Commentary Magazine


Posts For: July 5, 2011

Have We Been Too Quick to Dismiss Huntsman?

It would be an understatement to say Jon Huntsman’s presidential candidacy has been greeted with skepticism here at Contentions. But some of our readers think we’ve been a bit too quick to dismiss him. Others want to know why I left him out of my survey of how Jewish voters might view the various Republican candidates.

As for the latter point, it is true I left out a discussion of Huntsman’s Jewish appeal from that piece, although to be fair it should be noted I also failed to mention Rick Santorum, Herman Cain and Ron Paul.

Nevertheless, to give Huntsman his due, let me quote from an e-mail from one of his supporters, Stephen Richer, a native of Sandy, Utah, who now works at a Washington, D.C., think tank. Richer writes: Read More

It would be an understatement to say Jon Huntsman’s presidential candidacy has been greeted with skepticism here at Contentions. But some of our readers think we’ve been a bit too quick to dismiss him. Others want to know why I left him out of my survey of how Jewish voters might view the various Republican candidates.

As for the latter point, it is true I left out a discussion of Huntsman’s Jewish appeal from that piece, although to be fair it should be noted I also failed to mention Rick Santorum, Herman Cain and Ron Paul.

Nevertheless, to give Huntsman his due, let me quote from an e-mail from one of his supporters, Stephen Richer, a native of Sandy, Utah, who now works at a Washington, D.C., think tank. Richer writes:

In the past two months, Jon Huntsman has become a favorite topic of the COMMENTARY blog.  Three authors (Jonathan S. Tobin, Alana Goodman, and Pete Wehner) have together tallied over ten Huntsman commentaries.  But only one perspective has emerged from these posts:  Huntsman is a weak Republican who doesn’t contribute to the primary field. Each of these short posts, however, fixates on side shows (e.g. Huntsman’s relationship with the LDS Church or the past international transactions of his father’s) while missing the point that Huntsman is exactly what the Republican Party and the country need: a highly competent fiscal conservative.

Opinion polls show that an overwhelming majority of Americans rank “the economy” and “jobs” as the top political issue.  Huntsman’s past economic performance speaks of nothing but success.   As governor of Utah, Huntsman signed the largest tax cut ($225 million) in the conservative state’s history, winning him the 2008 Cato Institute tax award and the 2007 Taxpayer Advocate Award; he fought against regulations hampering commerce (including, controversially, some of Utah’s more stringent liquor limitations); and he brought new high-tech businesses to the states.  The result? The American Legislative Exchange Council called Utah the top state for expected economic recovery.

Judged by economic acumen – the standard that is most important to the America – Huntsman ranks above, or at least equal to, all other Republican contenders, and for this reason, he deserves a second look from COMMENTARY.

Utah’s economic record does speak well for Huntsman, but the problem with his candidacy does not stem from worries about that aspect of his record. Huntsman has entered the GOP race as a moderate dripping with contempt for conservatives and clearly attempting to position himself as the darling of media elites and country club Republicans. After serving two years as President Obama’s ambassador to China, he has been slow to understand the one thing that unites the GOP is anger about the president’s policies.

Perhaps most to the point for those who inquired about where he might stand with the Jewish vote, Huntsman has staked out a foreign policy position that seems to be the left of Obama on Afghanistan. The former Utah governor appears most comfortable with foreign policy “realists” who have been less than supportive of Israel. But his willingness to abandon Afghanistan to the Taliban cannot comfort any friend of the Jewish state, since any president must always be evaluated in no small measure by their willingness to stand by America’s allies.

It is true his attempt to play the moderate would go down better with Jewish voters than any Republican identified with the Christian right. But at this stage, Huntsman still appears to me to be a candidate without a Republican constituency to which he can appeal. That may change, just as his foreign policy positions may evolve to ones more palatable to those who understand the folly of “realism.” But until that happens, I’m afraid the prospect of him challenging his former boss for a larger share of the Jewish vote seems as fanciful a scenario as one in which Santorum, Cain or Paul do so. In other words, it’s not going to happen.

Read Less

Assads Still Play By the “Hama Rules”

In February 1982, Syrian dictator Hafez al-Assad decided to send a message to dissidents in the city of Hama. Protests against his regime were met with a full-scale military offensive that left 10,000-20,000 Syrians dead. From that moment on, it became a cliché to say that brutal autocrats like Assad played by the “Hama Rules,” a phrase that brought to mind heartless slaughter and made it clear anyone who dared to oppose him would face death.

