Commentary Magazine


Posts For: June 15, 2011

Obama’s Pressure Won’t Undermine Bibi

As the Obama administration continues trying to pressure the Israeli government to make drastic concessions on territory before those talks even begin, they are hoping that domestic critics will chime in to force Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu to give in. But the idea that his resistance to Obama’s dictates will undermine Netanyahu at home has always been misplaced. Today’s special session of the Knesset in which opposition leader Tzipi Livni carped about the prime minister is just another example of why Netanyahu remains in the catbird seat vis-à-vis both Washington and the Israeli left.

The problem for Livni, as well as for Obama, is that Israelis understand two things: 1. That Netanyahu, like all his predecessors, has accepted a two-state solution and would give up territory in order to achieve one. 2. That the Palestinian Authority, both before and after its unity pact with the Hamas terrorists is utterly incapable of accepting the legitimacy of a Jewish state in a peace accord no matter where its borders would be drawn and will never formally end the conflict. Palestinian intransigence destroyed Israel’s left and Obama’s brutal attitude toward the Jewish state has only reinforced Netanyahu’s position. Today Netanyahu outlined to the Knesset again the same framework that earned dozens of standing ovations when he spoke of it to the United States Congress last month.

That leaves Livni with no leg to stand on when she claims Netanyahu is wrong on the peace process. Since she cannot accept the Obama administration’s stands on the 1967 borders or Jerusalem anymore than he can and is worried about associating herself too closely with an American president who is deeply unpopular in Israel, all she can do is make personal attacks on Netanyahu.

Netanyahu seems to understand that like his feckless opposition at home, Obama’s position is oblivious to the reality of the deadlock with the Palestinians. When Netanyahu asked Livni today whether or not she agreed that the Palestinians must accept the legitimacy of a Jewish state, all she could muster in reply was to say “Netanyahu won’t solve the conflict” and that “Netanyahu just wants to stay prime minister.” But since she has no more of a clue about convincing the Palestinians to make peace than he and is solely motivated by her own desire to be prime minister, the Obama administration needs to understand that they are stuck dealing with the increasingly popular Netanyahu for the foreseeable future.

As the Obama administration continues trying to pressure the Israeli government to make drastic concessions on territory before those talks even begin, they are hoping that domestic critics will chime in to force Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu to give in. But the idea that his resistance to Obama’s dictates will undermine Netanyahu at home has always been misplaced. Today’s special session of the Knesset in which opposition leader Tzipi Livni carped about the prime minister is just another example of why Netanyahu remains in the catbird seat vis-à-vis both Washington and the Israeli left.

The problem for Livni, as well as for Obama, is that Israelis understand two things: 1. That Netanyahu, like all his predecessors, has accepted a two-state solution and would give up territory in order to achieve one. 2. That the Palestinian Authority, both before and after its unity pact with the Hamas terrorists is utterly incapable of accepting the legitimacy of a Jewish state in a peace accord no matter where its borders would be drawn and will never formally end the conflict. Palestinian intransigence destroyed Israel’s left and Obama’s brutal attitude toward the Jewish state has only reinforced Netanyahu’s position. Today Netanyahu outlined to the Knesset again the same framework that earned dozens of standing ovations when he spoke of it to the United States Congress last month.

That leaves Livni with no leg to stand on when she claims Netanyahu is wrong on the peace process. Since she cannot accept the Obama administration’s stands on the 1967 borders or Jerusalem anymore than he can and is worried about associating herself too closely with an American president who is deeply unpopular in Israel, all she can do is make personal attacks on Netanyahu.

Netanyahu seems to understand that like his feckless opposition at home, Obama’s position is oblivious to the reality of the deadlock with the Palestinians. When Netanyahu asked Livni today whether or not she agreed that the Palestinians must accept the legitimacy of a Jewish state, all she could muster in reply was to say “Netanyahu won’t solve the conflict” and that “Netanyahu just wants to stay prime minister.” But since she has no more of a clue about convincing the Palestinians to make peace than he and is solely motivated by her own desire to be prime minister, the Obama administration needs to understand that they are stuck dealing with the increasingly popular Netanyahu for the foreseeable future.

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Another Reply to Andrew McCarthy on Medicare Reform

Andy McCarthy has written a response to a piece I wrote taking issue with his criticism of Representative Paul Ryan’s budget, including its Medicare reforms.

McCarthy’s portrait of me is somewhat amusing. In no particular order, I’m described as a grating holier-than-thou solipsist, trawling for right-wing extremists, enraptured by the Great Society, sitting at my perch at Compassionate Conservative Headquarters, an eccentric Burkean busily accusing my interlocutor of being Cro-Magnon. But since no man should be the judge and jury in his own trial, I’ll leave it to discerning readers to judge the two of us when it comes to the Grating & Eccentricity Meter. I’ll focus instead on our substantive disagreements, which represent different currents of thought within conservatism.

1. To the degree that McCarthy’s original column was notable, it wasn’t because he was expressing concerns about the current state or the conceptual flaws of Medicare, which are commonplace among conservatives. No, it was McCarthy’s criticisms of the Ryan plan and its defenders that stood out and were meant to stand out. The plan, we were told, is “not right.” It’s “not courageous.” It’s a “surrender to left-wing social engineering.” And it “leaves the cancer in place.”

In fact, the Ryan plan is the most thorough-going reform of Medicare since its inception. It goes far beyond what anyone else, including Ronald Reagan, ever proposed. If enacted it would profoundly alter and dramatically improve Medicare. It would undo or significantly mitigate almost all of the concerns most conservatives have for the current Medicare program. But for McCarthy, very little of this matters. While admitting that he would vote for it if he were a Member of Congress, for McCarthy the Path to Prosperity is fundamentally a capitulation, delusional, an abject surrender to liberalism. At this moment, he insists, the rallying cry for conservatives should be, “Medicare deserves to be destroyed.”

There’s one problem: if conservative lawmakers were to embrace McCarthy’s position — and fortunately none will — it would do massive damage to the conservative cause.

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Andy McCarthy has written a response to a piece I wrote taking issue with his criticism of Representative Paul Ryan’s budget, including its Medicare reforms.

McCarthy’s portrait of me is somewhat amusing. In no particular order, I’m described as a grating holier-than-thou solipsist, trawling for right-wing extremists, enraptured by the Great Society, sitting at my perch at Compassionate Conservative Headquarters, an eccentric Burkean busily accusing my interlocutor of being Cro-Magnon. But since no man should be the judge and jury in his own trial, I’ll leave it to discerning readers to judge the two of us when it comes to the Grating & Eccentricity Meter. I’ll focus instead on our substantive disagreements, which represent different currents of thought within conservatism.

1. To the degree that McCarthy’s original column was notable, it wasn’t because he was expressing concerns about the current state or the conceptual flaws of Medicare, which are commonplace among conservatives. No, it was McCarthy’s criticisms of the Ryan plan and its defenders that stood out and were meant to stand out. The plan, we were told, is “not right.” It’s “not courageous.” It’s a “surrender to left-wing social engineering.” And it “leaves the cancer in place.”

In fact, the Ryan plan is the most thorough-going reform of Medicare since its inception. It goes far beyond what anyone else, including Ronald Reagan, ever proposed. If enacted it would profoundly alter and dramatically improve Medicare. It would undo or significantly mitigate almost all of the concerns most conservatives have for the current Medicare program. But for McCarthy, very little of this matters. While admitting that he would vote for it if he were a Member of Congress, for McCarthy the Path to Prosperity is fundamentally a capitulation, delusional, an abject surrender to liberalism. At this moment, he insists, the rallying cry for conservatives should be, “Medicare deserves to be destroyed.”

There’s one problem: if conservative lawmakers were to embrace McCarthy’s position — and fortunately none will — it would do massive damage to the conservative cause.

2. McCarthy posits two rather stark choices: either one agrees with him to destroy Medicare or one favors proceeding “straightaway to national bankruptcy” and “heeding to demagoguery.” If you are with McCarthy, you believe two plus two is four; if not, you believe two plus two equals six. There is McCarthy’s position, there is sell-out, and there is very little in between. But in fact there is plenty in between, including a system that features (among other things) a defined contribution plan, competition among private insurers, and means testing.

3. McCarthy devotes much of his column to complaining that I’m a defender of the Medicare status quo, which he deems to be an irresponsible position. He insists that I am “so enchanted by [my] well-intentioned vision of Medicare that [I] cannot address the reality of Medicare.” There’s one small problem with McCarthy’s argument: his premise is demonstrably false.

