Commentary Magazine


Posts For: June 22, 2011

History Will Not Be Deceived

“L’audace, l’audace, toujours l’audace!”  To Napoleon and other great generals the willingness to be bold and audacious was the key to victory. Barack Obama is no Napoleon. He seems to believe that timidity is the key to success–that flip-flopping and triangulating can somehow convince our enemies to make nice. He is sorely mistaken, and it is our troops in Afghanistan and their allies who will pay the price for his unwillingness to back them all the way to victory.

Having ordered a surge of 30,000 troops back in 2009, Obama is now pulling the plug on the effort just when it was showing success.

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“L’audace, l’audace, toujours l’audace!”  To Napoleon and other great generals the willingness to be bold and audacious was the key to victory. Barack Obama is no Napoleon. He seems to believe that timidity is the key to success–that flip-flopping and triangulating can somehow convince our enemies to make nice. He is sorely mistaken, and it is our troops in Afghanistan and their allies who will pay the price for his unwillingness to back them all the way to victory.

Having ordered a surge of 30,000 troops back in 2009, Obama is now pulling the plug on the effort just when it was showing success.

During the past half year our troops had taken back large portions of Helmand and Kandahar provinces from the Taliban. They are now holding that ground against determined Taliban counterattacks. But this is only stage one of a well-thought-out campaign plan designed by Gen. David Petraeus. Stage two calls for extending the security bubble to Regional Command-East–to the treacherous, mountainous terrain where the Haqqani Network, the Taliban, and the Hezb-e-Islami Gulbuddin have their strongholds. By electing to pull out 10,000 surge troops this year and 20,000 more by next summer, Obama is making it virtually impossible to implement this campaign plan. He is even throwing into doubt our ability to consolidate gains in the south.

But nor is he simply opting for a counter-terrorism strategy of air strikes and commando raids as advocated by Vice President Biden. We will still have 70,000 troops in Afghanistan by the fall of 2012: too many for a purely counter-terrorist approach but too few to successfully implement a counterinsurgency strategy.

Obama is making life much more difficult for the troops that remain. He is ham-stringing them, forcing them to assume high levels of risk, and throwing into doubt their ability to accomplish the job they were sent to do–namely to create an Afghanistan strong enough to resist terrorists and insurgents. It is not just that we will now lack the troop numbers needed to secure such a vast and spread out country. We will also lose the all important element of momentum which we had gained with the surge and the ensuing counterinsurgency campaign.

When, last fall, Obama agreed at the NATO summit in Lisbon that our forces would not transition security to Afghan control until 2014, he signaled a long-term commitment. That made ordinary Afghans more willing to trust us and turn against the Taliban. With his speech on Wednesday he signaled hesitation, doubt, and irresolution. Why should anyone in Afghanistan, or for that matter Pakistan, trust us now? They will assume we are on the way out and therefore not worth risking their necks to help.

As usual Obama said nothing about seeking victory in Afghanistan over the Haqqanis, the Taliban, or other extremist groups closely allied with Al Qaeda. Instead he spoke above all of his desire to get out of Afghanistan. “This is the beginning — but not the end –- of our effort to wind down this war,” he said.

That is all our enemies need to hear. They will now be convinced that we do not have the will to see the war through and will act accordingly.

Clearly Obama’s motivation is political–he wants the surge troops out before he must face the voters in November 2012. Certainly there is no operational reason to pull so many troops out so quickly–a step he is taking in the face of unanimous military advice to the contrary. As a short-term political ploy this may be successful. But history will not be deceived. Obama will be judged not on how quickly he pulled troops out but on what kind of country they leave behind. With his feckless announcement on Wednesday, he has greatly increased the possibility of a historic defeat for American forces in Afghanistan. If that were to happen, posterity will not judge him kindly.

Obama had actually shown audacity when it came to Afghanistan in 2009–the year he ordered the surge. But he left himself an escape hatch in the form of a deadline to begin withdrawing this summer. Now he has ordered a withdrawal far beyond the expectations or desires of those he sent to implement his strategy. Plainly he has lost his nerve, thereby sacrificing the one quality that any commander-in-chief must have above all others.

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End of Surge Has to Encourage Taliban

President Obama’s announcement tonight he is ending the U.S. troop surge that helped stabilize the war in Afghanistan was a fulfillment of his 2009 promise the U.S. offensive would end this summer.  At the time, Obama was rightly praised for his decision to re-commit to fighting the Taliban and al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and his refusal to allow that country to drift back into the control of the Islamists. But by sending the enemy a message America could be waited out, the president also gave them hope. Today, that hope is being renewed. The withdrawal of the surge forces against the advice of our military commanders may wind up breathing new life into the Taliban cause. If, as a result of this decision the Taliban regains the ground it lost since the surge, then we will look back at this speech as a victory for America’s enemies, not a political coup for Obama.

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President Obama’s announcement tonight he is ending the U.S. troop surge that helped stabilize the war in Afghanistan was a fulfillment of his 2009 promise the U.S. offensive would end this summer.  At the time, Obama was rightly praised for his decision to re-commit to fighting the Taliban and al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and his refusal to allow that country to drift back into the control of the Islamists. But by sending the enemy a message America could be waited out, the president also gave them hope. Today, that hope is being renewed. The withdrawal of the surge forces against the advice of our military commanders may wind up breathing new life into the Taliban cause. If, as a result of this decision the Taliban regains the ground it lost since the surge, then we will look back at this speech as a victory for America’s enemies, not a political coup for Obama.

The speech was crafted as a way of positioning the president in such a way as to make him appear both as a successful war leader as well as an opponent of that war. Though Obama made a case for continued engagement in the Middle East, the president seems to be more interested in declaring a victory over the Taliban and al-Qaeda despite the fact the war is nowhere near over, let alone won. Obama presented the choice for America through his usual rhetorical device of proposing a middle way between two extreme points of view. But a phased withdrawal is a smart idea only if you think of it as the only choice other than an unlimited commitment and an all-out bug out.

The president is correct our goal in the Middle East is a fight for self-determination and not empire, but if Obama allows the Taliban to recoup their losses then this will be just empty talk. The notion the killing of Osama bin Laden, which the president continued to mention at every opportunity, allows us to let al-Qaeda’s Taliban allies off the hook in this manner is the sort of thinking that would render meaningless everything our armed forces have achieved in the last two years.

The problem here is for all of his willingness to speak of a U.S. commitment to the fight against al-Qaeda, the president is playing more to domestic sentiment than to America’s strategic responsibilities. His speech concluded with what can only be considered a piece of 2012 campaign rhetoric when he spoke of nation building at home replacing nation building abroad. That may be what many Americans want to hear after 10 long years of fighting in Afghanistan and a deepening economic crisis. But none of this should be mistaken for either courage or the vision a nation still at war needs.