Nearly three decades later, the first name of the man atop the Assad family clan may be different, but there’s little doubt his son Bashar and his minions are still playing by the same rules. There’s no telling exactly how many Syrians have been killed during the months of Arab Spring protests in that country, but the number–believed to be in the hundreds–continues to climb. Today, the focus is once again on Hama, where the Syrian army and security services have massed their forces. Reports say another 10 persons were shot dead there by the government. Whether this is the prelude to another 1982-style massacre is unclear, but it is apparent the residents of the city of 650,000 fear it may be so. Reports speak of barricades being erected in the streets to impede the army’s advance.

Throughout this crisis, the United States has either downplayed events in Syria or sought to ignore them. In his defense of the U.S. intervention in Libya, President Obama said his purpose was to stop one of the world’s worst dictators from slaughtering a lot of people. The same could be said of Syria, where the United States and its European allies have simply watched as a potentially far worse scenarios than the one prevented in Libya unfolds.

The United States cannot right every wrong in the world. But by playing favorites with Arab dictators — both of whom are major sources of support for international terrorism — Obama’s seeming acquiescence to Assad’s crimes has implicitly undermined the case for Libya.

In February 1982, Syrian dictator Hafez al-Assad decided to send a message to dissidents in the city of Hama. Protests against his regime were met with a full-scale military offensive that left 10,000-20,000 Syrians dead. From that moment on, it became a cliché to say that brutal autocrats like Assad played by the “Hama Rules,” a phrase that brought to mind heartless slaughter and made it clear anyone who dared to oppose him would face death.

Nearly three decades later, the first name of the man atop the Assad family clan may be different, but there’s little doubt his son Bashar and his minions are still playing by the same rules. There’s no telling exactly how many Syrians have been killed during the months of Arab Spring protests in that country, but the number–believed to be in the hundreds–continues to climb. Today, the focus is once again on Hama, where the Syrian army and security services have massed their forces. Reports say another 10 persons were shot dead there by the government. Whether this is the prelude to another 1982-style massacre is unclear, but it is apparent the residents of the city of 650,000 fear it may be so. Reports speak of barricades being erected in the streets to impede the army’s advance.

Throughout this crisis, the United States has either downplayed events in Syria or sought to ignore them. In his defense of the U.S. intervention in Libya, President Obama said his purpose was to stop one of the world’s worst dictators from slaughtering a lot of people. The same could be said of Syria, where the United States and its European allies have simply watched as a potentially far worse scenarios than the one prevented in Libya unfolds.

The United States cannot right every wrong in the world. But by playing favorites with Arab dictators — both of whom are major sources of support for international terrorism — Obama’s seeming acquiescence to Assad’s crimes has implicitly undermined the case for Libya.

Read Less

Pawlenty Campaign Hires Huckabee’s Daughter

In the face of bleak poll numbers and fundraising troubles, the Pawlenty campaign needs an injection of energy in order to stay competitive in the race. And the former Minnesota governor took a step in the right direction today, hiring Sarah Huckabee Sanders — daughter of Mike Huckabee — as his senior political adviser:

Sarah Huckabee Sanders is joining Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s presidential campaign as senior political adviser. She begins her new role in the campaign’s Iowa headquarters today, taking the lead for the campaign on the Iowa Straw Poll effort with a focus on expanding the campaign’s grassroots operations across the first-in-the-nation caucus state.

There are a couple of reasons to see this as a potential turning point for the campaign. First, Sanders has a successful track record as an operative, having run her father’s winning primary campaign in Iowa during the last Republican presidential nomination. She then went on to steer Sen. John Boozman’s victorious 2010 Senate campaign.

Hiring Sanders also shows Pawlenty is still serious about running an aggressive campaign in Iowa. And while it may be too early to speculate, it could signal that Pawlenty has a good shot at picking up an endorsement from Huckabee — which would be an enormous boost to his campaign, both in Iowa and nationally.