I’m not only a critic of the Medicare status quo and favor entitlement reform, I’ve stated my case more frequently than has, to name just one person, Andy McCarthy (see here; here; here: here; here; and here)

Not only do I support the Ryan reform; I was part of a group who months ago met with members of the House leadership to discuss it. A few of us urged them to embrace it when they were thinking of jettisoning Medicare reform altogether. Those of us who advocated tackling Medicare were by no means sure it was the politically wise thing to do. The concern was that we were advocating a position that was substantively correct but politically vulnerable. In the end, though, we believed the fiscal crisis was so serious and the dangers posed by the current Medicare system were so acute that the only responsible position was to embrace Medicare reform.

4. In my initial response to McCarthy I pointed out that when Ronald Reagan ran for president, he assured the public that he was not going to what McCarthy recommends: destroy Medicare. And when he was president, Reagan not only didn’t try to end Medicare; he did nothing to reform it. I don’t blame Reagan for that, by the way. He wisely expended his political capital in other areas, in order to achieve attainable goals (tax cuts, rolling back regulations, increasing defense spending, et cetera). Dismantling Medicare was not remotely within reach, not then and not now. Yet McCarthy would have us believe that his position (destroying Medicare) is Reaganesque. Any fair reading of the Reagan record and the Reagan approach to governing shows this isn’t the case.

5. In my first response to McCarthy I said I would put forward the conservative case for a limited, responsible role for government in the care of the aged.

Medicare does two things that need to be separately evaluated. On the one hand it has a tax-and-spending function that can rightly be criticized by conservatives and which desperately needs to be reformed.

On the other hand, Medicare creates a secure mechanism through which seniors can get coverage for premiums that don’t vary by health risk. As people age, the percentage of them with high risks rises sharply. It therefore would be nearly impossible to imagine a scenario where seniors would get affordable coverage without some mechanism that pools the risks of those 65-year-old-and-above. That is what Medicare does. It spreads the risks in a way that prevents seniors from facing either hugely expensive premiums and/or the denial of coverage. This necessary function can be combined with a vibrant market reforms that minimizes the distortions of taxes and spending. The proper conservative approach to Medicare, then, is to use market mechanisms to subsidize premiums instead of relying on a single-payer system.

6. McCarthy sees as his job advocating for the replacement of the “destructive assumptions of the Second Bill of Rights with the American spirit of the original Bill of Rights — replacing faith in government with faith in the abiding decency of the most charitable people on earth.” He adds that “if the political climate makes it too risky for elected officials to take that position, it’s up to the commentariat to change the climate. Otherwise, the demagogues win.”

There is something to be said for McCarthy’s impulse. We do need to anchor our policy debates in first principles, and challenging conventional wisdom certainly has its place. But the danger is that (a) political principles can become detached from political reality and political calculations and (b) lawmakers who must govern in the real world, amidst powerful currents and cross-currents, will be mocked as creatures of Washington, unprincipled, and lacking courage.

In all of this I’m reminded of the words of Whittaker Chambers:

[I]f the Republican Party cannot get some grip of the actual world we live in and from it generalize and actively promote a program that means something to the masses of people-why somebody else will. Then there will be nothing to argue. The voters will simply vote Republicans into singularity. The Republican Party will become like one of those dark little shops which apparently never sell anything. If, for any reason, you go in, you find at the back an old man, fingering for his own pleasure some oddments of cloth. Nobody wants to buy them, which is fine because the old man is not really interested in selling. He just likes to hold and to feel. . .


My objection to McCarthy is that his counsel would lead the conservative movement to become like Chambers’s old man, fingering for his own pleasure some oddments of cloth.

I’ve made my case; Andy has made his. I’m delighted to let others debate the merits of both.

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Airlines Should Honor Service, Not Uniforms

Flying back from Munich last weekend, it was wonderful to see that United Airlines has begun giving active duty servicemen priority boarding, even before United’s most elite frequent fliers board. It is a simple courtesy that, over the past couple years, other airlines like US Air and American Airlines have also extended . Our servicemen deserve no less for the sacrifice they make, a sacrifice which so many intellectuals isolated from the military cannot even begin to fathom.

Alas, sometimes the intent of a policy and its implementation are two different things. An active duty servicewoman (with an active duty identification card) came forward to board the flight but was turned away by the gate agent because she was not wearing a uniform. The airline personnel may not have known that the US military urges servicemen and servicewomen traveling internationally to wear civilian clothes whenever possible for security reasons. This policy is even more urgent after the shootings of U.S. Air Force personnel at Frankfurt Airport.

United and other airlines are on the right track, but it is not the uniform itself that brings honor to the men and women in military service, but rather the reverse. If airlines want to honor our servicemen and women, they should do just that and focus on active duty service, not the clothes which passengers wear.

Flying back from Munich last weekend, it was wonderful to see that United Airlines has begun giving active duty servicemen priority boarding, even before United’s most elite frequent fliers board. It is a simple courtesy that, over the past couple years, other airlines like US Air and American Airlines have also extended . Our servicemen deserve no less for the sacrifice they make, a sacrifice which so many intellectuals isolated from the military cannot even begin to fathom.

Alas, sometimes the intent of a policy and its implementation are two different things. An active duty servicewoman (with an active duty identification card) came forward to board the flight but was turned away by the gate agent because she was not wearing a uniform. The airline personnel may not have known that the US military urges servicemen and servicewomen traveling internationally to wear civilian clothes whenever possible for security reasons. This policy is even more urgent after the shootings of U.S. Air Force personnel at Frankfurt Airport.

United and other airlines are on the right track, but it is not the uniform itself that brings honor to the men and women in military service, but rather the reverse. If airlines want to honor our servicemen and women, they should do just that and focus on active duty service, not the clothes which passengers wear.

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Obama’s Spineless Libyan War Powers Evasion

The White House notified Congress today that it would not be asking lawmakers to formally authorize American participation in the Libyan intervention. President Obama’s reasoning is that the fighting in Libya does not amount to full blown “hostilities” and, as such, means that the legislative requirement that imposes a 60-day deadline on unauthorized use of U.S. military force does not apply. Regardless of where one stands on the question of our involvement in Libya, this is a problematic decision.

There are two reasons that might lead some conservatives, even those who loathe Obama, to back the president.

First, despite the criticism of the Libyan intervention by some on the right who seem to be drifting toward an isolationist or “realist” view of the use of American power, the decision to intervene in Libya was correct. Though President Obama dithered far too long over whether to act to try to stop Muammar Qaddafi from massacring dissidents seeking to overthrow his despotic rule, his belated move to enter the fray alongside our European allies was the right thing to do. Letting Qaddafi survive the Arab Spring protests would be a huge mistake that might allow him to rejoin the ranks of state terror sponsors.

Second, the original War Powers Act was itself a Congressional encroachment on the ability of the executive branch to defend American security and interests. Though it is defended as a way for Congress to take back its responsibility for declaring war in an age of undeclared conflicts, it is a vestige of the Vietnam era whose passage was motivated primarily by a desire to inhibit the use of American power under all circumstances. Chief executives of both parties have always chafed against this measure.

That said the White House’s interpretation of the law seems both mistaken and politically ill advised.

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The White House notified Congress today that it would not be asking lawmakers to formally authorize American participation in the Libyan intervention. President Obama’s reasoning is that the fighting in Libya does not amount to full blown “hostilities” and, as such, means that the legislative requirement that imposes a 60-day deadline on unauthorized use of U.S. military force does not apply. Regardless of where one stands on the question of our involvement in Libya, this is a problematic decision.

There are two reasons that might lead some conservatives, even those who loathe Obama, to back the president.

First, despite the criticism of the Libyan intervention by some on the right who seem to be drifting toward an isolationist or “realist” view of the use of American power, the decision to intervene in Libya was correct. Though President Obama dithered far too long over whether to act to try to stop Muammar Qaddafi from massacring dissidents seeking to overthrow his despotic rule, his belated move to enter the fray alongside our European allies was the right thing to do. Letting Qaddafi survive the Arab Spring protests would be a huge mistake that might allow him to rejoin the ranks of state terror sponsors.

