Commentary Magazine


Posts For: June 7, 2011

Only a Matter of Time Before Qaddafi Falls

House Republicans who voted to stop the war in Libya right away — 87 of them supported a resolution by isolationist, ultra-left-wing Rep. Dennis Kucinich last week — could not be more out of step with developments on the ground. They seem to think that the war in Libya is a quagmire and that they will derive political advantage from denouncing it. Wrong. The New York Times’s ace war correspondent John Burns reports from Tripoli that the Qaddafi regime is clearing teetering on the brink of disaster:

The Libyan government has a growing record of improbable statements and carefully manipulated news events, but four months into the conflict here, it is showing signs of desperation and disorganization. The loyalist locker seems increasingly bare.

With Colonel Qaddafi effectively a fugitive in his own capital; with Libyan rebels making important gains in recent days in the western mountains; with growing food shortages; and with an urban underground in Tripoli capable of mounting mass protests that the government can suppress only with deadly fire, the government now seems to be relying ever more heavily on its propaganda machine.

But Qaddafi can’t even spread propaganda effectively. His minions are reducing to making improbable claims of NATO brutalities that leave Western reporters amused, not impressed.

Qaddafi will fall; it’s only a matter of time. Washington Republicans would be well advised not to try to come to this discredited tyrant’s rescue. Instead they should push the Obama administration to ensure that there is a good plan in place for the post-Qaddafi phase when it will be imperative to dispatch a substantial international stabilization force to avoid the kind of disasters that occurred in post-2003 Iraq.

House Republicans who voted to stop the war in Libya right away — 87 of them supported a resolution by isolationist, ultra-left-wing Rep. Dennis Kucinich last week — could not be more out of step with developments on the ground. They seem to think that the war in Libya is a quagmire and that they will derive political advantage from denouncing it. Wrong. The New York Times’s ace war correspondent John Burns reports from Tripoli that the Qaddafi regime is clearing teetering on the brink of disaster:

The Libyan government has a growing record of improbable statements and carefully manipulated news events, but four months into the conflict here, it is showing signs of desperation and disorganization. The loyalist locker seems increasingly bare.

With Colonel Qaddafi effectively a fugitive in his own capital; with Libyan rebels making important gains in recent days in the western mountains; with growing food shortages; and with an urban underground in Tripoli capable of mounting mass protests that the government can suppress only with deadly fire, the government now seems to be relying ever more heavily on its propaganda machine.

But Qaddafi can’t even spread propaganda effectively. His minions are reducing to making improbable claims of NATO brutalities that leave Western reporters amused, not impressed.

Qaddafi will fall; it’s only a matter of time. Washington Republicans would be well advised not to try to come to this discredited tyrant’s rescue. Instead they should push the Obama administration to ensure that there is a good plan in place for the post-Qaddafi phase when it will be imperative to dispatch a substantial international stabilization force to avoid the kind of disasters that occurred in post-2003 Iraq.

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Debunking the Democrats’ Israel Counter-Offensive

The Jewish Telegraphic Agency is reporting today that the Democratic Party is in the process of launching a major counter-offensive designed to quash the general perception that President Obama is not a stalwart friend of Israel. According to the Democrats, the whole idea of a conflict between Obama and Israel is a myth propagated by the Republicans as part of their perennial futile chase for Jewish votes.

But unlike previous elections when the Democrats were able to mock GOP efforts to portray themselves as better friends to Israel than their opponents, the evidence for a split between Jerusalem and Washington is more than an assertion by the Republican Jewish Coalition. It was the plain fact that three times in the last three years, President Obama has picked a public fight with the government of Israel. That doesn’t mean Republicans are saying that all Democrats are anti-Israel, as the Democrats have claimed they did in the past. The bi-partisan standing ovations given Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during his address to Congress illustrated gives the lie to any such charge.

But anyone who witnessed on television the drama that played out between Obama and Netanyahu last month understood that there was an argument going on and that, in the end, the Israeli prevailed. The Democrats think they can beat down the idea that Obama isn’t friendly to Israel by claiming the president’s mention of the 1967 lines in his Middle East policy speech was not a change in American policy. But, if so, why did Obama (who made the same “nothing to see here” claim in his speech to AIPAC) also say that he deserved credit for being bold enough to say it?

That is not to say that Obama has abandoned the alliance with Israel. He hasn’t. But on key issues such as Jerusalem and borders, he has tilted the diplomatic playing field in the direction of the Palestinians. His refusal to couple these demands on Israel with similar ones put on the Palestinians such as a request that they drop the “right of return,” has discomfited Israel and made peace an even more remote possibility.

Moreover, while Jewish Democrats say that it is inadmissible for the GOP to even raise the issue of Israel as a matter of public debate, the people of Israel have their own opinions about Obama. As I wrote a couple of weeks ago, do Israelis, whom polls show overwhelmingly believe that Obama is no friend of the Jewish state, have the right to say who is pro-Israel? Read More

The Jewish Telegraphic Agency is reporting today that the Democratic Party is in the process of launching a major counter-offensive designed to quash the general perception that President Obama is not a stalwart friend of Israel. According to the Democrats, the whole idea of a conflict between Obama and Israel is a myth propagated by the Republicans as part of their perennial futile chase for Jewish votes.

But unlike previous elections when the Democrats were able to mock GOP efforts to portray themselves as better friends to Israel than their opponents, the evidence for a split between Jerusalem and Washington is more than an assertion by the Republican Jewish Coalition. It was the plain fact that three times in the last three years, President Obama has picked a public fight with the government of Israel. That doesn’t mean Republicans are saying that all Democrats are anti-Israel, as the Democrats have claimed they did in the past. The bi-partisan standing ovations given Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during his address to Congress illustrated gives the lie to any such charge.

But anyone who witnessed on television the drama that played out between Obama and Netanyahu last month understood that there was an argument going on and that, in the end, the Israeli prevailed. The Democrats think they can beat down the idea that Obama isn’t friendly to Israel by claiming the president’s mention of the 1967 lines in his Middle East policy speech was not a change in American policy. But, if so, why did Obama (who made the same “nothing to see here” claim in his speech to AIPAC) also say that he deserved credit for being bold enough to say it?

That is not to say that Obama has abandoned the alliance with Israel. He hasn’t. But on key issues such as Jerusalem and borders, he has tilted the diplomatic playing field in the direction of the Palestinians. His refusal to couple these demands on Israel with similar ones put on the Palestinians such as a request that they drop the “right of return,” has discomfited Israel and made peace an even more remote possibility.

Moreover, while Jewish Democrats say that it is inadmissible for the GOP to even raise the issue of Israel as a matter of public debate, the people of Israel have their own opinions about Obama. As I wrote a couple of weeks ago, do Israelis, whom polls show overwhelmingly believe that Obama is no friend of the Jewish state, have the right to say who is pro-Israel?

Even those who are not one-issue voters understand that this administration made a concerted effort to distance itself from Israel from its first day in office. Some Jews, especially those on the hard left and in the J Street lobby may applaud this shift. But even those who care deeply about the Democrat’s core domestic agenda and would never vote for a Republican are disturbed by Obama’s confrontational attitude toward Israel. That means the votes of Jewish independents and less fervently partisan Jewish Democrats will be, depending on the identity of the GOP nominee next year, in play to some in extent next year.

For decades, Jewish Republicans pined after another Ronald Reagan who would match the record 39 percent of the Jewish vote the GOP won in 1980. But they were looking at the problem through the wrong end of the telescope. For all of Reagan’s virtues, it was the presence of Jimmy Carter on the ballot that year that motivated so many Jews to vote Republican. Next year and for the first time since 1980, the Republicans will have another Democrat with a less-than-enthusiastic attitude toward the Jewish state to run against. Obama will still win the majority of Jewish support in 2012 but his presence on the ballot ensures that the Democratic share of the Jewish presidential vote will plummet. Anyone who thinks speeches and op-eds from the likes of Debbie Wasserman-Schultz is enough to prevent this is dreaming.

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Does Ban Ki-Moon Deserve a Second Term?

Former South Korean Foreign Minsiter Ban Ki-moon has announced his desire to serve a second term as UN Secretary-General. His re-election is virtually assured as appears to have the support of all five permanent UN Security Council members. Still, he does not deserve it.

The problem has not been his (cowardly) stance on human rights in China, his (economically-disastrous) advocacy for global warming treaties, or his (admirable) position on the wave of dissent in the Arab Middle East. Rather, it is that he takes any stance at all. The secretary-general is meant to be an administrator, in charge of an organization beset by corruption and inefficiency. It was never meant to be a soapbox for an internationalist agenda or, indeed, for any agenda.