In fact, there’s already been speculation Huckabee may be leaning toward Team Pawlenty. In an interview with Politico last month, the Fox News personality was noticeably enthusiastic about Pawlenty, and even said he’d been offering the presidential candidate political advice:

“I’m not endorsing anybody right now,” Huckabee said on his way to a book signing. “I’ll let the field play out and make a decision on that later on.”

Yet he was notably effusive about Tim Pawlenty when asked about some critical comments he made earlier in the week regarding the Minnesotan’s debate performance.

Huckabee indicated that he had talked to Pawlenty to explain why he called the candidate “over-coached, over-consulted” on Laura Ingraham’s radio show.

“I visited with Gov. Pawlenty about that,” said Huck. “He’s a great guy, he’s a strong candidate, he’s a very articulate person and he has an incredible record. My point was that he doesn’t need to let the consultants coach him to the point that he doesn’t get to be who he is.”

And Huckabee rival Mitt Romney’s lead in the Iowa polls could be yet another motivating factor for the Fox News pundit to come out in support of Pawlenty.

In the face of bleak poll numbers and fundraising troubles, the Pawlenty campaign needs an injection of energy in order to stay competitive in the race. And the former Minnesota governor took a step in the right direction today, hiring Sarah Huckabee Sanders — daughter of Mike Huckabee — as his senior political adviser:

Sarah Huckabee Sanders is joining Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s presidential campaign as senior political adviser. She begins her new role in the campaign’s Iowa headquarters today, taking the lead for the campaign on the Iowa Straw Poll effort with a focus on expanding the campaign’s grassroots operations across the first-in-the-nation caucus state.

There are a couple of reasons to see this as a potential turning point for the campaign. First, Sanders has a successful track record as an operative, having run her father’s winning primary campaign in Iowa during the last Republican presidential nomination. She then went on to steer Sen. John Boozman’s victorious 2010 Senate campaign.

Hiring Sanders also shows Pawlenty is still serious about running an aggressive campaign in Iowa. And while it may be too early to speculate, it could signal that Pawlenty has a good shot at picking up an endorsement from Huckabee — which would be an enormous boost to his campaign, both in Iowa and nationally.

In fact, there’s already been speculation Huckabee may be leaning toward Team Pawlenty. In an interview with Politico last month, the Fox News personality was noticeably enthusiastic about Pawlenty, and even said he’d been offering the presidential candidate political advice:

“I’m not endorsing anybody right now,” Huckabee said on his way to a book signing. “I’ll let the field play out and make a decision on that later on.”

Yet he was notably effusive about Tim Pawlenty when asked about some critical comments he made earlier in the week regarding the Minnesotan’s debate performance.

Huckabee indicated that he had talked to Pawlenty to explain why he called the candidate “over-coached, over-consulted” on Laura Ingraham’s radio show.

“I visited with Gov. Pawlenty about that,” said Huck. “He’s a great guy, he’s a strong candidate, he’s a very articulate person and he has an incredible record. My point was that he doesn’t need to let the consultants coach him to the point that he doesn’t get to be who he is.”

And Huckabee rival Mitt Romney’s lead in the Iowa polls could be yet another motivating factor for the Fox News pundit to come out in support of Pawlenty.

Read Less

Liberalism, Religion and the Enlightenment

Representative Todd Akin, a Republican from Missouri, was recently asked about NBC’s removal of the words “under God” from a clip of the Pledge of Allegiance during coverage of the U.S. Open. “Well, I think NBC has a long record of being very liberal, and at the heart of liberalism really is a hatred for God and a belief that government should replace God,” Akin told radio host Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council. “This is a systematic effort to try to separate our faith and God, which is a source in our belief in individual liberties, from our country. And when you do that you tear the heart out of our country.”

Akin, who is running in the GOP primary for Missouri’s Senate seat, initially told a radio station, “I don’t think there’s anything to apologize for. I’m not going to apologize for what I see liberalism doing.” But he then released a statement saying he and his family would never “question the sincerity of anyone’s personal relationship with God. My statement during my radio interview was directed at the political movement, liberalism, not at any specific individual. If my statement gave a different impression, I offer my apologies.”