Second, the original War Powers Act was itself a Congressional encroachment on the ability of the executive branch to defend American security and interests. Though it is defended as a way for Congress to take back its responsibility for declaring war in an age of undeclared conflicts, it is a vestige of the Vietnam era whose passage was motivated primarily by a desire to inhibit the use of American power under all circumstances. Chief executives of both parties have always chafed against this measure.

That said the White House’s interpretation of the law seems both mistaken and politically ill advised.

The notion that Libya is the equivalent of some peacekeeping operation in which fighting is both infrequent and not the point of the mission is absurd. Even though Obama has disgracefully chosen to “lead from behind” in Libya, it is obviously a shooting war. As House Speaker John Boehner has said, Obama must either invoke the act or say, as other presidents have, that it is unconstitutional. For the administration’s legal advisors to proclaim that the Act is constitutional but that Libya somehow doesn’t come under its purview is contrary to both the letter and the spirit of the law.

But the problem here is not so much a constitutional one as it is a matter of political courage. Were Obama to notify Congress that the Act applied to Libya, he would be forced to come forward with a coherent rationale for his original decision to intervene as well as make the case for why that effort must continue. A compelling case can certainly be made to that effect but Obama hasn’t the intestinal fortitude to defend his decision before Congress. Indeed, his intent here is to avoid a debate about Libya altogether.

Though those who wrongly wish to end U.S. involvement in Libya have promoted the invocation of the War Powers Act it must be admitted that they have the law on their side here. The president and others who support this mission have an obligation to speak up for it. Were the president to do so it would allow the conflict to continue with the backing of both Congress and the country in such a way as to strengthen our position. That Obama has failed to seize this chance speaks volumes about both his lack of conviction in the rightness of America’s cause as well as his own spinelessness.

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The Liberal Bias of CNN’s Anderson Cooper

Colby Hall of Mediaite.com has put into words a thought that ran through my mind last night while watching CNN’s Anderson Cooper interview left-wing comedian Bill Maher. As Hall points out, Maher “ruthlessly slammed nearly every GOP candidate who participated in the debate this week, and even found room to deride those who did not participate.”

Now it would be one thing if Cooper, whom I generally like, hosted an opinion show and was candid about his political views. But Anderson takes great pride in portraying himself, and his program, as neutral, unbiased, and committed to (in his phrase) “keeping them honest.” So let’s return to the commentary of Colby Hall:


Should CNN really be that comfortable with the “face” of their network giving such an unchallenged platform to such a biased commentator? Wouldn’t it be more fair to at least have someone to rebut his point of view, or to add a different perspective? Put another way, how often has Cooper had on, as guest, Maher’s equivalent on the right, say his old pal Ann Coulter, who appears to take a similar approach to Maher’s in the business of outrage? Yes, we are aware that Coulter has appeared on AC360, but the tone of those discussions appear very different than the amused and convivial conversations that Cooper shares with Maher. Just keeping them honest.

Last night Anderson Cooper’s mask slipped. I wonder if he even understands that it has, or why it has.

Colby Hall of Mediaite.com has put into words a thought that ran through my mind last night while watching CNN’s Anderson Cooper interview left-wing comedian Bill Maher. As Hall points out, Maher “ruthlessly slammed nearly every GOP candidate who participated in the debate this week, and even found room to deride those who did not participate.”

Now it would be one thing if Cooper, whom I generally like, hosted an opinion show and was candid about his political views. But Anderson takes great pride in portraying himself, and his program, as neutral, unbiased, and committed to (in his phrase) “keeping them honest.” So let’s return to the commentary of Colby Hall:


Should CNN really be that comfortable with the “face” of their network giving such an unchallenged platform to such a biased commentator? Wouldn’t it be more fair to at least have someone to rebut his point of view, or to add a different perspective? Put another way, how often has Cooper had on, as guest, Maher’s equivalent on the right, say his old pal Ann Coulter, who appears to take a similar approach to Maher’s in the business of outrage? Yes, we are aware that Coulter has appeared on AC360, but the tone of those discussions appear very different than the amused and convivial conversations that Cooper shares with Maher. Just keeping them honest.

Last night Anderson Cooper’s mask slipped. I wonder if he even understands that it has, or why it has.

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Romney Hedging His Bets on Afghanistan?

What exactly did Mitt Romney mean when he spoke about pulling out of Afghanistan during the New Hampshire debate? His remarks have been interpreted in different ways, and the attempted clarifications from his staff haven’t completely cleared up the confusion.

While Romney’s campaign denied to Politico that he has expressed private concerns about the war’s slipping poll numbers, his foreign policy advisor Mitchell Reiss did indicate that Romney was responding to the war’s waning popularity:

“The hallmark of [a policy’s] success is whether it can sustain domestic support and there is a fatigue about this war,” Reiss said. “The governor was trying to adresss some of those concerns — this is not going to be an open ended commitment forever — and yet he does recognize the strategic importance of victory in Afghanistan.”

The Washington Post’s Jennifer Rubin spoke to Romney’s senior advisor Eric Fehrnstrom, who also said that Romney understands the national security interests of Afghanistan. “Governor Romney supported the entry into Afghanistan and the surge to prevent the country from being a launching pad for terror,” said Fehrnstrom. “What he wants to see now is Afghan leadership step up in a way that’s been missing. They need to show the passion for liberty that is essential for independence.”

But Romney’s original comment has been perceived as a sign that the GOP field isn’t fully invested in Afghanistan. Sen. Lindsey Graham complained on Tuesday that none of the 2012 candidates at the debate gave “a strategic vision why it’s important we get it right in Afghanistan, what happens to our country if we don’t.”

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What exactly did Mitt Romney mean when he spoke about pulling out of Afghanistan during the New Hampshire debate? His remarks have been interpreted in different ways, and the attempted clarifications from his staff haven’t completely cleared up the confusion.

While Romney’s campaign denied to Politico that he has expressed private concerns about the war’s slipping poll numbers, his foreign policy advisor Mitchell Reiss did indicate that Romney was responding to the war’s waning popularity:

“The hallmark of [a policy’s] success is whether it can sustain domestic support and there is a fatigue about this war,” Reiss said. “The governor was trying to adresss some of those concerns — this is not going to be an open ended commitment forever — and yet he does recognize the strategic importance of victory in Afghanistan.”

The Washington Post’s Jennifer Rubin spoke to Romney’s senior advisor Eric Fehrnstrom, who also said that Romney understands the national security interests of Afghanistan. “Governor Romney supported the entry into Afghanistan and the surge to prevent the country from being a launching pad for terror,” said Fehrnstrom. “What he wants to see now is Afghan leadership step up in a way that’s been missing. They need to show the passion for liberty that is essential for independence.”

But Romney’s original comment has been perceived as a sign that the GOP field isn’t fully invested in Afghanistan. Sen. Lindsey Graham complained on Tuesday that none of the 2012 candidates at the debate gave “a strategic vision why it’s important we get it right in Afghanistan, what happens to our country if we don’t.”

Graham criticized Romney directly, saying, “From the party’s point of view, the biggest disaster would be to let Barack Obama become Ronald Reagan and our people become Jimmy Carter.”

Meanwhile, the New York Times reported that Romney’s comments were one indicator of a “renewed streak of isolationism among Republicans.”

But it’s possible that Romney, who developed a reputation as an opportunist during his last presidential bid, was only testing the political waters on the issue.

“Romney has proven himself a little bit of a weathervane and I guess he senses that positioning himself in this place is good for his campaign — attempting to appease Ron Paul’s constituents without actually being Ron Paul,” Danielle Pletka told Politico. “You can’t really triangulate on these issues. Either you think we’re fighting a war we need to win or you think we ought to bring all the troops home, but he said it all there.”

And it doesn’t seem like he’ll be able to play to both sides for much longer.

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DNC Chair: “We Own the Economy”

This morning Debbie Wasserman Schultz, speaking for Democrats, proudly declared, “We own the economy.”

We have finally found common ground between the GOP and Democrats. Republicans will fully embrace Ms. Wasserman Schultz’s admission. In fact, I rather suspect they’ll cite her much more often, and with much more glee, than Democrats. I’ll go even further: Ms. Wasserman Schultz’s words will make their way into Republican ads, but no Democratic ones. Which tells you quite a lot, doesn’t it?

The days of blaming Obama’s predecessor are long over. The days of accountability have begun. And the president and his party will pay a fearsome political price for it, and for what they have wrought.

This morning Debbie Wasserman Schultz, speaking for Democrats, proudly declared, “We own the economy.”