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P.T. Obama and the Oxymoronic Presidency

Isn’t this where we came in? Barack Obama delivers a speech announcing the full withdrawal of American troops from a long war we haven’t yet won. As I recall, he did declare the U.S. would get out of Iraq at the beginning of his administration and reneged on that; indeed, he reneged so much that in recent speeches he has suggested (rightly) that Iraq could be the model for the countries of the Middle East following the Arab Spring! And, hey, remember when he spent months noodling over Afghanistan before committing to a surge of troops there—a surge that is bearing fruit but will now be put under severe pressure from the deadline he set last night? Who’s going to fall for this P.T. Barnum game?

Donna Brazile, the Democratic operative, offered the kind of response that Obama devoutly hopes the American people will offer in a tweet right after the speech: “I like the firmness of setting objectives —even if we change dates, let’s end it.” Yes, sir, that sure is firmness, Obama-style. It’s the firmness of spinelessness, the toughness of weakness, the verhe Oxyy definition of leading from behind. This brilliant man is running an oxymoronic presidency.


Isn’t this where we came in? Barack Obama delivers a speech announcing the full withdrawal of American troops from a long war we haven’t yet won. As I recall, he did declare the U.S. would get out of Iraq at the beginning of his administration and reneged on that; indeed, he reneged so much that in recent speeches he has suggested (rightly) that Iraq could be the model for the countries of the Middle East following the Arab Spring! And, hey, remember when he spent months noodling over Afghanistan before committing to a surge of troops there—a surge that is bearing fruit but will now be put under severe pressure from the deadline he set last night? Who’s going to fall for this P.T. Barnum game?

Donna Brazile, the Democratic operative, offered the kind of response that Obama devoutly hopes the American people will offer in a tweet right after the speech: “I like the firmness of setting objectives —even if we change dates, let’s end it.” Yes, sir, that sure is firmness, Obama-style. It’s the firmness of spinelessness, the toughness of weakness, the verhe Oxyy definition of leading from behind. This brilliant man is running an oxymoronic presidency.


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Illegal Immigrant Reporter Outs Himself

The Internet is buzzing about a New York Times Magazine piece by reporter Jose Antonio Vargas that is essentially a 4,600-word confession stating he is an illegal immigrant who has spent the last two decades living and working in this country on false documents. The 30-year-old Vargas’ story is a fascinating portrayal of life built on deceptions and vital assistance from a host of friends, co-workers, employers and even some government bureaucrats.

Vargas, who has worked at the San Francisco Chronicle, the Washington Post and written for The New Yorker among other publications, first came to this country at the age of 12 from his home in the Philippines. He was sent by his mother via a coyote or illegal immigrant transporter to live with his grandparents, who were American citizens. While there might have been better options for him, his grandparents got him false documents and sent him to school. He did not know his status until he tried to get a driver’s license and was told by the clerk at the DMV his green card was fake. At different points on his journey toward success in journalism, Vargas confessed his plight to various persons, any one of whom could have turned him in. But all chose to not only protect his secret but to help him get documents, an education and jobs. While some may read this with outrage, it illustrates the impossibility of trying to catch and deport more than 10 million people.

Vargas’ story will generate sympathy for him and other illegals, but I doubt it will change many minds about the issue. Especially since his family probably had other, better options and the fact he never saw anything wrong with lying or cheating to protect his secret. Even those who believe, as I do, the peril many see from illegals has been blown out of proportion, understand laws can’t simply be publicly flouted just because you are sympathetic to someone you know.

An interesting sidebar to the article is the Washington Post apparently originally commissioned it, but the paper eventually decided to spike it, leading Vargas to offer it to the Times Magazine. Explanations for this decision, as well as answers to the question of what did the editors of the Post and the Chronicle know about his status while he was working for them and when did they know it, should be interesting.


The Internet is buzzing about a New York Times Magazine piece by reporter Jose Antonio Vargas that is essentially a 4,600-word confession stating he is an illegal immigrant who has spent the last two decades living and working in this country on false documents. The 30-year-old Vargas’ story is a fascinating portrayal of life built on deceptions and vital assistance from a host of friends, co-workers, employers and even some government bureaucrats.

Vargas, who has worked at the San Francisco Chronicle, the Washington Post and written for The New Yorker among other publications, first came to this country at the age of 12 from his home in the Philippines. He was sent by his mother via a coyote or illegal immigrant transporter to live with his grandparents, who were American citizens. While there might have been better options for him, his grandparents got him false documents and sent him to school. He did not know his status until he tried to get a driver’s license and was told by the clerk at the DMV his green card was fake. At different points on his journey toward success in journalism, Vargas confessed his plight to various persons, any one of whom could have turned him in. But all chose to not only protect his secret but to help him get documents, an education and jobs. While some may read this with outrage, it illustrates the impossibility of trying to catch and deport more than 10 million people.

Vargas’ story will generate sympathy for him and other illegals, but I doubt it will change many minds about the issue. Especially since his family probably had other, better options and the fact he never saw anything wrong with lying or cheating to protect his secret. Even those who believe, as I do, the peril many see from illegals has been blown out of proportion, understand laws can’t simply be publicly flouted just because you are sympathetic to someone you know.

An interesting sidebar to the article is the Washington Post apparently originally commissioned it, but the paper eventually decided to spike it, leading Vargas to offer it to the Times Magazine. Explanations for this decision, as well as answers to the question of what did the editors of the Post and the Chronicle know about his status while he was working for them and when did they know it, should be interesting.


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The Wrong Argument About Building Israel

Two recently published articles, a lengthy feature by George Gilder and a shorter piece by Daniel Pipes, reiterate a familiar argument made by Israel advocates:  Jewish settlement in pre-state Palestine brought economic benefits to the Arab population and Zionist land purchases were directed at previously noncultivable wastelands. Those arguments, however, are fundamentally flawed, both on a factual basis and, more importantly, for the deeper message they convey.

On the factual level, according to Ken Stein’s 1984 book The Land Question in Palestine 1917-1939, Zionists made most of their land purchases in cultivable areas. At least part of these lands were often occupied at the time of purchase by poor tenant farmers, who were compensated in a variety of means but one way or another forced to leave.

It is undoubtedly true that at the same time, Jewish settlement was the chief driver of pre-state Palestine’s economy. Gilder covers this ground well, writing, “Between 1921 and 1942, the Jews increased… the total invested capital from a few hundred thousand dollars to the equivalent of $70 million.” Since that time, Jews have continued to expand the economic potential of the territory currently controlled by Israel, facilitating higher incomes and standards of living for all its inhabitants, whether Arab or Jew, Israeli citizen or not.

But as Vladimir Jabotinsky wrote long ago, the Arabs, like any people, would rather be the poor masters of a country they see as their own than a wealthy minority.

This points to the deeper problem in the argument made by Gilder and Pipes. In justifying the Jewish claim to national independence in the Land of Israel through the morality of their modern conquest or the economic benefit it provides, this leaves open the question of what rights Jews would have if those things were not so.

