Commentary Magazine


Posts For: June 2011

Bachmann’s History Lessons

Michele Bachmann needs to understand that along with her new mainstream contender status will come not only increased scrutiny from the press but a willingness of many in the Fourth Estate to directly challenge her on even minor details of her statements. Today on Good Morning America, George Stephanopoulos attempted to draw blood from the Republican presidential candidate when he asked her whether she was standing by a previous statement in which she claimed America’s founding fathers had “worked tirelessly to end slavery.”

In response, Bachmann cited the career of John Quincy Adams. Stephanopoulos replied that he wasn’t a founding father but the son of one, but Bachmann didn’t back down.

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Michele Bachmann needs to understand that along with her new mainstream contender status will come not only increased scrutiny from the press but a willingness of many in the Fourth Estate to directly challenge her on even minor details of her statements. Today on Good Morning America, George Stephanopoulos attempted to draw blood from the Republican presidential candidate when he asked her whether she was standing by a previous statement in which she claimed America’s founding fathers had “worked tirelessly to end slavery.”

In response, Bachmann cited the career of John Quincy Adams. Stephanopoulos replied that he wasn’t a founding father but the son of one, but Bachmann didn’t back down.

The question of whether J.Q. Adams should be considered a “founding father” is something of a hair-splitter. He was the son of one of our undoubted founding fathers, John Adams, but belongs more to the second generation of American leaders rather than the first. To her credit, Bachmann knew enough history to cite the fact the younger Adams was his father’s secretary during his diplomatic missions in Europe during the Revolutionary War and even struck out on his own while still a teenager as a key member of a U.S. delegation to Russia during that conflict.  And he was a life-long opponent of slavery.

However, if the point of this exchange is to try and nail Bachmann on a gaffe, the debate about Adams is beside the point. Certainly many of the people we would all agree are founders were not against slavery, let alone worked to end it. Some, like Jefferson, acknowledged that slavery was evil but, to their everlasting shame, did nothing to eradicate it in large part because their own livelihoods were dependent on their “human property.”

But, though the examples of Washington, Jefferson, Madison and others stand as rebuke to Bachmann’s attempt to pretty up our history, there were some undoubted founders who do fit into her definition. The two most prominent were Benjamin Franklin and Alexander Hamilton, both of whom helped found anti-slavery groups.

If you’re keeping score here, give Bachmann a minus for implying all founders were anti-slavery. Give her pass for her citation of John Quincy Adams, an early opponent of slavery but not really a founder and a plus for actually knowing all about his career. And give her a minus for failing to mention the actual founders who were against slavery. Give Stephanopoulos a plus for knowing all founders were not anti-slavery and for being knowledgeable about J.Q. Adams but a minus for implying none of the founders were against slavery.

Now that we’ve cleared this up, here are a few points more germane to the 2012 presidential election.

First, Michele Bachmann has to understand minor mistakes like this one will always be blown out of proportion because she is a) a presidential candidate; b) a Republican; and c) a female Republican. While she has generally handled the fallout from these clunkers with humor and grace, at some point she has to stop making them if she’s going to win the GOP nomination.

Second, those Republicans as well as those in media who hope these stories help reinforce Bachmann’s image as, to use Chris Wallace’s phrase, a “flake” and will ultimately sink her candidacy, are whistling into the wind. Bachmann may be gaffe-prone, but voters are unlikely to hold it too much against an otherwise personable, smart and articulate woman. Neither the John Wayne nor the John Quincy Adams comments are going to kill her candidacy. Like it or not, she’s here to stay in this race.

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Some People Never Learn

I honestly thought even fools should realize by now Syria’s Bashar al-Assad has no interest whatever in reform, peace, democracy, or anything else we’d like to see over there. Representative Dennis Kucinich, though, recently set out on “a fact-finding mission to Syria” and Lebanon where he hopes he’ll be able to help. No doubt he’ll be greeted warmly by everybody, including by Assad and his people, and he’ll come away feeling better than he did before he went there.

“Peace is a conscious, active pursuit that requires work and communication,” he said. Well, yes. That’s true. And since a predator like Assad has no interest in peace with either Arabs or Jews, he won’t do any of the work necessary to achieve it. He will continue murdering Syrians until they either kill or expel him, or until he’s killed enough of them that they finally stand down. Then we’ll have peace. It won’t come a day earlier.

You don’t have to visit Beirut or Damascus to figure this out, and Kucinich likely won’t figure it out even after he’s back from Beirut and Damascus.

I’m almost willing to write his trip off as a harmless yet useless comic diversion, but there’s a tiny chance Assad might end up fleeing Syria if he comes to believe the entire world is gearing up to smash him if he refuses. Kucinich would have a better chance at success if he told Assad, “you’re next after Qaddafi,” but he’s Dennis Kucinich (a man the Daily Show’s Jon Stewart once referred to as “a small woodland creature”), so he won’t.

I honestly thought even fools should realize by now Syria’s Bashar al-Assad has no interest whatever in reform, peace, democracy, or anything else we’d like to see over there. Representative Dennis Kucinich, though, recently set out on “a fact-finding mission to Syria” and Lebanon where he hopes he’ll be able to help. No doubt he’ll be greeted warmly by everybody, including by Assad and his people, and he’ll come away feeling better than he did before he went there.

“Peace is a conscious, active pursuit that requires work and communication,” he said. Well, yes. That’s true. And since a predator like Assad has no interest in peace with either Arabs or Jews, he won’t do any of the work necessary to achieve it. He will continue murdering Syrians until they either kill or expel him, or until he’s killed enough of them that they finally stand down. Then we’ll have peace. It won’t come a day earlier.

You don’t have to visit Beirut or Damascus to figure this out, and Kucinich likely won’t figure it out even after he’s back from Beirut and Damascus.

I’m almost willing to write his trip off as a harmless yet useless comic diversion, but there’s a tiny chance Assad might end up fleeing Syria if he comes to believe the entire world is gearing up to smash him if he refuses. Kucinich would have a better chance at success if he told Assad, “you’re next after Qaddafi,” but he’s Dennis Kucinich (a man the Daily Show’s Jon Stewart once referred to as “a small woodland creature”), so he won’t.

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Kudos to Pawlenty for Standing on Principle

I have been complaining that too many Republicans seem eager to run away from their party’s proud legacy of being strong on national security policy. But there are some notable exceptions, including presidential candidate Tim Pawlenty. As Jonathan noted earlier, today he gave an outstanding address at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York about how the U.S. should deal with the revolutions sweeping the Middle East. 

He laid out a compelling approach for adhering to our pro-democracy principles while also being aware of the need to take on-the-ground realities into account in their implementation. He staked out a strongly pro-Israel position and backed reform in moderate monarchies such as Jordan and Morocco while issuing an unwavering call for regime change in Syria and Iran.

He tore into President Obama for failing “to formulate and carry out an effective and coherent strategy in response to these events”—and into “parts of the Republican Party,” which “now seem to be trying to out-bid the Democrats in appealing to isolationist sentiments. “ His best line: “America already has one political party devoted to decline, retrenchment and withdrawal.  It does not need a second one.”

Of course any politician can deliver a good speech. But Pawlenty showed in the question and answer session that he understood what he was talking about. Several times he was asked what we should do when democracy is likely to bring a more anti-American regime into power. He deftly parried by arguing—rightly—that in the case of countries like Egypt simply supporting the status quo is not tenable; far better to push for change in the right direction.

Kudos to Pawlenty for standing on principle. He is standing up for his party’s best tradition, which is represented by Teddy Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan—not Herbert Hoover and Calvin Coolidge. Not only is this good policy, but it should be good politics too. He is differentiating himself from the horde of poll-followers in today’s GOP leadership ranks.


I have been complaining that too many Republicans seem eager to run away from their party’s proud legacy of being strong on national security policy. But there are some notable exceptions, including presidential candidate Tim Pawlenty. As Jonathan noted earlier, today he gave an outstanding address at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York about how the U.S. should deal with the revolutions sweeping the Middle East. 

He laid out a compelling approach for adhering to our pro-democracy principles while also being aware of the need to take on-the-ground realities into account in their implementation. He staked out a strongly pro-Israel position and backed reform in moderate monarchies such as Jordan and Morocco while issuing an unwavering call for regime change in Syria and Iran.