With the United Nations hemorrhaging money faster even than the world economy, it’s time that Turtle Bay gets its own house in order. It needs a leader, not a globe-trotter. The only question the Obama administration should ask Ban Ki-moon is what he has done to make the UN accountable to its own balance sheet and its officials accountable to the rule of law and fiscal responsibility. The sooner the UN remembers, institutionally, that it is to be a forum for nation-states, not an unaccountable body meant to supplant them, the better off we all will be.

Former South Korean Foreign Minsiter Ban Ki-moon has announced his desire to serve a second term as UN Secretary-General. His re-election is virtually assured as appears to have the support of all five permanent UN Security Council members. Still, he does not deserve it.

The problem has not been his (cowardly) stance on human rights in China, his (economically-disastrous) advocacy for global warming treaties, or his (admirable) position on the wave of dissent in the Arab Middle East. Rather, it is that he takes any stance at all. The secretary-general is meant to be an administrator, in charge of an organization beset by corruption and inefficiency. It was never meant to be a soapbox for an internationalist agenda or, indeed, for any agenda.

With the United Nations hemorrhaging money faster even than the world economy, it’s time that Turtle Bay gets its own house in order. It needs a leader, not a globe-trotter. The only question the Obama administration should ask Ban Ki-moon is what he has done to make the UN accountable to its own balance sheet and its officials accountable to the rule of law and fiscal responsibility. The sooner the UN remembers, institutionally, that it is to be a forum for nation-states, not an unaccountable body meant to supplant them, the better off we all will be.

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Oh, the Irony: Weiner Championed Bill to Keep Sexual Predators Off the Internet

This is pretty ironic. The American Thinker is reporting that the Rep. Anthony Weiner’s website boasts about how he spearheaded legislation that would make it more difficult for sexual predators to target underage internet users:

Sadly, the Internet is the predator’s venue of choice today. We need to update our strategies and our laws to stop these offenders who are a mere click away from our children.

To read the text of the KIDS (Keeping the Internet Devoid of Sexual Predators) Act of 2007 click here

You can read the press release from my press conference releasing the report here

Weiner isn’t a sex offender, just a creep, but there are legitimate questions over whether his behavior crossed the line into sexual harassment. He said yesterday that “to the best of his knowledge” the women were all of legal age, and so far there’s no evidence to doubt that claim. But there are other aspects to the saga that raise red flags.

For example, one of the women he was sending photos to told ABC News that she voiced her uneasiness with the relationship to Weiner at one point, and he responded by joking that he was “stalking” her.

“I don’t think he has any control over what he’s doing in this area,” the woman told ABC News. “I don’t think someone can be that open in that amount of time.”

Another strange piece of the puzzle is the initial photo he sent to a young college student that set off the controversy. According to the student, she and Weiner had absolutely no inappropriate contact before the photo was sent. “There have never been any inappropriate exchanges between Anthony Weiner and myself, including the tweet/picture in question, which had apparently been deleted before it reached me,” she said in a statement.

The woman also claimed that she was surprised to see the photo, and said she “assumed that the tweet and the picture were [conservative Twitter users’] latest attempts at defaming the Congressman and harassing his supporters.”

But Weiner said at his press conference yesterday that he intentionally sent the photo, and that it was actually intended to be funny.

“I tweeted a photograph of myself that I intended to send as a joke to a woman in Seattle,” he acknowledged.

Ha-ha? This is just a hunch, but I’m pretty sure that most women don’t find it a real knee-slapper to receive unsolicited sexually explicit photos from someone over the internet.

Let’s call this behavior what it is: sexual harassment. Of course, don’t expect to hear that objection from so-called feminist pundits.

This is pretty ironic. The American Thinker is reporting that the Rep. Anthony Weiner’s website boasts about how he spearheaded legislation that would make it more difficult for sexual predators to target underage internet users:

Sadly, the Internet is the predator’s venue of choice today. We need to update our strategies and our laws to stop these offenders who are a mere click away from our children.

To read the text of the KIDS (Keeping the Internet Devoid of Sexual Predators) Act of 2007 click here

You can read the press release from my press conference releasing the report here

Weiner isn’t a sex offender, just a creep, but there are legitimate questions over whether his behavior crossed the line into sexual harassment. He said yesterday that “to the best of his knowledge” the women were all of legal age, and so far there’s no evidence to doubt that claim. But there are other aspects to the saga that raise red flags.

For example, one of the women he was sending photos to told ABC News that she voiced her uneasiness with the relationship to Weiner at one point, and he responded by joking that he was “stalking” her.

“I don’t think he has any control over what he’s doing in this area,” the woman told ABC News. “I don’t think someone can be that open in that amount of time.”

Another strange piece of the puzzle is the initial photo he sent to a young college student that set off the controversy. According to the student, she and Weiner had absolutely no inappropriate contact before the photo was sent. “There have never been any inappropriate exchanges between Anthony Weiner and myself, including the tweet/picture in question, which had apparently been deleted before it reached me,” she said in a statement.

The woman also claimed that she was surprised to see the photo, and said she “assumed that the tweet and the picture were [conservative Twitter users’] latest attempts at defaming the Congressman and harassing his supporters.”

But Weiner said at his press conference yesterday that he intentionally sent the photo, and that it was actually intended to be funny.

“I tweeted a photograph of myself that I intended to send as a joke to a woman in Seattle,” he acknowledged.

Ha-ha? This is just a hunch, but I’m pretty sure that most women don’t find it a real knee-slapper to receive unsolicited sexually explicit photos from someone over the internet.

Let’s call this behavior what it is: sexual harassment. Of course, don’t expect to hear that objection from so-called feminist pundits.

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Is Syrian “Massacre” a Sign the Regime Is Cracking?

A day after the Syrian government claimed that 120 security personnel were “massacred” by so-called “armed gangs” in the northern town of Jisr al-Shoughour, it is still far from clear what took place there. According to an account in the New York Times, residents of the region reached by phone denied the government version of the story. They insisted that the fighting was between a growing number of defectors from the security forces and those still loyal to the Assad regime.

Whether the massacre that took place reflects genuine casualty reports of government forces or not, it is clear that the anti-Assad protests have reached a new level. If the resistance in the north is being led by defectors that is a telling blow to the government. The Assad clan and other members of the Alawite minority in Syria have an absolute grip on power in the country. But if they can no longer command the loyalty of the rank and file, the stage may be set for a genuine rebellion. And that is why the regime is going all out to crush dissent in the north before things get out of hand.

The other major development today was the reported defection of the Syrian ambassador to France that was reported on French TV. France, the former colonial overlord of Syria, has a special interest in the country and having his ambassador in Paris go over to the opposition is another body blow to Bashar Assad.

But despite the desertions from his ranks, there is no sign that Assad is going soft or losing confidence in his ability to hang on. If anything, the signs of organized resistance in the north, where theoretically a dissident government could be set up similar to what opponents of the Qaddafi regime did in Benghazi, Libya, presents Assad with a challenge that he cannot back away from.

A day after the Syrian government claimed that 120 security personnel were “massacred” by so-called “armed gangs” in the northern town of Jisr al-Shoughour, it is still far from clear what took place there. According to an account in the New York Times, residents of the region reached by phone denied the government version of the story. They insisted that the fighting was between a growing number of defectors from the security forces and those still loyal to the Assad regime.

Whether the massacre that took place reflects genuine casualty reports of government forces or not, it is clear that the anti-Assad protests have reached a new level. If the resistance in the north is being led by defectors that is a telling blow to the government. The Assad clan and other members of the Alawite minority in Syria have an absolute grip on power in the country. But if they can no longer command the loyalty of the rank and file, the stage may be set for a genuine rebellion. And that is why the regime is going all out to crush dissent in the north before things get out of hand.

The other major development today was the reported defection of the Syrian ambassador to France that was reported on French TV. France, the former colonial overlord of Syria, has a special interest in the country and having his ambassador in Paris go over to the opposition is another body blow to Bashar Assad.

But despite the desertions from his ranks, there is no sign that Assad is going soft or losing confidence in his ability to hang on. If anything, the signs of organized resistance in the north, where theoretically a dissident government could be set up similar to what opponents of the Qaddafi regime did in Benghazi, Libya, presents Assad with a challenge that he cannot back away from.

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Why is the US Embassy in Turkey endorsing the AKP?

The sign of skilled diplomacy is to know when to speak and when to remain silent. Alas, it is a lesson which appears to have eluded the U.S. Embassy in Ankara. Writes Gazetevatan (in Turkish):

Laura De Otalvaro, the chief of the political section at the U.S. Embassy in Ankara, says that AKP will be first in the polls in the coming elections. Visiting the [Black Sea coastal town of] Zonguldak, Otalvaro visited the AKP’s local headquarters and answered questions from press jointly with Hamdi Ucar, the AKP Zonguldak organization chairman. She says there is no doubt that AKP will win.

