Not that every one of Bret Stephens’s columns isn’t vital reading, but tomorrow’s, “An Anti-Israel President,” is a beaut. Highlight: “It would be nice if the president could come clean about whether his line about the 1967 line—”mutually agreed swaps” and all—was pathbreaking and controversial, or no big deal. On Sunday, Mr. Obama congratulated himself for choosing the hard road to Mideast peace as he prepares for re-election, only to offer a few minutes later that ‘there was nothing particularly original in my proposal.’ Yet assuming Mr. Obama knows what he’s talking about, he knows that’s untrue…”
Posts For: May 23, 2011
Around 10:30 tonight, Benjamin Netanyahu finally took the stage at the AIPAC conference. Six times during his speech he was interrupted by hecklers; he calmly drank water while the audience cheered him to drown out the heckling, and at one point cracked, “Do you think they would allow these protests in Gaza?” AIPAC president Lee Rosenberg made some news last week with an email to AIPAC conference attendees warning them to be polite to President Obama. That was aimed, of course, at those on the Right who think ill of Obama and his treatment of Israel. There was one lone boo during Obama’s speech on Sunday. Maybe Rosenberg should have added a note about being polite to Netanyahu as well, which would have been an acknowledgment of the fact that the loudest voices of incivility in the United States when it comes to the U.S.-Israel relationship come from the post-Zionist Left.
In his address to AIPAC on Sunday, President Obama—attempting to do furious damage control—asserted that his speech the previous Thursday, arguing that negotiations for a Palestinian state should be based on Israel’s pre-1967 borders, was old hat. “There was nothing particularly original in my proposal,” Mr. Obama said reassuringly; “this basic framework for negotiations has long been the basis for discussions among the parties, including previous U.S. Administrations. . . . It was my reference to the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps that received the lion’s share of the attention,” he said later in the same speech. “And since my position has been misrepresented several times, let me reaffirm what ‘1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps’ means.”
In fact, as the Washington Post’s Glenn Kessler points out,
In the context of this history [Israel’s borders], Obama’s statement Thursday represented a major shift. He did not articulate the 1967 boundaries as a “Palestinian goal” but as U.S. policy. He also dropped any reference to “realities on the ground”— code for Israeli settlements—that both Bush and Hillary Rodham Clinton had used. He further suggested that Israel’s military would need to agree to leave the West Bank. Obama did not go all the way and try to define what his statement meant for the disputed city of Jerusalem, or attempt to address the issue of Palestinians who want to return to lands now in the state of Israel. He said those issues would need to be addressed after borders and security are settled. But, for a U.S. president, the explicit reference to the 1967 lines represented crossing the Rubicon.
Kessler does us the favor of quoting presidents from Lyndon Johnson in 1968 (“It is clear, however, that a return to the situation of 4 June 1967 will not bring peace. There must be secure and there must be recognized borders”) to Ronald Reagan in 1982 (“In the pre-1967 borders, Israel was barely ten miles wide at its narrowest point. The bulk of Israel’s population lived within artillery range of hostile armies. I am not about to ask Israel to live that way again”). Their views were decidedly not Obama’s views.
As in so many other areas of our national life, President Obama is staking out a position that is fairly extreme by ordinary American standards. But his positions on Israel are not extraordinary by the standards of America’s elite colleges and universities. In those precincts, what the president argued—which is essentially that the burden rests on Israel to make the “hard choices” for peace—is common fare. Among those on the left, Israel is the problem, the cause of unrest, the alien state, the aggressive power. And the only reasonable approach to the Israel-Palestinian conflict is to put pressure squarely on Israel to make unilateral concessions in order to jumpstart the “peace process.”
This view is, in every one of its particulars, not only wrong but the opposite of reality. Yet this worldview appears to dominate the thinking of the president. And my own theory—a theory originally advanced by Dorothy Rabinowitz of the Wall Street Journal—is that the explanation for this, at least in part, is that Obama has been marinated in the ideology of the modern academy, where hostility to Israel is not only widespread but very nearly uniform.