We have finally found common ground between the GOP and Democrats. Republicans will fully embrace Ms. Wasserman Schultz’s admission. In fact, I rather suspect they’ll cite her much more often, and with much more glee, than Democrats. I’ll go even further: Ms. Wasserman Schultz’s words will make their way into Republican ads, but no Democratic ones. Which tells you quite a lot, doesn’t it?

The days of blaming Obama’s predecessor are long over. The days of accountability have begun. And the president and his party will pay a fearsome political price for it, and for what they have wrought.

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The Bachmann Backlash Begins

For months, Rep. Michele Bachmann has hovered on the margins of the consciousness of the mainstream media. But after her breakthrough appearance at Monday night’s New Hampshire Republican presidential debate, it was a given that she would start getting the same treatment that was accorded the last religious conservative woman to make it onto the national stage. As Michelle Goldberg’s hit piece in today’s Daily Beast illustrates, the effort to demonize Bachmann is in full swing and she can expect no more mercy from liberals than Sarah Palin got.

The highlight of Goldberg’s piece is undoubtedly her account of what happened when to supporters of gay marriage ambushed her in a rest room after a 2005 town hall meeting when Bachmann was a Minnesota state senator. The two, a lesbian and a nun, claim Bachmann screamed for help when the two buttonholed her in a lady’s room. Apparently we’re supposed to think Bachmann is a screwball for feeling threatened (if indeed, that’s what actually happened) when hostile strangers in a small space cornered her with no one else around.

Goldberg’s biggest problem is, of course, the fact that the religiously conservative Bachmann is a longtime opponent of gay marriage and she makes the most out of the fact that the congresswoman’s gay stepsister broke with her over the issue.

We can also expect to hear a great deal the influence of one of her law professors, John Eidsmoe who appears to something of a theocrat as well as advocating some erroneous and extreme ideas about both slavery and the Civil War.

The fact that she is an evangelical will be enough to incite liberals to blast her as an extremist especially Jewish liberals, who will not be impressed by the fact that Bachmann is not only a strong supporter of Israel but made her first trip there when she was a teenager with a Christian youth group.

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For months, Rep. Michele Bachmann has hovered on the margins of the consciousness of the mainstream media. But after her breakthrough appearance at Monday night’s New Hampshire Republican presidential debate, it was a given that she would start getting the same treatment that was accorded the last religious conservative woman to make it onto the national stage. As Michelle Goldberg’s hit piece in today’s Daily Beast illustrates, the effort to demonize Bachmann is in full swing and she can expect no more mercy from liberals than Sarah Palin got.

The highlight of Goldberg’s piece is undoubtedly her account of what happened when to supporters of gay marriage ambushed her in a rest room after a 2005 town hall meeting when Bachmann was a Minnesota state senator. The two, a lesbian and a nun, claim Bachmann screamed for help when the two buttonholed her in a lady’s room. Apparently we’re supposed to think Bachmann is a screwball for feeling threatened (if indeed, that’s what actually happened) when hostile strangers in a small space cornered her with no one else around.

Goldberg’s biggest problem is, of course, the fact that the religiously conservative Bachmann is a longtime opponent of gay marriage and she makes the most out of the fact that the congresswoman’s gay stepsister broke with her over the issue.

We can also expect to hear a great deal the influence of one of her law professors, John Eidsmoe who appears to something of a theocrat as well as advocating some erroneous and extreme ideas about both slavery and the Civil War.

The fact that she is an evangelical will be enough to incite liberals to blast her as an extremist especially Jewish liberals, who will not be impressed by the fact that Bachmann is not only a strong supporter of Israel but made her first trip there when she was a teenager with a Christian youth group.

While all this can be woven together into a narrative that makes Bachmann look like a nutcase, the problem with such efforts is that unlike Palin, after more than a decade as a legislator, the congresswoman can’t be dismissed as a political flash in the pan or an empty suit. She’s got a long paper trail of her own as well as an impressive education and work resume. As even her foes in Congress and in Minnesota politics have conceded, she’s sharp as a tack and a formidable foe.

Now that she’s had a chance to exhibit her talents on the national stage, her detractors are going to have to do more than mention the fact that she looked into the wrong camera during her response to President Obama’s State of the Union speech and committed a gaffe when she thought the Revolutionary War started in Concord, New Hampshire that than Concord, Massachusetts. Which means that slurs about her religious faith, her political beliefs and the usual snarky stuff that is used against female politicians (her looks, clothes, hair and makeup) will be trotted out. Goldberg’s piece is the first but it won’t be the last of this genre, especially if as now seems likely, her campaign gathers momentum.

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Top Obama Donors Land Key Admin Spots

Even as the Obama campaign continues to disingenuously claim that it doesn’t accept money from special interests, a new Politico report reveals that nearly 80 percent of Obama’s top donors landed cushy positions in his administration:

These “bundlers” raised at least $50,000 — and sometimes more than $500,000 — in campaign donations for Obama’s campaign. Many of those in the “Class of 2008” are now being asked to bundle contributions for Obama’s reelection, an effort that could cost $1 billion. …

Overall, 184 of 556, or about one-third of Obama bundlers or their spouses joined the administration in some role. But the percentages are much higher for the big-dollar bundlers. Nearly 80 percent of those who collected more than $500,000 for Obama took “key administration posts,” as defined by the White House. More than half the 24 ambassador nominees who were bundlers raised $500,000.

Obama isn’t the first president to reward donors this way, but he also based his 2008 campaign on the vow that he would put a stop to this payoff mentality in Washington. This is yet another campaign promise that he failed to deliver on. And Obama’s supporters weren’t the only ones let down by this deceit – career diplomats who have been passed over for jobs in favor of massive Obama donors also feel that they were treated unfairly:

The Obama record has disappointed the American Foreign Service Association, which believes these appointments should mostly go to career diplomats. The organization cites the 1980 Foreign Service Act, which states that political contributions “should not be a factor” in picking ambassadors, a rule presidents of both parties have all but ignored.

Passing over career diplomats in favor of megadonors amounts to “selling ambassadorships,” said Susan Johnson, president of the American Foreign Service Association.

Obama was something of a blank slate back in 2008, and it was easier for him to convince Americans that he might actually follow through on his loft ethics promises. But after years of no change in this regard, voters will likely be a lot more cynical when they head to the polls in 2012.

Even as the Obama campaign continues to disingenuously claim that it doesn’t accept money from special interests, a new Politico report reveals that nearly 80 percent of Obama’s top donors landed cushy positions in his administration:

These “bundlers” raised at least $50,000 — and sometimes more than $500,000 — in campaign donations for Obama’s campaign. Many of those in the “Class of 2008” are now being asked to bundle contributions for Obama’s reelection, an effort that could cost $1 billion. …

Overall, 184 of 556, or about one-third of Obama bundlers or their spouses joined the administration in some role. But the percentages are much higher for the big-dollar bundlers. Nearly 80 percent of those who collected more than $500,000 for Obama took “key administration posts,” as defined by the White House. More than half the 24 ambassador nominees who were bundlers raised $500,000.

Obama isn’t the first president to reward donors this way, but he also based his 2008 campaign on the vow that he would put a stop to this payoff mentality in Washington. This is yet another campaign promise that he failed to deliver on. And Obama’s supporters weren’t the only ones let down by this deceit – career diplomats who have been passed over for jobs in favor of massive Obama donors also feel that they were treated unfairly:

The Obama record has disappointed the American Foreign Service Association, which believes these appointments should mostly go to career diplomats. The organization cites the 1980 Foreign Service Act, which states that political contributions “should not be a factor” in picking ambassadors, a rule presidents of both parties have all but ignored.

Passing over career diplomats in favor of megadonors amounts to “selling ambassadorships,” said Susan Johnson, president of the American Foreign Service Association.

Obama was something of a blank slate back in 2008, and it was easier for him to convince Americans that he might actually follow through on his loft ethics promises. But after years of no change in this regard, voters will likely be a lot more cynical when they head to the polls in 2012.

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The Importance of History

The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) released its 2010 “report card” on the command of history our fourth, eighth, and 12th graders have. The results are not encouraging. Over all, 20 percent of fourth graders, 17 percent of eighth graders and 12 percent of high school seniors demonstrated proficiency on the exam. (NAEP defines three achievement levels for each test: “basic” denotes partial mastery of a subject; “proficient” represents solid academic performance and a demonstration of competency over challenging subject matter; and “advanced” means superior performance.)

