Commentary Magazine


Posts For: June 30, 2011

Lebanese Indictments Put Hezbollah and Obama on the Spot

Six years after the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, the United Nations Special Tribunal for Lebanon finally handed down indictments in his murder. The results were hardly surprising. Two of the four persons mentioned in the charges are senior members of the Hezbollah terrorist movement that has become the most powerful force in Lebanese politics.

Hezbollah’s role in the assassination of Hariri, a leader who was the leader of a movement to oust the Syrian forces that had occupied his country for over a generation, was not much of a secret. Ironically, by killing Hariri, the Syrians and Hezbollah overplayed their hand and wound up helping to mobilize a broad cross-section of Lebanese against them. What followed was the 2005 Cedar Revolution in which Syria was forced out of Lebanon, and the country had a brief moment when it actually looked like it was about to emerge as an independent democracy. But it didn’t last, and today Hezbollah, operating with the support of both Syria and Iran, dominates the country in a manner unimaginable even six years ago.

The question now is whether these indictments can, like the original murder, alter the balance of power in Lebanon. Hezbollah will do its best to ignore the indictments and to squelch any attempt by the national government to arrest Hariri’s murderers and live up to its international commitments to abide by the Tribunal’s rulings.

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Six years after the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, the United Nations Special Tribunal for Lebanon finally handed down indictments in his murder. The results were hardly surprising. Two of the four persons mentioned in the charges are senior members of the Hezbollah terrorist movement that has become the most powerful force in Lebanese politics.

Hezbollah’s role in the assassination of Hariri, a leader who was the leader of a movement to oust the Syrian forces that had occupied his country for over a generation, was not much of a secret. Ironically, by killing Hariri, the Syrians and Hezbollah overplayed their hand and wound up helping to mobilize a broad cross-section of Lebanese against them. What followed was the 2005 Cedar Revolution in which Syria was forced out of Lebanon, and the country had a brief moment when it actually looked like it was about to emerge as an independent democracy. But it didn’t last, and today Hezbollah, operating with the support of both Syria and Iran, dominates the country in a manner unimaginable even six years ago.

The question now is whether these indictments can, like the original murder, alter the balance of power in Lebanon. Hezbollah will do its best to ignore the indictments and to squelch any attempt by the national government to arrest Hariri’s murderers and live up to its international commitments to abide by the Tribunal’s rulings.

If they do not, and the indicted persons are not brought to justice, it will be up to the international community not to let the Hezbollah-dominated government get away with it. The West stood by helplessly as Hezbollah plunged Lebanon into a needless war with Israel in 2006. They did the same as the terror group was re-armed by Iran and then sent its militia into the streets to ensure that no government that stood against it would rule in Beirut. If Hezbollah is allowed to literally get away with murder this time, it will be a signal the West is still too afraid of these terrorists and their Iranian and Syrian allies to stand up for justice.

The stakes involved in this standoff are much bigger than just whether Lebanon remains in thrall to terrorists. In much the same way Washington has passed up the opportunity to take action about the Assad regime’s bloody attempts to squelch dissent in Syria, the Obama administration may think it is too preoccupied with wars in Afghanistan and Iraq as well as the Libyan intervention to do anything about Lebanon. But if Obama fails to support the rule of law against Hezbollah, American prestige and influence in the Middle East will be further diminished.

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The Economy and the Record Obama Owns

This morning on NBC’s Today Show, Matt Lauer asked Obama senior adviser David Plouffe, “You would agree with that: He owns this economy?” To which Plouffe said, “”Of course he does.” 

Plouffe said this on the day we learned unemployment claims this week were above 400,000 (428,000), meaning this is the 12th straight week unemployment claims have topped 400,000–yet one more sign of a struggling economy.

With ownership comes responsibility, of course, so let’s run through, one more time, some of what the president owns:

  • An unemployment rate of 9.1 percent;
  • 28 straight months of unemployment being above 8 percent, a post-World War II record;
  • Chronic unemployment worse than during the Great Depression (about 6.2 million Americans, 45.1 percent of all unemployed workers in this country, have been jobless for more than six months);
  • A nation in which 2.5 million fewer people are employed than when the president was sworn in and which has seen only 600,000 jobs created during our two-year “recovery”;
  • A housing crisis that has recently entered a double dip and is now worse than the Great Depression;
  • A record $1.65 trillion deficit this year;
  • A record $14.3 trillion debt;
  • First quarter growth in 2011 of only 1.8 percent;
  • A presidency in which real annual growth in GDP averages 1.5 percent, just barely above what it was during the decade of the Great Depression (1.3 percent); and
  • Gas prices roughly doubled what they were when Obama took office.

That is the economy, and the record, David Plouffe proudly states Obama lays claim to.

Fine and good; now he can run on this economy and his record.  


This morning on NBC’s Today Show, Matt Lauer asked Obama senior adviser David Plouffe, “You would agree with that: He owns this economy?” To which Plouffe said, “”Of course he does.” 

Plouffe said this on the day we learned unemployment claims this week were above 400,000 (428,000), meaning this is the 12th straight week unemployment claims have topped 400,000–yet one more sign of a struggling economy.

With ownership comes responsibility, of course, so let’s run through, one more time, some of what the president owns:

  • An unemployment rate of 9.1 percent;
  • 28 straight months of unemployment being above 8 percent, a post-World War II record;
  • Chronic unemployment worse than during the Great Depression (about 6.2 million Americans, 45.1 percent of all unemployed workers in this country, have been jobless for more than six months);
  • A nation in which 2.5 million fewer people are employed than when the president was sworn in and which has seen only 600,000 jobs created during our two-year “recovery”;
  • A housing crisis that has recently entered a double dip and is now worse than the Great Depression;
  • A record $1.65 trillion deficit this year;
  • A record $14.3 trillion debt;
  • First quarter growth in 2011 of only 1.8 percent;
  • A presidency in which real annual growth in GDP averages 1.5 percent, just barely above what it was during the decade of the Great Depression (1.3 percent); and
  • Gas prices roughly doubled what they were when Obama took office.

That is the economy, and the record, David Plouffe proudly states Obama lays claim to.

Fine and good; now he can run on this economy and his record.  


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The Jewish Vote Reconsidered – Part Three

Earlier today, I discussed the fact most Jewish voters will stick with Barack Obama. In my second post on the subject, I explained this still left a significant group of Jewish swing votes that are up for grabs because of discontent with the president. The potential exists for a Jewish GOP vote that may move over the 30 percent threshold or even approach Ronald Reagan’s record 40 percent.

But that is only if the Republicans nominate someone pro-Israel liberals can live with.