There are, thankfully, political realities that act on a check on the president’s more irresponsible impulses. But his premises and predilections seem to have their roots in places like Columbia and Harvard. And that may well explain why the president is so puzzled. He articulated a position that was, for academics, a given. He is abruptly finding out that what is assumed to be true at Columbia and Harvard isn’t true for the parts of the nation.
The president may think there was nothing particularly original in his proposal, but the fierce response he generated on the matter of Israel’s borders is evidence that there was. Once again Obama shows that, as much as any president in modern times, he is blind to his own ideological prejudices. The rest of us are not.
The news from Pakistan just keeps getting bleaker.
The Pakistan Taliban is now strong enough to attack and penetrate a major Pakistani naval base just six miles from the international airport in Karachi. The terrorists were finally defeated but only after a 17-hour gun battle during which they managed to destroy two U.S.-provided P-3 surveillance aircraft and to kill at least 12 security officers.
This comes amid news that Pakistan is talking about asking China to build a naval base nearby—a direct poke in the eye to India and the United States.
There is also another Wikileaks revelation, that Pakistani airmen allegedly sabotaged F-16s intended for use against extremists near Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan.
And finally this meticulous report from Kim Kagan’s Institute for the Study of War, one of the best private-sector intelligence agencies around, about how the Haqqani Network—the most dangerous terrorist group in Afghanistan—has established a safe haven in Pakistan’s Kurram tribal agency, which juts like a “parrot’s beak” into the middle of eastern Afghanistan and provides the shortest route from Pakistan to Kabul.
As I have written before, I am not at all sure of the answer to the problem of Pakistan. But the need to reassess our policy, and come up with a more effective approach (if such exists), is more urgent than ever. My Council on Foreign Relations colleague, Dan Markey, has some useful suggestions in this “policy innovation” memo.
Perhaps President Obama expected that his challenge to Israel to accept the 1967 lines as the starting point for peace talks would entice the Palestinians to be reasonable. If so, Palestinian leaders have quickly shown him to be hopelessly out of touch with the realities of the Middle East.
First, as Omri first reported yesterday, Palestinian Authority spokesman Saeb Erekat has made it clear that Israeli recognition of the 1967 borders is now a precondition for peace talks. As with his disastrous decision to demand a settlement freeze from Israel, Obama has thrown yet another monkey wrench into an already stalled peace process. And were those talks to ever start again, the president’s stand has created a dynamic that has made it virtually impossible for the Palestinians to agree to the land swaps that would allow Israel to hold onto Jewish Jerusalem and the major settlement blocs.
Next, the PA’s new coalition partner Hamas called Obama and raised him by saying that while making Israel retreat to the 1967 lines might be acceptable, the 1947 partition lines (in which all of Jerusalem was not part of the Jewish state) are more reasonable. While no one should expect Hamas to negotiate with Israel, what we see here is what happens when Israel’s sole ally makes a unilateral concession on behalf of the Jewish state. Obama’s apologists may say that he has said nothing new and that it doesn’t actually obligate Israel to give up an inch of land without a peace treaty, what the president’s statement accomplished is to establish in the eyes of both the Palestinians and the international community a standard that will see those lines as the minimum the Palestinians receive, not a theoretical maximum.
The debate about Israel’s borders has been altered to its detriment. In the years to come, especially during the rest of the Obama administration, we will come to see just how much damage he has done.
Today’s Supreme Court ruling in Brown v. Plata, which will require California to release as many as 46,000 of its inmates, may help reduce health care costs in the state, but much of that burden could be forced onto federal taxpayers.
It’s true that the conditions of California’s prison system are appalling. There aren’t enough guards to give prisoners sufficient supervision, there isn’t enough space to prevent overcrowding, and the health care system for the inmates is overstretched.
To address this, California has already instituted a program to release prisoners who are incapacitated. Even the most violent offenders—rapists, murderers, gang members—can be considered for parole if they are paralyzed or otherwise unable to perform basic daily tasks. And now the Supreme Court has ordered California to let out tens of thousands of other inmates, and some state officials are arguing that the sickest ones should be the ones chosen for release.
Reducing the number of prisoners “would save the state taxpayers half a billion annually,” said David Fathi, director of the ACLU national prison project. This is especially true if the ones who are released have health problems.