The tests were given last spring to a representative sample of 7,000 fourth graders, 11,800 eighth graders and 12,400 12th graders nationwide, with history being one of eight subjects covered by NAEP (the others are math, reading, science, writing, civics, geography and economics). The nation’s eighth graders posted gains in American history achievement compared with four years ago, while at the fourth and 12fth grades, we saw no statistically significant changes since 2006.

It turns out history is the worst subject for American students (economics is the best). For examples, most fourth graders are unable to say why Abraham Lincoln was an important figure, and few high school seniors were able to identify China as the North Korean ally that fought American troops during the Korean War. Diane Ravitch, an education expert, drew special attention to the low scores for high school seniors. Read More

The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) released its 2010 “report card” on the command of history our fourth, eighth, and 12th graders have. The results are not encouraging. Over all, 20 percent of fourth graders, 17 percent of eighth graders and 12 percent of high school seniors demonstrated proficiency on the exam. (NAEP defines three achievement levels for each test: “basic” denotes partial mastery of a subject; “proficient” represents solid academic performance and a demonstration of competency over challenging subject matter; and “advanced” means superior performance.)

The tests were given last spring to a representative sample of 7,000 fourth graders, 11,800 eighth graders and 12,400 12th graders nationwide, with history being one of eight subjects covered by NAEP (the others are math, reading, science, writing, civics, geography and economics). The nation’s eighth graders posted gains in American history achievement compared with four years ago, while at the fourth and 12fth grades, we saw no statistically significant changes since 2006.

It turns out history is the worst subject for American students (economics is the best). For examples, most fourth graders are unable to say why Abraham Lincoln was an important figure, and few high school seniors were able to identify China as the North Korean ally that fought American troops during the Korean War. Diane Ravitch, an education expert, drew special attention to the low scores for high school seniors.

“It should concern us all that 12th graders’ knowledge of history has barely changed since 2001,” she said. “All of these students will be voters in a year, and almost 40 percent were already eligible to vote when they took the assessment. … They should be well informed and capable of weighing the contending claims of candidates, especially when the candidates rest their arguments on historical precedent.”

Indeed they should. And among other things, we need to better demonstrate to students what it is they are missing. The historian and literary critic Bernard DeVoto, in writing to Catherine Drinker Bowen on why the task of a historian is so important, said this:

If the mad, impossible voyage of Columbus or Cartier or La Salle or Coronado or John Ledyard is not romantic, if the stars did not dance in the sky when our Constitutional Convention met, if Atlantis has any landscape stranger or the other side of the moon any lights or colors or shapes more unearthly than the customary homespun of Lincoln and the morning coat of Jackson, well, I don’t know what romance is. Ours is a story mad with the impossible; it began as a dream and it has continued as dream down to the last headlines you read in a newspaper.

History is about increasing knowledge, of course, and there is romance and drama in it, as DeVoto understood. But history also introduces us to ourselves. It connects us to our country, its achievements and failures, its heroes and villains, its ideals and aspirations. It is the sine qua non of democratic citizenship.

In 1986 then Secretary of Education William Bennett, in a speech on the importance of history, ended his remarks with these powerful words:

Americans are heirs to a precious historical legacy. Let it never be said of us that we failed as a nation because we neglected to pass on this legacy to our children. Whatever our ancestry of blood, we are all equally heirs to the same tradition. In one sense we all have the same fathers – our Founding Fathers. Let it be said that we told our children their story, and the whole story, the long record of our glories, of our failures, of our aspirations, our sins, our achievements and our victories. Then let us leave them to determine their own view of it all: America in the totality of its acts. If we can dedicate ourselves to that endeavor, I am confident that our students will discern in the story of their past the truth. And they will cherish that truth. And it will keep them free.

Right now we’re failing to pass on this legacy to our children. That inflicts a cost on them and on all of us.

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Rep. Peter King Shuts Down Critic at Radicalization Hearing

At today’s House Homeland Security Committee’s hearing on radicalization in the prison system, Rep. Peter King vigorously defended himself against charges of discrimination, and said his critics were unwilling to discuss the issue of Islamic radicalization because of “political correctness.”

His forceful defense came after Democratic Rep. Laura Richardson accused him of ignoring radicalization among gang members and white supremacist groups.

“I do not disagree that radicalization occurs,” said Richardson. “What I disagree with is the scope of this committee’s only focusing on one particular group. I actually feel that the focus on one particular group on the basis of race or religion can be considered discriminatory.”

King shot back that he “disagree[d] 100 percent” with her accusations.

“Your party had control of this committee for four years and not one hearing on skinheads, Nazis, Aryan nation,” said King. “If we find the neo-Nazis are allied with a foreign power, we will investigate that…We are not going to spread ourselves out to investigate everything, which means investigating nothing.”

King added it’s the responsibility of the judiciary committee to investigate gang issues, and there are already procedures in place to identify and curtail gang recruitment in the prison system. However, there are no methods in place to combat Islamist radicalization in penitentiaries.

At today’s House Homeland Security Committee’s hearing on radicalization in the prison system, Rep. Peter King vigorously defended himself against charges of discrimination, and said his critics were unwilling to discuss the issue of Islamic radicalization because of “political correctness.”

His forceful defense came after Democratic Rep. Laura Richardson accused him of ignoring radicalization among gang members and white supremacist groups.

“I do not disagree that radicalization occurs,” said Richardson. “What I disagree with is the scope of this committee’s only focusing on one particular group. I actually feel that the focus on one particular group on the basis of race or religion can be considered discriminatory.”

King shot back that he “disagree[d] 100 percent” with her accusations.

“Your party had control of this committee for four years and not one hearing on skinheads, Nazis, Aryan nation,” said King. “If we find the neo-Nazis are allied with a foreign power, we will investigate that…We are not going to spread ourselves out to investigate everything, which means investigating nothing.”

King added it’s the responsibility of the judiciary committee to investigate gang issues, and there are already procedures in place to identify and curtail gang recruitment in the prison system. However, there are no methods in place to combat Islamist radicalization in penitentiaries.

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Time for Debate on Chinese Cyberattacks

Former White House counterterrorism czar Richard Clarke is right to sound the alarm in the Wall Street Journal about Chinese cyberattacks on U.S. companies and the U.S. government. Chinese hackers are constantly probing our networks for purposes ranging from espionage to potential sabotage. Clarke notes, for example, that “the control systems for the U.S. electric power grid had been hacked and secret openings created so that the attacker could get back in with ease.” Beijing denies any involvement but its claims are hard to take seriously, especially given the prominence cyberwar now enjoys in the official doctrine of the Peoples Liberation Army.

The question is: what do we do about it? The military’s Cyber Command–part of the U.S. Strategic Command–is working on a new doctrine for cyberwar that reportedly calls for treating serious computer attacks as akin to an act of war subject to a kinetic response. That’s fine in theory, but in practice it is hard to imagine bombing Beijing in retaliation for the kinds of activities Chinese hackers are currently undertaking–”successfully stealing research and development, software source code, manufacturing know-how and government plans,” in Clarke’s words.

“Active defense”–i.e. retaliation in kind–is a serious possibility, although we need to be careful about setting off a cyberwar since we are more reliant on computer networks than any other major country and hence have the most to lose. Another necessity is to improve passive defenses. But that’s hard to do now because of the disjointed nature of our response.

Cyber Command and the National Security Agency (the two are headed by the same man, Gen. Keith Alexander) have responsibility for protecting governmental computer networks. But they have limited authority to deal with the vast civilian computer infrastructure. Technically, the Department of Homeland Security is supposed to take the lead here but it lacks Cyber Command’s expertise or resources.

The obvious answer would be to give Cyber Command more power to protect the civilian computer grid. The problem is this will entangle the military in domestic civilian computer interactions, raising fears of “Big Brother” watching what you’re doing. I believe the authorities should nevertheless be granted power–subject to tough punishments for any abuse–but this will require an act of Congress. But as Clarke notes: “Congress hasn’t passed a single piece of significant cybersecurity legislation.” It’s time for the debate to begin on Capitol Hill before Chinese cyberwarriors do any more damage.