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Two recently published articles, a lengthy feature by George Gilder and a shorter piece by Daniel Pipes, reiterate a familiar argument made by Israel advocates:  Jewish settlement in pre-state Palestine brought economic benefits to the Arab population and Zionist land purchases were directed at previously noncultivable wastelands. Those arguments, however, are fundamentally flawed, both on a factual basis and, more importantly, for the deeper message they convey.

On the factual level, according to Ken Stein’s 1984 book The Land Question in Palestine 1917-1939, Zionists made most of their land purchases in cultivable areas. At least part of these lands were often occupied at the time of purchase by poor tenant farmers, who were compensated in a variety of means but one way or another forced to leave.

It is undoubtedly true that at the same time, Jewish settlement was the chief driver of pre-state Palestine’s economy. Gilder covers this ground well, writing, “Between 1921 and 1942, the Jews increased… the total invested capital from a few hundred thousand dollars to the equivalent of $70 million.” Since that time, Jews have continued to expand the economic potential of the territory currently controlled by Israel, facilitating higher incomes and standards of living for all its inhabitants, whether Arab or Jew, Israeli citizen or not.

But as Vladimir Jabotinsky wrote long ago, the Arabs, like any people, would rather be the poor masters of a country they see as their own than a wealthy minority.

This points to the deeper problem in the argument made by Gilder and Pipes. In justifying the Jewish claim to national independence in the Land of Israel through the morality of their modern conquest or the economic benefit it provides, this leaves open the question of what rights Jews would have if those things were not so.

The truth, once well understood by those Zionist land purchasers, is the Jewish claim to the land is at least equal to that of the Arabs. It doesn’t matter much how the land was acquired (though we did so legally) or what kind of land it was that we bought. It was – and is – ours by the natural right of the Jewish people to political independence in their native homeland. Even if the dire poverty of the Pale of Settlement had been recreated in Israel or if the Jews had mistreated the Arabs in the manner of the worst anti-Israelist fantasies, the land would still belong to them, for there is probably no people with as profound a connection to a spot of earth as the Jews to the Land of Israel, and there is only one Jewish state.

Israelis may grant the rights of another people in their land and be willing to compromise with them for peace. But until American advocates for Israel are able to follow the stirring example set by Benjamin Netanyahu in his address to Congress last month, in which he reiterated well the Jewish right to our homeland, they will forever find themselves defending that which requires no defense.

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Understanding the Settlements

For decades, American officials have obsessed about the presence of Jews in the West Bank while ignoring the real obstacles to peace in the Middle East. That’s the verdict of a fascinating and definitive study of the issue by Elliott Abrams published in the July/August issue of Foreign Affairs.

The article, in which Abrams reviews two books about the settlements, cuts to the heart of the issue with his explanation of why building in existing settlements (which Israel has no intention of giving up even in a peace accord) does not materially affect the ability of the Palestinians to have a state were they ever willing to make peace. More to the point, as Abrams points out, the real question is whether the Palestinians will ever accept statehood alongside a Jewish state of Israel.

The contrast here is illuminating. The settler movement opposes any compromise on territory. As was the case in the 1990s, there is little doubt if the majority of Israelis ever believe  peace is possible, they will back territorial withdrawals. But the Palestinian mainstream seems as unwilling to accept a real peace with Israel as the supposed extremists of Hamas.

The Obama administration seems incapable of understanding these basic facts. It has led them to various mistakes that have significantly diminished the already poor prospects for peace. The Abrams article is a must read. Unfortunately, the White House and State Department people who most need to read it are unlikely to do so.

For decades, American officials have obsessed about the presence of Jews in the West Bank while ignoring the real obstacles to peace in the Middle East. That’s the verdict of a fascinating and definitive study of the issue by Elliott Abrams published in the July/August issue of Foreign Affairs.

The article, in which Abrams reviews two books about the settlements, cuts to the heart of the issue with his explanation of why building in existing settlements (which Israel has no intention of giving up even in a peace accord) does not materially affect the ability of the Palestinians to have a state were they ever willing to make peace. More to the point, as Abrams points out, the real question is whether the Palestinians will ever accept statehood alongside a Jewish state of Israel.

The contrast here is illuminating. The settler movement opposes any compromise on territory. As was the case in the 1990s, there is little doubt if the majority of Israelis ever believe  peace is possible, they will back territorial withdrawals. But the Palestinian mainstream seems as unwilling to accept a real peace with Israel as the supposed extremists of Hamas.

The Obama administration seems incapable of understanding these basic facts. It has led them to various mistakes that have significantly diminished the already poor prospects for peace. The Abrams article is a must read. Unfortunately, the White House and State Department people who most need to read it are unlikely to do so.

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Bachmann, Pawlenty Buck Isolationist Tide on Afghanistan

With polls such as a recent study by the Pew Research Center showing increasing numbers of Americans supporting a rapid withdrawal from Afghanistan, the temptation may be great for some leaders to jump on the “realist” or isolationist bandwagon. But even as a candidate like Jon Huntsman hopes to gain traction with the voters by opposing the war, it appears two of the leading GOP presidential contenders are standing firm on upholding the nation’s foreign responsibilities.

Matthew Continetti writes in the Weekly Standard  that Michelle Bachmann is coming down firmly against accelerated withdrawals. To her credit, Bachmann, who seemed to sound an isolationist note on Libya, understands not only what the stakes are in Afghanistan but also what the goal of our commitment should be. She tells the Standard not only must the United States “stay the course,” but it must “finish the job.” In contrast to President Obama, whose half-hearted backing for the war has sent both our allies and our enemies mixed signals about our intentions, Bachmann says two words to which the current commander-in-chief seems allergic: “win” and “victory.”

In Afghanistan, we are making great progress. We have to win southern Afghanistan, then we have to go on and win eastern Afghanistan. I believe we will be victorious, and we’ll end it. I understand why people are frustrated. I completely understand. But I do trust General Petraeus and what he is doing over there.

Equally encouraging is the stand taken by Tim Pawlenty. In an interviewwith Politico, Pawlenty said he opposed an Afghanistan pullout until the United States was sure local forces were in place and strong enough to hold off the Taliban. “We need to make sure we do not send the message that we are leaving just because we’re tired or just because it’s too difficult,” said Pawlenty.

Of course, that is exactly the message the enemy may be getting from the president tonight if, as expected, he says U.S. troops will be drawn down and completely out of the country by the end of 2012. It’s also the message they may be getting from candidates like Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman. While the polls and the pundits claim this is the popular thing to say, the idea a dovish stand on foreign policy is a winning formula for a Republican primary is an unproved proposition. The bet here is Bachmann and Pawlenty may be more in sync with the sentiments of the GOP grass roots on this issue than their more establishment opponents.