Discharging sick and disabled prisoners might let California taxpayers off the hook for health care. But it’s likely that many of them will qualify for Medicaid benefits, leaving the federal government to pick up the tab.
This is wrong. California is the one to blame for its own crumbling prison system, which could have been fixed if the state actually invested in its facilities. Now California will have to deal with the law enforcement costs of prematurely as many as 46,000 potentially dangerous convicts. Unfortunately, the federal government will now be saddled with the costs of providing health care and social services to many of them as well.
Secretary of Defense Bob Gates issued a powerful warning in his Notre Dame commencement address against excessively cutting defense spending:
The ultimate guarantee against the success of aggressors, dictators, and terrorists in the 21st century, as in the 20th, is hard power—the size, strength, and global reach of the United States military. Beyond the current wars, our military credibility, commitment, and presence are required to sustain alliances, to protect trade routes and energy supplies, and to deter would-be adversaries from making the kind of miscalculations that so often lead to war. All of these things happen mostly out of sight and out of mind to the average American, and thus are taken for granted. But they all depend on a properly armed, trained and funded American military, which cannot be taken for granted.
Gates was not explicit about why adequate funding for the military can no longer be “taken for granted,” but obviously the reason is the budget-cutting mood in Washington—exemplified by his boss, President Obama, who has spelled out a reckless plan for $400 billion in defense cuts over the next decade. Gates has already cut from the Pentagon budget, and he did not rule out more cuts in the future, but he did wisely cite “historian Donald Kagan’s observation that the preservation of peace depends upon those states seeking that goal having both the preponderant power and the will to accept the burdens and responsibilities required to achieve it.”
Make no mistake: If fully implemented, Obama’s envisioned defense budget would imperil the peace and our global standing, for as Gates noted, “If America declines to lead in the world, others will not.”
I hope that Republican presidential candidates are listening. They should resist the urge to propose their own cuts to the defense budget. Instead they should make defense of our national defense a major part of their platform. Given that two of the potential candidates who have expressed the strongest skepticism about an internationalist foreign policy—Mitch Daniels and Haley Barbour—aren’t running, the odds are greater that this will happen. Both Mitt Romney and Tim Pawlenty, who must now count as the front-runners, have been stalwarts on defense and foreign policy. That’s good news from the Republican perspective, for the GOP will be in deep trouble if it ever loses the reputation as the “strong on defense” party.
The admirers of Mitch Daniels are entitled to spend the next few days crying in their beer, while both praising their man and lamenting his decision not to run for president. But his undeniable virtues should not so cloud our judgment that we buy into a myth that he was headed for inevitable victory had not his family objected to having their personal history turned into a public spectacle by both a prurient media and bloodthirsty opponents. Daniels had a lot going for him but for all of his fiscal smarts, he was also a work in progress as a credible commander-in-chief. Even more, he was as dependent on unforeseen and uncontrollable circumstances tilting the election in his favor as any of them.
Daniels’s decision leaves the Republicans with a field that has many of them unsatisfied. This understandable state of mind causes many observers to believe that new candidates must appear simply because logic dictates that they must come forth to fill the supposed political vacuum that Daniels’s exit has created. But just because it seems logical that the circumstances will impel a plausible Republican to arise and rescue the party from its doldrums doesn’t mean that one exists or that he will step forward on cue. Those expecting Jeb Bush, Chris Christie or Paul Ryan or somebody else to reverse previous decisions to stay out of the presidential race are entitled to hope but I have yet to hear a credible argument as to why the very serious obstacles to each of their candidacies have been removed simply because some Republicans wish it to be so.
Should those figures not jump in, this would not be the first major party presidential nomination that was won by a member of a group of hopefuls that were initially deemed unpromising. The best example is the group of unlikely Democrats who ran in 1992 when wiser heads such as Mario Cuomo or Al Gore stayed out because of President George H.W. Bush’s supposed strength in the wake of the first Gulf War. And we all know how badly that turned out for the Democrats. Sometimes a man becomes president simply because he has the chutzpah to run when more prudent politicians stay home.