He tore into President Obama for failing “to formulate and carry out an effective and coherent strategy in response to these events”—and into “parts of the Republican Party,” which “now seem to be trying to out-bid the Democrats in appealing to isolationist sentiments. “ His best line: “America already has one political party devoted to decline, retrenchment and withdrawal.  It does not need a second one.”

Of course any politician can deliver a good speech. But Pawlenty showed in the question and answer session that he understood what he was talking about. Several times he was asked what we should do when democracy is likely to bring a more anti-American regime into power. He deftly parried by arguing—rightly—that in the case of countries like Egypt simply supporting the status quo is not tenable; far better to push for change in the right direction.

Kudos to Pawlenty for standing on principle. He is standing up for his party’s best tradition, which is represented by Teddy Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan—not Herbert Hoover and Calvin Coolidge. Not only is this good policy, but it should be good politics too. He is differentiating himself from the horde of poll-followers in today’s GOP leadership ranks.


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The Most Serious Candidate on Foreign Policy

Tim Pawlenty has had a rough month, but though his campaign has faltered recently, he can still lay claim to having the most serious approach to foreign policy of any of the Republican presidential contenders. Pawlenty is delivering a major speech on foreign policy this morning to the Council on Foreign Relations in which he is not only laying out the failures of the Obama administration but confronting those elements in his own party that are undermining support for a strong American role in world affairs:

What is wrong is for the Republican Party to shrink from the challenges of American leadership in the world. History repeatedly warns us that in the long run, weakness in foreign policy costs us and our children much more than we’ll save in a budget line item. America already has one political party devoted to decline, retrenchment and withdrawal; it does not need a second one.

While most of his competitors in the GOP field have confined their remarks on foreign policy to sniping at the Libyan intervention or waffling on the U.S. commitment to the war in Afghanistan, Pawlenty is also taking on the president for his abysmal handling of the Middle East. In particular, he calls Obama to account for not only a “timid” approach to the movement for democracy in the Arab world but also for the administration’s increasingly hostile attitude toward Israel. He also lambasted Obama for wasting the first year of his presidency attempting to “engage” the ayatollahs of Iran.

While the GOP field has understandably concentrated its fire on the president’s mismanagement of the economy as well as the stimulus boondoggle and the massive expansion of government entitlements via Obamacare, it is high time one of the mainstream candidates began addressing what will remain the primary responsibility of any president: foreign policy.

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Tim Pawlenty has had a rough month, but though his campaign has faltered recently, he can still lay claim to having the most serious approach to foreign policy of any of the Republican presidential contenders. Pawlenty is delivering a major speech on foreign policy this morning to the Council on Foreign Relations in which he is not only laying out the failures of the Obama administration but confronting those elements in his own party that are undermining support for a strong American role in world affairs:

What is wrong is for the Republican Party to shrink from the challenges of American leadership in the world. History repeatedly warns us that in the long run, weakness in foreign policy costs us and our children much more than we’ll save in a budget line item. America already has one political party devoted to decline, retrenchment and withdrawal; it does not need a second one.

While most of his competitors in the GOP field have confined their remarks on foreign policy to sniping at the Libyan intervention or waffling on the U.S. commitment to the war in Afghanistan, Pawlenty is also taking on the president for his abysmal handling of the Middle East. In particular, he calls Obama to account for not only a “timid” approach to the movement for democracy in the Arab world but also for the administration’s increasingly hostile attitude toward Israel. He also lambasted Obama for wasting the first year of his presidency attempting to “engage” the ayatollahs of Iran.

While the GOP field has understandably concentrated its fire on the president’s mismanagement of the economy as well as the stimulus boondoggle and the massive expansion of government entitlements via Obamacare, it is high time one of the mainstream candidates began addressing what will remain the primary responsibility of any president: foreign policy.

Though he has spent his political career in Minnesota rather than in Washington, Pawlenty brings to the race the most coherent approach to security and defense issues of any of the major contenders. Pawlenty seems to have a firm grasp of not only America’s place in the world but the need for a strong foreign policy that will strengthen U.S. allies and discomfit its foes.

Rather than running to the left of the president as Jon Huntsman has done with his call for a speedier bug out of Afghanistan or waffling on major foreign policy issues as Romney has done, Pawlenty has brought forth a consistent and informed approach. Other Republican candidates are acting as if their party’s voters no longer support a strong defense or a policy of bringing the fight to our foes rather than sitting back and waiting for the next disaster. By contrast, Pawlenty is striking an aggressive note that ought to resonate with GOP voters.

The economy will be the main point of contention in 2012, but it is not the only one. By prioritizing support for Israel (and to oppose Obama’s pressure on the Jewish state) as well as by his focus on Iran, Pawlenty is staking out a position as the most serious candidate on foreign policy. That alone won’t save a campaign that has so far failed to catch fire. But his stance on security issues does provide Pawlenty with a solid rationale for his presidential ambitions and a platform from which he can begin his comeback.

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News Coverage of Bachmann Gaffe is Trivial

Here is NBC News’ coverage of Michele Bachmann’s presidential announcement. It focuses on her most recent gaffe, claiming the actor John Wayne was born in Waterloo instead of Winterset. (it turns out the serial killer John Wayne Gacy is from Waterloo.

This mistake has become the narrative when it comes to coverage of Representative Bachmann’s announcement, and it’s quite stupid. (NBC correspondent Kelly O’Donnell also helpfully informs us when Bachmann left the stage in Iowa, her campaign played the Tom Petty song “American Girl,” and Petty’s manager says he will ask the Bachmann campaign not to use that song.)

You don’t have to be a huge fan of Bachmann to see how trivial this all is. We’re constantly told how few and precious the minutes on the eventing news programs are, and then we are lectured by journalists like NBC’s Brian Williams about how lamentable the state of American political discourse is, how it focuses on the ephemeral and unimportant, and how we should concentrate on substance and the complexity of real issues. And then they produce a shallow piece like this.

I’m reminded of the words of St. Augustine: “Lord, make me chaste, but not yet.”  The motto of many in the modern-day media is, “Lord, make us serious, but not yet.”


Here is NBC News’ coverage of Michele Bachmann’s presidential announcement. It focuses on her most recent gaffe, claiming the actor John Wayne was born in Waterloo instead of Winterset. (it turns out the serial killer John Wayne Gacy is from Waterloo.

This mistake has become the narrative when it comes to coverage of Representative Bachmann’s announcement, and it’s quite stupid. (NBC correspondent Kelly O’Donnell also helpfully informs us when Bachmann left the stage in Iowa, her campaign played the Tom Petty song “American Girl,” and Petty’s manager says he will ask the Bachmann campaign not to use that song.)

You don’t have to be a huge fan of Bachmann to see how trivial this all is. We’re constantly told how few and precious the minutes on the eventing news programs are, and then we are lectured by journalists like NBC’s Brian Williams about how lamentable the state of American political discourse is, how it focuses on the ephemeral and unimportant, and how we should concentrate on substance and the complexity of real issues. And then they produce a shallow piece like this.

I’m reminded of the words of St. Augustine: “Lord, make me chaste, but not yet.”  The motto of many in the modern-day media is, “Lord, make us serious, but not yet.”


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The Obama Doctrine Defined

In “The Obama Doctrine Defined,” the lead article from the July/August issue of COMMENTARY, Douglas Feith and Seth Cropsey examine the motivations and methods behind Barack Obama’s dogged effort to constrain American power around the globe:

The words “vacillating” and “aimless” are commonly used by both left and right to describe President Barack Obama’s approach to the Libya war. His political friends and foes alike lament that he has no clear goal in Libya—and that, by failing to articulate one, he is revealing his unease at having been dragged into the fight to oust the regime of Muammar Qaddafi.

Democratic Senator James Webb of Virginia issued a press release on March 21, 2011, noting that the U.S. mission in Libya “lacks clarity.” Former Republican Senator Slade Gorton wrote in the Washington Post: “We should never enter a war halfway and with an indecisive goal. Regrettably, that is where we stand today.”

The criticism has some validity, but it misses an important point: the administration’s approach has logic and coherence in the service of strategic considerations that extend far beyond Libya.

Since his campaign in 2007 and 2008, Barack Obama has declared that he wants to transform America’s role in world affairs. And now,in the third year of his term, we can see how he is bringing about that transformation. The United States under Barack Obama is less assertive, less dominant, less power-minded, less focused on the American people’s particular interests, and less concerned about preserving U.S. freedom of action.