With the exception of libertarian Ron Paul, all the possible Republican candidates could effectively present themselves as better for Israel than Obama. That leaves us with the question of which of them are best placed to gobble up that 10 to 20 percent of the Jewish vote Obama has thrown away with his recklessly confrontational attitude toward Israel.

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Earlier today, I discussed the fact most Jewish voters will stick with Barack Obama. In my second post on the subject, I explained this still left a significant group of Jewish swing votes that are up for grabs because of discontent with the president. The potential exists for a Jewish GOP vote that may move over the 30 percent threshold or even approach Ronald Reagan’s record 40 percent.

But that is only if the Republicans nominate someone pro-Israel liberals can live with.

With the exception of libertarian Ron Paul, all the possible Republican candidates could effectively present themselves as better for Israel than Obama. That leaves us with the question of which of them are best placed to gobble up that 10 to 20 percent of the Jewish vote Obama has thrown away with his recklessly confrontational attitude toward Israel.

The dream candidate of Jewish Republicans remains Rudy Giuliani. He combines foreign policy hawkishness with moderate stands on social issues. But as the 2008 primaries proved, that is not a combination that sells with GOP voters. Even if the former mayor tries again this year, a Giuliani-Obama matchup is pure science fiction.

On the other end of the spectrum, the dream Republican for Democrats would be Sarah Palin. The hostility Palin generates among Jewish liberals is such that in the unlikely event she runs, and the even more unlikely possibility of her winning the GOP nomination, Palin’s Jewish vote might even sink below the elder George Bush’s 11 percent in 1992. That really says something, since even many Jewish Republicans wouldn’t vote for Bush because of his hostility to Israel.

Though she must still be considered an underdog, unlike Palin, Michele Bachmann is someone who might actually win the Republican nomination. As a relative newcomer to the national scene, the media has not yet demonized Bachmann. It is possible her more substantial resume and more dignified approach to critics will make her less of a piñata for Jewish liberals than Palin. But the prospect of running against a hard line Tea Party conservative who is also a fervent pro-life evangelical is exactly what Jewish Democrats want. Despite her passionate support for Israel, the same qualities that endear her to conservatives would sink her with liberals who are looking for a Republican to vote for.

Supporters of Texas Governor Rick Perry might think he gives Republicans a better chance at more Jewish votes than other conservatives, but in his case, cultural factors may predominate. His cowboy boots might scare off urban liberals even if they are disgusted with Obama’s bullying of Israel.

That leaves us with two more realistic prospects for Republican chances to gain Jewish votes: Mitt Romney and Tim Pawlenty.

Frontrunner Mitt Romney might be able to take advantage of discontent with Obama, since he is perceived as a moderate within the GOP if only by comparison with his competition. Perhaps there are those who will argue Romney’s Mormon faith will be a problem for some liberal Jews, but I doubt it.  Though Democrats would attempt to portray Romney as a flip-flopper who pandered to the far right, the former Massachusetts governor has gotten independent votes in the past and will probably be able to do so again.

Tim Pawlenty’s conservative and pro-life credentials are as strong as any in the party, but he might be able to appeal to swing voters simply because his placid demeanor makes him seem less threatening to skittish pro-Israel liberals. Of all the GOP candidates, he is the one who is most interested in staking out a position as a foreign policy candidate. If any conservative can sell himself to Jewish voters, he might be the one who could do it best.

Despite the dismal record of the Obama administration on Israel, Republicans are by no means certain to reap a larger share of the Jewish vote. Social issues and the economy will influence Jewish votes as much if not more than Israel will. And it will take nominating a candidate who won’t be pigeonholed as an extremist to convince Jews to back a Republican. But if they do, Barack Obama’s share of the Jewish vote will drop precipitously in 2012.

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The Jewish Vote Reconsidered- Part Two

As I discussed in my previous post, a majority of Jewish voters will probably stick with Barack Obama next year no matter how bad his relationship gets with Israel. But that does not mean a significant shift in the Jewish vote might not occur. Though many Jews either don’t care about Israel or even actively identify with those who want more U.S. pressure on it, there are still a large number of liberal Democratic Jews who are passionate supporters of Israel. As their support for Obama in 2008 demonstrated, their standards for judging Democrats are far more lenient than those applied to Republicans. But it is simply untrue to claim this group is unaware of or unmoved by Obama’s hostile actions, or the basic fact most Israelis view the president as an adversary of their country.

It is this group that may account for as much as 20 percent or more of the Jewish vote. That total is the difference between the nearly 80 percent Obama garnered in 2008 and the combined vote for Jimmy Carter and John Anderson in 1980 that came to nearly 60 percent, which represents the historic low point for the Democrats in terms of the Jewish vote. It is this group that could make up as much as a fifth or more of all Jewish voters who are in play in 2012.

Is that something for Democrats to worry about? You bet it is. Although one out of five votes of a group that makes up less than two percent of the total U.S. population may seem insignificant, a swing of 10 to 20 percentage points in the Jewish vote in key states like Pennsylvania or Florida could decide the election in a close race.

These voters could abandon Obama if they feel they have a palatable pro-Israel alternative. That is the tricky part of the equation. While these people may be thinking of jumping the Democratic ship because of Obama’s attitude toward Israel, they will not vote for any Republican who is rightly perceived as a better friend and ally to the Jewish state. In fact, if faced with a choice between a Republican who is identified with the Christian right, it may not matter how pro-Israel they are–many would either reluctantly return to Obama or simply stay home on Election Day.

For a breakdown of how the current contenders might stack up with Jewish voters, read my next post.

As I discussed in my previous post, a majority of Jewish voters will probably stick with Barack Obama next year no matter how bad his relationship gets with Israel. But that does not mean a significant shift in the Jewish vote might not occur. Though many Jews either don’t care about Israel or even actively identify with those who want more U.S. pressure on it, there are still a large number of liberal Democratic Jews who are passionate supporters of Israel. As their support for Obama in 2008 demonstrated, their standards for judging Democrats are far more lenient than those applied to Republicans. But it is simply untrue to claim this group is unaware of or unmoved by Obama’s hostile actions, or the basic fact most Israelis view the president as an adversary of their country.

It is this group that may account for as much as 20 percent or more of the Jewish vote. That total is the difference between the nearly 80 percent Obama garnered in 2008 and the combined vote for Jimmy Carter and John Anderson in 1980 that came to nearly 60 percent, which represents the historic low point for the Democrats in terms of the Jewish vote. It is this group that could make up as much as a fifth or more of all Jewish voters who are in play in 2012.

Is that something for Democrats to worry about? You bet it is. Although one out of five votes of a group that makes up less than two percent of the total U.S. population may seem insignificant, a swing of 10 to 20 percentage points in the Jewish vote in key states like Pennsylvania or Florida could decide the election in a close race.

