The Syrian government lifted its 48-year old emergency law today, while simultaneously approving additional restrictions on public demonstrations. Protests are now technically legal, but citizens wishing to demonstrate must apply for a protest license beforehand.
The State Department is rightly skeptical that this is an actual step toward reform for Syria:
“It’s unclear whether they’ve passed legislation to lift the emergency law, but that a new law requiring protesters that — to receive permission from the Interior Ministry before holding demonstration may be — may be in play here,” State Department spokesman Mark Toner said. …
In light of some of the comments from Syria’s interior minister, “this new legislation may prove as restrictive as the emergency law it replaced,” Toner said.
Toner also continued the administration’s lukewarm criticism of the Syrian regime. He said that the violent government crackdown on protesters last night raised “serious concerns” and called on the regime to “urgently implement broader reforms and … to cease violence against peaceful protesters.”
It’s good that the State Department is being appropriately cautious about this development, especially since it’s been quick to praise the Syrian regime in the past. But that’s not to say there aren’t reasons to be optimistic about the lifting of the law. Even if it doesn’t bring about any concrete changes, it’s a symbolic victory for the protest movement. The regime may believe this will placate the demonstrators, but it’s actually more likely to energize them.
I called President Obama’s speech last week among the most dishonest and dishonorable presidential speeches in generations. This week, it appears he’s eager to build on that reputation.
In a town hall event in Annandale, Obama evoked the August 2007 St. Anthony Falls bridge collapse as a justification for higher taxes. “Remember when that bridge in Minnesota collapsed with all those people on it?,” Obama asked. “And there was a big hue and cry, ‘How can this happen in America?’ Well, the National Society of Engineers — they looked around and they give us a D when it comes to infrastructure.” Obama added, “We cut transportation by another third and what’s going to happen to America? We’re just going to have potholes everywhere? We’re just gonna have bridges collapsing everywhere?”
But as both Ed Morrissey and CBS News point out, the bridge collapse in Minnesota, which killed 13 people, was found to have been caused primarily by a design flaw, not aging infrastructure. It had nothing to do with lack of maintenance.
So the president is using a dishonest recounting of an event, in which more than a dozen people died, in order to support a bad policy. And one suspects that Obama is only warming up, that as we get nearer the election, the more this kind of dishonesty will occur. To see Obama employ these techniques underscores just how weak his case is and how cynical and (literally) unbelievable his claims have become. It isn’t quite what we were told to expect, is it?
According to a new Washington Post/ABC News poll, the majority of Republican voters are far from thrilled with any of the potential presidential prospects:
Just 43 percent proclaimed themselves satisfied with their options, a far cry from the 65 percent who said the same at this time in the 2008 race.
The lack of GOP enthusiasm was evident in other portions of the poll, too. In a hypothetical Republican primary ballot, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney led the way with 16 percent, followed by “no one/not any of them” at 12 percent. (Unlike some other polls, the question was asked open-ended, meaning no names were given to respondents.)
At such an early point in the race, the dissatisfaction with the Republican field doesn’t necessarily indicate a major problem for the GOP’s 2012 chances. Though this has left an opening for less serious candidates to accrue mild support – which likely explains Trump’s decent showing in the polls.
If Republicans are passionate about anything, it’s getting Obama out of office. Even those who aren’t thrilled with the current crop of contenders will eventually begin rallying behind the candidates most likely to beat Obama in the general election. According to the ABC News poll, Romney or Huckabee have the best shot at the moment. And while GOP voters may not love either one of them right now, they hate the thought of handing Obama another four years even more.
To a certain extent the Obama administration’s strategy of putting the U.S. in the background in Libya is working. The latest evidence comes from the news that the UK is sending 20 military advisers to work with the rebels and that the EU is sending some kind of armed force to oversee the distribution of humanitarian aid. Both are steps in the right direction. Especially important is the dispatch of military advisers to help the rebels get better organized–something I’ve been urging since the beginning of this intervention. I hope tactical air controllers are also either on the ground already or headed to Libya to coordinate close air support for rebel operations.
The problem is, the aid provided by Britain, France, et al. is unlikely to match that which the U.S. could provide. We could send more than 20 trainers for example. We could also send A-10 ground-attack aircraft, AC-130 gunships, and Apache attack helicopters, which could far more effectively decimate Qaddafi’s ground forces than the F-16s and other fighters currently being employed by NATO forces.