Read the rest here.

In “The Obama Doctrine Defined,” the lead article from the July/August issue of COMMENTARY, Douglas Feith and Seth Cropsey examine the motivations and methods behind Barack Obama’s dogged effort to constrain American power around the globe:

The words “vacillating” and “aimless” are commonly used by both left and right to describe President Barack Obama’s approach to the Libya war. His political friends and foes alike lament that he has no clear goal in Libya—and that, by failing to articulate one, he is revealing his unease at having been dragged into the fight to oust the regime of Muammar Qaddafi.

Democratic Senator James Webb of Virginia issued a press release on March 21, 2011, noting that the U.S. mission in Libya “lacks clarity.” Former Republican Senator Slade Gorton wrote in the Washington Post: “We should never enter a war halfway and with an indecisive goal. Regrettably, that is where we stand today.”

The criticism has some validity, but it misses an important point: the administration’s approach has logic and coherence in the service of strategic considerations that extend far beyond Libya.

Since his campaign in 2007 and 2008, Barack Obama has declared that he wants to transform America’s role in world affairs. And now,in the third year of his term, we can see how he is bringing about that transformation. The United States under Barack Obama is less assertive, less dominant, less power-minded, less focused on the American people’s particular interests, and less concerned about preserving U.S. freedom of action.

Read the rest here.

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What Purpose do Arrest Warrants for Qaddafi Serve?

Supposedly, when in 1832 the Supreme Court issued a ruling he disagreed with, President Andrew Jackson said: “John Marshall has made his decision; now let him enforce it!” I thought of that (apocryphal) quotation after the International Criminal Court’s decision to issue arrest warrants for Muammar Qaddafi, his son, and his military intelligence chief.

I have no doubt this trio are guilty of all the crimes with which they are charged—and many more. But what purpose does it serve now to issue these indictments? Is the ICC planning to send an army of international lawyers to Tripoli to arrest Qaddafi and bring him back for trial in the Hague? 

The Sudan precedent is hardly encouraging in this regard: In 2005 the ICC indicted Omar Hassan al-Bashir, the president of Sudan. Bashir remains very much at liberty, still running his country and even preparing for a visit to China.  It is hard to know whether such empty indictments help or hurt the cause of justice. Perhaps they help to isolate Qaddafi and Bashir, but they also make these tyrants more intransigent about remaining in power. They know if they step down they are more likely to wind up in a prison cell than in a villa on the Riviera.

I don’t have any problem with the existence of the ICC but, like any other prosecutor, it needs to be reviewed by responsible political authorities to make sure its actions are not only lawful but advisable.  There is, however, no mechanism for political review built into the ICC, and it is hard to discern any real strategy behind its indictments. All of this risks making the ICC a laughing-stock.

As I’ve argued before, there needs to be a mechanism for the UN Security Council to grant immunity from prosecution when it’s warranted. In the case of Libya, a grant of immunity could be just the ticket to convince Qaddafi to leave power. Failing that, he is likely to fight to the death, taking more lives with him to the grave.


Supposedly, when in 1832 the Supreme Court issued a ruling he disagreed with, President Andrew Jackson said: “John Marshall has made his decision; now let him enforce it!” I thought of that (apocryphal) quotation after the International Criminal Court’s decision to issue arrest warrants for Muammar Qaddafi, his son, and his military intelligence chief.

I have no doubt this trio are guilty of all the crimes with which they are charged—and many more. But what purpose does it serve now to issue these indictments? Is the ICC planning to send an army of international lawyers to Tripoli to arrest Qaddafi and bring him back for trial in the Hague? 

The Sudan precedent is hardly encouraging in this regard: In 2005 the ICC indicted Omar Hassan al-Bashir, the president of Sudan. Bashir remains very much at liberty, still running his country and even preparing for a visit to China.  It is hard to know whether such empty indictments help or hurt the cause of justice. Perhaps they help to isolate Qaddafi and Bashir, but they also make these tyrants more intransigent about remaining in power. They know if they step down they are more likely to wind up in a prison cell than in a villa on the Riviera.

I don’t have any problem with the existence of the ICC but, like any other prosecutor, it needs to be reviewed by responsible political authorities to make sure its actions are not only lawful but advisable.  There is, however, no mechanism for political review built into the ICC, and it is hard to discern any real strategy behind its indictments. All of this risks making the ICC a laughing-stock.

As I’ve argued before, there needs to be a mechanism for the UN Security Council to grant immunity from prosecution when it’s warranted. In the case of Libya, a grant of immunity could be just the ticket to convince Qaddafi to leave power. Failing that, he is likely to fight to the death, taking more lives with him to the grave.


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More Jewish Donor Trouble for Obama

The White House has been trying to downplay the news it’s been having trouble with pro-Israel donors recently. But the Washington Post reports today the administration is still attempting to placate key Jewish supporters after President Obama’s controversial 1967 border comments:

In one case this month, White House adviser Valerie Jarrett spent an hour visiting a major pro-Israel donor identified by the campaign as a potential financial supporter. …

In her meeting with the pro-Israel supporter, Jarrett listened as the donor expressed dissatisfaction with the White House’s approach to the Middle East. The donor remained on the fence after their discussion but later said the meeting left an impression.

“She’s got very limited time, so I should see it as meaningful, right?” said the donor, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss a private conversation. “You don’t get a visit every day from the White House’s senior adviser.”

Probably the most amazing part of this story is the White House actually sent Valerie Jarrett to try to convince this Jewish donor of Obama’s pro-Israel bona fides. Was Zbigniew Brzezinski not available that day?

But the rest of the Post article is worth reading as well, especially since it also touches on the president’s problems with the business and gay donor community. From the sound of it, the Obama administration hasn’t done nearly enough donor upkeep since his last campaign and is hastily trying to play catch-up. One prominent business donor even told the Post the president’s attempts to reach out to the community felt like a rushed courtship, and added, “It’s not a friendly relationship.”

The White House has been trying to downplay the news it’s been having trouble with pro-Israel donors recently. But the Washington Post reports today the administration is still attempting to placate key Jewish supporters after President Obama’s controversial 1967 border comments:

In one case this month, White House adviser Valerie Jarrett spent an hour visiting a major pro-Israel donor identified by the campaign as a potential financial supporter. …

In her meeting with the pro-Israel supporter, Jarrett listened as the donor expressed dissatisfaction with the White House’s approach to the Middle East. The donor remained on the fence after their discussion but later said the meeting left an impression.

“She’s got very limited time, so I should see it as meaningful, right?” said the donor, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss a private conversation. “You don’t get a visit every day from the White House’s senior adviser.”

Probably the most amazing part of this story is the White House actually sent Valerie Jarrett to try to convince this Jewish donor of Obama’s pro-Israel bona fides. Was Zbigniew Brzezinski not available that day?

But the rest of the Post article is worth reading as well, especially since it also touches on the president’s problems with the business and gay donor community. From the sound of it, the Obama administration hasn’t done nearly enough donor upkeep since his last campaign and is hastily trying to play catch-up. One prominent business donor even told the Post the president’s attempts to reach out to the community felt like a rushed courtship, and added, “It’s not a friendly relationship.”

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Reconciling May 19, May 20 and May 22

The State Department says the Quartet held a “good meeting” Friday — they issued no statement at the end, but began “a conversation about when they’re going to meet next.” Perhaps the Quartet is having trouble reconciling its May 20 statement, supporting President Obama’s “May 19 vision,” with the President’s May 22 speech that modified it. The Quartet – like the State Department – may be unclear how the two presidential speeches relate.     

Maybe we can help — by combining the May 22 restatement of the May 19 vision with the general principles of the Quartet’s May 20 statement. On May 22, the President specified what “1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps” means: 

By definition, it means that the parties themselves — Israelis and Palestinians — will negotiate a border that is different than the one that existed on June 4, 1967 … to account for the changes that have taken place over the last 44 years … including the new demographic realities on the ground … The ultimate goal is two states for two people: Israel as a Jewish state and the homeland for the Jewish people and the State of Palestine as the homeland for the Palestinian people — each state in joined self-determination, mutual recognition, and peace. 

So the vision is mutual recognition of “two states for two peoples” with a border that accounts for the new demographic realities on the ground. Combine that with the May 20 Quartet statement calling for “direct bilateral negotiations without delay or preconditions,” and add — since the Quartet reiterated its “previous statements and principles” — the principle repeated over and over and over,  unilateral actions will not be recognized by the international community.