The challenges for whomever emerges from the current field of Republican candidates will be far greater than those faced by Clinton. But unless the nomination is captured by the most extreme forces in the party (a clear sign that, as was the case for the Republicans in 1964 and the Democrats in 1972, theirs is a hopeless cause anyway), then the winner will be someone who will have proved his mettle and have at least a fighting chance of succeeding in November. Despite the aura of attractiveness that hangs about anyone who is out of the battle, none of the people who are staying out of the race can claim much more than that. Republicans who want to beat Barack Obama should stop pining for unattainable saviors and start, to paraphrase Stephen Stills’s old song, loving one of the ones that they are with.
All right, then, who is going to carry the standard of fiscal responsibility into battle with Barack Obama? Something like this was the question that the editors of the Indianapolis Star asked when Mitch Daniels, their governor, decided to spare his family the public shaming of a presidential campaign. And a public shaming would have been inevitable. As John points out, the Obama reelection team is raising millions with one aim in view: to destroy the eventual Republican nominee. The New York Post reports this morning that all the president’s men are already digging up dirt on Governor Chris Christine.
Christie, though, has repeated again and again that he will not be running for the White House this time around. Representative Paul Ryan is the obvious one to pick up the standard that Daniels has dropped. But Ryan too has repeatedly ruled out a presidential bid, while nearly endorsing Daniels. With three children under the age of ten, Ryan has even more compelling family reasons to stay out.
Daniels’s departure opens a lane for Texas governor Rick Perry. With no other Southern governor interested in the office—now that Haley Barbour and Mike Huckabee are out—Perry is well-positioned for a presidential run. He is chairman of the Republican Governors Association. He governs a state that will gain four more electoral votes in the next election. His record in Texas, especially on the economy, stacks up favorably with Daniels’s in Indiana. Moreover, the lack of ego that Linda admires in Daniels (perhaps the burning ambition too) is not a lack with Perry. Over at The Daily Beast, Mark McKinnon predicts that the shakeup of the Republican race will “create a Texas tornado-size draft for Rick Perry.”
The rap against him is that the American people will not be ready for another Texas governor in the White House just four years after George W. Bush. As Ross Ramsey wrote in the New York Times last Thursday, the similarities between Perry and Bush in speech and mannerism are startling. “Chances are,” Ramsey says, “he’ll remind people of Mr. Bush if he starts appearing regularly on national TV.” The irony is that Perry has a complicated relationship with the Bush family, as Kevin D. Williamson observed in a profile in National Review last month, “which is to say that he’s hesitant to criticize them and they hate his guts.”
Nevertheless, Perry enjoys advantages. He not only shares the view of Daniels and Ryan that the U.S. is accelerating toward bankruptcy under Barack Obama, but he has personal reasons for dreading four more years of the same. Perry blames the president for ignoring drug violence along the U.S.-Mexico border, refusing to declare parts of wildfire-ravaged Texas a disaster area, and trying to dictate the state’s priorities through the “harum-scarum scheme” of stimulus spending. “This administration needs to be responsive to the people in the state of Texas,” he seethes. Perry may soon decide that the best way to save Texas from Washington is to move there—as president.
As Alana notes, Tim Pawlenty’s campaign slogan “A Time for Truth” seeks to contrast the Minnesota governor with more slippery opponents such as Mitt Romney or President Obama. But in announcing his run for the presidency today, he let slip that he’s going to be putting that slogan to an even sterner test: he’s planning on running against ethanol subsidies in Iowa. Although Pawlenty also said that he will talk about social security and Medicare reform in Florida and financial reform on Wall Street, the bit about opposing the ethanol boondoggle in Iowa is what ought to really catch some attention.
Pawlenty would not be the first person to win a presidential nomination despite offending Iowa farmers who profit from the sale of their corn to make the fuel alternative. John McCain flatly opposed ethanol subsidies when he ran unsuccessfully in 2000 but by the time he won the GOP nomination in 2008, he had backed away from that strong stand. Yet even then he barely contested Iowa before winning in New Hampshire and South Carolina.