President Obama should remember that history will give him credit for multilateralism only if we are successful. If the war drags on indefinitely without achieving our objectives, his decision to have the U.S. assume only a supporting role will be roundly condemned. It is too soon to say, however, that his inhibitions about the use of American power have fatally compromised mission accomplishment. If Qaddafi falls in the next few weeks or even months–which is quite possible–the war will still be judged a success, notwithstanding all the confusion and hesitations up to this point. Britain and France may yet bail us out.
One of the less talked about parts of President Obama’s big deficit speech last week was the location he held it at. The choice to make the address to a mostly-student crowd at George Washington University was noteworthy – and not just because younger Americans are more likely to support Obama. Young people (especially students) are also less likely to pay taxes and less likely to worry about their economic future.
That makes them a much friendlier audience for the president’s deficit plan. And so Obama kicked off his debt-proposal tour earlier today at Northern Virginia Community College. According to CNN, the town hall-style meeting “brought few challenging questions from a mostly student audience that cheered Obama and applauded his major policy statements.”
The two other stops on his tour will be Facebook town halls in Reno and Palo Alto. Both will stream online, and only take questions from the social network’s users – an overwhelmingly college-aged demographic.
According to today’s Washington Post/ABC News poll, 57 percent of Americans now disapprove of Obama’s performance on the economy, tying his highest negative rating on the issue. His poor showing on economic issues has also driven his approval rating down to a near-record low of 47 percent.
The takeaway is that Americans just aren’t buying Obama’s fiscal plan. And apparently the White House thinks college students will be easier customers.
The wedding of Prince Charles and Princess Diana was one of the most-watched TV events in history. But 30 years later, Americans seem to have far less interest in watching the upcoming nuptials of Prince Williams and Kate Middleton.
According to a recent Vanity Fair/60 Minutes poll, only four percent of Americans are interested in the whole wedding. (21 percent are interested in some of it, nine percent are just interested in how long the couple’s marriage lasts, and 66 percent aren’t interested at all).
The network news stations have all planned wall-to-wall coverage of the wedding, but NBC seems to have realized that the interest just isn’t there: Read More
Yesterday I wrote about the desirability of keeping troops for years to come in Iraq. All the same arguments apply to Afghanistan: namely that if we are to safeguard hard-fought gains, we will need to maintain a military presence in that country for many years too, just as we have in Germany, Japan, South Korea, etc.
The good news is that the government in Afghanistan is more amenable to such an arrangement than the one in Iraq. Thus, as the New York Times notes, talks are already under way to sketch out the post-2014 U.S. role. Hamid Karzai, while a difficult and prickly leader on many issues, has indicated that he would be amenable to some permanent U.S. bases–or at least as permanent as any base can be, given that we are not the Soviet Union in Eastern Europe; our forces can still be kicked out at any time, as happened, for example, when the Philippines demanded in 1991 that we shutter long-standing bases at Subic Bay and Clark Field.
The reason why Karzai is more open to bases than Maliki isn’t hard to see: Afghanistan lacks Iraq’s natural resources. Its main resource at the moment is international aid, and Karzai realizes that his government could not long survive without it. One can put a disreputable spin on this easily enough: the Afghan political class has gotten rich feeding at the international trough and doesn’t want to go without. But whatever their motives, there is every indication that Afghan politicos are open to a long-term U.S. security presence.
The Obama administration, for its part, should do everything possible to seal a deal. It would pay immediate dividends by changing the psychology of Afghanistan and its neighbors. The biggest fear that people in the area have is that the U.S. will abandon them to the tender mercies of the Taliban and related extremist groups. By signaling that we are in Afghanistan for the long haul, we can convince fence-sitters to jump over to our side, and thus considerably accelerate the progress of counterinsurgency operations.
Andy McCarthy feels like my response to a column he wrote was a personal attack on him. That wasn’t the intent, and I’m happy to leave it to readers to judge whether my critique of McCarthy, whose past work I have often admired, was an “airy stream of consciousness,” “presumptuous,” “foolish,” and “holier-than-thou demagoguery” — or whether Andy’s response was overly defensive. Whatever the case, McCarthy’s response includes an effort to lay out a philosophy of government that is, I think, worth examining.
According to Andy, “Our government does not exist to care; it exists to promote the freedom and security of our body politic. The actions of our public officials are not supposed to be a reflection of how those officials, guided by their private religious and ethical principles, care about their fellow human beings the world over.”
