Commentary Magazine


Posts For: July 1, 2011

Obama’s Reckless Course on Libya

Two more data points emerge to make clear why the Obama administration’s present course on Libya is so reckless.

First, Spain’s interior minister says “sophisticated Libyan army weapons are being trafficked and possibly sold to al-Qaeda’s affiliate in North Africa, giving the group the potential to increase instability in a key part of the continent.”

Second, the World Bank’s representative for Libya says “a protracted struggle for Libya could leave it in the hands of extremists instead of the liberal economic technocrats who now lead its rebel movement.” He is quoted as follows by Reuters: “If this civil war goes on, it would be a new Somalia, which I don’t say lightly.”

These reports are not surprising. It is inevitable that a protracted civil war leads to leakage of arms and to the rise of extremists. The solution is obvious: Let’s get it over with. Increase U.S. air strikes, send in tactical air controllers and trainers to aid the rebels, and let’s topple Qaddafi sooner rather than later. As Gary Schmitt of the American Enterprise Institute rightly notes: “Common sense says that stirring up a hornet’s nest is a sure way to get stung. If you don’t want that to happen, it’s best to destroy it—and the sooner the better.

Two more data points emerge to make clear why the Obama administration’s present course on Libya is so reckless.

First, Spain’s interior minister says “sophisticated Libyan army weapons are being trafficked and possibly sold to al-Qaeda’s affiliate in North Africa, giving the group the potential to increase instability in a key part of the continent.”

Second, the World Bank’s representative for Libya says “a protracted struggle for Libya could leave it in the hands of extremists instead of the liberal economic technocrats who now lead its rebel movement.” He is quoted as follows by Reuters: “If this civil war goes on, it would be a new Somalia, which I don’t say lightly.”

These reports are not surprising. It is inevitable that a protracted civil war leads to leakage of arms and to the rise of extremists. The solution is obvious: Let’s get it over with. Increase U.S. air strikes, send in tactical air controllers and trainers to aid the rebels, and let’s topple Qaddafi sooner rather than later. As Gary Schmitt of the American Enterprise Institute rightly notes: “Common sense says that stirring up a hornet’s nest is a sure way to get stung. If you don’t want that to happen, it’s best to destroy it—and the sooner the better.

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Obama Campaign to Combat Pro-Israel Groups

The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent – the go-to reporter for the White House’s opinion on the White House’s relationship with Jewish voters – writes today the Obama campaign is planning to send out surrogates to go on the offensive against pro-Israel groups critical of the president’s Israel policy.

“We will have highly credible spokespeople and surrogates speak out in a general manner in support of what this administration has done, and articulate it in a way that we think will resonate with voters who care about this issue,” former Conference of Presidents leader Alan Solow told Sargent. “We will meet with supporters who have expressed concerns or want to be briefed on these issues on a one-on-one basis.”

Sargent reports the surrogates will include a star-studded cast of B-list Jewish Obama fundraisers, including Solow, former U.S. Reps. Mel Levine and Robert Wexler, and left-of-J-Street businesswoman Penny Pritzker.

It’s unclear whether this unremarkable line-up is a result of the White House simply being unaware of who the relevant figures are in the pro-Israel community, or whether the administration just wasn’t able to get any influential Israel supporters to join its efforts.

But the new strategy indicates that something – perhaps internal polling data or problems with key pro-Israel donors – is suddenly making the Obama campaign very concerned about losing Jewish supporters.

The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent – the go-to reporter for the White House’s opinion on the White House’s relationship with Jewish voters – writes today the Obama campaign is planning to send out surrogates to go on the offensive against pro-Israel groups critical of the president’s Israel policy.

“We will have highly credible spokespeople and surrogates speak out in a general manner in support of what this administration has done, and articulate it in a way that we think will resonate with voters who care about this issue,” former Conference of Presidents leader Alan Solow told Sargent. “We will meet with supporters who have expressed concerns or want to be briefed on these issues on a one-on-one basis.”

Sargent reports the surrogates will include a star-studded cast of B-list Jewish Obama fundraisers, including Solow, former U.S. Reps. Mel Levine and Robert Wexler, and left-of-J-Street businesswoman Penny Pritzker.

It’s unclear whether this unremarkable line-up is a result of the White House simply being unaware of who the relevant figures are in the pro-Israel community, or whether the administration just wasn’t able to get any influential Israel supporters to join its efforts.

But the new strategy indicates that something – perhaps internal polling data or problems with key pro-Israel donors – is suddenly making the Obama campaign very concerned about losing Jewish supporters.

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When Hugo Chavez passes on…

I certainly won’t shed a tear should Hugo Chavez succumb to cancer. Instead, I will look at his passing as an opportunity to bring accountability to the policy and intelligence community. Just as during the Cold War, there were anti-communists and anti-anti-communists, today the same dynamic is in play when it comes to counter-terrorism and counter-proliferation. Too many academics and analysts have dismissed the growing cooperation between Iran and Venezuela. Behind-the-scenes, Chavez has allegedly even provided a safe-zone for Iran to conduct some nuclear work.  There’s that persistent problem of the Iranian-built tractor factory in Venezuela which has never produced a tractor, but somehow merits imposition of a no-fly zone over its facilities.

When Hugo Chavez dies, we will finally have a reckoning for analysts. Who was right? Who was wrong? Who dismissed reports of Iranian involvement in Venezuela and who turned a blind eye to the fact Iran might work with other rogue leaders to farm out nuclear work. Alternately, were those concerned about Iran’s behavior simply alarmists in their analysis?

On a broader scale, however, it’s time for those who fancy themselves counter-proliferation experts as well as the anti-counter-proliferation (i.e., anti-sanctions) side to have a serious discussion: Chavez’s death may lead to a treasure trove of new intelligence about Iran’s activities and intentions. If Iranian activities in Venezuela were meant to augment Iranian terrorism or the Islamic Republic’s nuclear capabilities, what should be the consequences for Iran and for U.S. diplomacy? Will those who until this time seek to give the benefit of the doubt to Iran’s regime commit themselves to broader, perhaps even regime-crippling sanctions? Can we finally put aside this fiction that Iran’s nuclear program is meant only for civilian energy purposes? Will it be time to have a serious discussion about the need for regime change in Iran?