These voters could abandon Obama if they feel they have a palatable pro-Israel alternative. That is the tricky part of the equation. While these people may be thinking of jumping the Democratic ship because of Obama’s attitude toward Israel, they will not vote for any Republican who is rightly perceived as a better friend and ally to the Jewish state. In fact, if faced with a choice between a Republican who is identified with the Christian right, it may not matter how pro-Israel they are–many would either reluctantly return to Obama or simply stay home on Election Day.

For a breakdown of how the current contenders might stack up with Jewish voters, read my next post.

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Tom Friedman’s Faux Middle East Expertise

This morning at the Aspen Ideas Festival, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman reportedly explained that – and this is a quote- “Netanyahu is [the] Mubarak of Israel.” At first this seems like a counterintuitive statement. The defining feature of Mubarak’s regime was its 30 years of autocratic rule, whereas Netanyahu has been elected by the Israeli electorate twice and enjoys the support of the Israeli public. Insofar as there’s any analogy to be asserted, it’s almost certain to confuse and confound – to conflate likes with unlikes – rather than to clarify.

But let’s keep in mind that Friedman is, as Barry Rubin pointed out while bemoaning the lack of adult supervision over Middle East policymaking, recognized as an expert on the region. He certainly packed the room at Aspen before dispensing this morning’s wisdom. He’s considered an expert despite how he (wrongly) declared in 2010 that Palestinian Prime Minister Fayyad was consolidating and solidifying power, an impression Friedman picked up (predictably) from a few anecdotes he heard in the West Bank. He’s considered an expert despite how he simultaneously admits the Palestinians aren’t interested in peace but still insists we should tilt the diplomatic playing field away from Israel, our last stable Middle East ally. So maybe there’s a really striking and provocative insight buried inside this “elected Israeli officials are just like unelected Egyptian generals” comparison.

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This morning at the Aspen Ideas Festival, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman reportedly explained that – and this is a quote- “Netanyahu is [the] Mubarak of Israel.” At first this seems like a counterintuitive statement. The defining feature of Mubarak’s regime was its 30 years of autocratic rule, whereas Netanyahu has been elected by the Israeli electorate twice and enjoys the support of the Israeli public. Insofar as there’s any analogy to be asserted, it’s almost certain to confuse and confound – to conflate likes with unlikes – rather than to clarify.

But let’s keep in mind that Friedman is, as Barry Rubin pointed out while bemoaning the lack of adult supervision over Middle East policymaking, recognized as an expert on the region. He certainly packed the room at Aspen before dispensing this morning’s wisdom. He’s considered an expert despite how he (wrongly) declared in 2010 that Palestinian Prime Minister Fayyad was consolidating and solidifying power, an impression Friedman picked up (predictably) from a few anecdotes he heard in the West Bank. He’s considered an expert despite how he simultaneously admits the Palestinians aren’t interested in peace but still insists we should tilt the diplomatic playing field away from Israel, our last stable Middle East ally. So maybe there’s a really striking and provocative insight buried inside this “elected Israeli officials are just like unelected Egyptian generals” comparison.

Fellow Contentions contributor Noah Pollak sarcastically suggested on Twitter that Friedman might have meant both Bibi and Mubarak are American allies who got mistreated by the current president. While there’s undoubtedly much to be said about this White House’s stubborn refusal to demonstrate any kind of foresight or competence in the Middle East, that probably isn’t what Friedman meant.

Immediately before his analogy, Friedman apparently declared “the Israelis and the Palestinians” are the people in the Middle East “most” in need of an Arab Spring, an implication of equivalence that would be strained even if Israel wasn’t already one of the world’s most robust democracies, which it is. And immediately after his analogy, Friedman reportedly suggested the U.S. “get out of the way” in September when the Palestinians abrogate two decades of U.S.-backed understandings and seek unilateral statehood in the United Nations. In addition to demonstrating to the world the U.S. can’t be trusted even on ironclad assurances, the recommended move would detonate what’s left of the U.S.-Israel relationship.

No worries though. The analogy will undoubtedly get unpacked in a future Friedman article. It will take its rightful place as a folksy microcosm for the broad sweep of Middle East history and politics, and everything will make sense. It’ll be just like the time Friedman’s casual conversation with “a Jordanian friend the other day,” which led into a convoluted joke about how some people don’t understand that cowboy and Indian movies always end the same way, unlocked for Friedman the futility of Israeli-Arab peacemaking. Seriously. That’s what passes for top journalistic analysis about the Middle East.

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Obama Skips Deficit Talks for Philly Fundraisers

Despite complaining Congress isn’t trying hard enough to nail down a deficit deal yesterday, President Obama snubbed Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s invitation to discuss the issue with Senate Republicans today. Instead, the president is jetting off to Philadelphia, where he’ll be attending two DNC campaign fundraisers this evening.

“They’re in one week, they’re out one week. And then they’re saying, ‘Obama has got to step in. You need to be here,’” Obama carped to reporters during a press conference yesterday. “I’ve been here. I’ve been doing Afghanistan and bin Laden and the Greek crisis. You stay here. Let’s get it done.”

But while the president expects members of Congress to stay in town, he seems to have little interest in doing the same. After McConnell extended an invitation for Obama to hear the concerns that Senate Republicans have with his proposals, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney firmly rejected it this afternoon.

According to Carney, the GOP only wants to “restate their maximalist position” and this is “not a conversation worth having.”

Carney also denied there was a problem with the president attending fundraisers in Philadelphia tonight, instead of staying in town to work on the deficit deal. “We can walk and chew gum at the same time,” he said.

Perhaps sensing the terrible optics of Obama’s decision, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid offered the president a chance to try to redeem himself, by inviting him to meet with the Senate next week. The Democratic Senate leadership also dismissed McConnell’s original request to Obama as a “stunt.”

The American people might beg to differ. Those Philadelphia fundraisers sound like a fun time, but it’s not unreasonable for Republicans to expect the president to give more precedence to resolving the deficit issue than he does to financing his reelection campaign.

Despite complaining Congress isn’t trying hard enough to nail down a deficit deal yesterday, President Obama snubbed Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s invitation to discuss the issue with Senate Republicans today. Instead, the president is jetting off to Philadelphia, where he’ll be attending two DNC campaign fundraisers this evening.

“They’re in one week, they’re out one week. And then they’re saying, ‘Obama has got to step in. You need to be here,’” Obama carped to reporters during a press conference yesterday. “I’ve been here. I’ve been doing Afghanistan and bin Laden and the Greek crisis. You stay here. Let’s get it done.”

But while the president expects members of Congress to stay in town, he seems to have little interest in doing the same. After McConnell extended an invitation for Obama to hear the concerns that Senate Republicans have with his proposals, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney firmly rejected it this afternoon.