Former White House counterterrorism czar Richard Clarke is right to sound the alarm in the Wall Street Journal about Chinese cyberattacks on U.S. companies and the U.S. government. Chinese hackers are constantly probing our networks for purposes ranging from espionage to potential sabotage. Clarke notes, for example, that “the control systems for the U.S. electric power grid had been hacked and secret openings created so that the attacker could get back in with ease.” Beijing denies any involvement but its claims are hard to take seriously, especially given the prominence cyberwar now enjoys in the official doctrine of the Peoples Liberation Army.

The question is: what do we do about it? The military’s Cyber Command–part of the U.S. Strategic Command–is working on a new doctrine for cyberwar that reportedly calls for treating serious computer attacks as akin to an act of war subject to a kinetic response. That’s fine in theory, but in practice it is hard to imagine bombing Beijing in retaliation for the kinds of activities Chinese hackers are currently undertaking–”successfully stealing research and development, software source code, manufacturing know-how and government plans,” in Clarke’s words.

“Active defense”–i.e. retaliation in kind–is a serious possibility, although we need to be careful about setting off a cyberwar since we are more reliant on computer networks than any other major country and hence have the most to lose. Another necessity is to improve passive defenses. But that’s hard to do now because of the disjointed nature of our response.

Cyber Command and the National Security Agency (the two are headed by the same man, Gen. Keith Alexander) have responsibility for protecting governmental computer networks. But they have limited authority to deal with the vast civilian computer infrastructure. Technically, the Department of Homeland Security is supposed to take the lead here but it lacks Cyber Command’s expertise or resources.

The obvious answer would be to give Cyber Command more power to protect the civilian computer grid. The problem is this will entangle the military in domestic civilian computer interactions, raising fears of “Big Brother” watching what you’re doing. I believe the authorities should nevertheless be granted power–subject to tough punishments for any abuse–but this will require an act of Congress. But as Clarke notes: “Congress hasn’t passed a single piece of significant cybersecurity legislation.” It’s time for the debate to begin on Capitol Hill before Chinese cyberwarriors do any more damage.


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Economic Woes: Maybe We Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet

Today’s bad news comes from Catherine Rampell of the New York Times:

In the latest sign that the economic recovery may have lost whatever modest oomph it had, more small businesses say that they are planning to shrink their payrolls than say they want to expand them….While big companies are buoyed by record profits, many small businesses, which employ half of the country’s private sector workers, are still struggling to break even. And if the nation’s small companies plan to further delay hiring — or, worse, return to laying off workers, as they now hint they might — there is little hope that the nation’s 14 million idle workers will find gainful employment soon.

The six-week slump in the Dow (likely to be a seventh when Friday’s trading is done) indicates something equally worrisome. Since the middle of last year, the markets have been “pricing in” an economic recovery generally. If, instead, what we are seeing is that we are mired in the doldrums or at the outset of a substantial reversal, then the priced-in recovery will be priced out and the stock market will decine even more substantially.

So along with the decline in housing value we’ll have a decline in stock-market value. The economic woes, therefore, don’t just have a prolonged impact on the unemployed, though they are certainly in the worst and most awful position of everyone. They affect everyone. And the question for President Obama will be this: How on earth do you sell yourself for a second term when the people you need to vote for you outside your base feel poorer and (in many cases) actually are poorer than they were when you took office?

Today’s bad news comes from Catherine Rampell of the New York Times:

In the latest sign that the economic recovery may have lost whatever modest oomph it had, more small businesses say that they are planning to shrink their payrolls than say they want to expand them….While big companies are buoyed by record profits, many small businesses, which employ half of the country’s private sector workers, are still struggling to break even. And if the nation’s small companies plan to further delay hiring — or, worse, return to laying off workers, as they now hint they might — there is little hope that the nation’s 14 million idle workers will find gainful employment soon.

The six-week slump in the Dow (likely to be a seventh when Friday’s trading is done) indicates something equally worrisome. Since the middle of last year, the markets have been “pricing in” an economic recovery generally. If, instead, what we are seeing is that we are mired in the doldrums or at the outset of a substantial reversal, then the priced-in recovery will be priced out and the stock market will decine even more substantially.

So along with the decline in housing value we’ll have a decline in stock-market value. The economic woes, therefore, don’t just have a prolonged impact on the unemployed, though they are certainly in the worst and most awful position of everyone. They affect everyone. And the question for President Obama will be this: How on earth do you sell yourself for a second term when the people you need to vote for you outside your base feel poorer and (in many cases) actually are poorer than they were when you took office?

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Don’t Coddle Pakistan, Quarantine It

When it comes to Pakistan, the United States is between a rock and a hard place. On one hand, they are clearly working against U.S. national security, but on the other hand, American officials don’t want Pakistan to sink completely because they are a nuclear power.

Against this backdrop, however, two things astound me: First, the Obama administration appears willing to allow Pakistan to play a role in Afghanistan. We should not transform Afghanistan into strategic depth for such an untrustworthy country. Rather, if the United States is intent on withdrawal, it’s time to encourage India to step up to the plate and become more involved in Afghanistan. Simply put, we should not coddle Pakistan, we should quarantine it.

Second, the Obama administration, willing to embrace the fiction Pakistan is an ally, seems willing to turn over control of some Predator operations to the Pakistani military. If we want Pakistan’s cooperation, it’s time to play hardball: Rather than give Predators to Pakistan, we should give them to India. If Pakistan does not want India to increase its qualitative military edge, it’s time that all elements of the Pakistani state compromise. It’s inane that when Pakistan plays hardball, we respond with kid gloves.

When it comes to Pakistan, the United States is between a rock and a hard place. On one hand, they are clearly working against U.S. national security, but on the other hand, American officials don’t want Pakistan to sink completely because they are a nuclear power.

Against this backdrop, however, two things astound me: First, the Obama administration appears willing to allow Pakistan to play a role in Afghanistan. We should not transform Afghanistan into strategic depth for such an untrustworthy country. Rather, if the United States is intent on withdrawal, it’s time to encourage India to step up to the plate and become more involved in Afghanistan. Simply put, we should not coddle Pakistan, we should quarantine it.

Second, the Obama administration, willing to embrace the fiction Pakistan is an ally, seems willing to turn over control of some Predator operations to the Pakistani military. If we want Pakistan’s cooperation, it’s time to play hardball: Rather than give Predators to Pakistan, we should give them to India. If Pakistan does not want India to increase its qualitative military edge, it’s time that all elements of the Pakistani state compromise. It’s inane that when Pakistan plays hardball, we respond with kid gloves.

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“It’s the Safe Haven, Stupid”

To twist Clinton strategist James Carville’s famous 1992 catchphrase, “It’s the economy, stupid,” when it comes to national security, “It’s the safe haven, stupid.” Whether in Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia, or anywhere else, terrorists pose an enhanced danger to American national security when they hold territory. Indeed, al-Qaeda theorists discuss the need to hold territory; hence the danger of past Pakistani deals to transfer territory to extremists in Malakand, Waziristan, etc.

While Max Boot is correct to say the United States has made inroads in southern Afghanistan, as important is the fact the United States and NATO have lost ground in eastern Afghanistan. Last year, the United States handed Kunar and Nuristan to the Afghan government. Today, the Taliban controls districts in these provinces. Should the United States withdraw further before defeating the Taliban, we will only amplify a Taliban victory. After all, Afghans have never lost a war: They just defect to the winning side. Momentum is everything. Should the Taliban win 10 percent of the country, 30 percent will join them. And should they win 40 percent of the country, the next month they will have 70 percent as even traditional enemies make their accommodation. When General Petraeus talks about a “significant” drawdown of troops, in effect, he is foreshadowing a vacuum, one that will come back to bite us.

The same problem exists in Yemen. As Ali Abdullah Saleh clings to power, province after province is defecting from central government control. Taiz, the traditional capital of Yemen, is already lost. Yesterday, extremists seized Lahij, just north of Aden. Lahij isn’t a peripheral province—but along the main highway between Aden and Sanaa (a province which I used to traverse regularly when I was a graduate student). Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) is already the most lethal al-Qaeda franchise, and the fact the White House has no clear strategy for filling the Yemeni vacuum before AQAP does is strategic malpractice of the first order.

The real national security question now is when the attack comes on the United States, will it originate from a safe-haven in Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia, or perhaps Pakistan?

To twist Clinton strategist James Carville’s famous 1992 catchphrase, “It’s the economy, stupid,” when it comes to national security, “It’s the safe haven, stupid.” Whether in Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia, or anywhere else, terrorists pose an enhanced danger to American national security when they hold territory. Indeed, al-Qaeda theorists discuss the need to hold territory; hence the danger of past Pakistani deals to transfer territory to extremists in Malakand, Waziristan, etc.