I certainly won’t shed a tear should Hugo Chavez succumb to cancer. Instead, I will look at his passing as an opportunity to bring accountability to the policy and intelligence community. Just as during the Cold War, there were anti-communists and anti-anti-communists, today the same dynamic is in play when it comes to counter-terrorism and counter-proliferation. Too many academics and analysts have dismissed the growing cooperation between Iran and Venezuela. Behind-the-scenes, Chavez has allegedly even provided a safe-zone for Iran to conduct some nuclear work.  There’s that persistent problem of the Iranian-built tractor factory in Venezuela which has never produced a tractor, but somehow merits imposition of a no-fly zone over its facilities.

When Hugo Chavez dies, we will finally have a reckoning for analysts. Who was right? Who was wrong? Who dismissed reports of Iranian involvement in Venezuela and who turned a blind eye to the fact Iran might work with other rogue leaders to farm out nuclear work. Alternately, were those concerned about Iran’s behavior simply alarmists in their analysis?

On a broader scale, however, it’s time for those who fancy themselves counter-proliferation experts as well as the anti-counter-proliferation (i.e., anti-sanctions) side to have a serious discussion: Chavez’s death may lead to a treasure trove of new intelligence about Iran’s activities and intentions. If Iranian activities in Venezuela were meant to augment Iranian terrorism or the Islamic Republic’s nuclear capabilities, what should be the consequences for Iran and for U.S. diplomacy? Will those who until this time seek to give the benefit of the doubt to Iran’s regime commit themselves to broader, perhaps even regime-crippling sanctions? Can we finally put aside this fiction that Iran’s nuclear program is meant only for civilian energy purposes? Will it be time to have a serious discussion about the need for regime change in Iran?

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Rove to GOP Candidates: Don’t Get into the Mud with Obama

Karl Rove, writing in the Wall Street Journal yesterday, zeroes in on the key weakness of President Obama’s tenuous reelection strategy. Without being able to tout substantive achievements on the economic front, Obama’s chance at victory relies on making Americans too frightened or disgusted to vote for his opponent:

It won’t be easy. Mr. Obama can’t win re-election by trumpeting his achievements. And he has decided against offering a bold agenda for a second term: That was evident in his State of the Union emphasis on high-speed rail, high-speed Internet and “countless” green jobs.

Instead, backed by a brutally efficient opposition research unit, the president will use focus-group tested lines of attack to disqualify the Republican nominee by questioning his or her values, intentions and intelligence.

As Rove points out, Obama has so far been unable to pitch innovative solutions for his second term. This could not have been clearer than at the president’s press conference yesterday, when he basically called for another stimulus plan – even though the first one has not succeeded at reinvigorating the economy, and even though the nation is in the throes of a deficit crisis.

But there’s another point to be made here. Rove notes Obama “could have enjoyed the advantage of incumbency—with its power to set the agenda and dominate the stage—until next spring when the GOP nomination will be settled. Instead he prematurely abandoned the stance of an assured public leader to become an aggressive political candidate.”

Obama is in his element when he’s a candidate, not when he’s serving as an elected official — possibly because he finds public office boring, as the book Game Change reported. Because he has climbed the Washington ladder so quickly, his political victories have never really been based on his accomplishments, and he’s also never campaigned as an incumbent (other than getting reelected as a state senator). So while he did run an excellent campaign in 2008, it will be very difficult for him to replicate that in 2012.

Karl Rove, writing in the Wall Street Journal yesterday, zeroes in on the key weakness of President Obama’s tenuous reelection strategy. Without being able to tout substantive achievements on the economic front, Obama’s chance at victory relies on making Americans too frightened or disgusted to vote for his opponent:

It won’t be easy. Mr. Obama can’t win re-election by trumpeting his achievements. And he has decided against offering a bold agenda for a second term: That was evident in his State of the Union emphasis on high-speed rail, high-speed Internet and “countless” green jobs.

Instead, backed by a brutally efficient opposition research unit, the president will use focus-group tested lines of attack to disqualify the Republican nominee by questioning his or her values, intentions and intelligence.

As Rove points out, Obama has so far been unable to pitch innovative solutions for his second term. This could not have been clearer than at the president’s press conference yesterday, when he basically called for another stimulus plan – even though the first one has not succeeded at reinvigorating the economy, and even though the nation is in the throes of a deficit crisis.

But there’s another point to be made here. Rove notes Obama “could have enjoyed the advantage of incumbency—with its power to set the agenda and dominate the stage—until next spring when the GOP nomination will be settled. Instead he prematurely abandoned the stance of an assured public leader to become an aggressive political candidate.”

Obama is in his element when he’s a candidate, not when he’s serving as an elected official — possibly because he finds public office boring, as the book Game Change reported. Because he has climbed the Washington ladder so quickly, his political victories have never really been based on his accomplishments, and he’s also never campaigned as an incumbent (other than getting reelected as a state senator). So while he did run an excellent campaign in 2008, it will be very difficult for him to replicate that in 2012.

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A Challenge to Yale University on Anti-Semitism

Yale University’s decision to shutter the Yale Initiative for the Interdisciplinary Study of Antisemitism (YIISA) has been well-covered here at Commentary and elsewhere, so I don’t want to re-hash what everyone else has said. When living in Yale’s bubble, every decision may appear without consequence, but it is not: I just returned from a 10-day speaking tour in Australia and was surprised on my last day to be asked about the matter during a talk in Sydney.