According to Carney, the GOP only wants to “restate their maximalist position” and this is “not a conversation worth having.”

Carney also denied there was a problem with the president attending fundraisers in Philadelphia tonight, instead of staying in town to work on the deficit deal. “We can walk and chew gum at the same time,” he said.

Perhaps sensing the terrible optics of Obama’s decision, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid offered the president a chance to try to redeem himself, by inviting him to meet with the Senate next week. The Democratic Senate leadership also dismissed McConnell’s original request to Obama as a “stunt.”

The American people might beg to differ. Those Philadelphia fundraisers sound like a fun time, but it’s not unreasonable for Republicans to expect the president to give more precedence to resolving the deficit issue than he does to financing his reelection campaign.

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Give Them an Inch…

And they’ll take another hundred billion in defense spending cuts, please. In a classic example of why the congressional Republicans’ willingness to slash the defense budget is such a harmful political strategy, liberals are now flaunting it as a sign the Democrats need to be more ambitious in their defense cut proposals:

Liberal sources say the [Republican] freshman defections shows the White House is shooting too low on defense in the debt-ceiling talks.

“I don’t think that $300 billion in spending cuts is either much of a cut or much of a concession,” said Rebecca Thiess, a policy analyst with the Economic Policy Institute.” …

Obama, perhaps feeling the heat from liberals, in his Wednesday press conference hinted that cuts beyond the $400 billion he has previously outlined could be coming for the Pentagon.

Some congressional GOPs may not be concerned about taking the Obama position on defense reductions, but clearly the president has a political incentive to place himself to the left of these conservative lawmakers on the issue. The more cuts GOP members are willing to concede, the louder liberal activists will become in advocating for additional reductions — giving Democrats exactly the cover they need to double-down on their demands. This is negotiating tactics 101, and Republicans are playing right into the hands of American declinists.

And they’ll take another hundred billion in defense spending cuts, please. In a classic example of why the congressional Republicans’ willingness to slash the defense budget is such a harmful political strategy, liberals are now flaunting it as a sign the Democrats need to be more ambitious in their defense cut proposals:

Liberal sources say the [Republican] freshman defections shows the White House is shooting too low on defense in the debt-ceiling talks.

“I don’t think that $300 billion in spending cuts is either much of a cut or much of a concession,” said Rebecca Thiess, a policy analyst with the Economic Policy Institute.” …

Obama, perhaps feeling the heat from liberals, in his Wednesday press conference hinted that cuts beyond the $400 billion he has previously outlined could be coming for the Pentagon.

Some congressional GOPs may not be concerned about taking the Obama position on defense reductions, but clearly the president has a political incentive to place himself to the left of these conservative lawmakers on the issue. The more cuts GOP members are willing to concede, the louder liberal activists will become in advocating for additional reductions — giving Democrats exactly the cover they need to double-down on their demands. This is negotiating tactics 101, and Republicans are playing right into the hands of American declinists.

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The Jewish Vote Reconsidered

Every time anyone suggests Barack Obama’s hostility to Israel will cost him some Jewish votes, the anger from both the Democratic Party establishment as well as outraged liberals is considerable. So it was little surprise Ben Smith’s report yesterday in Politico generated considerable pushback from those invested in the continuation of the political status quo in the Jewish community. But, as I wrote yesterday, the problem for Democrats is not the once fashionable idea Jews were being seduced by the lure of conservative ideology, but the plain fact the leader of their party is someone who has a problem with Israel.

Still, the arguments made by those who claim there is unlikely to be any shift in the Jewish vote deserve to be discussed in some detail.

The first such argument could be summarized as denial about Obama’s problem with pro-Israel voters. An example is former congressman Ron Klein’s piece in Politico today in which he says the president’s views on Israel have been “misrepresented” by nefarious Republicans. According to this view, although Obama’s views could be “more artfully communicated,” they are substantially no different from those of previous presidents. All it will take to quell Jewish dissent will be for wavering Jews to be convinced to ignore their own lying eyes and ears and again listen to Democrats who assure them about Obama, as they did in 2008.

This is, of course, nonsense.

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Every time anyone suggests Barack Obama’s hostility to Israel will cost him some Jewish votes, the anger from both the Democratic Party establishment as well as outraged liberals is considerable. So it was little surprise Ben Smith’s report yesterday in Politico generated considerable pushback from those invested in the continuation of the political status quo in the Jewish community. But, as I wrote yesterday, the problem for Democrats is not the once fashionable idea Jews were being seduced by the lure of conservative ideology, but the plain fact the leader of their party is someone who has a problem with Israel.

Still, the arguments made by those who claim there is unlikely to be any shift in the Jewish vote deserve to be discussed in some detail.

The first such argument could be summarized as denial about Obama’s problem with pro-Israel voters. An example is former congressman Ron Klein’s piece in Politico today in which he says the president’s views on Israel have been “misrepresented” by nefarious Republicans. According to this view, although Obama’s views could be “more artfully communicated,” they are substantially no different from those of previous presidents. All it will take to quell Jewish dissent will be for wavering Jews to be convinced to ignore their own lying eyes and ears and again listen to Democrats who assure them about Obama, as they did in 2008.

This is, of course, nonsense.

Obama has picked fights with Israel almost from the first day of his administration. While he has not trashed the alliance altogether, something that would be too politically costly to even contemplate, the president has staked out new ground on settlements, borders and particularly Jerusalem that were different from those of his predecessors and which have tilted the diplomatic playing field against Israel. His ambush of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last month may have backfired on him as the Israeli was able to make his defiance of the president’s dictat on borders stand up to the cheers of Congress, but there was no mistaking Obama’s hostility. The idea this can be explained or rationalized is wishful thinking on the part of Democrats. Those voters who consider a candidate’s attitude toward Israel when they decide whom to vote for are bound to think less well of Barack Obama next year.

Paul Waldman at the American Prospect raises a better counter-argument to the possibility of a possible shift in Jewish votes. According to Waldman, the whole discussion is irrelevant simply because most American Jews are ideological liberals who will never vote for a conservative Republican.

He’s right when he implies the idea most Jews are single-issue voters who only care about Israel is a myth. Some Jews simply don’t care at all about Israel while others are aligned with leftist groups that believe it must be bludgeoned into submission for the sake of peace and are completely comfortable with the policies of the Obama administration. Still others are concerned with Israel’s welfare but tend to prioritize domestic issues over any foreign policy consideration. Others, and this may be the largest group here, are simply deeply partisan Democrats who just can’t bring themselves to vote for a member of the GOP.