Finally, add the principle borders must be “defensible” — as the Clinton and Bush administrations (and Obama himself in his let-me-be-clear 2008 AIPAC address) formally assured Israel. No need to reference the 1967 lines, since no one considers them defensible, and the new border – as the President helpfully clarified – will necessarily be different.

So here is a draft of the next Quartet statement, harmonizing all of the above:

The Quartet supports President Obama’s vision of “two states for two peoples,” to be mutually recognized in direct bilateral negotiations conducted without preconditions, accounting for demographic realities on the ground and establishing defensible borders. The Quartet will not recognize any unilateral attempt to establish different borders in a different forum.

The Palestinians will not endorse such a statement, because they will not: (1) agree to two states “for two peoples” (which implicitly rejects a “right of return”); (2) negotiate without preconditions; (3) recognize demographic realities on the ground; (4) endorse defensible borders; or (5) stop their unilateral effort to establish different borders via the UN. But at least the statement would help identify the actual “obstacles to peace.”

The State Department says the Quartet held a “good meeting” Friday — they issued no statement at the end, but began “a conversation about when they’re going to meet next.” Perhaps the Quartet is having trouble reconciling its May 20 statement, supporting President Obama’s “May 19 vision,” with the President’s May 22 speech that modified it. The Quartet – like the State Department – may be unclear how the two presidential speeches relate.     

Maybe we can help — by combining the May 22 restatement of the May 19 vision with the general principles of the Quartet’s May 20 statement. On May 22, the President specified what “1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps” means: 

By definition, it means that the parties themselves — Israelis and Palestinians — will negotiate a border that is different than the one that existed on June 4, 1967 … to account for the changes that have taken place over the last 44 years … including the new demographic realities on the ground … The ultimate goal is two states for two people: Israel as a Jewish state and the homeland for the Jewish people and the State of Palestine as the homeland for the Palestinian people — each state in joined self-determination, mutual recognition, and peace. 

So the vision is mutual recognition of “two states for two peoples” with a border that accounts for the new demographic realities on the ground. Combine that with the May 20 Quartet statement calling for “direct bilateral negotiations without delay or preconditions,” and add — since the Quartet reiterated its “previous statements and principles” — the principle repeated over and over and over,  unilateral actions will not be recognized by the international community.

Finally, add the principle borders must be “defensible” — as the Clinton and Bush administrations (and Obama himself in his let-me-be-clear 2008 AIPAC address) formally assured Israel. No need to reference the 1967 lines, since no one considers them defensible, and the new border – as the President helpfully clarified – will necessarily be different.

So here is a draft of the next Quartet statement, harmonizing all of the above:

The Quartet supports President Obama’s vision of “two states for two peoples,” to be mutually recognized in direct bilateral negotiations conducted without preconditions, accounting for demographic realities on the ground and establishing defensible borders. The Quartet will not recognize any unilateral attempt to establish different borders in a different forum.

The Palestinians will not endorse such a statement, because they will not: (1) agree to two states “for two peoples” (which implicitly rejects a “right of return”); (2) negotiate without preconditions; (3) recognize demographic realities on the ground; (4) endorse defensible borders; or (5) stop their unilateral effort to establish different borders via the UN. But at least the statement would help identify the actual “obstacles to peace.”

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Republicans Wavering on Defense Spending?

It has taken Republicans decades to acquire a reputation as the party voters trust to defend the country. Now they seem intent on frittering it away within days.

It is by no means a natural the GOP  would be known as the “strong on defense” party, given its isolationism in the 1920s-30s. The Democrats looked tough when Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman were winning World War II and laying the foundations to win the Cold War. But then came the Vietnam War. Having gotten America into the war (with Republican support), Democrats had turned against the conflict by 1968. At the time it seemed like a smart move because the Vietnam War was so unpopular. But, followed as it was by Jimmy Carter’s invertebrate presidency, the Democratic conversion to dovishness did incalculable damage to the party. It made it impossible to elect another Democrat until after the end of the Cold War, and that was a fairly conservative Southerner. Yet Republicans continued to enjoy an advantage on national security affairs—one that was solidified by President George W. Bush in the wake of 9/11.

How much longer will that reputation last, however, when so many House Republicans are voting to defund, or at least not support, the conflict in Libya designed to bring down a homicidal dictator? How long will it last when so many Republicans are hesitating to speak out strongly in favor of the strategy our best general has formulated to win the war in Afghanistan? And how much longer will it last when so many Republicans appear eager—as the Washington Post reports–to sacrifice our armed forces on the green eyeshade altar?  The Post quotes one freshman Republican, Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, as follows:

Defense spending is “a pillar of Republican strength. It’s a pillar of national strength. Look, I know there are sacred cows,” Kinzinger said in an interview. “But we cannot afford them anymore.”

 We cannot afford defense spending? Really?

I would reply we can’t afford not to spend adequately on defense. Whenever we have made that mistake in the past—after the Mexican War, World War I, World War II, Vietnam and the Gulf  War—we have paid a heavy cost in squandered lives and lost treasure.

Today, defense spending is hardly the cause of our budget woes; the core defense budget (excluding emergency appropriations for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq) is as low as it has ever been as a percentage of GDP and of the federal budget. (Less than 4 percent and less than 20 percent, respectively). The notion we are going bankrupt because of defense spending is, quite simply, intellectually bankrupt. And if Republicans choose to embrace this erroneous assumption, it will be a sign of their political, intellectual, and moral bankruptcy, because they will be needlessly sacrificing their party’s most enduring advantage.


It has taken Republicans decades to acquire a reputation as the party voters trust to defend the country. Now they seem intent on frittering it away within days.

It is by no means a natural the GOP  would be known as the “strong on defense” party, given its isolationism in the 1920s-30s. The Democrats looked tough when Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman were winning World War II and laying the foundations to win the Cold War. But then came the Vietnam War. Having gotten America into the war (with Republican support), Democrats had turned against the conflict by 1968. At the time it seemed like a smart move because the Vietnam War was so unpopular. But, followed as it was by Jimmy Carter’s invertebrate presidency, the Democratic conversion to dovishness did incalculable damage to the party. It made it impossible to elect another Democrat until after the end of the Cold War, and that was a fairly conservative Southerner. Yet Republicans continued to enjoy an advantage on national security affairs—one that was solidified by President George W. Bush in the wake of 9/11.

How much longer will that reputation last, however, when so many House Republicans are voting to defund, or at least not support, the conflict in Libya designed to bring down a homicidal dictator? How long will it last when so many Republicans are hesitating to speak out strongly in favor of the strategy our best general has formulated to win the war in Afghanistan? And how much longer will it last when so many Republicans appear eager—as the Washington Post reports–to sacrifice our armed forces on the green eyeshade altar?  The Post quotes one freshman Republican, Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, as follows:

Defense spending is “a pillar of Republican strength. It’s a pillar of national strength. Look, I know there are sacred cows,” Kinzinger said in an interview. “But we cannot afford them anymore.”

 We cannot afford defense spending? Really?

I would reply we can’t afford not to spend adequately on defense. Whenever we have made that mistake in the past—after the Mexican War, World War I, World War II, Vietnam and the Gulf  War—we have paid a heavy cost in squandered lives and lost treasure.

Today, defense spending is hardly the cause of our budget woes; the core defense budget (excluding emergency appropriations for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq) is as low as it has ever been as a percentage of GDP and of the federal budget. (Less than 4 percent and less than 20 percent, respectively). The notion we are going bankrupt because of defense spending is, quite simply, intellectually bankrupt. And if Republicans choose to embrace this erroneous assumption, it will be a sign of their political, intellectual, and moral bankruptcy, because they will be needlessly sacrificing their party’s most enduring advantage.


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Why is Dennis Kucinich Shilling for the Syrian Crackdown?

If ever there was a story that demonstrated either how the American anti-war left has lost its moral compass, it is this piece from Syria’s official news agency. Congressman Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) is in Syria with a conservative British MP to speak out about how Syria’s stability under Assad remains a key American interest.

If there was ever an example of just how engagement provides a propaganda victory for dictators and sullies America’s image, this is it. I didn’t believe anyone could top former Senator Arlen Specter or House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on their counterproductive embrace of Assad, but Kucinich proves me wrong.