With polls such as a recent study by the Pew Research Center showing increasing numbers of Americans supporting a rapid withdrawal from Afghanistan, the temptation may be great for some leaders to jump on the “realist” or isolationist bandwagon. But even as a candidate like Jon Huntsman hopes to gain traction with the voters by opposing the war, it appears two of the leading GOP presidential contenders are standing firm on upholding the nation’s foreign responsibilities.

Matthew Continetti writes in the Weekly Standard  that Michelle Bachmann is coming down firmly against accelerated withdrawals. To her credit, Bachmann, who seemed to sound an isolationist note on Libya, understands not only what the stakes are in Afghanistan but also what the goal of our commitment should be. She tells the Standard not only must the United States “stay the course,” but it must “finish the job.” In contrast to President Obama, whose half-hearted backing for the war has sent both our allies and our enemies mixed signals about our intentions, Bachmann says two words to which the current commander-in-chief seems allergic: “win” and “victory.”

In Afghanistan, we are making great progress. We have to win southern Afghanistan, then we have to go on and win eastern Afghanistan. I believe we will be victorious, and we’ll end it. I understand why people are frustrated. I completely understand. But I do trust General Petraeus and what he is doing over there.

Equally encouraging is the stand taken by Tim Pawlenty. In an interviewwith Politico, Pawlenty said he opposed an Afghanistan pullout until the United States was sure local forces were in place and strong enough to hold off the Taliban. “We need to make sure we do not send the message that we are leaving just because we’re tired or just because it’s too difficult,” said Pawlenty.

Of course, that is exactly the message the enemy may be getting from the president tonight if, as expected, he says U.S. troops will be drawn down and completely out of the country by the end of 2012. It’s also the message they may be getting from candidates like Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman. While the polls and the pundits claim this is the popular thing to say, the idea a dovish stand on foreign policy is a winning formula for a Republican primary is an unproved proposition. The bet here is Bachmann and Pawlenty may be more in sync with the sentiments of the GOP grass roots on this issue than their more establishment opponents.

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Some Depressing Figures From the CBO Budget Outlook

The Congressional Budget Office released its annual long-term budget outlook today, and the projections are stark, to say the least. But while it underscores how unsustainable our current policy is, it also highlights the need to make the sort of drastic changes conservative lawmakers have been proposing.

The CBO outlook, not surprisingly, notes our current policies fail to contain spending, and outlines what we can expect if we continue along this course. Under the current policy scenario, by 2035 spending would increase to 34 percent of the GDP (a 70 percent jump). Meanwhile, by the same year, the interest payments on our nation’s debt would increase to 9 percent of the GDP (which is more than we spend today on Medicare and Social Security combined). And by 2035, mandatory health care spending will almost double.

The runaway spending will lead to a skyrocketing deficit, and by 2037, debt will grow to 200 percent of the GDP.

What’s more, the CBO budget outlook’s “current policy” projections are assumed to be fairly optimistic, and don’t take into account some of the negative impacts that carrying such a large amount of debt could have on the economy. They also include the Bush tax cuts, which the report praises as having “a positive effect on saving and investment from the lower marginal tax rates on capital…That positive effect on investment tends to increase the capital stock, output, and pretax wages compared with what they would be without the effect.”

While the CBO’s projections are depressing, they also seem to favor an approach that cuts spending and keeps taxes low. And perhaps the bleak scenarios depicted in the report are exactly the wake-up call the country needs to start getting serious about our spending problems.

The Congressional Budget Office released its annual long-term budget outlook today, and the projections are stark, to say the least. But while it underscores how unsustainable our current policy is, it also highlights the need to make the sort of drastic changes conservative lawmakers have been proposing.

The CBO outlook, not surprisingly, notes our current policies fail to contain spending, and outlines what we can expect if we continue along this course. Under the current policy scenario, by 2035 spending would increase to 34 percent of the GDP (a 70 percent jump). Meanwhile, by the same year, the interest payments on our nation’s debt would increase to 9 percent of the GDP (which is more than we spend today on Medicare and Social Security combined). And by 2035, mandatory health care spending will almost double.

The runaway spending will lead to a skyrocketing deficit, and by 2037, debt will grow to 200 percent of the GDP.

What’s more, the CBO budget outlook’s “current policy” projections are assumed to be fairly optimistic, and don’t take into account some of the negative impacts that carrying such a large amount of debt could have on the economy. They also include the Bush tax cuts, which the report praises as having “a positive effect on saving and investment from the lower marginal tax rates on capital…That positive effect on investment tends to increase the capital stock, output, and pretax wages compared with what they would be without the effect.”

While the CBO’s projections are depressing, they also seem to favor an approach that cuts spending and keeps taxes low. And perhaps the bleak scenarios depicted in the report are exactly the wake-up call the country needs to start getting serious about our spending problems.

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While Obama Dithers, Iran and Hezbollah Mobilize to Help Assad

While the Obama administration continues to do nothing about the ongoing violence in Syria, the Assad regime’s allies in Iran and Lebanon are not sitting around waiting to see whether the dictator will fall. Ha’aretz reports Iran’s Revolutionary Guard is operating throughout Syria helping the government suppress dissent and possibly being involved in the slaughter of protesters.

Sources told the newspaper men in beards (which are banned in the Syrian army) speaking poor Arabic or Farsi were seen among the forces backing the government. The Iranians were also seen along the border with Israel on May 15 and June 5, when Syria organized protests aimed at penetrating the international frontier between the two countries.

Meanwhile, other reports have surfaced that if Assad is viewed as being in big trouble, his allies in Lebanon will seek to start a war with Israel in order to create a diversion.  According to Reuters, Hezbollah will do whatever it takes in order to help the Assad regime, up to and including starting another border war with Israel that would serve to reduce pressure on Damascus. With the help of Iran, Hezbollah has completely re-armed since its last all-out fight with Israel in 2006.

This illustrates the notion of a regional movement for democracy is somewhat misleading. The idea the “Arab Spring” would overturn all the tyrants in the Middle East was a misnomer. Islamists in Egypt backed the protests against Mubarak because that put them in position to gain power. But in Syria, they are determined to defend a dictator closely aligned with Iran, Hamas and Hezbollah.

These developments again show just how clueless is the Obama administration’s timid approach to Syria. Assad is not  just another Middle East dictator whose people should be encouraged but not supported as they strive for democracy. He is a key element in a regional alliance orchestrated in Tehran whose goal is the perpetuation of war against Israel and the struggle against the West. Sitting back and waiting to see what will happen in Syria has not simply given Assad and his cohorts the leeway to conduct massacres against their own people. It has also given Iran the time to mobilize help for Assad and increased the chances his Hezbollah surrogates will unleash more bloodshed.

The stakes involved in the outcome of the struggle in Syria are enormous. But Obama is still too obsessed with engaging with Islamists rather than confronting them to act decisively as did his predecessor.  The result of this American dithering has been an opening for Iran to preserve its regional empire.