Most Jewish liberals are still far more afraid of conservative Christians than they are of al-Qaeda, Hamas or Hezbollah. It is not even so much a question of ideology as it is of culture and prejudice. These voters don’t care how much a Republican loves Israel. If it means voting for a half-hearted friend of the Jewish state or one whose attitude is even more questionable, they will do it rather than support a candidate who is pro-Israel but also a pro-life evangelical. This means it is more than likely no matter how bad things get between Israel and Obama, the president will likely garner a majority of the Jewish vote next year. But to concede this point doesn’t mean a significant shift might not occur.

Are there swing Jewish votes and enough of them to make a difference in 2012? The answer is yes, and I’ll discuss who they are and what they might do next year in my next post.

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Who Is Really Helping the People of Gaza?

For those looking for a simple explanation of why the Gaza flotilla’s “humanitarian aid” efforts are a total sham, this video from the IDF is an excellent resource. As the video notes, the Israeli government sends an average of 6,000 tons of goods to the Gaza strip every single day — which is more than the entire flotilla attempted to bring to Gaza on its voyage last year. And most of the flotilla’s products consisted of expired medical supplies.

The IDF has traditionally done a very poor job of public relations, so it’s nice to see that it’s finally producing clear and compelling videos like this one. We can only hope this means that the government has been preparing itself for the PR war that’s sure to ensue once the next flotilla attempts to break the Israeli blockade.

For those looking for a simple explanation of why the Gaza flotilla’s “humanitarian aid” efforts are a total sham, this video from the IDF is an excellent resource. As the video notes, the Israeli government sends an average of 6,000 tons of goods to the Gaza strip every single day — which is more than the entire flotilla attempted to bring to Gaza on its voyage last year. And most of the flotilla’s products consisted of expired medical supplies.

The IDF has traditionally done a very poor job of public relations, so it’s nice to see that it’s finally producing clear and compelling videos like this one. We can only hope this means that the government has been preparing itself for the PR war that’s sure to ensue once the next flotilla attempts to break the Israeli blockade.

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Precipitous Withdrawal Will Hurt Obama

According to the most recent Gallup Poll, Americans broadly support President Obama’s plan to begin withdrawing U.S. forces in Afghanistan this year, with additional troops scheduled to leave by the end of next summer and the remainder by 2014. Nearly three-quarters, 72 percent, are in favor, while 23 percent are opposed.

Two thoughts–the first of which is, these numbers aren’t terribly surprising. The Afghan war has been long (10 years and counting), hard and frustrating. The government with which we’re allied is corrupt. And so the nation has become war-weary. If the commander-in-chief isn’t willing to make the case for war, the (relatively) new strategy he’s put in place, or highlighting the progress being made – if the president is, in Bob Woodward’s apt phrase, “out of Afghanistan psychologically” — public support will collapse. And so it has.

Second, the president is making a mistake in assuming pulling troops out of Afghanistan will help him politically. The reason is this: if the war gets worse, if our progress in Afghanistan is undone, Obama will be judged on that. The course of the war will matter more to Americans than whether we have 105,000 troops versus 70,000 in Afghanistan in September 2012.

Whether he likes it or not, whether he thinks it’s fair or not, the president will be held accountable for the Afghanistan war and his policies. And his precipitous withdrawal, against the strong warnings of his military commanders, will come back to politically hurt him. If it does, then a measure of rough justice will have been served. But that won’t make up for the considerable damage Obama’s decision will do to our national interest.

Not by a long shot.

According to the most recent Gallup Poll, Americans broadly support President Obama’s plan to begin withdrawing U.S. forces in Afghanistan this year, with additional troops scheduled to leave by the end of next summer and the remainder by 2014. Nearly three-quarters, 72 percent, are in favor, while 23 percent are opposed.

Two thoughts–the first of which is, these numbers aren’t terribly surprising. The Afghan war has been long (10 years and counting), hard and frustrating. The government with which we’re allied is corrupt. And so the nation has become war-weary. If the commander-in-chief isn’t willing to make the case for war, the (relatively) new strategy he’s put in place, or highlighting the progress being made – if the president is, in Bob Woodward’s apt phrase, “out of Afghanistan psychologically” — public support will collapse. And so it has.

Second, the president is making a mistake in assuming pulling troops out of Afghanistan will help him politically. The reason is this: if the war gets worse, if our progress in Afghanistan is undone, Obama will be judged on that. The course of the war will matter more to Americans than whether we have 105,000 troops versus 70,000 in Afghanistan in September 2012.

Whether he likes it or not, whether he thinks it’s fair or not, the president will be held accountable for the Afghanistan war and his policies. And his precipitous withdrawal, against the strong warnings of his military commanders, will come back to politically hurt him. If it does, then a measure of rough justice will have been served. But that won’t make up for the considerable damage Obama’s decision will do to our national interest.

Not by a long shot.

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U.S. Recognizes Muslim Brotherhood. Will Hamas Be Next?

In a reversal of a five-year-old U.S. policy banning contact with the Muslim Brotherhood organization in Egypt, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has ordered American diplomats to resume contact with the Islamist group. Clinton made the following statement at a news conference in Budapest:

We believe, given the changing political landscape in Egypt, that it is in the interests of the United States to engage with all parties that are peaceful, and committed to non-violence, that intend to compete for the parliament and the presidency.

The resumption of formal contacts is a symbolic victory for the Brotherhood. It is also a signal to the Egyptian military the United States has no problem with the Brotherhood’s bid for more influence in the country, paving the way for a condominium between the army and the influential Islamist party.

While it can be argued the United States needs to be informed about the positions of all the major players in a key country such as Egypt, that could have been taken care of by private talks. Instead, the Obama administration has taken a critical step towards the acceptance of a militant anti-Western group as part of a future government of the most populous Arab nation.

The United States hopes democracy will change Egypt for the better and dealing with the Islamist party is just part of the price America must pay for this development. But the idea an ideology-driven group like the Brotherhood will allow itself to be transformed into a democratic partner for non-Islamist Egyptians as well as the United States is absurd. Rather than the Arab Spring and democracy changing the Muslim Brotherhood, it will be the Brotherhood that seeks to exploit Egyptian democracy and make it impossible for non-Islamists to thwart their rise to power, especially as a new round of protests against military rule seem to have begun. It also presages increasing tension with Israel.

The recognition of the Brotherhood also calls into question the administration’s continued adherence to a policy of no recognition for the group’s Palestinian ally: Hamas. Though Clinton sought to downplay the significance of the move, it isn’t much of a leap from talks with the Muslim Brotherhood to recognition of a Fatah-Hamas Palestinian coalition. It is no harder to justify recognition of Hamas as merely bowing to the realities of Palestinian politics than it is for her to make the same argument for dealing with the Brotherhood. All it takes is a mindset that no longer thinks of Islamist extremists as enemies of the West and Israel.