Polls do suggest the AKP cruising to victory, but Turkish elections are notoriously unpredictable. What is certain, however, is that the AKP uses every press statement, White House phone call, or visit to Washington to suggest endorsement where none may exist. If the Turkish news report is accurate, De Otalvaro has given the Islamist, anti-American, and anti-Semitic Justice and Development Party a huge endorsement less than a week before the elections. She should not have appeared in an AKP headquarters, let alone given a press conference with the local party leader. It was both unfair and unwise to undercut the recent opposition surge. Once again, an American diplomat has failed to see the forest through the trees, and American long-term interests will suffer.

The sign of skilled diplomacy is to know when to speak and when to remain silent. Alas, it is a lesson which appears to have eluded the U.S. Embassy in Ankara. Writes Gazetevatan (in Turkish):

Laura De Otalvaro, the chief of the political section at the U.S. Embassy in Ankara, says that AKP will be first in the polls in the coming elections. Visiting the [Black Sea coastal town of] Zonguldak, Otalvaro visited the AKP’s local headquarters and answered questions from press jointly with Hamdi Ucar, the AKP Zonguldak organization chairman. She says there is no doubt that AKP will win.

Polls do suggest the AKP cruising to victory, but Turkish elections are notoriously unpredictable. What is certain, however, is that the AKP uses every press statement, White House phone call, or visit to Washington to suggest endorsement where none may exist. If the Turkish news report is accurate, De Otalvaro has given the Islamist, anti-American, and anti-Semitic Justice and Development Party a huge endorsement less than a week before the elections. She should not have appeared in an AKP headquarters, let alone given a press conference with the local party leader. It was both unfair and unwise to undercut the recent opposition surge. Once again, an American diplomat has failed to see the forest through the trees, and American long-term interests will suffer.

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The Security Clearance Backlog, Part II

On Sunday, I quoted a former official seeking to explain the backlog in security clearance processing. Another retired Defense Security Service (DSS)/Office of Personnel Management investigator writes in to say this:

“As part of DSS, all of DISCO’s operations are paid for by appropriated funds. The federal contractors who process their clearances through DISCO do not pay for services provided by DISCO or by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), which conducts the security clearance investigations. DISCO uses appropriated funds to pay OPM for the investigations it requests from OPM. OPM’s Federal Investigative Services Division operates on a fee-for-service basis.”

My response: Tomato, tomato. Bureaucratic finger-pointing is counterproductive. The DSS can point fingers at OPM, and OPM can point fingers at DSS. The point of the post is that there appears to be a discrepancy between the numbers OPM reports to Congress on the length of security clearance processing and the actual length of time needed to grant clearances based on reporting of figures timed to the end of investigations rather than to their adjudication and decision-making. The backlog, while always counterproductive, is undemocratic when new administrations can’t get their appointees processed in any reasonable time. In a time of war, however, it also endangers national security. Clearances are important and the Bradley Manning and Kendall Myers cases underline that they must be thorough, should not be a choke point on policy. That other retired investigators explain that the backlog is in part the result of bureaucratic “blue flu” suggests that it is time for some sustained Congressional queries.

On Sunday, I quoted a former official seeking to explain the backlog in security clearance processing. Another retired Defense Security Service (DSS)/Office of Personnel Management investigator writes in to say this:

“As part of DSS, all of DISCO’s operations are paid for by appropriated funds. The federal contractors who process their clearances through DISCO do not pay for services provided by DISCO or by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), which conducts the security clearance investigations. DISCO uses appropriated funds to pay OPM for the investigations it requests from OPM. OPM’s Federal Investigative Services Division operates on a fee-for-service basis.”

My response: Tomato, tomato. Bureaucratic finger-pointing is counterproductive. The DSS can point fingers at OPM, and OPM can point fingers at DSS. The point of the post is that there appears to be a discrepancy between the numbers OPM reports to Congress on the length of security clearance processing and the actual length of time needed to grant clearances based on reporting of figures timed to the end of investigations rather than to their adjudication and decision-making. The backlog, while always counterproductive, is undemocratic when new administrations can’t get their appointees processed in any reasonable time. In a time of war, however, it also endangers national security. Clearances are important and the Bradley Manning and Kendall Myers cases underline that they must be thorough, should not be a choke point on policy. That other retired investigators explain that the backlog is in part the result of bureaucratic “blue flu” suggests that it is time for some sustained Congressional queries.

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Turkey’s Prime Minister: The Jews Are Out to Get Me!

On Sunday, I wrote a post which mentioned that the Economist, usually a strong supporter of Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (better known by its Turkish acronym, the AKP) had endorsed the secular opposition. “The best way for Turks to promote democracy would be to vote against the ruling party,” the Economist’s editors declared, citing the Islamist Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s authoritarian streak and his crackdown on the press.

In a reaction which would be a parody if it weren’t sadly true, Erdoğan has blown a gasket. It’s not just the Economist’s fault, the prime minister explained. In reality, it’s a plot by world Jewry. “These calls have been well-timed, because they show that we are on the right track. They cannot make any decisions concerning Turkey,” Erdoğan said. “This international media, as they are supported by Israel, would not be happy with the continuation of the AKP government,” he continued.

During Erdoğan’s tenure, Mein Kampf again became a best-seller in Turkey, books hit the market promoting wacky conspiracy theories delegitimizing Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of modern Turkey, on the grounds that he was a secret Jew, and Erdoğan’s own wife endorsed Valley of the Wolves, a crude piece of propaganda suggesting Jews were exploiting the Iraq war to sell the organs of Muslims to Israel. When I was in Turkey this past November, I found copies of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion in every bookstore I visited. Erdoğan’s media and education system has inculcated anti-Semitic conspiracy theories into a generation of Turkish school children and civil servants. The Economist got it right. Alas, for both the West and the remnants of Turkish tolerance, it is probably too late.

On Sunday, I wrote a post which mentioned that the Economist, usually a strong supporter of Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (better known by its Turkish acronym, the AKP) had endorsed the secular opposition. “The best way for Turks to promote democracy would be to vote against the ruling party,” the Economist’s editors declared, citing the Islamist Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s authoritarian streak and his crackdown on the press.

In a reaction which would be a parody if it weren’t sadly true, Erdoğan has blown a gasket. It’s not just the Economist’s fault, the prime minister explained. In reality, it’s a plot by world Jewry. “These calls have been well-timed, because they show that we are on the right track. They cannot make any decisions concerning Turkey,” Erdoğan said. “This international media, as they are supported by Israel, would not be happy with the continuation of the AKP government,” he continued.

During Erdoğan’s tenure, Mein Kampf again became a best-seller in Turkey, books hit the market promoting wacky conspiracy theories delegitimizing Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of modern Turkey, on the grounds that he was a secret Jew, and Erdoğan’s own wife endorsed Valley of the Wolves, a crude piece of propaganda suggesting Jews were exploiting the Iraq war to sell the organs of Muslims to Israel. When I was in Turkey this past November, I found copies of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion in every bookstore I visited. Erdoğan’s media and education system has inculcated anti-Semitic conspiracy theories into a generation of Turkish school children and civil servants. The Economist got it right. Alas, for both the West and the remnants of Turkish tolerance, it is probably too late.

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Pawlenty Aims at a New Reagan Coalition

The Republican Party contains a number of factions that don’t always play nicely together. Social conservatives, evangelicals, Tea Partiers, Club for Growth-type economic conservatives, and foreign policy-oriented neoconservatives have often been at cross-purposes with each other in recent years. And with so many of the Republican presidential contenders clearly aiming their campaigns at only segments of the electorate the fracturing of the GOP could be accentuated in the coming year.

So it ought to be refreshing for party stalwarts to have heard Tim Pawlenty’s address on economics at the University of Chicago this morning. The speech was more than just an attempt to stake out a position as a hard-core opponent of taxes and spending. It also seemed to me to be part of a strategy in which the likable if low-key and largely unknown Pawlenty takes a shot at reassembling the broad-based coalition that elected Ronald Reagan.

In his address, Pawlenty put forth an optimistic pro-growth and anti-tax credo that should resonate with the Tea Party as well as with the Club for Growth crowd. His position is grounded in belief in the market as well as distaste for President Obama’s central planning and class warfare puts him squarely in the Republican mainstream.  That will open him up to barbs from the left that will paint him as an extremist on taxes, but in doing so he seems to be attempting to give the voters a clear choice on terms that places the president at a disadvantage.

But it should also be understood that this speech shows that Pawlenty is determined to fight for more than just the conservative Christians that he may naturally appeal to in Iowa. A candidate who can bridge the gap between social conservatives, anti-tax conservatives and foreign policy conservatives is one who is aiming for more than just the 30 percent of the vote in Iowa that might get him to the next level in the primary gauntlet. Pawlenty, who has also made strong and informed statements on foreign policy, seems to be trying to reunite the disparate wings of his party.