While the Obama administration continues to do nothing about the ongoing violence in Syria, the Assad regime’s allies in Iran and Lebanon are not sitting around waiting to see whether the dictator will fall. Ha’aretz reports Iran’s Revolutionary Guard is operating throughout Syria helping the government suppress dissent and possibly being involved in the slaughter of protesters.

Sources told the newspaper men in beards (which are banned in the Syrian army) speaking poor Arabic or Farsi were seen among the forces backing the government. The Iranians were also seen along the border with Israel on May 15 and June 5, when Syria organized protests aimed at penetrating the international frontier between the two countries.

Meanwhile, other reports have surfaced that if Assad is viewed as being in big trouble, his allies in Lebanon will seek to start a war with Israel in order to create a diversion.  According to Reuters, Hezbollah will do whatever it takes in order to help the Assad regime, up to and including starting another border war with Israel that would serve to reduce pressure on Damascus. With the help of Iran, Hezbollah has completely re-armed since its last all-out fight with Israel in 2006.

This illustrates the notion of a regional movement for democracy is somewhat misleading. The idea the “Arab Spring” would overturn all the tyrants in the Middle East was a misnomer. Islamists in Egypt backed the protests against Mubarak because that put them in position to gain power. But in Syria, they are determined to defend a dictator closely aligned with Iran, Hamas and Hezbollah.

These developments again show just how clueless is the Obama administration’s timid approach to Syria. Assad is not  just another Middle East dictator whose people should be encouraged but not supported as they strive for democracy. He is a key element in a regional alliance orchestrated in Tehran whose goal is the perpetuation of war against Israel and the struggle against the West. Sitting back and waiting to see what will happen in Syria has not simply given Assad and his cohorts the leeway to conduct massacres against their own people. It has also given Iran the time to mobilize help for Assad and increased the chances his Hezbollah surrogates will unleash more bloodshed.

The stakes involved in the outcome of the struggle in Syria are enormous. But Obama is still too obsessed with engaging with Islamists rather than confronting them to act decisively as did his predecessor.  The result of this American dithering has been an opening for Iran to preserve its regional empire.

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Rights Must Be Grounded In Eternal Truths

Can you champion human rights while at the same time denying natural rights?

This is a core question of political philosophy. It was raised anew for me while re-reading Conversations with Isaiah Berlin, a dialogue with one of the 20th century’s leading political theorists and historian of ideas.

Professor Berlin, a man deeply committed to liberty and pluralism, resisted the idea one could apprehend “non-empirical, universal truths.” When asked by Ramin Jahanbegloo, the interviewer, how one can ground norms and values if one doesn’t believe in the rational method of justifying them, Berlin answered, “You don’t justify them. The norms don’t need justification, it is they which justify the rest, because they are basic.”

When pressed, Berlin admitted he doesn’t deny human rights. “I deny a priori lists of natural rights,” he said. “Of course, I don’t deny that there are general principles of behavior and human activity without which there cannot be a minimally decent society. But … I don’t think there is such a thing as direct non-empirical knowledge, intuition, inspection of eternal principles. Only universal human beliefs.”

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Can you champion human rights while at the same time denying natural rights?

This is a core question of political philosophy. It was raised anew for me while re-reading Conversations with Isaiah Berlin, a dialogue with one of the 20th century’s leading political theorists and historian of ideas.

Professor Berlin, a man deeply committed to liberty and pluralism, resisted the idea one could apprehend “non-empirical, universal truths.” When asked by Ramin Jahanbegloo, the interviewer, how one can ground norms and values if one doesn’t believe in the rational method of justifying them, Berlin answered, “You don’t justify them. The norms don’t need justification, it is they which justify the rest, because they are basic.”

When pressed, Berlin admitted he doesn’t deny human rights. “I deny a priori lists of natural rights,” he said. “Of course, I don’t deny that there are general principles of behavior and human activity without which there cannot be a minimally decent society. But … I don’t think there is such a thing as direct non-empirical knowledge, intuition, inspection of eternal principles. Only universal human beliefs.”

When asked about Leo Strauss, Berlin said, “He could not get me to believe in eternal, immutable, absolute values, true for all men everywhere at all times, God-given Natural Law and the like. I cannot claim omniscience. Perhaps there is a world of eternal truths, values, which the magic eye of the true thinker can perceive – surely this can only belong to an elite to which I fear I have never been admitted.”

This conversation goes to the heart of an ancient question: In what is morality grounded? For Berlin, it was grounded in general principles of behavior and human activity, in norms, in a consensus of what constitutes decency and right and wrong. That can work for a time, as people act on an existing moral accordance and intuition. But in the end that is never enough. Norms need to be grounded in permanent rather than provisional truths. Otherwise, we have only our own cultural consensus on what constitutes human rights, which makes it next to impossible to define a universal set of such rights. It also means we have no good justification for telling other societies, or for that matter even our own children, why they should hold to our particular consensus.

As Michael Gerson and I argue in City of Man, philosophers have tried for centuries to formulate a firm, secular theory of human rights. None has gained broad, much less universal assent, and none seems equal to the challenge of Nietzsche: if God is really dead, what is to stop the radical, destructive human will?

Berlin’s theory – liberalism without natural rights – is hung on a peg in midair. To care for and to sacrifice for the rights of other human beings, merely because they are human beings, requires an immutable moral and even metaphysical basis.

So why do human beings possess inherent value? People of the Jewish and Christian faith have an answer: Men and women are created equal in worth, in the image of God. They believe in a human nature, which demands human rights.

Without some transcendent basis, human rights as a doctrine cannot defend itself from attack. Strauss understood the fallacy of historicism – the belief that all standards are determined by cultural circumstances and each society should be judged in its own terms rather than measured against a universal standard – was both self-contradictory and relativistic. For historicists there is no ground on which one could prefer a liberal regime over a totalitarian one. Everything, including justice, is arbitrary. “If all values are relative,” Strauss famously said, “then cannibalism is a matter of taste.” For Strauss, a refugee from Nazi Germany, this debate was not simply an abstract one.

In his interview with Jahanbegloo, Professor Berlin says of Hannah Arendt, “I am not ready to swallow her idea about the banality of the evil. It is false. The Nazis were not ‘banal.’ Eichmann deeply believed in what he did. I was, he admitted, at the center of his being.” Berlin admits to having been “hopelessly secular.” The values of the Enlightenment, what people like Voltaire, Helvetius, Holbach, and Condorcet preached, are “deeply sympathetic to me,” he said. “Maybe they were too narrow, and often wrong about the facts of human experience, but they were great liberators. They liberated people from horrors, obscurantism, fanaticism, monstrous views. They were against cruelty, they were against oppression.”

So was Isaiah Berlin, a man of great intellect and learning. He just couldn’t tell you why.