By contrast, Pawlenty is counting heavily on winning in Iowa where some have already dubbed him the frontrunner. A loss there would severely damage his chances of winning the nomination. So stepping on what is a third-rail issue in Iowa can be portrayed as a true profile in courage for the Minnesotan. But it may not be as self-destructive as some might think. Rather than making him vulnerable, opposing ethanol could be the smartest way to box in his most dangerous opponent in the Hawkeye state: Minnesota Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann.
Although Bachmann is routinely dismissed as too much of an outlier to be a formidable presidential candidate, she does provide Pawlenty with his toughest competition for two key constituencies in Iowa: evangelicals and Tea Party activists. It is not likely that either has a substantial advantage with the former. Both can credibly represent the views of conservative Christians who catapulted Mike Huckabee to a victory in Iowa in 2008. As the putative leader of the Tea Party caucus in Congress Bachmann cedes no ground to any Republican. But by stating his opposition to ethanol subsidies, Pawlenty is setting a trap for Bachmann.
If Bachmann attempts to pander to Iowans on ethanol, she can be easily branded a hypocrite and Tea Party apostate. After all, how can anyone who claims to represent a pure anti-tax and spend position while endorsing what amounts to welfare for people who grow corn? Though Pawlenty might lose some votes because of his ethanol position, he stands to garner applause and credibility among hard core Tea Partiers and other GOP activists. If Bachmann joins him in opposing the subsidy, he is no worse off and will at the very least compete with her for that segment of voters. If she waffles on the issue, then she is cooked not only in Iowa but any other state where she attempts to fill the void left by Mike Huckabee.
So while Pawlenty’s truth-teller spiel may sound corny to seasoned political observers, it may be that in throwing down the gauntlet on ethanol, he may have correctly estimated that even in Iowa the path to the nomination lies in appeasing anti-tax activists more than corn farmers.
So, after the speech on Thursday and the speech on Sunday and the defenses of Barack Obama in the wake of his remarks on Sunday, it would appear the best defense of the president’s talk on 1967 borders is this: Never mind.
Gov. Tim Pawlenty rolls out his campaign today with an impressive video and a new slogan: “A Time for Truth.” Pawlenty claims in the video that he’ll speak the hard truths that Americans need to hear, even though they might not be politically palatable.
But from a political standpoint, this could turn out to be a savvy move. The concern about Pawlenty is whether he can generate enough momentum to position himself as a credible alternative to Romney. The video is smart because it’s actually a duel attack on Romney and President Obama, both known for their politicking and meticulous strategizing. Many conservatives view Romney has a phony, and this video could help Pawlenty position himself as the one candid politician in the race.
Fiscal conservatives are desperately seeking someone to fill the void that has been left by Mitch Daniels, and Pawlenty’s video also shows that he’s interested in fighting for that slot. The video’s focus is on economic issues, and social/foreign policy issues don’t even make a cameo. His slogan also echoes the theme of Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget town halls, where the congressman is blunt about our deficit crisis.
But there’s also a potential downside for this new slogan. Pawlenty tends to come off as a little hokey, which has made it difficult for him to energize the conservative base. This perception isn’t something that he has a lot of control over, and it could end up getting in the way of his message. “A Time for Truth” has the potential to come off as a bold and honest like Ryan’s town hall campaigns, but it could also end up being perceived as a goofy campaign gimmick, like Sen. John McCain’s “straight-talk express.”
Now we know what Joe Biden is dreaming about while he’s dozing through one of Barack Obama’s speeches. Ben Smith of Politico reports that the vice president told a group of major Democratic Party donors in Cincinnati that he hadn’t made up his mind whether he would try for the presidency in 2016.
The funny thing is that although Biden never made any Dick Cheney-like promise of never running for the top office, most people just assumed that the veep wouldn’t try it again. But though most of us associate a Joe Biden presidential candidacy with either the plagiarism charges that ended his abortive run in 1988 or the widespread apathy that greeted his 2008 attempt, the dream inside the vice president has never died. Although few thought he had a prayer four years ago Biden seemed to be running mostly to give the American people one last chance to vote in the man he deemed best qualified. And I suppose he thinks eight years—assuming that he and Obama are reelected and that Biden who will be 74 then is in good health—in the number two spot only amplifies that good opinion of himself.