In fairness, this is the same goal that Mitt Romney has set for himself but unlike the former Massachusetts governor, Pawlenty is not carrying around the burden of having promulgated a government health-care program that bears a great resemblance to Obamacare. Though Romney is raising lots of money and doing well in national polls, RomneyCare makes it impossible for him to unite Republicans even if he managed to maneuver his way to the nomination.

Only time will tell whether Pawlenty is the man who can recreate Ronald Reagan’s big tent GOP, but he deserves credit for trying.

The Republican Party contains a number of factions that don’t always play nicely together. Social conservatives, evangelicals, Tea Partiers, Club for Growth-type economic conservatives, and foreign policy-oriented neoconservatives have often been at cross-purposes with each other in recent years. And with so many of the Republican presidential contenders clearly aiming their campaigns at only segments of the electorate the fracturing of the GOP could be accentuated in the coming year.

So it ought to be refreshing for party stalwarts to have heard Tim Pawlenty’s address on economics at the University of Chicago this morning. The speech was more than just an attempt to stake out a position as a hard-core opponent of taxes and spending. It also seemed to me to be part of a strategy in which the likable if low-key and largely unknown Pawlenty takes a shot at reassembling the broad-based coalition that elected Ronald Reagan.

In his address, Pawlenty put forth an optimistic pro-growth and anti-tax credo that should resonate with the Tea Party as well as with the Club for Growth crowd. His position is grounded in belief in the market as well as distaste for President Obama’s central planning and class warfare puts him squarely in the Republican mainstream.  That will open him up to barbs from the left that will paint him as an extremist on taxes, but in doing so he seems to be attempting to give the voters a clear choice on terms that places the president at a disadvantage.

But it should also be understood that this speech shows that Pawlenty is determined to fight for more than just the conservative Christians that he may naturally appeal to in Iowa. A candidate who can bridge the gap between social conservatives, anti-tax conservatives and foreign policy conservatives is one who is aiming for more than just the 30 percent of the vote in Iowa that might get him to the next level in the primary gauntlet. Pawlenty, who has also made strong and informed statements on foreign policy, seems to be trying to reunite the disparate wings of his party.

In fairness, this is the same goal that Mitt Romney has set for himself but unlike the former Massachusetts governor, Pawlenty is not carrying around the burden of having promulgated a government health-care program that bears a great resemblance to Obamacare. Though Romney is raising lots of money and doing well in national polls, RomneyCare makes it impossible for him to unite Republicans even if he managed to maneuver his way to the nomination.

Only time will tell whether Pawlenty is the man who can recreate Ronald Reagan’s big tent GOP, but he deserves credit for trying.

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Funding Cut for UN Might Influence Outcome in September

Many in the American foreign policy establishment have been wringing their hands the last few months and saying there’s no way to prevent the United Nations from recognizing an independent Palestinian state in September except by the exercise of a U.S. veto.

An American veto in the Security Council will only spike the Palestinian effort to avoid peace negotiations. To entice the Palestinians back to the table, some will advocate more Israeli concessions in advance, a theory that was the rationale for President Obama’s decision to squeeze the Jewish state into accepting the 1967 lines as the starting point for negotiations. But more Israeli concessions will achieve nothing, because the Palestinians have already rejected offers of a state along those lines three times in the last 11 years.

While a veto may eventually be needed, it isn’t the only weapon the United States has in its diplomatic arsenal. Although it cuts against the multilateralist ideology of the Obama administration, the best way to concentrate the minds of those who will vote for such a resolution is to remind them that the institution can be made to pay a price for such an unilateral attack on Israel. With the UN still getting so much of its funding from the United States, it is time for Congress to put it on notice that that aid could be cut.

Last week, Rep. Steve Chabot (R-Ohio), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Middle East subcommittee, introduced a non-binding resolution urging the secretary of state to cancel American funding for the UN General Assembly if it “adopts a resolution in favor of recognizing a state of Palestine outside of or prior to a final status agreement negotiated between, and acceptable to, the State of Israel and the Palestinians.”

Chabot’s resolution should be just the first shot fired over the bow of both Secretary of State Clinton and the world body.

Congress should also be focusing on the fact that by signing a unity pact with the Hamas terrorists, the Palestinian Authority has rendered itself ineligible for the hundreds of millions of U.S. taxpayer dollars that it continues to receive. So far, the administration has downplayed the significance of the unity pact and discouraged efforts to hold the PA accountable. A cutoff has been represented as something that would undercut the genuine moderates in the PA as they attempt to transform Palestinian society from one based on violence. But the pact with Hamas shows conclusively that the moderates have already lost. Indeed, they appear never to have had a chance.

As September and the meeting of the General Assembly gets closer, it is vital that America stop worrying about what will happen and start putting pressure on both the PA and the UN to head off this end run around peace.

Many in the American foreign policy establishment have been wringing their hands the last few months and saying there’s no way to prevent the United Nations from recognizing an independent Palestinian state in September except by the exercise of a U.S. veto.

An American veto in the Security Council will only spike the Palestinian effort to avoid peace negotiations. To entice the Palestinians back to the table, some will advocate more Israeli concessions in advance, a theory that was the rationale for President Obama’s decision to squeeze the Jewish state into accepting the 1967 lines as the starting point for negotiations. But more Israeli concessions will achieve nothing, because the Palestinians have already rejected offers of a state along those lines three times in the last 11 years.

While a veto may eventually be needed, it isn’t the only weapon the United States has in its diplomatic arsenal. Although it cuts against the multilateralist ideology of the Obama administration, the best way to concentrate the minds of those who will vote for such a resolution is to remind them that the institution can be made to pay a price for such an unilateral attack on Israel. With the UN still getting so much of its funding from the United States, it is time for Congress to put it on notice that that aid could be cut.

Last week, Rep. Steve Chabot (R-Ohio), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Middle East subcommittee, introduced a non-binding resolution urging the secretary of state to cancel American funding for the UN General Assembly if it “adopts a resolution in favor of recognizing a state of Palestine outside of or prior to a final status agreement negotiated between, and acceptable to, the State of Israel and the Palestinians.”

Chabot’s resolution should be just the first shot fired over the bow of both Secretary of State Clinton and the world body.

Congress should also be focusing on the fact that by signing a unity pact with the Hamas terrorists, the Palestinian Authority has rendered itself ineligible for the hundreds of millions of U.S. taxpayer dollars that it continues to receive. So far, the administration has downplayed the significance of the unity pact and discouraged efforts to hold the PA accountable. A cutoff has been represented as something that would undercut the genuine moderates in the PA as they attempt to transform Palestinian society from one based on violence. But the pact with Hamas shows conclusively that the moderates have already lost. Indeed, they appear never to have had a chance.

As September and the meeting of the General Assembly gets closer, it is vital that America stop worrying about what will happen and start putting pressure on both the PA and the UN to head off this end run around peace.

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Democrats Pressuring Reid to Move Forward on Budget

The New York Times editorial writers were the first liberals to slam Senate Democrats over budget delays. Pundits like Dana Milbank quickly followed suit. And now even Senate Democrats, understandably annoyed at the slow legislative agenda, are starting to take swipes at Sen. Harry Reid’s foot-dragging. Politico reports:

A growing number of Senate Democrats are anxious about the lack of a Democratic budget and the unusually slow legislative agenda, creating another headache for Majority Leader Harry Reid as he tries to protect his majority ahead of a daunting election year. “On the budget front, I’m not a happy camper around here,” California Sen. Dianne Feinstein told POLITICO. “I think we need to have a budget that we stand by.” “In the states, you can’t do this in the states — you’ve got to move,” said West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, a former governor up for reelection next year. “We’re hoping we will.”

The problem for Reid is that any budget that is acceptable to the left-wing of the Democratic Party will likely include massive tax hikes that are unpalatable to the rest of the country. Politically he is in a tough position, but that doesn’t mean he should be allowed to keep delaying the process. Now that his Democratic colleagues are starting to complain about the lack of progress, Reid is not going to be able to postpone a budget for much longer.

The New York Times editorial writers were the first liberals to slam Senate Democrats over budget delays. Pundits like Dana Milbank quickly followed suit. And now even Senate Democrats, understandably annoyed at the slow legislative agenda, are starting to take swipes at Sen. Harry Reid’s foot-dragging. Politico reports:

A growing number of Senate Democrats are anxious about the lack of a Democratic budget and the unusually slow legislative agenda, creating another headache for Majority Leader Harry Reid as he tries to protect his majority ahead of a daunting election year. “On the budget front, I’m not a happy camper around here,” California Sen. Dianne Feinstein told POLITICO. “I think we need to have a budget that we stand by.” “In the states, you can’t do this in the states — you’ve got to move,” said West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, a former governor up for reelection next year. “We’re hoping we will.”