That Yale officials explained the shut-down of YIISA by arguing it was too political is undercut by the pronouncements made by those applauding its closure. “The reason [for YIISA’s lack of success] was that it was political, had a strong political orientation,” sociology professor Jeffrey Alexander told the Yale Daily News. “[This orientation] was to defend the policies of the current conservative government [of Israel], and the whole post ‘67 tendency of Israel’s foreign policy, which is to occupy conquered territories, to continue the settlement movement.” Read More

Yale University’s decision to shutter the Yale Initiative for the Interdisciplinary Study of Antisemitism (YIISA) has been well-covered here at Commentary and elsewhere, so I don’t want to re-hash what everyone else has said. When living in Yale’s bubble, every decision may appear without consequence, but it is not: I just returned from a 10-day speaking tour in Australia and was surprised on my last day to be asked about the matter during a talk in Sydney.

That Yale officials explained the shut-down of YIISA by arguing it was too political is undercut by the pronouncements made by those applauding its closure. “The reason [for YIISA’s lack of success] was that it was political, had a strong political orientation,” sociology professor Jeffrey Alexander told the Yale Daily News. “[This orientation] was to defend the policies of the current conservative government [of Israel], and the whole post ‘67 tendency of Israel’s foreign policy, which is to occupy conquered territories, to continue the settlement movement.”

While Yale professors pat themselves on the back for their internationalist focus, too often their experience of the world derives from the New York Times and not from direct experience in countries like Pakistan, Turkey, Iran, or various Arab states for which anti-Semitism is as common as bread and butter. What may surprise Alexander is that the pogroms in 19th century Iran had nothing to do with Israel. They had everything to do with hatred of Jews.

Alas, anti-Semitism in the Middle East is a trend that continues. Ayatollah Khomeini’s writings are replete with venom toward Jews. Seldom do senior Iranian officials today limit their animus toward Israelis rather than world Jewry. Hence, Ali Mohammad Ramin, a press advisor to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, explains, Among the Jews there have always been those who killed God’s prophets and who opposed justice and righteousness. Historically, there are many accusations against the Jews. For example, it was said that they were the source for such deadly diseases as the plague and typhus. This is because the Jews are very filthy people. For a time people also said that they poisoned water wells belonging to Christians and thus killed them.

Likewise, in 2005, Iranian Ayatollah Nuri Hamadani declared, “One should fight the Jews and vanquish them so that the conditions for the advent of the Hidden Imam will be met.” Elsewhere, he explained, “Already from the beginning the Jews wanted to hoard the world’s goods in [their] greed and voracity. They always worked in important professions and now they have hoarded all of the wealth in one place. And all of the world, especially America and Europe, are their slaves.”  Alexander might not believe it, but Hamadani wasn’t talking about Netanyahu or settlements. Simply put, Israel isn’t the cause of anti-Semitism; efforts to de-legitimize Israel are simply a symptom.

Anyway, against the backdrop of the university’s decision to shut down the Institute and replace it with a program limited to the study of anti-Semitism against dead Jews rather than their living counterparts, and Yale University’s simultaneous efforts to raise funds from Arab countries (most recently $500,000 from Bahrain), perhaps it’s time Yale University to declare whether the programs, departments, and centers in which committee members judging YIISA sit have at any time in the past or present raised funds or sought to raise funds from countries or regions which YIISA has criticized.

Yale’s commitment to academic freedom and transparency requires no less. We will await Yale’s answer.

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Is Obama Really that Different from Kucinich?

During the last few days, Congressman Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) has visited Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in Damascus, sung the dictator’s praises, issued a statement insisting he was misquoted, and was then caught in a lie when a video of Kucinich appeared in English on Syrian television.

Alas, if a story in The Guardian is correct, it appears the Obama administration really has no more moral grounding on Syria than the gadfly congressman. In its effort to find a solution to the unrest in Syria, the Obama administration appears to be pushing a plan to keep the murderous dictator in power. According to The Guardian’s report:

The U.S. is pushing the Syrian opposition to maintain dialogue with Bashar al-Assad’s regime as details emerge of a controversial “roadmap” for reforms that would leave him in power for now despite demands for his overthrow during the country’s bloody three-month uprising… Quiet US interest in the roadmap dovetails with public demands from Washington that Assad reform or step down. Robert Ford, the U.S. ambassador, has been urging opposition figures to talk to the regime, said Radwan Ziadeh, a leading exile, who insisted the strategy would not work. “They are asking Bashar to lead the transition and this is not acceptable to the protesters,” he said. “It is too late.”

There could be no worse signal the Obama administration could send to the Syrian people and broader Arab population elsewhere than to throw a lifeline to a disgraced dictator who has lost all legitimacy at home and abroad. Nor is maintaining Assad in power in U.S. national interests: Assad cannot be trusted; he is a serial violator of agreements. He appears personally involved in the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Premier Rafik Hariri, has embraced and sponsored numerous terrorist groups which target civilians and seek to undermine Middle East peace; transformed Syria into a highway for terrorists targeting Iraqis and Americans working to rebuild that shattered country; and has become an extension of Iranian interests along the Mediterranean. It is time the man occupying the Oval Office begin to ground American policy in U.S. national interests, not in the moral compromises which his top advisers might believe sophisticated but which undercut American interests among Syrians and others struggling to be free.

During the last few days, Congressman Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) has visited Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in Damascus, sung the dictator’s praises, issued a statement insisting he was misquoted, and was then caught in a lie when a video of Kucinich appeared in English on Syrian television.

Alas, if a story in The Guardian is correct, it appears the Obama administration really has no more moral grounding on Syria than the gadfly congressman. In its effort to find a solution to the unrest in Syria, the Obama administration appears to be pushing a plan to keep the murderous dictator in power. According to The Guardian’s report:

The U.S. is pushing the Syrian opposition to maintain dialogue with Bashar al-Assad’s regime as details emerge of a controversial “roadmap” for reforms that would leave him in power for now despite demands for his overthrow during the country’s bloody three-month uprising… Quiet US interest in the roadmap dovetails with public demands from Washington that Assad reform or step down. Robert Ford, the U.S. ambassador, has been urging opposition figures to talk to the regime, said Radwan Ziadeh, a leading exile, who insisted the strategy would not work. “They are asking Bashar to lead the transition and this is not acceptable to the protesters,” he said. “It is too late.”

