the Libyan opposition forces is worth paying attention to. He writes in the New York Times that
by almost all measures by which a military might be assessed, they are a hapless bunch. They have almost no communication equipment. There is no visible officer or noncommissioned officer corps. Their weapons are a mishmash of hastily acquired arms, which few of them know how to use.
With only weeks of fighting experience, they lack an understanding of the fundamentals of offensive and defensive combat, or how to organize fire support. They fire recklessly and sometimes accidentally. Most of them have yet to learn how to hold seized ground, or to protect themselves from their battlefield’s persistent rocket and mortar fire, which might be done by simply digging in.
Prone to panic, they often answer to little more than their mood, which changes in a flash. When their morale spikes upward, their attacks tend to be painfully and bloodily frontal — little more than racing columns down the highway, through a gantlet of the Qaddafi forces’ rocket and mortar fire, face forward into the loyalists’ machine guns.
It is no surprise that such ill-organized, badly armed, and undisciplined forces have been unable to drive the Qaddafi loyalists out of most of the cities they have occupied.
Most people, most of the time, reserve their sarcasm for when they’re on fairly solid argumentative ground. Being wrong is one thing. It happens. But strutting around insufferably and then being wrong and then getting called out for it—well, that’s kind of embarrassing. So most writers develop something of a rhetorical sliding scale, from circumspection in domains of uncertainty to confidence in regions of knowledge.
And then there’s Andrew Sullivan. Struggling to cope with Richard Goldstone’s repudiation of his September 2009 report on the war in Gaza, he’s taken to inveighing against the “vile neocon media machine” and sneering at opponents. Since he appears to know little about the Report or its background, however, a little stylistic caution might be more appropriate.
A recent Sullivan post examines Goldstone’s “I couldn’t have known” excuse, repeating the familiar complaint that the Israeli government declined to participate in its own lynching. Instead of having a mix of Israeli and Palestinian witnesses, the argument goes, the Goldstone Mission had to take fantastical Palestinian tales at face value. That’s not persuasive to anyone who has studied the Report and its background—more on that in a bit—but Sullivan apparently finds the reasoning impressive and wishes to pass it on to his readers.
There were those who wondered about the wisdom of President Obama’s appointment of Hannah Rosenthal as the State Department’s Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism. Some feared that a person who served as a member of the leftist lobby J Street’s advisory board was ill-equipped to confront the rising tide of anti-Semitism sweeping through both Europe and the Arab and Islamic world since the focus of most contemporary Jew-haters is the state of Israel.
But while Rosenthal’s speech this past weekend at the launch of a new Institute for the Study of Anti-Semitism at Indiana University fell short of a clear statement that the movement for Boycotts, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel is proof of anti-Semitism, she still enunciated a definition of the term that leaves little room for doubt that it applies to such anti-Israel agitation.