If ever there was a story that demonstrated either how the American anti-war left has lost its moral compass, it is this piece from Syria’s official news agency. Congressman Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) is in Syria with a conservative British MP to speak out about how Syria’s stability under Assad remains a key American interest.

If there was ever an example of just how engagement provides a propaganda victory for dictators and sullies America’s image, this is it. I didn’t believe anyone could top former Senator Arlen Specter or House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on their counterproductive embrace of Assad, but Kucinich proves me wrong.

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No Need for Bachmann to Accept Chris Wallace’s Apology

As Jonathan wrote earlier, Fox News anchor Chris Wallace has apologized for asking Rep. Michele Bachmann if she was a “flake” during an interview yesterday. But so far, Bachmann hasn’t accepted the apology. And she shouldn’t. Wallace’s apology is unnecessary. The anchor didn’t appear to mean any offense when he leveled the “flake” question at the candidate – and by answering it the way she did, Bachmann proved she has the tenacity and poise to withstand confrontational questioning.

Wallace’s question was important for two reasons. The first was it gave Bachmann an opportunity to respond to the claims of her critics. But more significantly, it gave the public a chance to see how she responds when she’s pushed out of her comfort zone. In both respects, Bachmann fared very well.

The presidential hopeful is in a position right now where she can play the role of the media bias victim. But she could potentially gain even more respect by refusing to act wounded. It would be great to see her laugh off the incident, and dismiss it as the usual scrutiny that comes with being a leading Republican presidential candidate.

And it would be even better to see Wallace and other reporters use this line of questioning with other politicians. Why not ask President Obama whether he’s a thin-skinned egotist? Or ask Nancy Pelosi whether she’s a conniving ideologue? A lot of people would probably be interested in their reactions. And it would sure beat the typical Sunday morning interview questions that tend to elicit the predictable canned responses from lawmakers.

As Jonathan wrote earlier, Fox News anchor Chris Wallace has apologized for asking Rep. Michele Bachmann if she was a “flake” during an interview yesterday. But so far, Bachmann hasn’t accepted the apology. And she shouldn’t. Wallace’s apology is unnecessary. The anchor didn’t appear to mean any offense when he leveled the “flake” question at the candidate – and by answering it the way she did, Bachmann proved she has the tenacity and poise to withstand confrontational questioning.

Wallace’s question was important for two reasons. The first was it gave Bachmann an opportunity to respond to the claims of her critics. But more significantly, it gave the public a chance to see how she responds when she’s pushed out of her comfort zone. In both respects, Bachmann fared very well.

The presidential hopeful is in a position right now where she can play the role of the media bias victim. But she could potentially gain even more respect by refusing to act wounded. It would be great to see her laugh off the incident, and dismiss it as the usual scrutiny that comes with being a leading Republican presidential candidate.

And it would be even better to see Wallace and other reporters use this line of questioning with other politicians. Why not ask President Obama whether he’s a thin-skinned egotist? Or ask Nancy Pelosi whether she’s a conniving ideologue? A lot of people would probably be interested in their reactions. And it would sure beat the typical Sunday morning interview questions that tend to elicit the predictable canned responses from lawmakers.

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Gaza Blockade Distractions

It took a day, but fortunately, the Israeli government has rescinded  the threat by the government press office to any member of the press who chose to accompany the flotilla set to sail to Gaza. The bureaucrats in Jerusalem should never have said accredited journalists found on a ship trying to break Israel’s blockade of Gaza would have their equipment confiscated and be banned from entry into the country for ten years. It is to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s credit that he quickly intervened to overturn this foolish decision.

However irksome the presence of the press on this pointless Palestinian propaganda mission might be, it does Israel no good to attempt to punish them. Those journalists on the ship may be covering a bogus story and may even, as is likely, be prejudiced against Israel and in favor of those planning this pro-Hamas stunt. But their status there is the moral equivalent of a war correspondent covering a different army and should be respected. Israelis are right to have their backs up about biased journalists puffing an effort to aid a terrorist state, but threatening the press is no way to improve your image or convince people to change their minds. Mark this story down as just one more error in the Jewish state’s long history of badly managed public relations.

A better riposte to a flotilla whose aim is to bring succor to a terrorist-run region that is not actually suffering a humanitarian crisis comes from a more literary source. Booker Prize winning novelist Howard Jacobson writes on the CNN website about fellow literary celebrity Alice Walker’s participation in the flotilla. Though he ignores some of her more egregious comments about Israel such as her belief  it is a terrorist state, Jacobson is on target when he notes that “good people can do great harm.” He patiently explains why Walker’s stance is not only morally wrong but undermines any chances for peace. So while I’m not sure a person who singles out the one Jewish state in the world for opprobrium that she never would hand out to any other country — a textbook definition of anti-Semitism — deserves to be termed “good,” Jacobson deserves credit for bringing some literary artillery to Israel’s defense.

It took a day, but fortunately, the Israeli government has rescinded  the threat by the government press office to any member of the press who chose to accompany the flotilla set to sail to Gaza. The bureaucrats in Jerusalem should never have said accredited journalists found on a ship trying to break Israel’s blockade of Gaza would have their equipment confiscated and be banned from entry into the country for ten years. It is to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s credit that he quickly intervened to overturn this foolish decision.

However irksome the presence of the press on this pointless Palestinian propaganda mission might be, it does Israel no good to attempt to punish them. Those journalists on the ship may be covering a bogus story and may even, as is likely, be prejudiced against Israel and in favor of those planning this pro-Hamas stunt. But their status there is the moral equivalent of a war correspondent covering a different army and should be respected. Israelis are right to have their backs up about biased journalists puffing an effort to aid a terrorist state, but threatening the press is no way to improve your image or convince people to change their minds. Mark this story down as just one more error in the Jewish state’s long history of badly managed public relations.

A better riposte to a flotilla whose aim is to bring succor to a terrorist-run region that is not actually suffering a humanitarian crisis comes from a more literary source. Booker Prize winning novelist Howard Jacobson writes on the CNN website about fellow literary celebrity Alice Walker’s participation in the flotilla. Though he ignores some of her more egregious comments about Israel such as her belief  it is a terrorist state, Jacobson is on target when he notes that “good people can do great harm.” He patiently explains why Walker’s stance is not only morally wrong but undermines any chances for peace. So while I’m not sure a person who singles out the one Jewish state in the world for opprobrium that she never would hand out to any other country — a textbook definition of anti-Semitism — deserves to be termed “good,” Jacobson deserves credit for bringing some literary artillery to Israel’s defense.

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What Constitutes a Fatal Gaffe?

Michele Bachmann seems to have erred today when she said in her announcement speech she drew inspiration from actor John Wayne from her hometown Waterloo, Iowa. Apparently, he’s from Winterset, and there’s a museum honoring the screen legend in that otherwise little known burg. The John Wayne from Waterloo is serial killer John Wayne Gacy. Oops.

This mistake will, no doubt, provide some good material for comedians. It will certainly linger in the public’s memory of her.  But is it the sort of gaffe that will really hurt her campaign?

Maybe, but I doubt it. Clunkers that help kill candidacies and blight careers are generally mistakes ordinary persons think are errors they would not make. The most famous and most damaging political gaffe may have been Gerald Ford’s astonishing statement during the 1976 presidential debate with Jimmy Carter in which he “liberated” Poland from Soviet rule. That was bad not only because it was a stupid thing to say, but because most Americans knew that Poland was a Soviet satellite and thus understood Ford had something dumb without having  smarty-pants journalists tell them that it was. Similarly, Dan Quayle never lived down his misspelling of “potato,” because most of us knew the correct spelling or at least pretended we did.

On a less earth-shaking level, Michele Bachmann’s statement earlier this year in which she placed the Revolutionary War battle of Concord in Concord, New Hampshire, rather than its correct location in Massachusetts was a genuine gaffe. Americans with even a dim memory of their school lessons know about Lexington and Concord.

But however embarrassing Bachmann’s invocation of the Wayne from the wrong town in Iowa may be, this is not the same kind of mistake. Most Americans, even many of those who still love the Duke’s movies, probably couldn’t have told you which state he was born in, let alone which Iowa hamlet has the proper claim to his legacy. So are we all really going to look down our noses at her because she made a mistake about a topic most of us did not know ourselves? Actually, a better question might be why a candidate would claim to be inspired by a guy who just played American heroes rather than any actual heroes. (Wayne was an icon of the cinema and made some true classics, but he stayed in Hollywood during World War II making movies rather than seeing action in the armed services like actor Jimmy Stewart and other Hollywood stars did.)