In a reversal of a five-year-old U.S. policy banning contact with the Muslim Brotherhood organization in Egypt, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has ordered American diplomats to resume contact with the Islamist group. Clinton made the following statement at a news conference in Budapest:

We believe, given the changing political landscape in Egypt, that it is in the interests of the United States to engage with all parties that are peaceful, and committed to non-violence, that intend to compete for the parliament and the presidency.

The resumption of formal contacts is a symbolic victory for the Brotherhood. It is also a signal to the Egyptian military the United States has no problem with the Brotherhood’s bid for more influence in the country, paving the way for a condominium between the army and the influential Islamist party.

While it can be argued the United States needs to be informed about the positions of all the major players in a key country such as Egypt, that could have been taken care of by private talks. Instead, the Obama administration has taken a critical step towards the acceptance of a militant anti-Western group as part of a future government of the most populous Arab nation.

The United States hopes democracy will change Egypt for the better and dealing with the Islamist party is just part of the price America must pay for this development. But the idea an ideology-driven group like the Brotherhood will allow itself to be transformed into a democratic partner for non-Islamist Egyptians as well as the United States is absurd. Rather than the Arab Spring and democracy changing the Muslim Brotherhood, it will be the Brotherhood that seeks to exploit Egyptian democracy and make it impossible for non-Islamists to thwart their rise to power, especially as a new round of protests against military rule seem to have begun. It also presages increasing tension with Israel.

The recognition of the Brotherhood also calls into question the administration’s continued adherence to a policy of no recognition for the group’s Palestinian ally: Hamas. Though Clinton sought to downplay the significance of the move, it isn’t much of a leap from talks with the Muslim Brotherhood to recognition of a Fatah-Hamas Palestinian coalition. It is no harder to justify recognition of Hamas as merely bowing to the realities of Palestinian politics than it is for her to make the same argument for dealing with the Brotherhood. All it takes is a mindset that no longer thinks of Islamist extremists as enemies of the West and Israel.

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The Different Interpretations of “Compromise”

During times of divided government, as we have now, the word “compromise” is invoked quite often. For self-described moderates, the word is golden, indicating an open-mindedness and pragmatism that is essential when it comes to governing. For many liberals and conservatives, on the other hand, the word is radioactive, evidence of a lack of conviction and a willingness to jettison important principles in the interest of getting a deal, any deal.

In sorting through these different interpretations of compromise, it may be helpful to consider the actions of two remarkable American statesmen: James Madison and Abraham Lincoln.

At the 1787 Constitutional Convention, Southern delegates made it clear: they would walk out before they would give consent to a government that outlawed slavery. If the Articles of Confederation were going to be replaced by a new Constitution, those advocating the Constitution would have to compromise. “Great as the evil [of slavery] is,” James Madison said, “a dismemberment of the union would be worse.” And so just as language condemning slavery was removed in the draft of the Declaration of Independence, so it was with the Constitution. Madison made the deal in part because he believed the Constitution would eventually help uproot slavery. It would occur more slowly than he wanted, but he wasn’t going to make the perfect the enemy of the good. 

Madison had a similar disposition on the Bill of Rights. He initially opposed them on the grounds the Constitution itself was a bill of rights and  the enumeration of some rights would be taken as the absence of others. But in order to meet the objections of the anti-Federalists, who demanded support for a bill of rights in exchange for support for ratification, Madison compromised, promising to add a bill of rights and, in typical Madison fashion, authoring them. Read More

During times of divided government, as we have now, the word “compromise” is invoked quite often. For self-described moderates, the word is golden, indicating an open-mindedness and pragmatism that is essential when it comes to governing. For many liberals and conservatives, on the other hand, the word is radioactive, evidence of a lack of conviction and a willingness to jettison important principles in the interest of getting a deal, any deal.

In sorting through these different interpretations of compromise, it may be helpful to consider the actions of two remarkable American statesmen: James Madison and Abraham Lincoln.

At the 1787 Constitutional Convention, Southern delegates made it clear: they would walk out before they would give consent to a government that outlawed slavery. If the Articles of Confederation were going to be replaced by a new Constitution, those advocating the Constitution would have to compromise. “Great as the evil [of slavery] is,” James Madison said, “a dismemberment of the union would be worse.” And so just as language condemning slavery was removed in the draft of the Declaration of Independence, so it was with the Constitution. Madison made the deal in part because he believed the Constitution would eventually help uproot slavery. It would occur more slowly than he wanted, but he wasn’t going to make the perfect the enemy of the good. 

Madison had a similar disposition on the Bill of Rights. He initially opposed them on the grounds the Constitution itself was a bill of rights and  the enumeration of some rights would be taken as the absence of others. But in order to meet the objections of the anti-Federalists, who demanded support for a bill of rights in exchange for support for ratification, Madison compromised, promising to add a bill of rights and, in typical Madison fashion, authoring them.

Then there is Abraham Lincoln. Henry Clay had been Lincoln’s favorite politician, a powerful orator who Lincoln himself had twice supported for president. But in 1848, Lincoln supported Zachary Taylor rather than Clay for the Whig nomination. “There is no doubt which of the two men … Lincoln in his heart, and in the abstract, preferred,” wrote the Lincoln biographer William Lee Miller. “There was no comparison.”

Lincoln explained himself in a letter, saying, “Our only chance is Taylor. I go for him, not because I think he would make a better president than Clay, but because I think he would make a better one than Polk, or Cass, or Buchanan [all Democrats] or any other such creatures, one of whom is sure to be elected if he is not.”

As a young man Lincoln made this generalization:

The true rule, in determining to embrace, or reject any thing, is not whether it have any evil in it; but whether it have more of evil, than of good. There are few things wholly evil, or wholly good. Almost every thing, especially of governmental policy, is an inseparable compound of the two; so that our best judgment of the preponderance between them is continually demanded.

Professor Miller adds, “[M]any reflective moralists, and most serious politicians, including Abraham Lincoln, perceive … that good and evil come mixed and that the moral life most of the time (not quite all of the time) consists of making discriminate judgments, judgments at the margins, discernments of less and more…”

Madison and Lincoln were superb politicians — tactically flexible and shrewd, able to distinguish between subsidiary issues and fundamental ones, and rejecting what has been called the “seductive appeal of the absolute” in order to work for the better. Both men were hard-headed, realistic and principled. They struck a deal if, but only if, they believed it would advance the cause to which they were dedicated.

Throughout American history, the word “compromise” has been a Rorschach test. By temperament and experience, many of us are drawn to, or made uneasy by, the concept. But those predispositions need to be set aside. Compromise, after all, can’t be judged in the abstract; it can only be assessed in particular circumstances. And it’s a two-edged sword. It’s basic to self-government — but in the wrong hands, in weak hands, compromise leads to setbacks. As a general rule, the best compromises are the ones agreed to by people who are willing to walk away from them, who see them as a means instead of an end. Think of Ronald Reagan at Reykjavik.