The problem for Reid is that any budget that is acceptable to the left-wing of the Democratic Party will likely include massive tax hikes that are unpalatable to the rest of the country. Politically he is in a tough position, but that doesn’t mean he should be allowed to keep delaying the process. Now that his Democratic colleagues are starting to complain about the lack of progress, Reid is not going to be able to postpone a budget for much longer.

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Weiner Wasn’t the Only One Who Should Have Apologized Yesterday

Anthony Weiner’s chances of toughing it out and holding onto his seat got a little worse today with the report from TMZ that Weiner tried to coach porn star Ginger Lee to lie about their salacious correspondence. While my initial reaction to House Democratic Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s call for an Ethics Committee investigation of Weiner was that it seemed like an attempt to bluff Weiner into resigning, this tidbit might actually constitute something approaching a genuine violation of the rules of the House rather than mere bad behavior. If true, Weiner can’t survive.

As for the reaction to Weiner, the indignation about his week of lying and disgust over his antics is nearly universal, with even liberal papers like the New York Times showing the former champion of House Democrats no mercy. Democrats whose initial and quite understandable first reaction was to defend Weiner are now quiet. While some Republicans were busy distributing quotations from Democrats supporting Weiner, this is a mistake. Weiner changed the national political conversation from Medicare to lewd photos on Twitter. The GOP should merely give him a silent vote of thanks and move on. Going into a homerun trot just makes them look small.

But as much as the few politicians who regarded Weiner as a friend or ally should be left alone, one of his defenders deserves a bit more attention. Comedian Jon Stewart is considered the gold standard on political satire these days, and he is often funny enough to cause the unlike-minded to forgive his liberal bias at least some of the time. But Stewart was a personal friend of Weiner, which meant that rather than jumping on him with both feet, as he would have had he been a conservative Republican, he soft-soaped the story while also abusing those in the press who were pursuing the truth. Perhaps it was too much to hope that Stewart, who likes to pretend to be an equal-opportunity offender, would come clean as well and apologize, once Weiner admitted the truth. But last night he did not. He didn’t acknowledge his own defense of Weiner or his disparagement of CNN reporters who asked tough questions. Nor did he own up to the fact that Andrew Breitbart, whom he had particularly abused, turned out to be right all along.

The Anthony Weiner story may have no lasting political significance other than the end of the career of an arrogant bully who couldn’t face up to the truth about himself. But this episode also ought to go on the permanent record of Stewart, whose perch as America’s premiere political funnyman ought to be a bit shakier today than it was last week.

Anthony Weiner’s chances of toughing it out and holding onto his seat got a little worse today with the report from TMZ that Weiner tried to coach porn star Ginger Lee to lie about their salacious correspondence. While my initial reaction to House Democratic Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s call for an Ethics Committee investigation of Weiner was that it seemed like an attempt to bluff Weiner into resigning, this tidbit might actually constitute something approaching a genuine violation of the rules of the House rather than mere bad behavior. If true, Weiner can’t survive.

As for the reaction to Weiner, the indignation about his week of lying and disgust over his antics is nearly universal, with even liberal papers like the New York Times showing the former champion of House Democrats no mercy. Democrats whose initial and quite understandable first reaction was to defend Weiner are now quiet. While some Republicans were busy distributing quotations from Democrats supporting Weiner, this is a mistake. Weiner changed the national political conversation from Medicare to lewd photos on Twitter. The GOP should merely give him a silent vote of thanks and move on. Going into a homerun trot just makes them look small.

But as much as the few politicians who regarded Weiner as a friend or ally should be left alone, one of his defenders deserves a bit more attention. Comedian Jon Stewart is considered the gold standard on political satire these days, and he is often funny enough to cause the unlike-minded to forgive his liberal bias at least some of the time. But Stewart was a personal friend of Weiner, which meant that rather than jumping on him with both feet, as he would have had he been a conservative Republican, he soft-soaped the story while also abusing those in the press who were pursuing the truth. Perhaps it was too much to hope that Stewart, who likes to pretend to be an equal-opportunity offender, would come clean as well and apologize, once Weiner admitted the truth. But last night he did not. He didn’t acknowledge his own defense of Weiner or his disparagement of CNN reporters who asked tough questions. Nor did he own up to the fact that Andrew Breitbart, whom he had particularly abused, turned out to be right all along.

The Anthony Weiner story may have no lasting political significance other than the end of the career of an arrogant bully who couldn’t face up to the truth about himself. But this episode also ought to go on the permanent record of Stewart, whose perch as America’s premiere political funnyman ought to be a bit shakier today than it was last week.

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Democrats Against Science

After years of accusing the Republican Party of being “anti-science,” the Democrats are now opposing a bill that would require the FDA to base its rulings on hard scientific facts. It’s all part of the left’s latest attempt to use the FDA to ban products it’s always despised—meat, cigarettes, junk food, etc.—based on pseudo-science, ideological distaste, and conjecture. The House GOP is now fighting back with a bill from Rep. Danny Rehberg:

House Republicans are pushing back against a series of public health measures, including school lunch standards and tobacco regulation, teeing up a confrontation with Senate Democrats and the White House over the reach of government in daily life. . . . They took aim at measures that are part of the Obama administration’s efforts to combat obesity among children and adults as well as some initiatives enacted by the previous Congress.

The media is trying to portray this as a story of the GOP teaming up with Big Tobacco. But the real issue is that Democrats want to discourage certain snack companies from marketing to children, and slap cafeterias with expensive regulations on school lunches. This might be less of a problem if scientific evidence showed that these proposals would be effective at combating childhood obesity, but the evidence just isn’t there.

The recent menthol cigarette ban is another part of this. Lawmakers pushed to prohibit menthols because they allegedly “taste better” than other cigarettes (what?) and children are more likely to smoke them. Of course, this is complete nonsense, as Martin Orlowsky observed at the Wall Street Journal.

“The majority of underage smokers report that their usual brand is not menthol,” Orlowsky writes. “In fact, when you take a close look at the impact of menthol cigarettes on youth smoking rates, the data show that the use of menthol cigarettes may actually have a slight inverse relationship to the rate of youth smoking.”

So why the ban? Because the left won’t let anything get in the way of its effort to enforce its moral sensibility onto the rest of society—not even science.

After years of accusing the Republican Party of being “anti-science,” the Democrats are now opposing a bill that would require the FDA to base its rulings on hard scientific facts. It’s all part of the left’s latest attempt to use the FDA to ban products it’s always despised—meat, cigarettes, junk food, etc.—based on pseudo-science, ideological distaste, and conjecture. The House GOP is now fighting back with a bill from Rep. Danny Rehberg:

House Republicans are pushing back against a series of public health measures, including school lunch standards and tobacco regulation, teeing up a confrontation with Senate Democrats and the White House over the reach of government in daily life. . . . They took aim at measures that are part of the Obama administration’s efforts to combat obesity among children and adults as well as some initiatives enacted by the previous Congress.

The media is trying to portray this as a story of the GOP teaming up with Big Tobacco. But the real issue is that Democrats want to discourage certain snack companies from marketing to children, and slap cafeterias with expensive regulations on school lunches. This might be less of a problem if scientific evidence showed that these proposals would be effective at combating childhood obesity, but the evidence just isn’t there.

The recent menthol cigarette ban is another part of this. Lawmakers pushed to prohibit menthols because they allegedly “taste better” than other cigarettes (what?) and children are more likely to smoke them. Of course, this is complete nonsense, as Martin Orlowsky observed at the Wall Street Journal.

“The majority of underage smokers report that their usual brand is not menthol,” Orlowsky writes. “In fact, when you take a close look at the impact of menthol cigarettes on youth smoking rates, the data show that the use of menthol cigarettes may actually have a slight inverse relationship to the rate of youth smoking.”

So why the ban? Because the left won’t let anything get in the way of its effort to enforce its moral sensibility onto the rest of society—not even science.

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Palestinian Leaders Use Their People as Cannon Fodder—Again

Palestinian society has produced no shortage of people willing to die for the cause of destroying Israel. So it’s encouraging to discover that not all Palestinians relish the role of cannon fodder. A day after as many as 23 were killed in Sunday’s attempt to storm Israel’s border (if you believe Syrian government figures), thousands of angry mourners turned on their own leaders in Syria’s Yarmouk refugee camp.

The mourners reportedly attacked the headquarters of the Palestinian terrorist group PFLP-GC, accusing its leaders of endangering their lives by sending them into the line of fire. When Hamas leader Khaled Meshal came to offer condolences, they reportedly assailed him too. The result was predictable: PFLP-GC security guards opened fire on their own people, killing 14 and wounding 43.