There could be no worse signal the Obama administration could send to the Syrian people and broader Arab population elsewhere than to throw a lifeline to a disgraced dictator who has lost all legitimacy at home and abroad. Nor is maintaining Assad in power in U.S. national interests: Assad cannot be trusted; he is a serial violator of agreements. He appears personally involved in the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Premier Rafik Hariri, has embraced and sponsored numerous terrorist groups which target civilians and seek to undermine Middle East peace; transformed Syria into a highway for terrorists targeting Iraqis and Americans working to rebuild that shattered country; and has become an extension of Iranian interests along the Mediterranean. It is time the man occupying the Oval Office begin to ground American policy in U.S. national interests, not in the moral compromises which his top advisers might believe sophisticated but which undercut American interests among Syrians and others struggling to be free.

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Is it Fair to Criticize Obama on the Economy?

With my tongue firmly in-cheek, I wonder whether Peter Wehner isn’t being a little bit harsh in his assessment of President Obama’s handling of the economy. After all, while it is true 2.5 million fewer Americans are employed than when Obama was sworn in, Obama promised both to create and save jobs. Shouldn’t the promise to save jobs count for anything?

Certainly, tens of millions Americans remain employed despite greater debt and more onerous regulation. If only one American retains his job despite onerous government regulation, poorly timed government intervention, and the uncertainty created by an ever more complicated tax code, then we must applaud Obama.  Further, Peter unfairly judges Obama on his record in just 50 states.  He conveniently ignores the fact Obama has promised to be president for all 57 states. The economy in those other seven states—the ones without socialized health care, lower tax rates, and less stimulus spending—is probably much better.  All you have to do is consider the chart on which Obama campaigned.

Peter also castigates the president for a record $1.65 trillion deficit this year and a record $14.3 trillion debt. But during his campaign, Obama told Joe the Plumber, “I think when you spread the wealth around, it’s good for everybody.” The press simply failed to pick up on the fact Obama was using “everybody” as a term of affection for China. And, even if we must pay more taxes than we can afford, and impede the American economy in the process, raising any concern is simply “selfish,” as Vice President Joe Biden explained.

So what if the government is encroaching on whole industries in a manner which deleteriously impacts both the health and the finances of ordinary Americans?  In the words of the president, “UPS and FedEx are doing just fine, right? It’s the Post Office that’s always having problems.”  Well, let’s not think about the implication of that statement too much.

By judging Obama on his record rather than on his rhetoric and by providing a factual basis to the frustration that comes from seeing the American treasury and American taxpayers pillaged, J’accuse Peter: Perhaps he is one of those Americans who, in the words of our president, “cling to guns or religion” more than worship at the idol of the president. If only we had more of them–although, I suspect we will come 2012.

With my tongue firmly in-cheek, I wonder whether Peter Wehner isn’t being a little bit harsh in his assessment of President Obama’s handling of the economy. After all, while it is true 2.5 million fewer Americans are employed than when Obama was sworn in, Obama promised both to create and save jobs. Shouldn’t the promise to save jobs count for anything?

Certainly, tens of millions Americans remain employed despite greater debt and more onerous regulation. If only one American retains his job despite onerous government regulation, poorly timed government intervention, and the uncertainty created by an ever more complicated tax code, then we must applaud Obama.  Further, Peter unfairly judges Obama on his record in just 50 states.  He conveniently ignores the fact Obama has promised to be president for all 57 states. The economy in those other seven states—the ones without socialized health care, lower tax rates, and less stimulus spending—is probably much better.  All you have to do is consider the chart on which Obama campaigned.

Peter also castigates the president for a record $1.65 trillion deficit this year and a record $14.3 trillion debt. But during his campaign, Obama told Joe the Plumber, “I think when you spread the wealth around, it’s good for everybody.” The press simply failed to pick up on the fact Obama was using “everybody” as a term of affection for China. And, even if we must pay more taxes than we can afford, and impede the American economy in the process, raising any concern is simply “selfish,” as Vice President Joe Biden explained.

So what if the government is encroaching on whole industries in a manner which deleteriously impacts both the health and the finances of ordinary Americans?  In the words of the president, “UPS and FedEx are doing just fine, right? It’s the Post Office that’s always having problems.”  Well, let’s not think about the implication of that statement too much.

By judging Obama on his record rather than on his rhetoric and by providing a factual basis to the frustration that comes from seeing the American treasury and American taxpayers pillaged, J’accuse Peter: Perhaps he is one of those Americans who, in the words of our president, “cling to guns or religion” more than worship at the idol of the president. If only we had more of them–although, I suspect we will come 2012.

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Global Warming Activists Now Ruining July 4, Too

The most irritating aspect of climate change movement is that activists use it as an excuse to try to micromanage all aspects of our lives. Take, for example, this column in the New York Times, asking readers to consider changing their July 4th festivities in order to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions. According to the writer, food is responsible for 10 to 30 percent of these emissions – and so the responsible thing to do is make sacrifices with our cooking on Independence Day:

Fourth of July, the national celebration of combustion, presents an opportunity for atonement.

I’m not advising you to forsake grilling this holiday and join the ranks of raw-foodists. Nor do I believe that we can reverse climate change by eating burgers rare instead of well done. But a little creative thinking can reduce this year’s Fourth of July carbon emissions without gustatory sacrifice. And maybe that awareness will carry into other days and other parts of our lives.

The author goes on to suggest we fry the potatoes for our potato salad instead of boiling them (sacrilege!), use recycled charcoal briquettes and replace apple pie with plain grilled fruit.