Immersed as we are in the preparations for the 2012 campaign, 2016 seems like a few decades away and it is impossible to know now what the situation will be then. But I suppose people like New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and Virginia Senator Mark Warner are also having 2016 daydreams. And though Biden has always tended to be a better punch line than a presidential candidate, a sitting vice president can’t be dismissed as easily as Biden was in 2008.
Having worked with Mitch Daniels in the Reagan White House, I wasn’t surprised at his decision to put his family before his ambition. Among the attributes that would have made him a great president is his lack of ego. It is the rare politician who has even a passing acquaintance with humility—but Mitch never made himself the center of attention, instead focusing on whatever job needed doing, never mind who got the credit.
I am saddened that he chose not to run, but I fully understand why he did so. As John suggests, the Obama machine will attempt to destroy whoever becomes the Republican nominee. Mitch has spared his wife and daughters what could have become a vicious scramble to dig up dirt and pass on salacious innuendo, which had already begun when the New York Times decided to run two high-profile articles on the Daniels’s divorce and remarriage in the mid-1990s. Whatever their past problems, the Danielses should be admired for putting their family back together. Mitch would have made a great president, but he showed great moral leadership by putting his family first.
Former Georgia congresswoman Cynthia McKinney has been making the rounds of autocratic state-owned news stations for the past few days. She’s apparently in Libya now to “monitor” the human rights situation with an unspecified non-governmental organization, and went on TV to sell out the American people and defend the Qaddafi regime.
“I want to say categorically and very clearly that these policies of war … are not what the people of the United States stand for, and it’s not what African-Americans stand for,” McKinney said.
“To all of the people of Libya, who are suffering, as a result of the conflict that has broken out between the NATO countries and Libya, I come here with a heavy heart. . . . The government of the United States fails to represent the interests of the American people now.”
McKinney claimed that some of the criticism of the Qaddafi regime was simply “propaganda,” and that the U.S. regularly uses these tactics to mislead black Americans.
“When we initially heard the assertion or the allegation that the Libyan government had employed black mercenaries, it sounded exactly like the propaganda that we blacks in the United States are so accustomed to,” McKinney said.
The former congresswoman was also on the Iranian state-owned Press TV yesterday, where she claimed that U.S. lawmakers are forced to support Israel, because if they do not then they won’t be given money to run a campaign.
“Every candidate for Congress at that time had a pledge. They were given a pledge to sign … that had Jerusalem as the capital city,” McKinney said in an interview with Press TV on Sunday. “You make a commitment that you would vote to support the military superiority of Israel that the economic assistant that Israel wants that you would vote to provide that.” If the candidate refuses to sign the pledge, “then you do not get money to run your campaign,” she added McKinney.
This is where the left-wing concept of human rights ultimately leads. To people like McKinney, the U.S. and Israel are always the oppressors, and the terrorist states that despise the West are always the victims. And not only do they make fools out of themselves, but those who previously had prominent standing in the U.S.—like McKinney—are also excellent propaganda tools for anti-American regimes. There’s no doubt that McKinney’s comments will be looped over and over again on Libyan TV.
Over the weekend, the Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg repeated a piece of conventional wisdom that has increasingly been used as a club with which to beat Israel’s government:
AIPAC, at this point, represents the outlook of a minority of Jewish Americans—and certainly a minority of younger Jewish Americans. . . . Make no mistake: Support for Israel (and for the Netanyahu government in particular) is slowly waning among Democrats.
Even though we hear this mostly in the context of attempts to bludgeon Israel and to persuade its leaders that they cannot rely on American support, many of us tend to accept it as true since it confirms our most pessimistic conclusions about the result of assimilation and the loss of a sense of Jewish identity among American Jews.
But though this may eventually prove to be true, it might not yet be so. A new poll conducted by Frank Luntz and commissioned by the CAMERA media watchdog group suggests that attitudes towards the peace process have not shifted as much as Goldberg thinks they have.