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Criminalizing Jokes on Campus

Michael Barone reports the Department of Education’s  Office of Civil Rights has issued new guidelines that require (or in effect require, as no college in its right mind is going to get on the wrong side of the Office of Civil Rights and see its federal funding threatened) colleges to adopt a “preponderance of evidence” standard for finding students guilty of sexual harassment and sexual assault.

These terms are defined in various ways on various campuses:

. . . often they involve alleged offenses defined in vague terms and depending often on subjective factors. . . . campus definitions of sexual harassment include “humor and jokes about sex in general that make someone feel uncomfortable” (University of California at Berkeley), “unwelcome sexual flirtations and inappropriate put-downs of individual persons or classes of people” (Iowa State University) or “elevator eyes” (Murray State University in Kentucky).

In other words, if everyone laughs, it’s a joke. If one person does not, it’s a crime. It’s a good thing that standard isn’t countrywide or the jails would be full of standup comedians. I confess to having no idea what “elevator eyes” might be, but at my age I’d undoubtedly be flattered by them.

Compare those definitions with the Supreme Court’s definition: Conduct “so severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive, and that so undermines and detracts from the victims’ educational experience, that the victim-students are effectively denied equal access to an institution’s resources and opportunities.”

It is truly astonishing how illiberal liberals have become in recent decades in the pursuit of “equality” (and, of course, power, in this case the power to criminalize jokes).

It’s not just an American phenomenon, of course. Europe, Canada, and Australia all have laws against people saying what they think if the thought is not preapproved by bureaucrats. I would recommend spending a few minutes listening to the inimitable Mark Steyn discuss an Australian case. He is, as usual, both hilarious and wise.

Michael Barone reports the Department of Education’s  Office of Civil Rights has issued new guidelines that require (or in effect require, as no college in its right mind is going to get on the wrong side of the Office of Civil Rights and see its federal funding threatened) colleges to adopt a “preponderance of evidence” standard for finding students guilty of sexual harassment and sexual assault.

These terms are defined in various ways on various campuses:

. . . often they involve alleged offenses defined in vague terms and depending often on subjective factors. . . . campus definitions of sexual harassment include “humor and jokes about sex in general that make someone feel uncomfortable” (University of California at Berkeley), “unwelcome sexual flirtations and inappropriate put-downs of individual persons or classes of people” (Iowa State University) or “elevator eyes” (Murray State University in Kentucky).

In other words, if everyone laughs, it’s a joke. If one person does not, it’s a crime. It’s a good thing that standard isn’t countrywide or the jails would be full of standup comedians. I confess to having no idea what “elevator eyes” might be, but at my age I’d undoubtedly be flattered by them.

Compare those definitions with the Supreme Court’s definition: Conduct “so severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive, and that so undermines and detracts from the victims’ educational experience, that the victim-students are effectively denied equal access to an institution’s resources and opportunities.”

It is truly astonishing how illiberal liberals have become in recent decades in the pursuit of “equality” (and, of course, power, in this case the power to criminalize jokes).

It’s not just an American phenomenon, of course. Europe, Canada, and Australia all have laws against people saying what they think if the thought is not preapproved by bureaucrats. I would recommend spending a few minutes listening to the inimitable Mark Steyn discuss an Australian case. He is, as usual, both hilarious and wise.

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Will the 2012 Small Donor Champion Be Obama or Bachmann?

In 2008, the Barack Obama campaign harnessed the energy of excited liberals by raking in $500 million in online contributions. While Obama also brought in lots of money from big donors, including those on Wall Street, it was this avalanche of small donations that helped fuel his rise to the presidency. But it’s an open question whether he can duplicate or exceed his 2008 record. His campaign’s goal of raising a record $1 billion seems attainable given the advantages of incumbency. As Politico reports today, it’s far from certain Obama can count on the same passion from both the left and first time voters this time around.

After two and a half years in office, the unrealistic expectations generated by his messianic rhetoric about his presidency were bound to create a letdown. Indeed, anything short of him actually multiplying loaves and fishes would have been a disappointment to Obama’s enraptured followers. Throw in his decision not to bug out of Iraq and Afghanistan, a collapsing economy and rising unemployment, and you have a formula for a smaller, less-excited Democratic base that won’t come through with the same volume of small donations that lifted Obama to victory in 2008.

But rather than merely focus on Obama’s depressed base, we ought to consider whether any of the potential Republican challengers to Obama can come close to his 2008 record.

Mitt Romney is the unchallenged GOP fundraising leader. He has brought in vast sums from the financial industry and other traditional Republican strongholds. The newest entry into the race, Jon Huntsman, also seems ready to try the same route. His insider status and white bread appeal to traditional country club GOP elites may smooth the way for big buck donations. But neither Romney nor Huntsman seem capable of mobilizing a vast army of small donors because their “moderate” stands on the issues simply don’t excite grass roots Republicans.

The only Republican who seems to be in a position to do that is Michele Bachmann. Bachmann, whose political stock is rising in the aftermath of her smashing performance in the New Hampshire GOP presidential debate last week, can count on the backing of an enthusiastic core of Tea Party activists and conservative Christians. Though her campaign is not as sophisticated as Obama’s, she has already proved able to raise large sums of money in small donations on the Internet in relatively short periods of time.

Small donors may not have actually won the 2008 election for Obama, but those who dismiss the impact of this factor are missing the point. Having the ability to generate enormous sums via Internet appeals not only keeps a campaign in cash, it is a measure of the enthusiasm and energy essential for victory once the primaries start. We have months to go before the votes are counted, but those who think a “mainstream” GOP candidate like Romney or Huntsman will inevitably beat an activist type like Bachmann are underestimating how small donors and the related activism they generate can transform an election.

In 2008, the Barack Obama campaign harnessed the energy of excited liberals by raking in $500 million in online contributions. While Obama also brought in lots of money from big donors, including those on Wall Street, it was this avalanche of small donations that helped fuel his rise to the presidency. But it’s an open question whether he can duplicate or exceed his 2008 record. His campaign’s goal of raising a record $1 billion seems attainable given the advantages of incumbency. As Politico reports today, it’s far from certain Obama can count on the same passion from both the left and first time voters this time around.

After two and a half years in office, the unrealistic expectations generated by his messianic rhetoric about his presidency were bound to create a letdown. Indeed, anything short of him actually multiplying loaves and fishes would have been a disappointment to Obama’s enraptured followers. Throw in his decision not to bug out of Iraq and Afghanistan, a collapsing economy and rising unemployment, and you have a formula for a smaller, less-excited Democratic base that won’t come through with the same volume of small donations that lifted Obama to victory in 2008.

But rather than merely focus on Obama’s depressed base, we ought to consider whether any of the potential Republican challengers to Obama can come close to his 2008 record.