Yet shouldn’t Yarmouk residents have known that storming Israel’s border would be dangerous? Syria’s state-controlled media may be mum on the Assad government’s violence against its own people, but they avidly covered the death of four Palestinian-Syrians in the last such attempt, just three weeks ago. The obvious conclusion is that either the terrorists controlling Yarmouk maintain an even tighter information clampdown than Assad’s government, or they gave residents little choice about getting on those buses to the border. Either way, the PFLP-GC clearly rules Yarmouk with an iron first and has no qualms about sacrificing ordinary Palestinians’ lives to delegitimize Israel.

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Palestinian society has produced no shortage of people willing to die for the cause of destroying Israel. So it’s encouraging to discover that not all Palestinians relish the role of cannon fodder. A day after as many as 23 were killed in Sunday’s attempt to storm Israel’s border (if you believe Syrian government figures), thousands of angry mourners turned on their own leaders in Syria’s Yarmouk refugee camp.

The mourners reportedly attacked the headquarters of the Palestinian terrorist group PFLP-GC, accusing its leaders of endangering their lives by sending them into the line of fire. When Hamas leader Khaled Meshal came to offer condolences, they reportedly assailed him too. The result was predictable: PFLP-GC security guards opened fire on their own people, killing 14 and wounding 43.

Yet shouldn’t Yarmouk residents have known that storming Israel’s border would be dangerous? Syria’s state-controlled media may be mum on the Assad government’s violence against its own people, but they avidly covered the death of four Palestinian-Syrians in the last such attempt, just three weeks ago. The obvious conclusion is that either the terrorists controlling Yarmouk maintain an even tighter information clampdown than Assad’s government, or they gave residents little choice about getting on those buses to the border. Either way, the PFLP-GC clearly rules Yarmouk with an iron first and has no qualms about sacrificing ordinary Palestinians’ lives to delegitimize Israel.

In this, unfortunately, the PFLP-GC isn’t unusual. Palestinians have always been ill-served by their leadership—and that includes the West’s current darlings, Mahmoud Abbas and Salam Fayyad. Granted, their government has significantly improved the West Bank economy and law enforcement. But it has yet to resettle a single Palestinian refugee, though almost 700,000 inhabit squalid West Bank refugee camps. Nor has it attempted to get putative allies like Jordan, Syria and Lebanon to ease the often appalling conditions of Palestinian refugees there. And its recent reconciliation agreement with Hamas included no provision for resettling the 500,000 living in Hamas-run Gaza’s refugee camps. The Abbas-Fayyad government would rather condemn the refugees to ongoing misery than give up the fantasy of someday destroying the Jewish state by resettling all 4.8 million of them in Israel

For the same reason, they are now relentlessly pursuing unilateral statehood rather than accepting Israel’s repeated offers of statehood by agreement. A recent poll found that 70 percent of Palestinians expect a new intifada to erupt if negotiations reach an impasse, which they inevitably will as long as Abbas refuses even to meet with Israeli leaders while pursuing a unilateral strategy that won’t actually remove a single Israeli from the West Bank. Hundreds of Palestinians died in the first intifada and thousands in the second; a third would likely prove equally deadly. But such numbers evidently do not trouble Abbas and Fayyad as long as unilateral statehood effectively serves their campaign to delegitimize Israel.

The real question is when a critical mass of Palestinians will finally tire of serving as cannon fodder in the quest for Israel’s destruction. For only once this happens will peace become possible.

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So Much for the Bin Laden Bounce

After so much bad economic news lately, the results of a new Washington Post/ABC News poll should come as a surprise to no one. The poll shows that by a margin of 2 to 1, Americans believe the country is on the wrong track. Most disapprove of the way President Obama is handling his job. The economy is clearly Obama’s big problem with 59 percent specifically disapproving of his handling of the economy and nearly as many  (57 percent) who don’t think the long-promised economic recovery has yet begun.

These numbers are deeply discouraging for Democrats as are the head-to-head matchups between the president and possible Republican challengers. The happiest reader of this poll will undoubtedly be Mitt Romney, who alone of the GOP candidates, is shown as beating Obama by a 49 to 46 margin. That’s impressive but it also says more about Romney’s relative name recognition compared to some of his competitors. Obama beats Tim Pawlenty (50 to 41), Michelle Bachmann (51 to 40), and Jon Huntsman (50 to 40) by virtually the same margin, but all three are still largely unknown to the general public. Of the two other better-known GOP hopefuls, Newt Gingrich trailed Obama by 50 to 44 while Sarah Palin did the worst of any Republican named, losing by 55 to 40. The poll also showed the public split by 47 to 46 on the question whether they were satisfied with the Republican field.

With the election a year and a half way, obviously none of these numbers can predict what will happen in November 2012 but there are a few points that seem beyond dispute.

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After so much bad economic news lately, the results of a new Washington Post/ABC News poll should come as a surprise to no one. The poll shows that by a margin of 2 to 1, Americans believe the country is on the wrong track. Most disapprove of the way President Obama is handling his job. The economy is clearly Obama’s big problem with 59 percent specifically disapproving of his handling of the economy and nearly as many  (57 percent) who don’t think the long-promised economic recovery has yet begun.

These numbers are deeply discouraging for Democrats as are the head-to-head matchups between the president and possible Republican challengers. The happiest reader of this poll will undoubtedly be Mitt Romney, who alone of the GOP candidates, is shown as beating Obama by a 49 to 46 margin. That’s impressive but it also says more about Romney’s relative name recognition compared to some of his competitors. Obama beats Tim Pawlenty (50 to 41), Michelle Bachmann (51 to 40), and Jon Huntsman (50 to 40) by virtually the same margin, but all three are still largely unknown to the general public. Of the two other better-known GOP hopefuls, Newt Gingrich trailed Obama by 50 to 44 while Sarah Palin did the worst of any Republican named, losing by 55 to 40. The poll also showed the public split by 47 to 46 on the question whether they were satisfied with the Republican field.

With the election a year and a half way, obviously none of these numbers can predict what will happen in November 2012 but there are a few points that seem beyond dispute.

First, the economy could sink Obama. The small bump that the president got from the successful operation to kill Osama bin Laden didn’t survive the bad news about unemployment and housing. While the Democrats may be trying to convince the public that everything is still the fault of George W. Bush, at this point the president owns the dismal economic situation. The stimulus and Obamacare and the failure to put forward coherent policies that will encourage growth have shifted the argument. The Democrats must pray for a recovery because if most Americans still think that one hasn’t started by this time next year, Obama’s reelection becomes that much harder to envision.

Second, the matchup polls showing Obama beating every Republican but Romney are not good news for Democrats. Most Americans still know almost nothing about some of the challengers like Pawlenty, Bachmann, and Huntsman, and yet each is still within 10 points of a sitting president. Both Romney and Gingrich have been pounded in the media in recent weeks yet each did very well in the matchup. This shows that any Republican who is viewed as being in the mainstream has a decent shot at victory next November.

Third, while it is true that Sarah Palin got as much support as some of the other potential GOP challengers, she is the only Republican named in the poll whose presence on the ballot might boost Obama’s numbers. That points to the negative way in which most Americans view her. While Obama is losing support among independents, the nomination of Palin would thrust them into the president’s camp. The economy may be tilting next year’s election in the direction of the Republicans, but the idea that just any GOP candidate can beat Obama is a misreading of the nation’s mood.

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It Is “Obama’s War”—and Obama Must See it Through

Kim and Fred Kagan, that dynamic husband-and-wife duo who have spent much of the past year in Kabul working for General David Petraeus at NATO headquarters, have an important op-ed in the Wall Street Journal today, warning of the costs of a premature drawdown in Afghanistan.

They point out that great progress has been made in securing the south but that the Taliban are trying to stage a comeback and it is vitally important to maintain every possible soldier and marine to resist their offensive during this spring/summer fighting season. Even after southern Afghanistan is secured, they note, the task is hardly done—commanders must then shift troops to the east where the Haqqani network and other dangerous terrorists operate. Subduing them, in the Kagans’ estimation, will take another couple of years—2012 and 2013. That puts us on track to draw down forces according to the timetable agreed to at NATO’s summit last fall which set 2014 as the deadline to transition to lead Afghan security control.

But that carefully planned counterinsurgency campaign can be upended by precipitous troop withdrawals. Thus, the Kagans rightly warn against taking too many troops out this summer—even a withdrawal of 5,000 would hamper our capabilities; any more than that would be a serious problem. Just as bad would an idea now reportedly being debated in the White House—to announce that all 30,000 surge troops will come home in 2012, i.e. long before eastern Afghanistan is secure.

It is hard to know why the White House would decide on such a course of action which casts into doubt the success of President Obama’s war effort and puts him at odds with our military commanders on the ground as well as departing Secretary of Defense Bob Gates. Perhaps political strategists are reading polls that show the American public is weary of the war. But there will be no political payoff for pulling troops out quickly if the result is an American defeat. This is “Obama’s war,” and he must see it through to a successful conclusion or pay the price.