The poll showed an overwhelming majority of American Jews who believe that the Israeli people and its government are committed to peace. A large majority also thinks that Palestinian incitement to hatred is the primary obstacle to Middle East peace, not Jewish settlements. More than three quarters—77 percent—say Israel should “refuse to negotiate with the Palestinian Authority until Hamas renounces terrorism and officially recognizes Israel’s right to exist.”
While some will dismiss this poll because of its association with a strongly pro-Israel group, the numbers are pretty clear cut and seem to portray an American Jewry whose basic support for Israel’s existence and its right to self-defense has not diminished.
Just as important for politicians though, is the poll of Jewish political contributors. As Eli Lake wrote yesterday in the Washington Times, a number of top Democratic money raisers believe President Obama’s confrontational attitude toward Israel will diminish support for the party in next year’s election. Instead of using Prime Minister Netanyahu’s visit to the United States to shore up relations with the Jewish state and with Jewish Democrats, Obama’s ambush of the Israeli has deepened suspicions about the president’s attitude.
So while Israel’s critics on the left believe that Netanyahu is bleeding support, the evidence continues to mount that it is they, and not he, who are out of touch with the views of the majority of American Jews.
While it has been increasingly difficult to follow the reasoning of the editors of the New York Times, the paper’s decision to publish Frank R. Lindh’s defense of his son, Taliban soldier John Walker Lindh in Saturday’s edition must rank as one of the most bizarre in recent memory.
Entitled “Bin Laden’s Gone. Can My Son Come Home?” the elder Lindh argues that the killing of the Al Qaeda leader ought to lead to a general amnesty for all whose crimes are connected with the war on terror and its main front in Afghanistan. Lindh believes his son, captured under arms while fighting with the Taliban against allied forces in Afghanistan in 2001 and sentenced to 20 years in prison for aiding the Taliban, has suffered enough.
Any parent’s grief should be respected, but the attempt to portray someone who went to Afghanistan purposefully to fight on behalf of one of the world’s most repressive regimes as “idealistic” is beyond absurd. In one of the most idiotic lines published not only in that newspaper but any publication, Lindh asserts that his son’s decision is in the tradition of those who went to Spain in the 1930s to fight fascism: “Like Ernest Hemingway during the Spanish Civil War, John had volunteered for the army of a foreign government battling an insurgency.”
Let’s parse that sentence.
The decision by Governor Mitch Daniels to forego a presidential run because of family considerations is an example of something exceedingly rare in the political arena—selflessness and grace.
I say that because Daniels wanted to run for president, and if he had chosen to do so, he would have been a front-runner. But because of concerns expressed by his wife and four daughters, he decided to take a pass.
I’m fully aware of the counter-argument to the decision Daniels made. If the situation facing our nations is as grave as Daniels believes, didn’t he have a duty to put himself forward as a candidate? I’m certainly sympathetic to that argument—but the point is, Daniels is familiar with it as well. It must have gone around and around in his mind a thousand times.
Whether Daniels’s decision is the right one depends on the angle of vision. But it is fair to say that in a profession in which politicians routinely place their towering personal ambitions above all else, neglect their families and cheat on their spouses, and even declare that their infidelity is an act of patriotism, what Daniels did was in its own way personally impressive.
I’m not cynical about politicians. They’re capable of acts of courage and perseverance. It isn’t easy being in the arena; those who endure the slings and arrows deserve ample credit. And there are genuine sacrifices that accompany public service. But there’s also enormous ego gratification that occurs, even though public officials rarely acknowledge it (they stress the sacrificial nature of serving in public life, not the inflated pride and public adoration that usually accompany it). And for a public official genuinely to put the desires of others ahead of his own—to step back from the stage when you have a realistic chance to become the next president of the United States—happens about as often as does a solstice lunar eclipse.
I wish Daniels had decided to run. But in an age when the order of our loves is easily corrupted, even in ways we don’t see, it’s hard to criticize a man for not forcing his wife and daughters to relive a terribly painful episode not of his own making.