While it is arguable someone from Waterloo ought to know where Wayne was born, I find it hard to believe even the most hard-core Hawkeye patriots will not vote for Bachmann because she did not know. However, this gaffe does represent some poor staff work by the Bachmann campaign. Bachmann has just learned the hard way campaign speeches need to be fact-checked.

Michele Bachmann seems to have erred today when she said in her announcement speech she drew inspiration from actor John Wayne from her hometown Waterloo, Iowa. Apparently, he’s from Winterset, and there’s a museum honoring the screen legend in that otherwise little known burg. The John Wayne from Waterloo is serial killer John Wayne Gacy. Oops.

This mistake will, no doubt, provide some good material for comedians. It will certainly linger in the public’s memory of her.  But is it the sort of gaffe that will really hurt her campaign?

Maybe, but I doubt it. Clunkers that help kill candidacies and blight careers are generally mistakes ordinary persons think are errors they would not make. The most famous and most damaging political gaffe may have been Gerald Ford’s astonishing statement during the 1976 presidential debate with Jimmy Carter in which he “liberated” Poland from Soviet rule. That was bad not only because it was a stupid thing to say, but because most Americans knew that Poland was a Soviet satellite and thus understood Ford had something dumb without having  smarty-pants journalists tell them that it was. Similarly, Dan Quayle never lived down his misspelling of “potato,” because most of us knew the correct spelling or at least pretended we did.

On a less earth-shaking level, Michele Bachmann’s statement earlier this year in which she placed the Revolutionary War battle of Concord in Concord, New Hampshire, rather than its correct location in Massachusetts was a genuine gaffe. Americans with even a dim memory of their school lessons know about Lexington and Concord.

But however embarrassing Bachmann’s invocation of the Wayne from the wrong town in Iowa may be, this is not the same kind of mistake. Most Americans, even many of those who still love the Duke’s movies, probably couldn’t have told you which state he was born in, let alone which Iowa hamlet has the proper claim to his legacy. So are we all really going to look down our noses at her because she made a mistake about a topic most of us did not know ourselves? Actually, a better question might be why a candidate would claim to be inspired by a guy who just played American heroes rather than any actual heroes. (Wayne was an icon of the cinema and made some true classics, but he stayed in Hollywood during World War II making movies rather than seeing action in the armed services like actor Jimmy Stewart and other Hollywood stars did.)

While it is arguable someone from Waterloo ought to know where Wayne was born, I find it hard to believe even the most hard-core Hawkeye patriots will not vote for Bachmann because she did not know. However, this gaffe does represent some poor staff work by the Bachmann campaign. Bachmann has just learned the hard way campaign speeches need to be fact-checked.

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Ros-Lehtinen Pushes Obama to Recall Ambassador to Syria

House Foreign Affairs Chair Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen is pressing the Obama administration to do what it probably should have done ages ago: recall Robert Ford, the U.S. ambassador to Syria. The ambassador drew controversy last week after he participated in a regime-led tour of northern Syria, prompting concerns his continued presence there is being exploited as a propaganda tool.

In a press release today, Ros-Lehtinen said:

“The recess appointment of an Ambassador to Syria was an ill-advised overture to the Syrian regime by the Administration.  The Administration should reverse this mistake by recalling the Ambassador immediately.

“Ambassador Ford’s recent participation in a regime-organized tour of northern Syria provided legitimacy to a ploy aimed at covering up the regime’s violence against the Syrian people.  It compromised U.S. credibility with freedom and pro-democracy advocates within Syria at a critical time.

“The regime has made it clear though its brutal actions and through the refusal of senior officials to meet with the Ambassador that it is not interested in diplomacy.  Any continued presence of a U.S. Ambassador will either be used by the regime for propaganda purposes or just plain ignored.”

The congresswoman’s call comes on the heels of Rep. Dennis Kucinich’s bizarre visit to Syria today, where he is expected to meet with President Bashar al-Assad. The trip will likely be hailed by the Syrian regime and its state-run media as evidence Assad has international support and legitimacy. There isn’t much President Obama can do to rein in Kucinich right now, but recalling Ford would certainly send the message the U.S. has no interest in lending legitimacy to the regime.

House Foreign Affairs Chair Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen is pressing the Obama administration to do what it probably should have done ages ago: recall Robert Ford, the U.S. ambassador to Syria. The ambassador drew controversy last week after he participated in a regime-led tour of northern Syria, prompting concerns his continued presence there is being exploited as a propaganda tool.

In a press release today, Ros-Lehtinen said:

“The recess appointment of an Ambassador to Syria was an ill-advised overture to the Syrian regime by the Administration.  The Administration should reverse this mistake by recalling the Ambassador immediately.

“Ambassador Ford’s recent participation in a regime-organized tour of northern Syria provided legitimacy to a ploy aimed at covering up the regime’s violence against the Syrian people.  It compromised U.S. credibility with freedom and pro-democracy advocates within Syria at a critical time.

“The regime has made it clear though its brutal actions and through the refusal of senior officials to meet with the Ambassador that it is not interested in diplomacy.  Any continued presence of a U.S. Ambassador will either be used by the regime for propaganda purposes or just plain ignored.”

The congresswoman’s call comes on the heels of Rep. Dennis Kucinich’s bizarre visit to Syria today, where he is expected to meet with President Bashar al-Assad. The trip will likely be hailed by the Syrian regime and its state-run media as evidence Assad has international support and legitimacy. There isn’t much President Obama can do to rein in Kucinich right now, but recalling Ford would certainly send the message the U.S. has no interest in lending legitimacy to the regime.

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Dutch Considering Funding Cuts to Anti-Israel NGOs?

Late last year, it was revealed the Dutch government was pouring millions into anti-Israel NGOs, including the Interchurch Organization for Development Cooperation (ICCO), which finances the Israel-hating Electronic Intifada propagandist website. But after months of debate, it appears the Dutch government may be inching toward defunding these organizations, according to a transcript of a Dutch parliament panel obtained by the Jerusalem Post:

According to the transcript, leading Dutch humanitarian relief organizations defended boycott, divestment and sanctions actions against Israel, prompting Johan Driesen, from the Party for Freedom (PVV), to say, “It was the first time I sat down to talk with the directors of the aid groups and I found what they said not only surprising, but disgusting, and I think the Dutch government should cut funding to organizations promoting this agenda.”

It is encouraging to see Dutch lawmakers are actually taking this problem seriously. According to the Jerusalem Post, the ICCO has already seen its budget slashed by $55 million euros this year, though it’s still unclear whether this reduction was due to the group’s involvement in the anti-Israel delegitimization movement.

Anti-Semitism is punishable by law in the Netherlands, and the Electronic Intifada has arguably crossed the line from legitimate criticism of Israel to targeted demonization of the Jewish state. If Electronic Intifada wants to continue to publish Holocaust denying screeds, then it has the right to do so on its own dime. But it sounds like Dutch lawmakers are understandably becoming reluctant to sanction this propaganda with taxpayer money.

Late last year, it was revealed the Dutch government was pouring millions into anti-Israel NGOs, including the Interchurch Organization for Development Cooperation (ICCO), which finances the Israel-hating Electronic Intifada propagandist website. But after months of debate, it appears the Dutch government may be inching toward defunding these organizations, according to a transcript of a Dutch parliament panel obtained by the Jerusalem Post:

According to the transcript, leading Dutch humanitarian relief organizations defended boycott, divestment and sanctions actions against Israel, prompting Johan Driesen, from the Party for Freedom (PVV), to say, “It was the first time I sat down to talk with the directors of the aid groups and I found what they said not only surprising, but disgusting, and I think the Dutch government should cut funding to organizations promoting this agenda.”

It is encouraging to see Dutch lawmakers are actually taking this problem seriously. According to the Jerusalem Post, the ICCO has already seen its budget slashed by $55 million euros this year, though it’s still unclear whether this reduction was due to the group’s involvement in the anti-Israel delegitimization movement.