There are several things to sort through in all this, starting with this: NBC’s intentional deletion of the words “under God” revealed a ridiculous discomfort and animus toward even the most common and generic reference to God, one millions of schoolchildren use every day. What NBC did was stupid; it deserved to be roundly criticized. But not in the way that Representative Akin did. After all, there are countless liberals – from Dorothy Day, to Martin Luther King Jr., to Mario Cuomo, to Tony Campolo – who did not/do not harbor a “hatred for God.” Nor is modern liberalism synonymous with militant atheism, even though there are some liberals who are militant atheists (just as there are a few conservatives who are as well).

That said, there is no question that liberalism has manifested an aversion toward, and concern about, religion – an aversion and concern rooted in part in the Enlightenment.

The Enlightenment, it’s important to recall, was a response to religious wars and religious persecution that dominated the European continent. In response, the Enlightenment emphasized man’s use of reason and the empirical sciences as the means by which he was able to achieve freedom and prosperity, happiness and knowledge. It did great good.

At the same time, many of the Enlightenment’s leading figures — Descartes, Bacon, Voltaire, Hobbes, Newton, Paine, and Locke — tried, in varying degrees, to replace God with science, to make man the center of all things, to replace religion with reason, “man’s only star and compass,” in the words of Locke. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, in his famous  Harvard commencement address in which he attacked modern Western societies, declared that “anthropocentricity” — man as the center of all things — was the legacy of the Enlightenment. And that, in turn, led to what he called the “spiritual exhaustion” of the West.

There is something to the warning issued by Solzhenitsyn. And in our time liberalism has shown if not an outright hatred for God, then a deep concern about religion as a source of intolerance, as fostering social conflict, and as threatening public peace. Many liberals — not all, but many — want to keep the public square free of religious influences or language (see NBC’s decision). Religious beliefs are fine, so long as they are kept private.

It is not as if liberalism’s concerns about religion are completely illegitimate or detached from historical events; religious faith has led to fanaticism and a prosecutorial zeal. But that is certainly not the whole story. And religion, rightly understood, is a friend of a liberal, decent society. That is something virtually all of America’s founders understood. “Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports,” is how George Washington put it in his Farewell Address. “And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion.”

None of them would object to the words “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance.

As a general matter, liberals and conservatives view religion in the public square in very different ways, with many liberals alarmed at the prospect and many conservatives encouraged by it. Both sides have some historical justification for their views. But conservatives, in the here and now, have, I think, the much stronger case. The quickest way to undermine it is to make claims that are too sweeping and therefore false, the product of rage rather than reason. Which brings me full circle to Representative Akin’s comments, which didn’t do him, his cause, or his country any good.

Representative Todd Akin, a Republican from Missouri, was recently asked about NBC’s removal of the words “under God” from a clip of the Pledge of Allegiance during coverage of the U.S. Open. “Well, I think NBC has a long record of being very liberal, and at the heart of liberalism really is a hatred for God and a belief that government should replace God,” Akin told radio host Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council. “This is a systematic effort to try to separate our faith and God, which is a source in our belief in individual liberties, from our country. And when you do that you tear the heart out of our country.”

Akin, who is running in the GOP primary for Missouri’s Senate seat, initially told a radio station, “I don’t think there’s anything to apologize for. I’m not going to apologize for what I see liberalism doing.” But he then released a statement saying he and his family would never “question the sincerity of anyone’s personal relationship with God. My statement during my radio interview was directed at the political movement, liberalism, not at any specific individual. If my statement gave a different impression, I offer my apologies.”

There are several things to sort through in all this, starting with this: NBC’s intentional deletion of the words “under God” revealed a ridiculous discomfort and animus toward even the most common and generic reference to God, one millions of schoolchildren use every day. What NBC did was stupid; it deserved to be roundly criticized. But not in the way that Representative Akin did. After all, there are countless liberals – from Dorothy Day, to Martin Luther King Jr., to Mario Cuomo, to Tony Campolo – who did not/do not harbor a “hatred for God.” Nor is modern liberalism synonymous with militant atheism, even though there are some liberals who are militant atheists (just as there are a few conservatives who are as well).

That said, there is no question that liberalism has manifested an aversion toward, and concern about, religion – an aversion and concern rooted in part in the Enlightenment.

The Enlightenment, it’s important to recall, was a response to religious wars and religious persecution that dominated the European continent. In response, the Enlightenment emphasized man’s use of reason and the empirical sciences as the means by which he was able to achieve freedom and prosperity, happiness and knowledge. It did great good.