Mitch Daniels’s announcement that he’s not running for president, along with so many other plausible Republican candidates, indicates how unusual an election cycle this is. People used to crave running for president even if it was unlikely they would win. Take two races the incumbent eventually won but which looked decent for the opposition in the early going. In the 1984 race against Ronald Reagan, which began the year before as the country was stumbling out of a horrific recession, seven serious Democrats were in the running—Sens. John Glenn, Alan Simpson, Gary Hart, and Ernest Hollings, former Florida governor Ruben Askew, Jesse Jackson (who proved unexpectedly formidable), and the eventual nominee, Walter Mondale. In 1996 on the Republican side, Sen. Phil Gramm, and former governors Lamar Alexander and Pete Wilson were all serious candidates in contention against Bob Dole. The 2012 race is characterized more by those refusing to run than by those running.
So why is this happening? Simple. You’ve probably heard that the president and his team are looking to raise $1 billion to run on in 2012. They may make it; they may not. But what is that money to be spent on? He won’t have to spend it in a primary, it looks like. So that means the Obama team will have hundreds upon hundreds of millions of dollars to spend with one object and one object only: Destroy the eventual Republican nominee. Go after him. Drag his name through the mud. Run commercials every 15 seconds in six battleground states in which he removes wheelchairs from Medicare patients and grabs checks from Social Security recipients. And should there be a personal problem, a marial difficulty…well, Katie, bar the door. Imagine being Mitch Daniels, with your complex marital history, contemplating the onslaught of a negative campaign that cascades over you beginning in June 2012, just as you’re trying to “define” yourself to the American people. Pretty horrible to contemplate.
Everybody in America already knows and has an opinion of Obama. It will be the Obama team’s job to help everybody develop an opinion of his rival that is unabashedly hostile. And they will have the dollars to do it, though it should be said even an ad campaign in the hundreds of millions can’t in themselves cast a magic spell. But it can help.
This is the logical outcome of two things: a) the increasingly personal nature of the negativity of American politics; and b) the astonishing sums of money that can now be raised through small donations over the Internet. Tough road.
A day after President Obama’s second speech in four days in which he asserted the 1967 lines must be the basis for future peace talks, the front-page headline of the New York Times says everything about the impact of his stands. It reads “Obama Presses Israel to Make Hard Choices.”
Just that—“Obama Presses Israel to Make Hard Choices.” Not his lengthy description of U.S.-Israel security cooperation. Not his pledge to preserve the security of the Jewish state. Not his vow to prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons. What the world heard and what the world understood—even if many Jewish Democrats prefer to remain in denial—is that Obama believes Israel must be pressured hard if there is to be peace. His condescending manner at AIPAC made it clear that he considers Israel to be the primary obstacle to peace.
Yet for all of the fact that he and his cheerleaders insist that Obama knows the history of the Middle East as well if not better than Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, he omitted a few key facts from his litany. Israel has already made “hard choices.” Israel signed the Oslo Accords empowering terrorist Yasir Arafat in 1993; and handed over all of Gaza to the Palestinian Authority in 2005. It offered Arafat in 2000 and 2001 and his successor Mahmoud Abbas in 2008, a Palestinian state in virtually all of the West Bank, a share of Jerusalem and Gaza and was turned down every time.
The Palestinians have compounded this refusal with an alliance between the moderates of Fatah and the terrorists of Hamas that even Obama understands eliminates them as a negotiating partner. And yet, he still insists that Israel must negotiate with them and make “hard choices,” which will start with their acceptance of his demand that the 1967 lines be the starting point for negotiations. Obama says that this means that the border ought to be different from those lines; yet the Palestinians insist they cannot be. And they will use, as they already have, his endorsement of those lines to buttress the very UN campaign for independent statehood that Obama says he will oppose.
Given the impossibility of such negotiations on even the terms set by Obama, one must ask why the president chose to overshadow his remarks on the Arab Spring protests in this manner. He earned little credit for it in the Arab world and his attack on Israel’s government will retard not speed up a stalled peace process. The only explanation that makes any sense is that his sense of grievance against Netanyahu made the ambush that he set up on the eve of the Israeli’s visit irresistible to him. The only hard choice that was made this weekend was the president’s decision to throw common sense to the winds and ignite another pointless and counterproductive feud with Israel.