Duff Cooper, the British politician and author, said there’s a difference between the willingness in principle to compromise and the willingness to compromise on principle. Madison and Lincoln understood the distinction. So did Reagan. So should we.


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Attack on Intercontinental Casts Doubt on Obama’s Drawdown Plans

The Intercontinental Hotel in Kabul is a nice joint, at least by Afghan standard; I’ve enjoyed dinner on its patio along with numerous well-to-do Afghans and foreigners.  There are always lots of guards at its entrance and other security personnel milling around, many of them protecting VIP diners. I am as shocked as anyone a squad of suicide bombers–belonging, probably, to the Haqqani Network–could penetrate its perimeter and kill perhaps a dozen people. But it is absurd to claim, as this New York Times article does, “Attack at Kabul Hotel Deflates Security Hopes in Afghanistan.” It does, however, cast into doubt President Obama’s drawdown plans.

The fact remains security is good in Kabul–better than in Baghdad, even now. Security is also good throughout much of northern and western Afghanistan where few Pashtuns live. Security is more tenuous in the south but improving thanks to the recent push by coalition forces in Kandahar and Helmand provinces. The eastern part of the country remains more unsettled; indeed it is possible the suicide bombers infiltrated across the Afghanistan-Pakistan frontier in the east and made the relatively short journey to Kabul.

Gen. David Petraeus’ campaign plan had called for tackling the security problems of the east next year. President Obama’s precipitous and ill-advised drawdown (far beyond anything his military commanders had recommended) now casts those plans into doubt, thereby allowing the Haqqani Network to carry out such terrorist operations indefinitely. With U.S. forces giving the impression they are leaving, the Haqqanis and their allies in the Taliban and HiG and al-Qaeda could even consolidate control of more territory in the east.

Obama’s withdrawals are premised on the notion the “tide of war is receding,” and the time is ripe for negotiating with the Taliban, Haqqanis, et al. The attack on the Intercontinental exposes the foolishness of those hopes. The jihadists in Afghanistan are battered but hardly defeated; they are not yet willing to lay down their suicide vests. And they are still strong enough to stage a bloody comeback if–as appears likely–we have lost the will to fight them.

The Intercontinental Hotel in Kabul is a nice joint, at least by Afghan standard; I’ve enjoyed dinner on its patio along with numerous well-to-do Afghans and foreigners.  There are always lots of guards at its entrance and other security personnel milling around, many of them protecting VIP diners. I am as shocked as anyone a squad of suicide bombers–belonging, probably, to the Haqqani Network–could penetrate its perimeter and kill perhaps a dozen people. But it is absurd to claim, as this New York Times article does, “Attack at Kabul Hotel Deflates Security Hopes in Afghanistan.” It does, however, cast into doubt President Obama’s drawdown plans.

The fact remains security is good in Kabul–better than in Baghdad, even now. Security is also good throughout much of northern and western Afghanistan where few Pashtuns live. Security is more tenuous in the south but improving thanks to the recent push by coalition forces in Kandahar and Helmand provinces. The eastern part of the country remains more unsettled; indeed it is possible the suicide bombers infiltrated across the Afghanistan-Pakistan frontier in the east and made the relatively short journey to Kabul.

Gen. David Petraeus’ campaign plan had called for tackling the security problems of the east next year. President Obama’s precipitous and ill-advised drawdown (far beyond anything his military commanders had recommended) now casts those plans into doubt, thereby allowing the Haqqani Network to carry out such terrorist operations indefinitely. With U.S. forces giving the impression they are leaving, the Haqqanis and their allies in the Taliban and HiG and al-Qaeda could even consolidate control of more territory in the east.

Obama’s withdrawals are premised on the notion the “tide of war is receding,” and the time is ripe for negotiating with the Taliban, Haqqanis, et al. The attack on the Intercontinental exposes the foolishness of those hopes. The jihadists in Afghanistan are battered but hardly defeated; they are not yet willing to lay down their suicide vests. And they are still strong enough to stage a bloody comeback if–as appears likely–we have lost the will to fight them.

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Poll Shows Obama Presiding Over an American Decline

According to the most recent CBS News/New York Times poll, nearly four in ten Americans (39 percent) now believe the U.S. economy is in permanent decline, an increase from 28 percent in October 2010. In addition, only 20 percent now say the economy is getting better, the lowest number since last August, while 31 percent say it is getting worse. (Roughly half say it is staying the same.)

The growing perception among the public is the president is presiding over, and in important respects is the architect of, an American Decline. It’s little wonder, then, according to Josh Kraushaar of National Journal, “The president’s reelection team, once hoping to run on a ‘Morning in America’ theme, now doesn’t have that luxury.”

According to the most recent CBS News/New York Times poll, nearly four in ten Americans (39 percent) now believe the U.S. economy is in permanent decline, an increase from 28 percent in October 2010. In addition, only 20 percent now say the economy is getting better, the lowest number since last August, while 31 percent say it is getting worse. (Roughly half say it is staying the same.)

The growing perception among the public is the president is presiding over, and in important respects is the architect of, an American Decline. It’s little wonder, then, according to Josh Kraushaar of National Journal, “The president’s reelection team, once hoping to run on a ‘Morning in America’ theme, now doesn’t have that luxury.”

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A Lesson from Riyadh About the True Threat to Middle East Peace

All those Westerners who deem Israel “the greatest threat to world peace” ought to read a fascinating  story in the Guardian yesterday: A senior Saudi official informed the paper that if Iran acquires nuclear weapons, Saudi Arabia will be forced to follow suit.

“We cannot live in a situation where Iran has nuclear weapons and we don’t. It’s as simple as that,” the official said. “If Iran develops a nuclear weapon, that will be unacceptable to us and we will have to follow suit.”

Why is this noteworthy? Because Israel is widely thought to have had nuclear weapons for almost 50 years now. Yet Riyadh never felt that Israel’s alleged nukes were threatening enough to necessitate acquiring its own nuclear deterrent, even though it has been formally at war with the Jewish state since Israel’s creation and has no diplomatic relations with it. Iran, in contrast, is a fellow Muslim state with which Riyadh has full diplomatic relations; they also share membership in groups like OPEC and the Organization of the Islamic Conference. Yet Saudi Arabia deems Tehran’s acquisition of nuclear weapons so threatening as to require an immediate response in kind.