While Max Boot is correct to say the United States has made inroads in southern Afghanistan, as important is the fact the United States and NATO have lost ground in eastern Afghanistan. Last year, the United States handed Kunar and Nuristan to the Afghan government. Today, the Taliban controls districts in these provinces. Should the United States withdraw further before defeating the Taliban, we will only amplify a Taliban victory. After all, Afghans have never lost a war: They just defect to the winning side. Momentum is everything. Should the Taliban win 10 percent of the country, 30 percent will join them. And should they win 40 percent of the country, the next month they will have 70 percent as even traditional enemies make their accommodation. When General Petraeus talks about a “significant” drawdown of troops, in effect, he is foreshadowing a vacuum, one that will come back to bite us.

The same problem exists in Yemen. As Ali Abdullah Saleh clings to power, province after province is defecting from central government control. Taiz, the traditional capital of Yemen, is already lost. Yesterday, extremists seized Lahij, just north of Aden. Lahij isn’t a peripheral province—but along the main highway between Aden and Sanaa (a province which I used to traverse regularly when I was a graduate student). Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) is already the most lethal al-Qaeda franchise, and the fact the White House has no clear strategy for filling the Yemeni vacuum before AQAP does is strategic malpractice of the first order.

The real national security question now is when the attack comes on the United States, will it originate from a safe-haven in Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia, or perhaps Pakistan?

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National Security Should Not be a Partisan Football

I advocated for a no-fly zone over Libya on both humanitarian grounds and also because Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi remained a terrorist leader. In addition, a massive refugee flight of armed Libyans from Benghazi might destabilize neighboring Egypt should Libya’s second largest city have fallen to Qaddafi’s tanks and troops. Obama also set a poor precedent by justifying action on humanitarian grounds only. As in Iraq, humanitarian grounds should be a consideration but not the only one. National security must always come first.

I found it noxious—and said so at the time on the Bill Bennett show—that President Obama would turn to the United Nations before he approached the U.S. Congress to legitimize American participation. I certainly understand Congress’ frustration. But it is dangerous to score political points in a way which might allow Qaddafi to benefit.

I also am frustrated by Obama’s leadership from behind. Recently, I crossed the Atlantic on an American aircraft carrier. While opinions about U.S. entanglement in Libya ranged the gambit, some of the less discreet pilots expressed frustration they were not able to do their jobs to the fullest: If only they could operate non-stop for 48 hours and provide Qaddafi with a bit of shock-and-awe, they felt they could accomplish the mission rather than have it drag on endlessly. President Obama and his advisers appear too detached from reality: They have no sense of the importance of momentum.

More importantly, Republicans should not simply use national security as a political football. If the United States and NATO cease operations against Libya, we will not simply revert to the status quo ante. Qaddafi will be out for revenge and, as he did with Lockerbie, he will not hesitate to embrace terrorism to try to exact it. I’ve used the analogy before, but when you have a hornet’s nest in your yard, there are two good strategies and one bad one: Either leave it alone or get rid of it; never whack it a few times and then stand around amidst the angry hornets. If the Republicans curtail operations in Libya without any plan or indeed care for the future, then they will guarantee a much greater threat to national security. Whether it’s good politics or not is not my concern. It’s simply irresponsible.

If they want to go after Obama on Libya, they need to find a proxy. They might hold up funding for something else, or slow roll action on certain nominations. But they should not play politics with our military.

I advocated for a no-fly zone over Libya on both humanitarian grounds and also because Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi remained a terrorist leader. In addition, a massive refugee flight of armed Libyans from Benghazi might destabilize neighboring Egypt should Libya’s second largest city have fallen to Qaddafi’s tanks and troops. Obama also set a poor precedent by justifying action on humanitarian grounds only. As in Iraq, humanitarian grounds should be a consideration but not the only one. National security must always come first.

I found it noxious—and said so at the time on the Bill Bennett show—that President Obama would turn to the United Nations before he approached the U.S. Congress to legitimize American participation. I certainly understand Congress’ frustration. But it is dangerous to score political points in a way which might allow Qaddafi to benefit.

I also am frustrated by Obama’s leadership from behind. Recently, I crossed the Atlantic on an American aircraft carrier. While opinions about U.S. entanglement in Libya ranged the gambit, some of the less discreet pilots expressed frustration they were not able to do their jobs to the fullest: If only they could operate non-stop for 48 hours and provide Qaddafi with a bit of shock-and-awe, they felt they could accomplish the mission rather than have it drag on endlessly. President Obama and his advisers appear too detached from reality: They have no sense of the importance of momentum.

More importantly, Republicans should not simply use national security as a political football. If the United States and NATO cease operations against Libya, we will not simply revert to the status quo ante. Qaddafi will be out for revenge and, as he did with Lockerbie, he will not hesitate to embrace terrorism to try to exact it. I’ve used the analogy before, but when you have a hornet’s nest in your yard, there are two good strategies and one bad one: Either leave it alone or get rid of it; never whack it a few times and then stand around amidst the angry hornets. If the Republicans curtail operations in Libya without any plan or indeed care for the future, then they will guarantee a much greater threat to national security. Whether it’s good politics or not is not my concern. It’s simply irresponsible.

If they want to go after Obama on Libya, they need to find a proxy. They might hold up funding for something else, or slow roll action on certain nominations. But they should not play politics with our military.

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AIPAC Takes Swipe at Obama?

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) would never admit to this, but the Washington Jewish Week’s Adam Kredo reports the group’s press release decrying Palestinian diplomatic warfare may have been a veiled attack on President Obama.

Here’s the crucial piece of text from the AIPAC press release:

“The Palestinians have now stepped up their preconditions by demanding that Israel publicly commit that a Palestinian state will be based on the pre-June 1967 lines with mutually agreed land swaps.”

Unmentioned, but implied, is that the Palestinians stepped up their preconditions after Obama endorsed borders based on the pre-1967 lines with mutually agreed land swaps during his Middle East speech in May. Both Democratic and Republican operatives told Kredo AIPAC’s press release was an implicit attack on the president’s position.

The press release sounds like a warning shot from AIPAC to the Obama administration. It’s noteworthy it comes on the heels of Eli Lake’s Washington Times article revealing the White House may be pressuring Israel to accept its position on the 1967 lines. That position means  negotiations would have to begin at the 1967 lines — with the “mutually agreed land swaps” being decided on during the negotiation process. And if the two sides can’t agree? Then it’s back to the 1967 lines.

The administration is trying to obscure this position. But as AIPAC’s press release illustrates, the Palestinian governments realize exactly what Obama means and why this would be a disaster for Israel.

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) would never admit to this, but the Washington Jewish Week’s Adam Kredo reports the group’s press release decrying Palestinian diplomatic warfare may have been a veiled attack on President Obama.

Here’s the crucial piece of text from the AIPAC press release:

“The Palestinians have now stepped up their preconditions by demanding that Israel publicly commit that a Palestinian state will be based on the pre-June 1967 lines with mutually agreed land swaps.”

Unmentioned, but implied, is that the Palestinians stepped up their preconditions after Obama endorsed borders based on the pre-1967 lines with mutually agreed land swaps during his Middle East speech in May. Both Democratic and Republican operatives told Kredo AIPAC’s press release was an implicit attack on the president’s position.

The press release sounds like a warning shot from AIPAC to the Obama administration. It’s noteworthy it comes on the heels of Eli Lake’s Washington Times article revealing the White House may be pressuring Israel to accept its position on the 1967 lines. That position means  negotiations would have to begin at the 1967 lines — with the “mutually agreed land swaps” being decided on during the negotiation process. And if the two sides can’t agree? Then it’s back to the 1967 lines.

The administration is trying to obscure this position. But as AIPAC’s press release illustrates, the Palestinian governments realize exactly what Obama means and why this would be a disaster for Israel.

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Rudy’s Huddles With Christie, Perry

Politico reports this morning former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani is having meetings with both Texas Governor Rick Perry and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. The obvious implication of these conclaves is Giuliani is conferring with these two famous non-candidates for president about his own interest in joining the race for the 2012 Republican nomination.

Giuliani’s camp is sending out clear signals their man is very interested in another run for the presidency. Rudy may be thinking there is an opening for a moderate mainstream candidate to challenge frontrunner Mitt Romney. Unlike former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman, who also appears to be positioning himself as the most liberal member of the GOP field on both domestic and foreign policy issues, Giuliani can balance his positions on abortion, gay rights and guns with a vigorously hawkish foreign policy stance.