Forget the fact these alterations would have such a miniscule impact of greenhouse gas emissions that it would be completely irrelevant. Is it any coincidence that the Fourth of July, the most patriotic of all of our holidays, is the event being targeted here? There are plenty of Earth Day barbecues the New York Times might be better off opposing. And at least the Earth Day crowd might actually listen.

The most irritating aspect of climate change movement is that activists use it as an excuse to try to micromanage all aspects of our lives. Take, for example, this column in the New York Times, asking readers to consider changing their July 4th festivities in order to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions. According to the writer, food is responsible for 10 to 30 percent of these emissions – and so the responsible thing to do is make sacrifices with our cooking on Independence Day:

Fourth of July, the national celebration of combustion, presents an opportunity for atonement.

I’m not advising you to forsake grilling this holiday and join the ranks of raw-foodists. Nor do I believe that we can reverse climate change by eating burgers rare instead of well done. But a little creative thinking can reduce this year’s Fourth of July carbon emissions without gustatory sacrifice. And maybe that awareness will carry into other days and other parts of our lives.

The author goes on to suggest we fry the potatoes for our potato salad instead of boiling them (sacrilege!), use recycled charcoal briquettes and replace apple pie with plain grilled fruit.

Forget the fact these alterations would have such a miniscule impact of greenhouse gas emissions that it would be completely irrelevant. Is it any coincidence that the Fourth of July, the most patriotic of all of our holidays, is the event being targeted here? There are plenty of Earth Day barbecues the New York Times might be better off opposing. And at least the Earth Day crowd might actually listen.

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Halperin’s Suspension is Much Ado About Very Little

Much of the political/media world is abuzz about MSNBC’s “indefinite suspension” of Mark Halperin, who during his appearance on “Morning Joe” used a (mildly) vulgar phrase to refer to President Obama.

It seems to me the punishment is too severe, in part because of extenuating circumstances. As you can see from the video clip, there was a lot of banter going on and Halperin was under the (mistaken) impression that a seven-second delay would keep his comment from being broadcast. In addition, Halperin, once he realized what happened, offered an unqualified and heartfelt apology. Beyond that, though, is the fact that what Halperin said – which virtually everyone agrees wasn’t terribly tasteful – was anomalous. He’s typically fairly careful, precise, and measured in his words. (Here’s Halperin on Charlie Rose earlier this week.) 

In situations like this, people need to be judged by the totality of their acts. And Halperin is, I think, an impressive reporter, someone whom I take seriously even when I disagree with his analysis. (The book he co-authored about the 2008 election, Game Change, was outstanding). I would only add this: if MSNBC could for years provide a home for and a microphone to Keith Olbermann, it can certainly forgive Mark Halperin for his momentary (and unusual) lapse in judgment.

This is much ado about, if not nothing, then about very little at all.

Much of the political/media world is abuzz about MSNBC’s “indefinite suspension” of Mark Halperin, who during his appearance on “Morning Joe” used a (mildly) vulgar phrase to refer to President Obama.

It seems to me the punishment is too severe, in part because of extenuating circumstances. As you can see from the video clip, there was a lot of banter going on and Halperin was under the (mistaken) impression that a seven-second delay would keep his comment from being broadcast. In addition, Halperin, once he realized what happened, offered an unqualified and heartfelt apology. Beyond that, though, is the fact that what Halperin said – which virtually everyone agrees wasn’t terribly tasteful – was anomalous. He’s typically fairly careful, precise, and measured in his words. (Here’s Halperin on Charlie Rose earlier this week.) 

In situations like this, people need to be judged by the totality of their acts. And Halperin is, I think, an impressive reporter, someone whom I take seriously even when I disagree with his analysis. (The book he co-authored about the 2008 election, Game Change, was outstanding). I would only add this: if MSNBC could for years provide a home for and a microphone to Keith Olbermann, it can certainly forgive Mark Halperin for his momentary (and unusual) lapse in judgment.

This is much ado about, if not nothing, then about very little at all.

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Obama Misses Another Chance to Help Syrian Opposition

Hillary Clinton’s latest comments on Syria are not only a travesty, but a tragedy. The travesty is self-evident. Bashar al-Assad’s regime has killed more than 1,400 of its own citizens, detained more than 10,000 and displaced tens of thousands; it has laid brutal siege to its own cities, depriving them of water and electricity for days on end; it has hideously tortured 13-year-old boys – and all the secretary of state can find to say is Assad is “running out of time” to start “a serious political process”? What further brutality does the Syrian regime have to commit for Barack Obama’s government to acknowledge it can’t be reformed, it can only be replaced?

The tragedy is that this pusillanimity actually reduces the likelihood of Assad’s regime being replaced with something better. Last month, Haaretz’s Arab affairs analyst reported the Syrian opposition’s main goal was to get the West, and especially Washington, to come out clearly against Assad, because it believed a U.S. demand for Assad’s departure would encourage Syrian army officers to switch sides. And without the army’s support, Assad couldn’t survive.

Whether opposition activists are right in this assessment of Washington’s influence is unclear. But since they know the Syrian regime better than any Westerner does, it can hardly be dismissed out of hand.

Nor are Syrian activists alone in thinking the U.S. president can make a difference via his bully pulpit: During the mass demonstrations by Iran’s Green Movement in 2009, demonstrators reportedly chanted, “Obama: either with the murderers or with us.” Then too, those on the front lines clearly thought his public support would help them. Again, nobody knows if they were right. But we do know Obama refused; he never openly backed the demonstrators. And we also know the revolution subsequently failed.

 In contrast, Obama did explicitly demand Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s resignation quite early into Egypt’s revolution. And that revolution succeeded; Mubarak was ousted (though whether Egypt will now be a better place remains an open question).