Kim and Fred Kagan, that dynamic husband-and-wife duo who have spent much of the past year in Kabul working for General David Petraeus at NATO headquarters, have an important op-ed in the Wall Street Journal today, warning of the costs of a premature drawdown in Afghanistan.

They point out that great progress has been made in securing the south but that the Taliban are trying to stage a comeback and it is vitally important to maintain every possible soldier and marine to resist their offensive during this spring/summer fighting season. Even after southern Afghanistan is secured, they note, the task is hardly done—commanders must then shift troops to the east where the Haqqani network and other dangerous terrorists operate. Subduing them, in the Kagans’ estimation, will take another couple of years—2012 and 2013. That puts us on track to draw down forces according to the timetable agreed to at NATO’s summit last fall which set 2014 as the deadline to transition to lead Afghan security control.

But that carefully planned counterinsurgency campaign can be upended by precipitous troop withdrawals. Thus, the Kagans rightly warn against taking too many troops out this summer—even a withdrawal of 5,000 would hamper our capabilities; any more than that would be a serious problem. Just as bad would an idea now reportedly being debated in the White House—to announce that all 30,000 surge troops will come home in 2012, i.e. long before eastern Afghanistan is secure.

It is hard to know why the White House would decide on such a course of action which casts into doubt the success of President Obama’s war effort and puts him at odds with our military commanders on the ground as well as departing Secretary of Defense Bob Gates. Perhaps political strategists are reading polls that show the American public is weary of the war. But there will be no political payoff for pulling troops out quickly if the result is an American defeat. This is “Obama’s war,” and he must see it through to a successful conclusion or pay the price.

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Disapproval Won’t Be Easy for Obama to Reverse

Here are a few more political data points that are keeping David Axelrod up late at night:

• According to USA Today, President Obama’s approval rating on handling the issue Americans care about most, the economy, has dipped to 37 percent. A majority believes Obama doesn’t deserve to be reelected. Fifty-five percent of Americans believe the nation is in recession or depression, despite the fact that the recession officially ended almost two years ago. Just 22 percent are satisfied with the way things are going in the United States, which is significantly more negative than the nation’s mood at this point in the first terms of the past four presidents who managed to win reelection (Nixon, Reagan, Clinton and George W. Bush). Among the three-quarters of Americans who are dissatisfied, President Obama’s rating is at a dangerously low 35 percent. And liberals by nearly two-to-one see him as more conservative than they expected while conservatives by more than three-to-one see him as more liberal.

• By a two-to-one margin, Americans say the country is pretty seriously on the wrong track, according to a Washington Post poll. Nine in 10 continue to rate the economy in negative terms. Nearly six in 10 say the economy has not started to recover. About six in 10 of those surveyed give Obama negative marks on the economy and the deficit, with nearly half strongly disapproving of his performance in these two crucial areas. Nearly two-thirds of political independents disapprove of the president’s handling of the economy, including, for the first time, a slim majority who do so strongly. And as the Post puts it, “In another indicator of rapidly shifting views on economic issues, 45 percent trust congressional Republicans over the president when it comes to dealing with the economy, an 11-point improvement for the GOP since March.” (Forty-two percent side with Obama on this issue).

These trends, long in the making, won’t be easily reversed. The only thing that can do it is the kind of sustained economic growth we have not seen during the Obama era. A genuinely strong recovery may begin soon. For the sake of the Obama presidency, it better.

Here are a few more political data points that are keeping David Axelrod up late at night:

• According to USA Today, President Obama’s approval rating on handling the issue Americans care about most, the economy, has dipped to 37 percent. A majority believes Obama doesn’t deserve to be reelected. Fifty-five percent of Americans believe the nation is in recession or depression, despite the fact that the recession officially ended almost two years ago. Just 22 percent are satisfied with the way things are going in the United States, which is significantly more negative than the nation’s mood at this point in the first terms of the past four presidents who managed to win reelection (Nixon, Reagan, Clinton and George W. Bush). Among the three-quarters of Americans who are dissatisfied, President Obama’s rating is at a dangerously low 35 percent. And liberals by nearly two-to-one see him as more conservative than they expected while conservatives by more than three-to-one see him as more liberal.

• By a two-to-one margin, Americans say the country is pretty seriously on the wrong track, according to a Washington Post poll. Nine in 10 continue to rate the economy in negative terms. Nearly six in 10 say the economy has not started to recover. About six in 10 of those surveyed give Obama negative marks on the economy and the deficit, with nearly half strongly disapproving of his performance in these two crucial areas. Nearly two-thirds of political independents disapprove of the president’s handling of the economy, including, for the first time, a slim majority who do so strongly. And as the Post puts it, “In another indicator of rapidly shifting views on economic issues, 45 percent trust congressional Republicans over the president when it comes to dealing with the economy, an 11-point improvement for the GOP since March.” (Forty-two percent side with Obama on this issue).

These trends, long in the making, won’t be easily reversed. The only thing that can do it is the kind of sustained economic growth we have not seen during the Obama era. A genuinely strong recovery may begin soon. For the sake of the Obama presidency, it better.

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It’s Still the Economy, Stupid

Democratic strategist James Carville, in commenting on how the economy only added 54,000 jobs in May, issued this warning to the president: “If 54,000 new jobs is the new standard, it’s going to be a very, very rough 2012 for President Obama. I can’t tell you what’s going to happen, but if this last jobs number is an indication of future jobs numbers, it’s going to be very, very rough.” Carville, appearing on the radio show Imus in the Morning, went on to add: “This is gruesome on people. This unemployment rate, for this long, is a humanitarian crisis of the first magnitude. This is a terrible thing that’s happened to people’s lives.”

Carville famously coined the slogan, “It’s the economy, stupid!” That message helped elect Bill Clinton in 1992. It may help un-elect Barack Obama in 2012.

Democratic strategist James Carville, in commenting on how the economy only added 54,000 jobs in May, issued this warning to the president: “If 54,000 new jobs is the new standard, it’s going to be a very, very rough 2012 for President Obama. I can’t tell you what’s going to happen, but if this last jobs number is an indication of future jobs numbers, it’s going to be very, very rough.” Carville, appearing on the radio show Imus in the Morning, went on to add: “This is gruesome on people. This unemployment rate, for this long, is a humanitarian crisis of the first magnitude. This is a terrible thing that’s happened to people’s lives.”

Carville famously coined the slogan, “It’s the economy, stupid!” That message helped elect Bill Clinton in 1992. It may help un-elect Barack Obama in 2012.

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A Reply to Andrew McCarthy on Medicare Reform

Andy McCarthy criticizes James Capretta, my colleague at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, for writing that “The government plays an important oversight role in Ryan’s Medicare-reform plan, as it should.” This is, according to McCarthy, the “standard Beltway conservative position.”

McCarthy then lays out his case for why the Republican Party should dedicate itself to ending Medicare altogether. “Preserving a scam in the vain hope of making it less offensive may be well-meaning, but it’s not right, and it’s not courageous.” McCarthy also criticizes Representative Paul Ryan for buying into the “foundational premise of Medicare” and adds, “This is the plinth of the entitlement edifice—the ‘second Bill of Rights’—that began construction in the New Deal, under the direction of designers who knew full well that it was financially unsustainable.” McCarthy’s argument, then, applies not simply to Medicare (which was passed into law in 1965) but also, as his article makes clear, to the entire New Deal.

In a later post I’ll put forward the conservative case for why there is a limited, responsible role for government in the care for the aged. For now, I want to make several points about the prudence of McCarthy’s counsel, beginning with excerpts of an exchange between Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan that took place in their October 28, 1980 debate. It includes Reagan’s now-legendary “There you go again” rejoinder to Carter. But what few recall is the context of Reagan’s comments, which was to make it clear that he was not in favor of doing away with Medicare.

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Andy McCarthy criticizes James Capretta, my colleague at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, for writing that “The government plays an important oversight role in Ryan’s Medicare-reform plan, as it should.” This is, according to McCarthy, the “standard Beltway conservative position.”

McCarthy then lays out his case for why the Republican Party should dedicate itself to ending Medicare altogether. “Preserving a scam in the vain hope of making it less offensive may be well-meaning, but it’s not right, and it’s not courageous.” McCarthy also criticizes Representative Paul Ryan for buying into the “foundational premise of Medicare” and adds, “This is the plinth of the entitlement edifice—the ‘second Bill of Rights’—that began construction in the New Deal, under the direction of designers who knew full well that it was financially unsustainable.” McCarthy’s argument, then, applies not simply to Medicare (which was passed into law in 1965) but also, as his article makes clear, to the entire New Deal.