The only path for a Giuliani victory appears to be one predicated on the more conservative candidates cancelling each other out in the early primaries in the same manner John McCain slipped through the field to win in 2008. But that is a far-fetched scenario which also doesn’t take into account the more conservative cast of the Republican electorate this time around as well as the influence of the Tea Party which will be unlikely to view a tax and spend New York mayor with much affection. But like the other candidates who have little chance of winning, there appears to be no talking Giuliani out of another futile presidential run.

Politico reports this morning former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani is having meetings with both Texas Governor Rick Perry and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. The obvious implication of these conclaves is Giuliani is conferring with these two famous non-candidates for president about his own interest in joining the race for the 2012 Republican nomination.

Giuliani’s camp is sending out clear signals their man is very interested in another run for the presidency. Rudy may be thinking there is an opening for a moderate mainstream candidate to challenge frontrunner Mitt Romney. Unlike former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman, who also appears to be positioning himself as the most liberal member of the GOP field on both domestic and foreign policy issues, Giuliani can balance his positions on abortion, gay rights and guns with a vigorously hawkish foreign policy stance.

The only path for a Giuliani victory appears to be one predicated on the more conservative candidates cancelling each other out in the early primaries in the same manner John McCain slipped through the field to win in 2008. But that is a far-fetched scenario which also doesn’t take into account the more conservative cast of the Republican electorate this time around as well as the influence of the Tea Party which will be unlikely to view a tax and spend New York mayor with much affection. But like the other candidates who have little chance of winning, there appears to be no talking Giuliani out of another futile presidential run.

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“Spy” Case Highlights Worries About Egypt

The arrest of an American-Israeli student in Egypt on what appears to be trumped-up charges of spying for Israel could be dismissed as just another Middle East conspiracy story. But it could also be the latest indication of how that crucial Arab country is shifting away from moderation toward confrontation with Israel and the West.

Ilan Grapel, a student who has served in the IDF, appears to be an innocent caught up in the ferment of post-Mubarak Egypt. He is an unlikely candidate for espionage, and it is hoped his U.S. passport will ensure his safety and eventual release. But the decision of the Egyptian security services to not only arrest Grapel but to portray him as part of a vast Mossad conspiracy speaks to the willingness of the new government in Cairo to pander to anti-Israel and even anti-Semitic stereotypes as it scrambles to fend off challenges from the Muslim Brotherhood.

Grapel is not the first visitor to Egypt to run afoul of the tendency for Egyptian intelligence to indulge in the national paranoia about Israel. The Mubarak regime stoked the fires of anti-Semitism in Egyptian culture in order to provide an outlet for anger about its own repressive practices. But in the wake of Cairo’s decision to open the border with Gaza and diplomatic outreach to Iran, this “spy” case is just the latest indication of the troubling direction Egypt may be heading.

It is to be expected Egypt’s military is still desirous of both maintaining the flow of U.S. aid and to keep the peace with Israel. But the question is whether they can limit the anti-Western orientation of the country’s politics or whether, like the “Arab Spring” protests that ousted their former leader, it will spin out of their control.

The arrest of an American-Israeli student in Egypt on what appears to be trumped-up charges of spying for Israel could be dismissed as just another Middle East conspiracy story. But it could also be the latest indication of how that crucial Arab country is shifting away from moderation toward confrontation with Israel and the West.

Ilan Grapel, a student who has served in the IDF, appears to be an innocent caught up in the ferment of post-Mubarak Egypt. He is an unlikely candidate for espionage, and it is hoped his U.S. passport will ensure his safety and eventual release. But the decision of the Egyptian security services to not only arrest Grapel but to portray him as part of a vast Mossad conspiracy speaks to the willingness of the new government in Cairo to pander to anti-Israel and even anti-Semitic stereotypes as it scrambles to fend off challenges from the Muslim Brotherhood.

Grapel is not the first visitor to Egypt to run afoul of the tendency for Egyptian intelligence to indulge in the national paranoia about Israel. The Mubarak regime stoked the fires of anti-Semitism in Egyptian culture in order to provide an outlet for anger about its own repressive practices. But in the wake of Cairo’s decision to open the border with Gaza and diplomatic outreach to Iran, this “spy” case is just the latest indication of the troubling direction Egypt may be heading.

It is to be expected Egypt’s military is still desirous of both maintaining the flow of U.S. aid and to keep the peace with Israel. But the question is whether they can limit the anti-Western orientation of the country’s politics or whether, like the “Arab Spring” protests that ousted their former leader, it will spin out of their control.

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Iran Steps Up Incitement Against Israel

As the International Atomic Energy Agency continues to compile evidence of Iran’s intent to build a nuclear weapon, the leader of that country is stepping up incitement against the intended target of that program: Israel. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad used the meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization to launch a tirade against Zionism as well as the West.

The SCO is a creation of Russia and China who have attempted to use it as a counter-force to NATO. In addition to Ahmadinejad, Chinese President Hu Jintao, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, and the leaders of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, India, Pakistan and Mongolia attended the meeting of the group in Astana, Kazakhstan. In his speech, Ahmadinejad blasted 60 years of Zionism as well as the United States and the West whom he blamed for most of the world’s ills. Ironically, among his litany of American sins was its use of the first atomic weapons that ended the Second World War.

While such screeds are nothing new for Ahmadinejad, his speech is yet another indication efforts to pressure Iran via mild international sanctions are not having a moderating effect on the Islamist tyranny. Iran has thumbed its nose at the West and President Obama for the last two and a half years, and the U.S. push for sanctions appear to be meeting with the same indifference in Tehran as Obama’s previous desire for “engagement” with the regime.

But despite the growing international consensus about Iran’s nuclear intent, perhaps Ahmadinejad is hoping those Western apologists for his country will ultimately prevent concerted action to stop it from obtaining nukes. The most prominent of those apologists, the New York Times’s Roger Cohen, wrote earlier this week to say  all the evidence about Iran’s nuclear program should be ignored because the Iranians are too incompetent to actually build a bomb. Of course, this is the same writer who earned infamy two years ago saying the regime was too cosmopolitan to be anti-Semitic. That’s not very flattering for the Iranians (as well as vaguely reminiscent of conspiracy theories about 9/11 that posit Arab and Muslims were not clever enough to pull off such a diabolical scheme), but since Cohen’s main goal is to diminish concern for the security of Israel, I’m sure they’ll take it.

As the International Atomic Energy Agency continues to compile evidence of Iran’s intent to build a nuclear weapon, the leader of that country is stepping up incitement against the intended target of that program: Israel. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad used the meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization to launch a tirade against Zionism as well as the West.

The SCO is a creation of Russia and China who have attempted to use it as a counter-force to NATO. In addition to Ahmadinejad, Chinese President Hu Jintao, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, and the leaders of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, India, Pakistan and Mongolia attended the meeting of the group in Astana, Kazakhstan. In his speech, Ahmadinejad blasted 60 years of Zionism as well as the United States and the West whom he blamed for most of the world’s ills. Ironically, among his litany of American sins was its use of the first atomic weapons that ended the Second World War.

While such screeds are nothing new for Ahmadinejad, his speech is yet another indication efforts to pressure Iran via mild international sanctions are not having a moderating effect on the Islamist tyranny. Iran has thumbed its nose at the West and President Obama for the last two and a half years, and the U.S. push for sanctions appear to be meeting with the same indifference in Tehran as Obama’s previous desire for “engagement” with the regime.

But despite the growing international consensus about Iran’s nuclear intent, perhaps Ahmadinejad is hoping those Western apologists for his country will ultimately prevent concerted action to stop it from obtaining nukes. The most prominent of those apologists, the New York Times’s Roger Cohen, wrote earlier this week to say  all the evidence about Iran’s nuclear program should be ignored because the Iranians are too incompetent to actually build a bomb. Of course, this is the same writer who earned infamy two years ago saying the regime was too cosmopolitan to be anti-Semitic. That’s not very flattering for the Iranians (as well as vaguely reminiscent of conspiracy theories about 9/11 that posit Arab and Muslims were not clever enough to pull off such a diabolical scheme), but since Cohen’s main goal is to diminish concern for the security of Israel, I’m sure they’ll take it.

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