Mitt Romney is the unchallenged GOP fundraising leader. He has brought in vast sums from the financial industry and other traditional Republican strongholds. The newest entry into the race, Jon Huntsman, also seems ready to try the same route. His insider status and white bread appeal to traditional country club GOP elites may smooth the way for big buck donations. But neither Romney nor Huntsman seem capable of mobilizing a vast army of small donors because their “moderate” stands on the issues simply don’t excite grass roots Republicans.

The only Republican who seems to be in a position to do that is Michele Bachmann. Bachmann, whose political stock is rising in the aftermath of her smashing performance in the New Hampshire GOP presidential debate last week, can count on the backing of an enthusiastic core of Tea Party activists and conservative Christians. Though her campaign is not as sophisticated as Obama’s, she has already proved able to raise large sums of money in small donations on the Internet in relatively short periods of time.

Small donors may not have actually won the 2008 election for Obama, but those who dismiss the impact of this factor are missing the point. Having the ability to generate enormous sums via Internet appeals not only keeps a campaign in cash, it is a measure of the enthusiasm and energy essential for victory once the primaries start. We have months to go before the votes are counted, but those who think a “mainstream” GOP candidate like Romney or Huntsman will inevitably beat an activist type like Bachmann are underestimating how small donors and the related activism they generate can transform an election.

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Obama in Perilous Political State

According to a new Bloomberg National Poll, “Americans are growing more dissatisfied with President Barack Obama’s handling of the economy and say it will be hard to vote to re-elect him without seeing significant progress over the next year and a half.”

Among the data points from the poll (which has Democrats outnumbering Republicans by 32 percent v. 27 percent):

  • Only 30 percent of respondents said they are certain to vote for the president and 36 percent said they definitely won’t.
  • Among likely independent voters, only 23 percent said they will back his re-election, while 36 percent said they are sure they will seek out another candidate.
  • By a 44 percent to 34 percent margin, Americans say they are worse off than they were when Obama took office.
  • More than half of respondents (55 percent) say their children are destined to a lower standard of living.
  • Fewer than a quarter of people (23 percent) see signs of improvement in the economy while two-thirds (66 percent) say they believe the country is on the wrong track
  • Sixty-one percent either strongly agree or mostly agree that in 2012, Obama will have had his chance and if the economy isn’t substantially better by election day, it will be very hard to vote for him.
  • By a margin of 61 percent to 32 percent, Americans disapprove of the job Obama is doing to tackle the budget deficit.
  • Fifty-seven percent of respondents disapproved of his efforts to create jobs.
  • Fifty-seven percent disapproved of his handling of the economy.

“As far as the economy goes, I don’t see that he has delivered on the change that he promised,” said Sharon Ortiz, a 38-year-old independent voter from Hampton, Virginia, who supported Obama in 2008. “The jobs that he promised — I haven’t seen it.”

No one else has either. Which is why the president is in the perilous political state he is.

According to a new Bloomberg National Poll, “Americans are growing more dissatisfied with President Barack Obama’s handling of the economy and say it will be hard to vote to re-elect him without seeing significant progress over the next year and a half.”

Among the data points from the poll (which has Democrats outnumbering Republicans by 32 percent v. 27 percent):

  • Only 30 percent of respondents said they are certain to vote for the president and 36 percent said they definitely won’t.
  • Among likely independent voters, only 23 percent said they will back his re-election, while 36 percent said they are sure they will seek out another candidate.
  • By a 44 percent to 34 percent margin, Americans say they are worse off than they were when Obama took office.
  • More than half of respondents (55 percent) say their children are destined to a lower standard of living.
  • Fewer than a quarter of people (23 percent) see signs of improvement in the economy while two-thirds (66 percent) say they believe the country is on the wrong track
  • Sixty-one percent either strongly agree or mostly agree that in 2012, Obama will have had his chance and if the economy isn’t substantially better by election day, it will be very hard to vote for him.
  • By a margin of 61 percent to 32 percent, Americans disapprove of the job Obama is doing to tackle the budget deficit.
  • Fifty-seven percent of respondents disapproved of his efforts to create jobs.
  • Fifty-seven percent disapproved of his handling of the economy.

“As far as the economy goes, I don’t see that he has delivered on the change that he promised,” said Sharon Ortiz, a 38-year-old independent voter from Hampton, Virginia, who supported Obama in 2008. “The jobs that he promised — I haven’t seen it.”

No one else has either. Which is why the president is in the perilous political state he is.

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Yale and Anti-Semitism: Round 2?

The backlash against Yale University’s decision to shut down its anti-Semitism institute has clearly embarrassed the school. The shuttering of the Yale Initiative for the Interdisciplinary Study of Anti-Semitism (YIISA) was widely criticized, especially by those who wondered whether the program’s willingness to touch on Jew hatred in the Arab and Muslim worlds led to its demise.

In response to this criticism, Yale has now announced it will launch a new program on anti-Semitism. The Yale Program for the Study of Anti-Semitism will be sponsored by the university’s Whitney Humanities Center. The Anti-Defamation League was satisfied with the announcement, though it expressed disappointment that Professor Charles Small, the man who conceived the idea for YIISA and led it, would not be involved in the project.

For his part, Small told the Jerusalem Post he was skeptical about the university’s intentions because it was not clear it would devote sufficient resources to the study of contemporary anti-Semitism rather than the safer discussion of past horrors. While Small, who is the injured party in this controversy, has an axe to grind here, he has a point. The Yale announcement–which emphasized the new program’s use of archive and library resources rather than active research about what is actually happening now–lends weight to Small’s complaint. Indeed, rather than allaying concerns about its attitude toward the study of anti-Semitism, the school’s decision to improvise a replacement for YIISA underlines the suspicions about the original reasons for closing down a program its leaders had praised only last year. If the new Yale program is merely going to do the same work as the old one, then it leads us to question why YIISA was shut down in the first place.

The idea it failed to provide adequate research is clearly bogus, as was the complaint those associated with YIISA had not published enough articles in scholarly publications. Given the prejudice against this topic, especially any focus on the targeting of Israel and Zionism for hatred in the academy, it is little surprise such journals had not embraced its work.  The suspicion remains that YIISA’s decision to start a discussion about Muslim anti-Semitism angered potential Yale donors in the Arab world.

We hope the new Yale program will continue the work Small and YIISA started. But under these circumstances, it is hard to believe it will. If the first conference and publications of this revamped initiative don’t deal with Arab and Muslim Jew hatred, which remains the primary threat today, we will have our answer as to why its predecessor was shut down.

The backlash against Yale University’s decision to shut down its anti-Semitism institute has clearly embarrassed the school. The shuttering of the Yale Initiative for the Interdisciplinary Study of Anti-Semitism (YIISA) was widely criticized, especially by those who wondered whether the program’s willingness to touch on Jew hatred in the Arab and Muslim worlds led to its demise.