What makes this behavior so bizarre is that Mubarak, for all his faults, was an American ally, whereas Syria’s government, like Iran’s, is an implacable American enemy. Damascus is Tehran’s most loyal ally; it gave free passage to terrorists entering Iraq to fight American troops, and by lavishly arming Hezbollah in Lebanon, it enabled Hezbollah to overthrow Saad Hariri’s U.S.-backed government. Thus, by demanding Mubarak’s ouster, Obama risked alienating an ally if the revolution failed. But siding with the Syrian or Iranian opposition would risk nothing. Both countries’ existing governments work tirelessly to thwart U.S. interests anyway, so things could hardly get worse.

Often, America must choose between its interests and its values. But in Syria, the two are perfectly aligned. Obama is opting to be on the wrong side of both.             

Hillary Clinton’s latest comments on Syria are not only a travesty, but a tragedy. The travesty is self-evident. Bashar al-Assad’s regime has killed more than 1,400 of its own citizens, detained more than 10,000 and displaced tens of thousands; it has laid brutal siege to its own cities, depriving them of water and electricity for days on end; it has hideously tortured 13-year-old boys – and all the secretary of state can find to say is Assad is “running out of time” to start “a serious political process”? What further brutality does the Syrian regime have to commit for Barack Obama’s government to acknowledge it can’t be reformed, it can only be replaced?

The tragedy is that this pusillanimity actually reduces the likelihood of Assad’s regime being replaced with something better. Last month, Haaretz’s Arab affairs analyst reported the Syrian opposition’s main goal was to get the West, and especially Washington, to come out clearly against Assad, because it believed a U.S. demand for Assad’s departure would encourage Syrian army officers to switch sides. And without the army’s support, Assad couldn’t survive.

Whether opposition activists are right in this assessment of Washington’s influence is unclear. But since they know the Syrian regime better than any Westerner does, it can hardly be dismissed out of hand.

Nor are Syrian activists alone in thinking the U.S. president can make a difference via his bully pulpit: During the mass demonstrations by Iran’s Green Movement in 2009, demonstrators reportedly chanted, “Obama: either with the murderers or with us.” Then too, those on the front lines clearly thought his public support would help them. Again, nobody knows if they were right. But we do know Obama refused; he never openly backed the demonstrators. And we also know the revolution subsequently failed.

 In contrast, Obama did explicitly demand Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s resignation quite early into Egypt’s revolution. And that revolution succeeded; Mubarak was ousted (though whether Egypt will now be a better place remains an open question).

What makes this behavior so bizarre is that Mubarak, for all his faults, was an American ally, whereas Syria’s government, like Iran’s, is an implacable American enemy. Damascus is Tehran’s most loyal ally; it gave free passage to terrorists entering Iraq to fight American troops, and by lavishly arming Hezbollah in Lebanon, it enabled Hezbollah to overthrow Saad Hariri’s U.S.-backed government. Thus, by demanding Mubarak’s ouster, Obama risked alienating an ally if the revolution failed. But siding with the Syrian or Iranian opposition would risk nothing. Both countries’ existing governments work tirelessly to thwart U.S. interests anyway, so things could hardly get worse.

Often, America must choose between its interests and its values. But in Syria, the two are perfectly aligned. Obama is opting to be on the wrong side of both.             

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Palestinian Authority Proudly Indoctrinates its Youth Against Peace

If you want to know the real obstacle to Israeli-Palestinian peace, take a look at what Israel’s “peace partner” is doing in the Balata refugee camp near Nablus. Taysir Nasrallah, a senior member of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah party who is currently director-general of the Nablus governor’s office, gave Haaretzreporter Avi Issacharoff a tour of Balata’s seven-year-old community center this week. And while the term “community center” evokes images of peaceful, wholesome activity, what’s actually going on there, by Nasrallah’s own proud account, is anything but:

“We give the kids courses on the right of return and teach them that the Israelis stole their lands. We’ve sent hundreds of camp children into Israel to see the villages and towns that were taken from us. We took them to Jaffa, Ramle.

“Our message is that without a doubt they will return to the places from which they were driven out,” he says.

Jaffa and Ramle aren’t West Bank settlements; they are towns in pre-1967 Israel. And these are the locales Israel’s “peace partner” is teaching Palestinian children to consider their own. Indeed, Issacharoff reported, Nasrallah’s “dream is to have the [community] center move to Jaffa when the day comes”; hence its name: the Jaffa Center. Moreover, children are regularly assigned presentations involving a map of Israel, but “for them it has always been and remains the map of Palestine.” Read More

If you want to know the real obstacle to Israeli-Palestinian peace, take a look at what Israel’s “peace partner” is doing in the Balata refugee camp near Nablus. Taysir Nasrallah, a senior member of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah party who is currently director-general of the Nablus governor’s office, gave Haaretzreporter Avi Issacharoff a tour of Balata’s seven-year-old community center this week. And while the term “community center” evokes images of peaceful, wholesome activity, what’s actually going on there, by Nasrallah’s own proud account, is anything but:

“We give the kids courses on the right of return and teach them that the Israelis stole their lands. We’ve sent hundreds of camp children into Israel to see the villages and towns that were taken from us. We took them to Jaffa, Ramle.

“Our message is that without a doubt they will return to the places from which they were driven out,” he says.

Jaffa and Ramle aren’t West Bank settlements; they are towns in pre-1967 Israel. And these are the locales Israel’s “peace partner” is teaching Palestinian children to consider their own. Indeed, Issacharoff reported, Nasrallah’s “dream is to have the [community] center move to Jaffa when the day comes”; hence its name: the Jaffa Center. Moreover, children are regularly assigned presentations involving a map of Israel, but “for them it has always been and remains the map of Palestine.”

Then there’s the fact the children are being taught “Israelis stole their lands” – in other words, that Jews have no right to a state in any portion of what is today Israel; they are thieves who must be stripped of their ill-gotten gains. That’s hardly a message conducive to peaceful coexistence.