Anti-Semitism is punishable by law in the Netherlands, and the Electronic Intifada has arguably crossed the line from legitimate criticism of Israel to targeted demonization of the Jewish state. If Electronic Intifada wants to continue to publish Holocaust denying screeds, then it has the right to do so on its own dime. But it sounds like Dutch lawmakers are understandably becoming reluctant to sanction this propaganda with taxpayer money.

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Another Nail in the Coffin of Government-Funded Campaigns

In a 5-4 decision today, the Supreme Court cut down yet another attempt to impose a regime of publicly funded election campaigns in the name of “reform.” The court ruled unconstitutional an Arizona scheme that gave extra cash to publicly funded candidates who faced privately financed rivals.

The decision in the combined cases of Arizona Free Enterprise v. Bennett and McComish v. Bennett did not go as far as some critics of government-financed elections might have liked, but it did mark another setback for those who have sought ever since Watergate to impose schemes that severely restrict the ability of citizens to spend money on political speech. Rather than overrule the entire idea of publicly funded election campaigns, the court concentrated its attention on a mechanism that triggered extra money for some candidates based on how much non-government cash their opponents raised. This trigger system was rightly ruled by the court to be an unconstitutional violation of free speech, since it inhibited Arizonans from giving to candidates who do not take public money because their donations would only generate more taxpayer cash for their opponents.

The court was divided along the same conservative-liberal lines as the groundbreaking 2009 Citizens United decision that ended the government’s ability to restrict spending by groups on political causes linked to elections. Speaking for the liberal minority, Justice Elena Kagan said the Arizona law was constitutional since its goal was “less corruption” and “more speech.” But the very process by which the government sought to favor some candidates and not others based on the sources of their money was itself corrupt.

As Chief Justice Roberts said in his majority opinion, the notion of government tinkering with political speech in order to create an illusion of fairness is the problem: “Leveling the playing field can sound like a good thing. But in a democracy, campaigning for office is not a game.”

The good intentions of so-called campaign finance reformers have proved no protection against the creation of a system that is, if anything, more corrupt than the one they initially thought to overturn in the 1970s. This is an important point, although one the left fails to understand. So long as the government in the form of election commissions or courts is empowered to fine tune the back and forth of election spending, it is on a fool’s errand that will make more mischief than good. When it comes to all forms of political speech, the only thing for state or federal governments to do is to get out of the way. Money spent promoting ideas, causes or candidates is political speech. Efforts to restrict such speech will inevitably harm the cause of democracy.

Though a cautious conservative majority left the basic and faulty premise of publicly financed campaigns in place, this case may represent yet another nail in the coffin of that misguided cause.

In a 5-4 decision today, the Supreme Court cut down yet another attempt to impose a regime of publicly funded election campaigns in the name of “reform.” The court ruled unconstitutional an Arizona scheme that gave extra cash to publicly funded candidates who faced privately financed rivals.

The decision in the combined cases of Arizona Free Enterprise v. Bennett and McComish v. Bennett did not go as far as some critics of government-financed elections might have liked, but it did mark another setback for those who have sought ever since Watergate to impose schemes that severely restrict the ability of citizens to spend money on political speech. Rather than overrule the entire idea of publicly funded election campaigns, the court concentrated its attention on a mechanism that triggered extra money for some candidates based on how much non-government cash their opponents raised. This trigger system was rightly ruled by the court to be an unconstitutional violation of free speech, since it inhibited Arizonans from giving to candidates who do not take public money because their donations would only generate more taxpayer cash for their opponents.

The court was divided along the same conservative-liberal lines as the groundbreaking 2009 Citizens United decision that ended the government’s ability to restrict spending by groups on political causes linked to elections. Speaking for the liberal minority, Justice Elena Kagan said the Arizona law was constitutional since its goal was “less corruption” and “more speech.” But the very process by which the government sought to favor some candidates and not others based on the sources of their money was itself corrupt.

As Chief Justice Roberts said in his majority opinion, the notion of government tinkering with political speech in order to create an illusion of fairness is the problem: “Leveling the playing field can sound like a good thing. But in a democracy, campaigning for office is not a game.”

The good intentions of so-called campaign finance reformers have proved no protection against the creation of a system that is, if anything, more corrupt than the one they initially thought to overturn in the 1970s. This is an important point, although one the left fails to understand. So long as the government in the form of election commissions or courts is empowered to fine tune the back and forth of election spending, it is on a fool’s errand that will make more mischief than good. When it comes to all forms of political speech, the only thing for state or federal governments to do is to get out of the way. Money spent promoting ideas, causes or candidates is political speech. Efforts to restrict such speech will inevitably harm the cause of democracy.

Though a cautious conservative majority left the basic and faulty premise of publicly financed campaigns in place, this case may represent yet another nail in the coffin of that misguided cause.

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Real-World Effects of Anti-War Activism

I was too young for the Vietnam War to have been a formative influence on my political views, but I do recall how the aftermath of the war revealed something to me both quite revealing and disturbing about contemporary liberalism.

In the wake of the victories by the North Vietnamese and the Khmer Rouge, many liberals simply ignored what followed their ascension to power. Progressives believed the leadership of these countries were comprised of enlightened agrarian reformers who would improve the everyday lives of people in both countries. What the South Vietnamese and the Cambodian people got instead was unimaginable brutality and horror — and what we heard from many on the left were excuses and indifference.

I was reminded of this in reading Max’s post, which quoted a tribal elder in Afghanistan, commenting on President Obama’s decision to withdraw more than 33,000 troops by next September. “This drawdown will embolden the morale of the Taliban, and actually it has already emboldened them,” the tribal elder said. The Taliban are saying to the elders not to support Americans or you will be killed, and now they say the Americans are leaving and your lives will not be spared. Read More

I was too young for the Vietnam War to have been a formative influence on my political views, but I do recall how the aftermath of the war revealed something to me both quite revealing and disturbing about contemporary liberalism.

In the wake of the victories by the North Vietnamese and the Khmer Rouge, many liberals simply ignored what followed their ascension to power. Progressives believed the leadership of these countries were comprised of enlightened agrarian reformers who would improve the everyday lives of people in both countries. What the South Vietnamese and the Cambodian people got instead was unimaginable brutality and horror — and what we heard from many on the left were excuses and indifference.

I was reminded of this in reading Max’s post, which quoted a tribal elder in Afghanistan, commenting on President Obama’s decision to withdraw more than 33,000 troops by next September. “This drawdown will embolden the morale of the Taliban, and actually it has already emboldened them,” the tribal elder said. The Taliban are saying to the elders not to support Americans or you will be killed, and now they say the Americans are leaving and your lives will not be spared. ”

Yet we have figures like the liberal evangelical Jim Wallis urging the United States exit immediately, without even a single reference to the hellish future that would face the people of Afghanistan if that were to happen. Wallis argued something similar in Iraq, urging the United States to withdraw rather than support President Bush’s surge strategy. If America had followed the counsel of Wallis, Iraq would have descended into civil war and mass death.

None of this is surprising for Wallis or those who shared his worldview. After all, in September 1979, Wallis wrote of the Vietnamese “boat people”: “Many of today’s refugees were inoculated with a taste for a Western lifestyle during the war years and are fleeing to support their consumer habit in other lands.” (See this profile on Wallis.) Wallis’ words were disgraceful, a slander of innocent people who were fleeing a repressive government. And in Cambodia we didn’t see the emergence of social justice (a favorite phrase of Wallis’); what we saw instead was forced labor, slavery, starvation and the extermination of roughly one-quarter of the Cambodian population.

I recall my cognitive dissonance: Why weren’t those on the left –who took great pride in advertising their compassion for the poor, the dispossessed, and the downtrodden and who took special pride in their multicultural sensitivities — the least bit horrified by what happened and their complicity in it? Didn’t the mass graves, the genocide, and the killing fields bother them? Why weren’t there more liberals like Joan Baez, who supported the North Vietnamese until she became horrified at its human-rights violations (she eventually published a full-page newspaper advertisement describing the horror that had descended on Vietnam). Conservatism might not be perfect, I thought at the time, but it could do a good deal better than this. Call it a young man mugged by hypocrisy.

Indeed, it dawned on me then that for some on the left — not all, but for some — the expressions of concern for the suffering and oppressed was an affectation; what mattered to them was ideology, not justice and human dignity. And if great numbers of innocent people had to die in order to defend The Cause, that was the unfortunate collateral damage that needed to be buried along with the bodies. Liberalism, after all, was too important to be harmed by the stain of genocide, even if genocide was the unwitting result of its policies. We have seen some version of this play out many times since the wars in Southeast Asia, including in Iraq and now Afghanistan. Withdrawal and surrender are endorsed without seemingly a moment’s thought to the wholesale slaughter that might follow.