In response to this criticism, Yale has now announced it will launch a new program on anti-Semitism. The Yale Program for the Study of Anti-Semitism will be sponsored by the university’s Whitney Humanities Center. The Anti-Defamation League was satisfied with the announcement, though it expressed disappointment that Professor Charles Small, the man who conceived the idea for YIISA and led it, would not be involved in the project.

For his part, Small told the Jerusalem Post he was skeptical about the university’s intentions because it was not clear it would devote sufficient resources to the study of contemporary anti-Semitism rather than the safer discussion of past horrors. While Small, who is the injured party in this controversy, has an axe to grind here, he has a point. The Yale announcement–which emphasized the new program’s use of archive and library resources rather than active research about what is actually happening now–lends weight to Small’s complaint. Indeed, rather than allaying concerns about its attitude toward the study of anti-Semitism, the school’s decision to improvise a replacement for YIISA underlines the suspicions about the original reasons for closing down a program its leaders had praised only last year. If the new Yale program is merely going to do the same work as the old one, then it leads us to question why YIISA was shut down in the first place.

The idea it failed to provide adequate research is clearly bogus, as was the complaint those associated with YIISA had not published enough articles in scholarly publications. Given the prejudice against this topic, especially any focus on the targeting of Israel and Zionism for hatred in the academy, it is little surprise such journals had not embraced its work.  The suspicion remains that YIISA’s decision to start a discussion about Muslim anti-Semitism angered potential Yale donors in the Arab world.

We hope the new Yale program will continue the work Small and YIISA started. But under these circumstances, it is hard to believe it will. If the first conference and publications of this revamped initiative don’t deal with Arab and Muslim Jew hatred, which remains the primary threat today, we will have our answer as to why its predecessor was shut down.

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Question: May 19 or May 22? Answer: Yes

The Obama administration’s inability to articulate a consistent peace process policy was evident in yesterday’s State Department background briefing and press conference.

In the Background Briefing by an unidentified “Senior Administration Official” (SAO) — who was obviously David Hale, the Acting Special Envoy for Middle East Peace, since the SAO recounted how Dennis Ross and he met with Israeli and Palestinian leaders last week — reporters were told the President made “a significant set of remarks” in May and “we are working with the parties . . . . toward negotiations on the basis of the President’s remarks.” Asked to elaborate, he said:

Well, we believe that the President’s remarks in May in their totality provide a very strong foundation for a return to talks, and that is the tenor of our conversation with the parties . . . . I don’t want to pick and choose different elements of what the President said. He carefully crafted this speech and I think made the tradeoffs he wished to make on them, and elaborating further on it is not going to be of any benefit. [Emphasis added].

The words “set of remarks” and remarks “in their totality” suggest a reference the President’s May 19 speech as amended by his May 22 AIPAC address. In the May 19 speech, the President adopted the Palestinian goal of the 1967 lines with minor modifications; but in the May 22 address, he said his words meant “changes that have taken place over the last 44 years” would be taken into account, “including the new demographic realities on the ground,” with a goal of “two states for two people: Israel as a Jewish state . . . [and] Palestine as the homeland for the Palestinian people. . . . [with] mutual recognition.”

Under the May 22 formulation, the goal would not be the 1967 lines with minor modifications, but rather Palestinian recognition of a Jewish state whose borders would reflect the “new demographic realities.” But the SAO’s reference to “this speech” and its “carefully crafted” tradeoffs (with no benefit from “elaborating further”) apparently referred only to the May 19 speech.

So what is the administration pushing: the May 19 speech, or the May 19 speech as amended by the May 22 one? State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland was asked that question later in the day:

QUESTION: You are familiar with what was said on the conference call with a senior official this morning about Envoy Hale and Dennis Ross’ meetings and trips?

MS. NULAND: I am.

QUESTION: There was a lot of focus in that call by the official on the President’s speech . . . .When this official and the Administration more broadly speaks about this, about the President’s speech, is it referring simply only to the speech that he delivered here at the State Department or does it also include the speech that he gave several days later to the AIPAC Conference which . . . went into a little bit more detail on some of the issues that the Israelis were most concerned about?

MS. NULAND: I understood that the official who spoke in the background call was referring to the May 19th speech. Obviously, whenever the President speaks on these issues the totality of his position is our position. . . .

The President said one thing on May 19 and another on May 22. Yesterday the SAO and the State Department spokesperson told reporters both things simultaneously.

The Obama administration’s inability to articulate a consistent peace process policy was evident in yesterday’s State Department background briefing and press conference.

In the Background Briefing by an unidentified “Senior Administration Official” (SAO) — who was obviously David Hale, the Acting Special Envoy for Middle East Peace, since the SAO recounted how Dennis Ross and he met with Israeli and Palestinian leaders last week — reporters were told the President made “a significant set of remarks” in May and “we are working with the parties . . . . toward negotiations on the basis of the President’s remarks.” Asked to elaborate, he said:

Well, we believe that the President’s remarks in May in their totality provide a very strong foundation for a return to talks, and that is the tenor of our conversation with the parties . . . . I don’t want to pick and choose different elements of what the President said. He carefully crafted this speech and I think made the tradeoffs he wished to make on them, and elaborating further on it is not going to be of any benefit. [Emphasis added].

The words “set of remarks” and remarks “in their totality” suggest a reference the President’s May 19 speech as amended by his May 22 AIPAC address. In the May 19 speech, the President adopted the Palestinian goal of the 1967 lines with minor modifications; but in the May 22 address, he said his words meant “changes that have taken place over the last 44 years” would be taken into account, “including the new demographic realities on the ground,” with a goal of “two states for two people: Israel as a Jewish state . . . [and] Palestine as the homeland for the Palestinian people. . . . [with] mutual recognition.”

Under the May 22 formulation, the goal would not be the 1967 lines with minor modifications, but rather Palestinian recognition of a Jewish state whose borders would reflect the “new demographic realities.” But the SAO’s reference to “this speech” and its “carefully crafted” tradeoffs (with no benefit from “elaborating further”) apparently referred only to the May 19 speech.

So what is the administration pushing: the May 19 speech, or the May 19 speech as amended by the May 22 one? State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland was asked that question later in the day:

QUESTION: You are familiar with what was said on the conference call with a senior official this morning about Envoy Hale and Dennis Ross’ meetings and trips?

MS. NULAND: I am.

QUESTION: There was a lot of focus in that call by the official on the President’s speech . . . .When this official and the Administration more broadly speaks about this, about the President’s speech, is it referring simply only to the speech that he delivered here at the State Department or does it also include the speech that he gave several days later to the AIPAC Conference which . . . went into a little bit more detail on some of the issues that the Israelis were most concerned about?

MS. NULAND: I understood that the official who spoke in the background call was referring to the May 19th speech. Obviously, whenever the President speaks on these issues the totality of his position is our position. . . .

The President said one thing on May 19 and another on May 22. Yesterday the SAO and the State Department spokesperson told reporters both things simultaneously.

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