Nor is the effort to indoctrinate them into demanding a “right of return” – a euphemism for flooding pre-1967 Israel with 4.8 million Palestinian  refugees and their descendants who, together with Israel’s  1.6 million Arab citizens, would outnumber its 5.8 million Jews and turn the Jewish state into a second Palestinian one (the first being the judenrein Palestinian state slated for the West Bank and Gaza).

 And remember, this isn’t Hamas conducting these indoctrination sessions: It’s Israel’s “peace partner,” the “moderate” Fatah-led Palestinian Authority. Moreover, the PA is targeting precisely those youths it sees as future leaders. Just this week, Issacharoff reported, 35 children completed a leadership course at the center.

It ought to be obvious peace will never be possible as long as even Palestinian “moderates” insist Jews have no right to statehood in any part of this land, that Palestinians should seek to obtain pre-1967 Israel as well as the West Bank and Gaza, and that pre-1967 Israel should become another Arab-majority state instead of a Jewish one. Indeed, this is obvious to most Israelis; that’s why Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu keeps reiterating that Palestinian recognition of Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state is the key to peace.

Unfortunately, most Westerners still don’t seem to get it, and that’s precisely why all their efforts to broker a deal keep failing. To solve any problem, you first have to acknowledge its existence.

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Abbas Continues to Play His Double Game

Palestinian Authority head Mahmoud Abbas was in The Hague yesterday to speak to the Dutch parliament, and, as is his wont when speaking to Western audiences, was careful to strike a moderate tone.

Abbas claimed his attempt to bypass peace negotiations by asking the United Nations to recognize an independent Palestinian state without it recognizing Israel or agreeing to the end the conflict was no barrier to further talks. Indeed, he said the effort was not meant “to dismiss or delegitimize Israel.” The Palestinian leader said it was all very simple: “We recognize Israel. They should recognize Palestine.”

But the problem is whenever he has actually been asked to sign a piece of paper to that effect, Abbas has always refused. He also continues to refuse to recognize Israel as the Jewish state, yet he wants Israel to recognize a Palestinian state. And the media he controls via the Palestinian Authority broadcasts and publishes a non-stop barrage of anti-Zionist and anti-Semitic propaganda designed to please a public that will not tolerate any peace agreement, no matter where Israel’s borders are drawn.

If Abbas were to make a speech about his desire to recognize Israel before his own parliament, then that would be something worth talking about. But since he not only has failed to do that but also has recently signed a coalition agreement with the Hamas terrorist group that is committed to Israel’s destruction, it’s hard to take this latest Palestinian charm offensive seriously.

Palestinian Authority head Mahmoud Abbas was in The Hague yesterday to speak to the Dutch parliament, and, as is his wont when speaking to Western audiences, was careful to strike a moderate tone.

Abbas claimed his attempt to bypass peace negotiations by asking the United Nations to recognize an independent Palestinian state without it recognizing Israel or agreeing to the end the conflict was no barrier to further talks. Indeed, he said the effort was not meant “to dismiss or delegitimize Israel.” The Palestinian leader said it was all very simple: “We recognize Israel. They should recognize Palestine.”

But the problem is whenever he has actually been asked to sign a piece of paper to that effect, Abbas has always refused. He also continues to refuse to recognize Israel as the Jewish state, yet he wants Israel to recognize a Palestinian state. And the media he controls via the Palestinian Authority broadcasts and publishes a non-stop barrage of anti-Zionist and anti-Semitic propaganda designed to please a public that will not tolerate any peace agreement, no matter where Israel’s borders are drawn.

If Abbas were to make a speech about his desire to recognize Israel before his own parliament, then that would be something worth talking about. But since he not only has failed to do that but also has recently signed a coalition agreement with the Hamas terrorist group that is committed to Israel’s destruction, it’s hard to take this latest Palestinian charm offensive seriously.

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Were You Waiting for Thaddeus McCotter?

Many Republicans have spent most of this year complaining about the existing field of GOP presidential candidates and imploring a savior to jump into the race. Paul Ryan, Chris Christie, Mitch Daniels and lately Rick Perry have been the focus of the hopes and prayers of anxious Republicans. But today the question must be asked: How many of you were waiting for Thaddeus McCotter?

The Michigan congressman is set to file paperwork today for a presidential run few anticipated. It is a wide-open field, and it is understandable why anyone with the presidential bug might give it a try. But while the other candidates have their own problems, it would be difficult to imagine a Republican with less national name recognition than McCotter.

It’s not clear how or why McCotter thinks he can win. But he does have one factor going for him. The hottest conservative media figure in the country likes him. According to Politico, Andrew Breitbart gushed about a potential McCotter candidacy in May, calling him “blunt, sarcastic, pop-culture-savvy, constitutionally sound and an authentic voice.”

Until we learn more about him, I guess we’ll have to take Breitbart’s word for it.

Many Republicans have spent most of this year complaining about the existing field of GOP presidential candidates and imploring a savior to jump into the race. Paul Ryan, Chris Christie, Mitch Daniels and lately Rick Perry have been the focus of the hopes and prayers of anxious Republicans. But today the question must be asked: How many of you were waiting for Thaddeus McCotter?

The Michigan congressman is set to file paperwork today for a presidential run few anticipated. It is a wide-open field, and it is understandable why anyone with the presidential bug might give it a try. But while the other candidates have their own problems, it would be difficult to imagine a Republican with less national name recognition than McCotter.

It’s not clear how or why McCotter thinks he can win. But he does have one factor going for him. The hottest conservative media figure in the country likes him. According to Politico, Andrew Breitbart gushed about a potential McCotter candidacy in May, calling him “blunt, sarcastic, pop-culture-savvy, constitutionally sound and an authentic voice.”

Until we learn more about him, I guess we’ll have to take Breitbart’s word for it.

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Something Fishy at CAIR?

Politico is reporting the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) has not only lost its non-profit status but is stonewalling media requests for their annual tax disclosure forms.