The reason for this seeming paradox is simple: Because they live in the region, Saudi officials know what too many Westerners seem to have forgotten: Israel has never once attacked anyone that didn’t attack it first. And since Saudi Arabia, for all its anti-Israel rhetoric, has not actually participated in anti-Israel hostilities since 1948, it knows it’s perfectly safe from whatever military capabilities Israel has. Iran, in contrast, has a record of unprovoked military meddling outside its borders even without the immunity nuclear weapons would bring. For instance, it offers extensive military support to Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas in Gaza and Shi’ite militias in Iraq – all three of which have fomented civil wars in their respective territories, while the first two have fomented cross-border wars as well. Thus, a nuclear-armed Iran would be a real threat.

Read More

All those Westerners who deem Israel “the greatest threat to world peace” ought to read a fascinating  story in the Guardian yesterday: A senior Saudi official informed the paper that if Iran acquires nuclear weapons, Saudi Arabia will be forced to follow suit.

“We cannot live in a situation where Iran has nuclear weapons and we don’t. It’s as simple as that,” the official said. “If Iran develops a nuclear weapon, that will be unacceptable to us and we will have to follow suit.”

Why is this noteworthy? Because Israel is widely thought to have had nuclear weapons for almost 50 years now. Yet Riyadh never felt that Israel’s alleged nukes were threatening enough to necessitate acquiring its own nuclear deterrent, even though it has been formally at war with the Jewish state since Israel’s creation and has no diplomatic relations with it. Iran, in contrast, is a fellow Muslim state with which Riyadh has full diplomatic relations; they also share membership in groups like OPEC and the Organization of the Islamic Conference. Yet Saudi Arabia deems Tehran’s acquisition of nuclear weapons so threatening as to require an immediate response in kind.

The reason for this seeming paradox is simple: Because they live in the region, Saudi officials know what too many Westerners seem to have forgotten: Israel has never once attacked anyone that didn’t attack it first. And since Saudi Arabia, for all its anti-Israel rhetoric, has not actually participated in anti-Israel hostilities since 1948, it knows it’s perfectly safe from whatever military capabilities Israel has. Iran, in contrast, has a record of unprovoked military meddling outside its borders even without the immunity nuclear weapons would bring. For instance, it offers extensive military support to Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas in Gaza and Shi’ite militias in Iraq – all three of which have fomented civil wars in their respective territories, while the first two have fomented cross-border wars as well. Thus, a nuclear-armed Iran would be a real threat.

Why do so many Westerners seem ignorant of what Saudi officials know about Israel’s nonaggression? For this, Western media bear much of the blame. Consider just one typical example – Ethan Bronner’s New York Times piece this week on Gaza’s agricultural revival, in which former World Bank President James Wolfensohn recalled his dashed hopes for a thriving agriculture business in Gaza following Israel’s 2005 withdrawal:

But between the looting, security delays and corruption of border guards — both Israeli and Palestinian, he noted — and then after Israel’s three-week offensive in 2008-9 and the naval blockade, the economy fell apart.

Note what’s missing in this description of Bronner’s: the roughly 6,000 rockets and mortars Palestinians fired at southern Israel from Gaza in the three years following the withdrawal. This rocket fire was the reason for both the military offensive and the blockade. But an uninformed reader would never know it: He would conclude from this piece that Israel was guilty of unprovoked aggression, having launched a military offensive and imposed a naval blockade (which is also an act of war) for no reason at all.

But actions, they say, speak louder than words. And the vast difference in Riyadh’s response to Iranian versus Israeli nukes speaks volumes about the true threat to peace in the Middle East.

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Is He Running? Perry Slams Gaza Flotilla

Texas Governor Rick Perry is best known for his opposition to big government tax-and-spend policies rather than any stands on foreign policy issues. But for the second time in as many months, Perry has issued a statement on Middle East policy bound to increase speculation about him running for president.

On Tuesday, Perry sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder blasting the efforts by anti-Israel activists to break the blockade of Hamas-run Gaza. He praised the attorney general for the warning he issued to American citizens participating in the flotilla and labeled the entire project an “unacceptable provocation,” going so far as to call for the federal government to “aggressively pursue all available legal remedies to enjoin and prevent these illegal actions, and to prosecute any who may elect to engage in them in spite of your preemptive efforts.”

Perry is right about both the flotilla and the Americans (such as leftist author Alice Walker), who have chosen to take part. It’s a propaganda ploy that has nothing to do with helping the people of Gaza. Since Israel has allowed both food and medicine to flow freely into Gaza, there is no humanitarian crisis. The only purpose of the flotilla is to help break the diplomatic isolation of the terrorist regime that rules there.

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Texas Governor Rick Perry is best known for his opposition to big government tax-and-spend policies rather than any stands on foreign policy issues. But for the second time in as many months, Perry has issued a statement on Middle East policy bound to increase speculation about him running for president.

On Tuesday, Perry sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder blasting the efforts by anti-Israel activists to break the blockade of Hamas-run Gaza. He praised the attorney general for the warning he issued to American citizens participating in the flotilla and labeled the entire project an “unacceptable provocation,” going so far as to call for the federal government to “aggressively pursue all available legal remedies to enjoin and prevent these illegal actions, and to prosecute any who may elect to engage in them in spite of your preemptive efforts.”

Perry is right about both the flotilla and the Americans (such as leftist author Alice Walker), who have chosen to take part. It’s a propaganda ploy that has nothing to do with helping the people of Gaza. Since Israel has allowed both food and medicine to flow freely into Gaza, there is no humanitarian crisis. The only purpose of the flotilla is to help break the diplomatic isolation of the terrorist regime that rules there.

Though Perry’s letter is very much to the point about the need for the United States to do what it can to hinder this pro-Hamas stunt, there is little doubt it will be interpreted as a brazen attempt to curry favor with supporters of Israel. While he was but one of many Republicans and Democrats who took issue with President Obama’s decision to insist the 1967 lines be the starting point for future peace negotiations, his anti-flotilla letter demonstrates Perry is determined not to let any opportunity pass to demonstrate his support for Israel and his disdain for its foes.

While some will put this down as the Texan pandering to the Jewish community in the hope of financial support for his putative presidential candidacy, the intended object of his pro-Israel push may be a very different group. If Perry does run, he will be competing directly against both Michele Bachmann and Tim Pawlenty for the conservative Christian vote. Though social issues such as abortion are key for that sector of the public, it is often forgotten they are also among the most ardent supporters of Israel, often surpassing the Jews in their down-the-line-backing for its government. Though all the GOP candidates–with the exception of libertarian extremist Ron Paul–can be considered supporters of Israel, Bachmann and Pawlenty have staked out positions on the Middle East that resonate most loudly with pro-Israel Christians. Though Perry will, I’m sure, be happy to accept any Jewish political donations, he’s probably even more interested in one-upping both Bachmann and Perry among the evangelicals who actually vote in large numbers in Republican primaries and caucuses.

But either way, the Perry letter seems to be one more sign the Texas governor is inching closer to a presidential run.

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