Here I want to add several important qualifiers, including this one: the first priority of American policy is America’s national interest, and if one believes war is undermining that interest, or the war itself is simply not winnable, then it might be prudent to withdraw. In addition, humanitarian concerns cannot be the sole, or even the major, factor in determining which hostilities America chooses to become part of. The suffering in the world is endless, and America cannot hope to put an end to anywhere near most of it. And when it comes to Afghanistan, the views of Wallis are extreme in their recklessness. There are liberals, and increasingly some conservatives, who believe a counterterrorism strategy is wiser than a counterinsurgency (COIN) one and entails significantly fewer troops to execute the strategy. Which is another way of saying while I think General Petraeus’ COIN strategy is quite clearly the best one for Afghanistan and has shown demonstrable progress since it has been in place, it is not self-evidently the only workable one.

My point is simply this: the human suffering that would follow in the wake of a premature American withdrawal, and a subsequent American defeat, has to be taken into account by anyone, of any philosophical stripe, who endorses such a strategy. To ignore that dimension, or to deny the facts when they are no longer in dispute, is dishonest. And those who like to strut about how devoted they are to the most vulnerable members of society — who take great pride in identifying themselves as activists for ethics in public life and place themselves in the “prophetic tradition” — need to be held accountable for the real-world effects of their policies. Bumper sticker slogans, like War No More, aren’t serious; and they need to be examined in terms of their human consequences. In this instance, it won’t be pretty. But for many anti-war activists on the left, it won’t really matter. They will have turned their attention to new efforts to promote social justice, to inspire hope, and to free the captives, even as those they leave behind will suffer, will bleed and will die.

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Debunking the Huntsman Hype

Yesterday in Politico, Mike Allen and Jim VandeHei wrote the definitive account of the mainstream media’s recent swoon over Jon Huntsman. To summarize their findings, which concurs with articles I also have written in recent weeks, his campaign is predicated on the following scenario:

That by the power of his personality, and with a few lucky bounces early in the nomination battle, he can unilaterally repeal rules of GOP politics that have dominated for a generation.

While they acknowledge many in the media, including their own Politico colleague Charles Mahtesian, think Huntsman is on to something, their response is succinct: “Fat chance, Charlie.”

Allen and VandeHei suggest the best analogies for Huntsman’s campaign are Bruce Babbitt, who flopped despite heavy media support in 1988, and Bill Bradley’s similarly over-hyped and elite driven effort to win the 2000 Democratic nomination. But at least in that lopsided contest against Al Gore, Bradley was able to go at his competition in a one-on-one matchup. Huntsman may be unique in that he is the least hostile to Obama of all the Republican candidates, but that’s not exactly the sort of ground you want to stake out in a party united solely by hostility to the president. Nor is it likely the GOP is ready to embrace a leader who is to the left of Obama on Afghanistan and thought the stimulus was too small.

The other surprising point in their piece is the impression of Huntsman as a less than energetic candidate. Allen and VandeHei describe Huntsman’s demeanor during interviews as so low-key he made Tim Pawlenty “seem downright electric.” If, as they note, Huntsman is already complaining of being tired out by a few weeks of campaigning, how will he survive the next year if his bid lasts that long? It makes you wonder about his campaign promo film that has him (or someone we are supposed to presume is Huntsman) riding a motorcycle across the Western landscape.

If Huntsman has the money to keep going through the early primaries, he’ll have the opportunity to prove cynics wrong. But until then, it’s impossible to avoid the conclusion the buzz about his candidacy is purely a creation of the media.

Yesterday in Politico, Mike Allen and Jim VandeHei wrote the definitive account of the mainstream media’s recent swoon over Jon Huntsman. To summarize their findings, which concurs with articles I also have written in recent weeks, his campaign is predicated on the following scenario:

That by the power of his personality, and with a few lucky bounces early in the nomination battle, he can unilaterally repeal rules of GOP politics that have dominated for a generation.

While they acknowledge many in the media, including their own Politico colleague Charles Mahtesian, think Huntsman is on to something, their response is succinct: “Fat chance, Charlie.”

Allen and VandeHei suggest the best analogies for Huntsman’s campaign are Bruce Babbitt, who flopped despite heavy media support in 1988, and Bill Bradley’s similarly over-hyped and elite driven effort to win the 2000 Democratic nomination. But at least in that lopsided contest against Al Gore, Bradley was able to go at his competition in a one-on-one matchup. Huntsman may be unique in that he is the least hostile to Obama of all the Republican candidates, but that’s not exactly the sort of ground you want to stake out in a party united solely by hostility to the president. Nor is it likely the GOP is ready to embrace a leader who is to the left of Obama on Afghanistan and thought the stimulus was too small.

The other surprising point in their piece is the impression of Huntsman as a less than energetic candidate. Allen and VandeHei describe Huntsman’s demeanor during interviews as so low-key he made Tim Pawlenty “seem downright electric.” If, as they note, Huntsman is already complaining of being tired out by a few weeks of campaigning, how will he survive the next year if his bid lasts that long? It makes you wonder about his campaign promo film that has him (or someone we are supposed to presume is Huntsman) riding a motorcycle across the Western landscape.

If Huntsman has the money to keep going through the early primaries, he’ll have the opportunity to prove cynics wrong. But until then, it’s impossible to avoid the conclusion the buzz about his candidacy is purely a creation of the media.

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Feds Misled Public on “Backdoor Amnesty” Scandal

What’s the federal government to do when its plans for amnesty for illegal immigrants are rejected by the general public? If it’s the Obama administration, it goes ahead and does it anyway, and then denies the truth to the public, Congress and the news media.

Last summer, it was revealed an increasing number of illegal immigration deportation cases were being dismissed, apparently with the approval of the Department of Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). When the Senate began investigating last fall, ICE officials downplayed its involvement in the issue, saying it was only approving dismissals for a small number of immigrants who fit rigorous criteria.

But the truth has a way of coming out. An investigation by the Houston Chronicle revealed today the Houston ICE office actually ordered its immigration attorneys to file dismissals for any immigrants who didn’t meet the agency’s “top priorities.” And these orders appear to have been given the green-light by Washington ICE officials: Read More

What’s the federal government to do when its plans for amnesty for illegal immigrants are rejected by the general public? If it’s the Obama administration, it goes ahead and does it anyway, and then denies the truth to the public, Congress and the news media.

Last summer, it was revealed an increasing number of illegal immigration deportation cases were being dismissed, apparently with the approval of the Department of Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). When the Senate began investigating last fall, ICE officials downplayed its involvement in the issue, saying it was only approving dismissals for a small number of immigrants who fit rigorous criteria.

But the truth has a way of coming out. An investigation by the Houston Chronicle revealed today the Houston ICE office actually ordered its immigration attorneys to file dismissals for any immigrants who didn’t meet the agency’s “top priorities.” And these orders appear to have been given the green-light by Washington ICE officials:

[Houston ICE chief counsel Gary L.] Goldman sent out a memo dated Aug. 12 to all his attorneys, ordering them to consider filing motions to dismiss cases that did not meet with the agency’s top priorities. He also created a task force of attorneys to conduct a review of thousands of files on Houston’s immigration court docket to determine whether they merited dismissal, the memo shows.

Moments after Goldman emailed the memo to his staff in Houston, he forwarded it to ICE leadership in Washington. Riah Ramlogan, then the acting field director for the ICE’s legal office at agency headquarters, replied: “Outstanding, Gary,” and asked him to share details of the local effort on the next national conference call for top ICE attorneys.

Most damning for the administration is the wide range of illegal immigration cases that apparently met the criteria for dismissal. The documents reveal attorneys were even encouraged to file dismissals for illegal immigrants with prior criminal records:

However, the newly released documents show conclusively that government attorneys in Houston were given wide latitude to file motions to dismiss cases, including some involving immigrants with convictions for primarily misdemeanor offenses.

This could have the makings of a major scandal for the Obama administration, especially since Sen. John Cornyn, ranking member on the Senate Judiciary Committee’s subcommittee on immigration, has indicated he’s interested in investigating the case further.

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