As the Investigative Project reported last week, CAIR was one of 275,000 previously tax-exempt groups purged by the Internal Revenue Service for failing to file annual reports detailing their donations and expenditures for three consecutive years. Those groups that had their non-profit status stripped away can apply for re-instatement.

CAIR came into existence as a political front for the Holy Land Foundation, a group that raised money for Hamas in the United States. The federal government shut down that group because fundraising for terrorists just happens to be illegal. The group was named as an unindicted co-conspirator in the federal charges against the Holy Land organizers.

For more than a decade, CAIR has masqueraded as a mainstream civil rights group defending Muslims. But its pro-terror origins betray its anti-Israel agenda. It has also counseled American Muslims to refuse to cooperate with law enforcement agencies seeking to ferret out domestic terror cells and those who aid and abet them.

While CAIR wouldn’t be the first group to run afoul of government regulations for non-profits, it’s worth asking what they had to hide by refusing requests from both the Nashville Tennessean and Politico for information about their activities.

Politico is reporting the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) has not only lost its non-profit status but is stonewalling media requests for their annual tax disclosure forms.

As the Investigative Project reported last week, CAIR was one of 275,000 previously tax-exempt groups purged by the Internal Revenue Service for failing to file annual reports detailing their donations and expenditures for three consecutive years. Those groups that had their non-profit status stripped away can apply for re-instatement.

CAIR came into existence as a political front for the Holy Land Foundation, a group that raised money for Hamas in the United States. The federal government shut down that group because fundraising for terrorists just happens to be illegal. The group was named as an unindicted co-conspirator in the federal charges against the Holy Land organizers.

For more than a decade, CAIR has masqueraded as a mainstream civil rights group defending Muslims. But its pro-terror origins betray its anti-Israel agenda. It has also counseled American Muslims to refuse to cooperate with law enforcement agencies seeking to ferret out domestic terror cells and those who aid and abet them.

While CAIR wouldn’t be the first group to run afoul of government regulations for non-profits, it’s worth asking what they had to hide by refusing requests from both the Nashville Tennessean and Politico for information about their activities.

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Assessing the Money Primary

With several months to go before any votes are cast, all we can do until then is count money, and with the end of the second fiscal quarter last night, that is exactly what the presidential candidates and their staffs are doing today. We’ll learn a lot more about the exact tally on July 15, when the campaigns will be required to say not only how much they raised in the last three months but also how much they spent and borrowed. Until then, all we have to go on is leaks and guesses.

But whatever the exact totals may be, there is little question the leader in the GOP money primary is the same one who is currently ahead in the polls: Mitt Romney. The former Massachusetts governor is believed to have brought in between $15 and $20 million. It’s an impressive achievement when you consider it’s around the same number he had four years ago when the economy was doing a lot better.

Tim Pawlenty is thought to have brought in only a quarter of Romney’s haul. That $5 million is nothing to sneeze at, but the problem for Pawlenty is, unlike Romney or Jon Huntsman, he has no vast personal fortune to fall back upon in a pinch. As for Huntsman, although he’s only been actively running for a few weeks, he is believed to have taken in more than $4 million. But don’t get too excited. Half of it is said to be seed money he gifted to himself.

The biggest question mark in the money primary is the candidate who has been on the upswing in recent weeks: Michele Bachmann. There appear to be no firm rumors or leaks about her totals. The one thing we do know about her financial situation is her grass roots support gives her a vast audience of small donors who can easily make up for the fact she can’t count on the same backing from the financial industry and other sectors of big business that have stepped up for Romney.

But however well or badly any of the individual candidates are doing, there are two factors to be aware of.

Read More

With several months to go before any votes are cast, all we can do until then is count money, and with the end of the second fiscal quarter last night, that is exactly what the presidential candidates and their staffs are doing today. We’ll learn a lot more about the exact tally on July 15, when the campaigns will be required to say not only how much they raised in the last three months but also how much they spent and borrowed. Until then, all we have to go on is leaks and guesses.

But whatever the exact totals may be, there is little question the leader in the GOP money primary is the same one who is currently ahead in the polls: Mitt Romney. The former Massachusetts governor is believed to have brought in between $15 and $20 million. It’s an impressive achievement when you consider it’s around the same number he had four years ago when the economy was doing a lot better.

Tim Pawlenty is thought to have brought in only a quarter of Romney’s haul. That $5 million is nothing to sneeze at, but the problem for Pawlenty is, unlike Romney or Jon Huntsman, he has no vast personal fortune to fall back upon in a pinch. As for Huntsman, although he’s only been actively running for a few weeks, he is believed to have taken in more than $4 million. But don’t get too excited. Half of it is said to be seed money he gifted to himself.

The biggest question mark in the money primary is the candidate who has been on the upswing in recent weeks: Michele Bachmann. There appear to be no firm rumors or leaks about her totals. The one thing we do know about her financial situation is her grass roots support gives her a vast audience of small donors who can easily make up for the fact she can’t count on the same backing from the financial industry and other sectors of big business that have stepped up for Romney.

But however well or badly any of the individual candidates are doing, there are two factors to be aware of.

The first is there is clearly less money being donated to GOP candidates in this presidential election cycle than in the last go round. You can place some of the blame for this on a worse economy than they one we were enjoying in 2007. But there is also the fact that, at least up until now, none of the Republicans have generated the excitement that might drive a big fundraising number.

The second is while the Republicans squabble and beat the bushes for a smaller pool of GOP donations than in the last election, Barack Obama is still way ahead of them in terms of money raised. Republicans can point to all the bad economic statistics and Obama’s abysmal poll numbers and be encouraged about their chances for 2012. But Obama is still the president and has not been shy about taking advantage of his incumbency to rake in cash. His goal for the last quarter was a staggering $60 million, and there’ every chance he met that objective. Which just shows no matter who comes out ahead in the Republican dust-up, they will have their hands full attempting to compete against a Democratic president who may wind up raising more than $1 billion in 2012.

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