In a later post I’ll put forward the conservative case for why there is a limited, responsible role for government in the care for the aged. For now, I want to make several points about the prudence of McCarthy’s counsel, beginning with excerpts of an exchange between Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan that took place in their October 28, 1980 debate. It includes Reagan’s now-legendary “There you go again” rejoinder to Carter. But what few recall is the context of Reagan’s comments, which was to make it clear that he was not in favor of doing away with Medicare.

MR. CARTER: In the past, the relationship between Social Security and Medicare has been very important to providing some modicum of aid for senior citizens in the retention of health benefits. Governor Reagan, as a matter of fact, began his political career campaigning around this nation against Medicare. Now, we have an opportunity to move toward national health insurance. . . . These are the kinds of elements of a national health insurance, important to the American people. Governor Reagan, again, typically is against such a proposal.

MR. SMITH: Governor?

MR. REAGAN: There you go again. When I opposed Medicare, there was another piece of legislation meeting the same problem before the Congress. I happened to favor the other piece of legislation and thought that it would be better for the senior citizens and provide better care than the one that was finally passed. I was not opposing the principle of providing care for them. [emphasis added]

As Lou Cannon reminds us in The Role of a Lifetime, Reagan barely touched Medicare in his 1981 budget cuts, let alone sought to eliminate the program. Cannon points out that David Stockman, Reagan’s first OMB director, concluded that Reagan “was an insufficiently ideological ‘consensus politician’ who lacked the stomach for a serious assault on the New Deal.” Stockman said of Reagan, “He had a sense of ultimate values and a feel for long-term direction, but he had no blueprint for radical governance. He had no concrete program to dislocate and traumatize the here-and-now of American society.”

Sound familiar?

Reagan in turn complained to aides that (according to Cannon) “true believers on the Republican right . . . preferred to ‘go off the cliff with all flags flying’ rather than take half a loaf and come back for more.”

Fast forward to 2011. According to McCarthy, “Representative Ryan’s plan is a surrender to left-wing social engineering on terms the right wing naïvely believes it can accept.” One can only imagine what scorching rhetoric McCarthy would have directed against Reagan at the time, since Ryan’s plan goes far beyond anything Reagan ever attempted. Yet for McCarthy what Ryan proposes is a complete sell-out.

In truth, Ryan’s plan is substantively impressive. Even if it were not, why Republicans should embrace a position that has no chance of becoming law and would cause them to be wiped out electorally is not clear to me. The Ryan reforms may themselves exceed what the nation is willing to accept; to insist that Republican lawmakers are cowards for not trying to undo Medicare root and branch is unfair and unwise. It doesn’t take a political mastermind to imagine what would happen to the Republican nominee for president (or for that matter dog catcher) campaigning on the McCarthy formulation, “Medicare deserves to be destroyed.”

Beyond that is an important conservative disposition that McCarthy fails to take into account. Peter Berkowitz has warned against targeting for evisceration programs that are “woven into the fabric of the American sensibility and American society. The utopian dream of cutting government down to 18th-century size,” he goes on, “can only derail conservatism’s core and continuing mission of slowing and containing government’s growth, keeping it within reasonable boundaries, and where possible reducing its reach.”

What is needed by conservatives is a Burkean sensibility, a cast of mind that prefers realistic reforms to radical and jarring changes. “A disposition to preserve and an ability to improve” was how Burke defined statesmanship in Reflections on the Revolution in France. “Everything else is vulgar in the conception, perilous in the execution.” Conservatives could do worse than to take Burke’s advice to heart.

The Ryan plan, or modified versions of it, is the best that can be hoped for right now, and would, if put into effect, bring about massive improvements over the current system. It’s fine for commentators to make whatever arguments they want; they are even entitled to set themselves apart as brave dissidents from the “latest Beltway-conservative litmus test for commentary deemed worthy of adults.” But this much needs to be said as well: the mentality that characterizes the Ryan plan as a “surrender to left-wing social engineering” is one that would, if it were widely embraced, reduce conservatism to a fringe movement. Fortunately the GOP and conservatism are not terribly enamored with the idea of committing political suicide and removing whatever checks exist on contemporary liberalism.

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Driving Israel Not into the Sea, but into a Corner

Despicable as he is, Bashar Assad is not crazy. By allowing Palestinians to storm the border with Israel for the second time in the last three weeks, he guaranteed that, for a day at least, shootings by Israeli troops would take over the front pages from shootings by his own forces. There is, of course, no comparison between the two. Assad is slaughtering his own people indiscriminately to stay in power. Israeli troops, by contrast, are using the minimum possible force to defend their own border from outside attack. But as the Israelis are well aware, any time that IDF soldiers open fire on “unarmed protesters” (as they are inevitably depicted by the news media) it is a public relations loss for the Jewish State and a win for its enemies.

I doubt that these attacks wil do much to preserve Assad’s rule in the long term. Most of his own people have long since turned against him and they will not be swayed by cheap theatrics of the kind he has just orchestrated. But these border assaults help to further Palestinian attempts to “delegitimize” Israel—the main Fatah tactic since the failure of the Second Intifada became clear around the time of Yasir Arafat’s demise in 2004.

The Palestinians seem to have learned from history. Their most successful assault on the Israeli state was the First Intifada, which began in 1987 and paved the way for the Oslo Peace Process, i.e. for Israel giving up much of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip to the control of groups pledged to its eradication. The First Intifada was not exactly nonviolent, in as far as it featured Palestinian youths assaulting Israeli security forces and citizens with rocks and Molotov cocktails, but it wasn’t premeditated, cold-blooded terrorism either—it wasn’t terrorism of the kind that Arafat had made his hallmark.

Whenever Israelis face such bloody assaults they tend to draw together and gain in international sympathy. This allows Israel to respond strongly and decisively as it did during the Second Intifada. The challenge of the First Intifada, by contrast, divided Israelis, hurt military morale, and reduced the country’s international standing. Shooting civilians may be standard duty for the security forces of dictatorships like Assad’s, but for the soldiers of a liberal democracy like Israel, it is the hardest action to carry out—no matter the provocation. The Palestinians know that and are seeking to take advantage of that fact by using their own civilians as cannon fodder. They will not succeed in driving the Jews out of the Holy Land by such tactics; the Israelis are not like the French in Algeria or the British in India—they have nowhere else to go. But the Palestinians may very well succeed in increasing Israel’s international isolation, especially if Israel’s main ally—the United States—does not speak out strongly against such cynical and immoral acts.

Despicable as he is, Bashar Assad is not crazy. By allowing Palestinians to storm the border with Israel for the second time in the last three weeks, he guaranteed that, for a day at least, shootings by Israeli troops would take over the front pages from shootings by his own forces. There is, of course, no comparison between the two. Assad is slaughtering his own people indiscriminately to stay in power. Israeli troops, by contrast, are using the minimum possible force to defend their own border from outside attack. But as the Israelis are well aware, any time that IDF soldiers open fire on “unarmed protesters” (as they are inevitably depicted by the news media) it is a public relations loss for the Jewish State and a win for its enemies.

I doubt that these attacks wil do much to preserve Assad’s rule in the long term. Most of his own people have long since turned against him and they will not be swayed by cheap theatrics of the kind he has just orchestrated. But these border assaults help to further Palestinian attempts to “delegitimize” Israel—the main Fatah tactic since the failure of the Second Intifada became clear around the time of Yasir Arafat’s demise in 2004.

The Palestinians seem to have learned from history. Their most successful assault on the Israeli state was the First Intifada, which began in 1987 and paved the way for the Oslo Peace Process, i.e. for Israel giving up much of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip to the control of groups pledged to its eradication. The First Intifada was not exactly nonviolent, in as far as it featured Palestinian youths assaulting Israeli security forces and citizens with rocks and Molotov cocktails, but it wasn’t premeditated, cold-blooded terrorism either—it wasn’t terrorism of the kind that Arafat had made his hallmark.

Whenever Israelis face such bloody assaults they tend to draw together and gain in international sympathy. This allows Israel to respond strongly and decisively as it did during the Second Intifada. The challenge of the First Intifada, by contrast, divided Israelis, hurt military morale, and reduced the country’s international standing. Shooting civilians may be standard duty for the security forces of dictatorships like Assad’s, but for the soldiers of a liberal democracy like Israel, it is the hardest action to carry out—no matter the provocation. The Palestinians know that and are seeking to take advantage of that fact by using their own civilians as cannon fodder. They will not succeed in driving the Jews out of the Holy Land by such tactics; the Israelis are not like the French in Algeria or the British in India—they have nowhere else to go. But the Palestinians may very well succeed in increasing Israel’s international isolation, especially if Israel’s main ally—the United States—does not speak out strongly against such cynical and immoral acts.

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