“Love and mercy … are not functions of government,” he writes. It is the “progressive project to aggrandize government by humanizing it.” He mocks the idea that “it is government that decides which faraway impoverished peoples win the collective’s largesse and its favor.” And so when it comes to the people of Afghanistan — and, presumably, the people of every other impoverished land in the world — “as a political community acting through its government, we needn’t give a damn.”
What does this mean in concrete terms?
Last night, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed a bill that “would have required U.S. presidential candidates, including President Barack Obama, to prove their U.S. citizenship before their names can appear on the state’s ballot.” Republicans should be breathing a sigh of relief.
As the article notes, the bill would have made Arizona the first to approve a birther law. There are currently similar proposals being considered across the country, including bills in Pennsylvania and Georgia. It helps the GOP that Brewer nipped this in the bud. If birtherism becomes a major focus in 2012, the only person who will benefit is Obama. It will serve as a distraction from the legitimate issues concerning his policies and hurt the image of the Republican Party with independents.
However, this certainly isn’t the end of it. Brewer told Greta Van Susteren last night that the state legislature has the numbers to override her veto. And Birtherism has a lot of support in Arizona.
Alas, the Ricciardone Watch appears like it’s going to be a continuing series: Frank Ricciardone was President Obama’s recess appointee to be ambassador to Turkey. The problem with Ricciardone—and the reason his nomination initially got stuck in the Senate—is that he embraces a diplomatic philosophy which prioritizes moral equivalence over moral clarity, and subordinates broader American interests to developing strong personal ties to dictators.
In the mid-1980s, declassified documents show (and former colleagues say) that he was the driving force for American rapprochement with Saddam Hussein. More recently, as ambassador to Egypt, he told Egyptian students that Hosni Mubarak was so popular he would even win election in the United States, if he could run. The danger is that, as Turkey heads into crucial elections in June, Ricciardone’s embrace of the ruling party’s position and legacy could seriously undermine long-term American interests. I have previously written about Ricciardone’s behavior in Turkey, here and here.
According to a Turkish press report, Ricciardone said yesterday that Turkey was among the top friends of the United States and that it had upgraded its standards of democracy. Read More
If you watch left-leaning cable talk shows these days, you can detect a palpable excitement about the possible candidacy of Donald Trump. And why not? Mr. Trump leads in some early polls, he’s garnering enormous attention, and his presence on the political stage will, liberals hope, imperil the Republican Party. The left should enjoy this spectacle while it lasts, because it won’t last long. The reason is fairly simple: Trump’s record won’t withstand even minimal scrutiny. In his pre-I-might-run-for-the-GOP-nomination phase, Trump was in favor of abortion rights, massive tax increases, and a single-payer health-care system. He referred to President Bush as “evil” and thought Obama could be a “great” president. He’s advocated seizing Iraqi and Libyan oil fields. He’s a protectionist. He doesn’t appear to know how many Members of Congress there are in the House of Representatives. And of course he has shown a strange fixation with Obama’s birth certificate.
Donald Trump, in other words, is, when it comes to politics, shallow, inconsistent, egotistical, and buffoonish. By comparison he makes Ross Perot seem substantial, well-informed, and stable. Right now Trump’s support is based on a combination of name recognition, his skill at self-promotion, and his perceived tough talk. But once Republican and conservative voters begin to peek behind the curtain, this silly game will be over. Trump’s support will evaporate like the morning mist.
Turkey’s Hurriyet Daily News is reporting that Turkey’s Jewish population is starting to decline:
Migration to Israel and a death rate twice that of new births are causing a decrease in the size of the Jewish community in Turkey, according to its representatives.
Economic considerations are the main driver behind migration and are also a factor in the decision by many students studying abroad not to return to Turkey after completing their education, representatives of the 20,000-strong Jewish community have said.
Curiously, the paper does not name the representatives with whom it spoke. Also strange is that Turkey’s economy is booming. That Turkey’s Jews stayed during recession, but flee during an economic boom suggests that perhaps economic motivations are not to blame. A much more plausible explanation—and one to which Turkish Jews attest privately—is that Turkey’s Jewish community is fleeing because of the flames of hatred fanned by Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s Islamist and fiercely anti-Semitic prime minister. The Ottoman Empire welcomed Jews after their expulsion from Spain. Alas, Erdogan seems determined to reverse a more than 600-year legacy of Turkish tolerance.
Alas, for Turkey’s Jews, “Next Year in Jerusalem” may no longer be a declaration at the end of their Seder, but increasingly could become a plan for self-preservation.