At the same time, many of the Enlightenment’s leading figures — Descartes, Bacon, Voltaire, Hobbes, Newton, Paine, and Locke — tried, in varying degrees, to replace God with science, to make man the center of all things, to replace religion with reason, “man’s only star and compass,” in the words of Locke. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, in his famous  Harvard commencement address in which he attacked modern Western societies, declared that “anthropocentricity” — man as the center of all things — was the legacy of the Enlightenment. And that, in turn, led to what he called the “spiritual exhaustion” of the West.

There is something to the warning issued by Solzhenitsyn. And in our time liberalism has shown if not an outright hatred for God, then a deep concern about religion as a source of intolerance, as fostering social conflict, and as threatening public peace. Many liberals — not all, but many — want to keep the public square free of religious influences or language (see NBC’s decision). Religious beliefs are fine, so long as they are kept private.

It is not as if liberalism’s concerns about religion are completely illegitimate or detached from historical events; religious faith has led to fanaticism and a prosecutorial zeal. But that is certainly not the whole story. And religion, rightly understood, is a friend of a liberal, decent society. That is something virtually all of America’s founders understood. “Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports,” is how George Washington put it in his Farewell Address. “And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion.”

None of them would object to the words “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance.

As a general matter, liberals and conservatives view religion in the public square in very different ways, with many liberals alarmed at the prospect and many conservatives encouraged by it. Both sides have some historical justification for their views. But conservatives, in the here and now, have, I think, the much stronger case. The quickest way to undermine it is to make claims that are too sweeping and therefore false, the product of rage rather than reason. Which brings me full circle to Representative Akin’s comments, which didn’t do him, his cause, or his country any good.

Read Less

Israel Acting Smarter This Time

Last year, I was critical of Israeli tactics which resulted in a melee aboard one of the ships of the Gaza flotilla–a battle at sea that left nine “activists” dead and gave Israel another (undeserved) black eye in the international arena. It appeared, in retrospect, Israel had fallen into a trap laid by Turkish jihadists. This time, alerted in advance to the threat, Israel acted more stealthily–and smarter.

Two of the ships that were supposed to bust the Gaza blockade this time around developed mysterious propeller problems which are widely thought to be the work of Israeli agents. Other vessels are being kept in port by Greek authorities after a combination of intensive, behind-the-scenes diplomacy by Israeli officials and the threat of legal action by a private Israeli organization. (A summary of where the ill-starred blockade-runners stand may be found in this Washington Post article.) Israel also blundered a bit by threatening sanctions against any journalists who accompanied the flotilla–a threat that was soon retracted. But that was a rare misstep in what so far, at least, has been a smart, focused, and, above all, subtle response to head off a threat before it materializes.

Such action may not always be possible but, where it is, it is far preferable to an armed confrontation on the high seas. I certainly don’t dispute Israel’s right to use force to stop attempts to break its embargo on Hamas; but it’s better when it doesn’t have to.

Last year, I was critical of Israeli tactics which resulted in a melee aboard one of the ships of the Gaza flotilla–a battle at sea that left nine “activists” dead and gave Israel another (undeserved) black eye in the international arena. It appeared, in retrospect, Israel had fallen into a trap laid by Turkish jihadists. This time, alerted in advance to the threat, Israel acted more stealthily–and smarter.

Two of the ships that were supposed to bust the Gaza blockade this time around developed mysterious propeller problems which are widely thought to be the work of Israeli agents. Other vessels are being kept in port by Greek authorities after a combination of intensive, behind-the-scenes diplomacy by Israeli officials and the threat of legal action by a private Israeli organization. (A summary of where the ill-starred blockade-runners stand may be found in this Washington Post article.) Israel also blundered a bit by threatening sanctions against any journalists who accompanied the flotilla–a threat that was soon retracted. But that was a rare misstep in what so far, at least, has been a smart, focused, and, above all, subtle response to head off a threat before it materializes.

Such action may not always be possible but, where it is, it is far preferable to an armed confrontation on the high seas. I certainly don’t dispute Israel’s right to use force to stop attempts to break its embargo on Hamas; but it’s better when it doesn’t have to.

Read Less

Obama’s Economic Policies Have Shattered Hopes and Dreams

According to the Department of Labor, a smaller share of 16-19-year-olds are working than at any time since records began to be kept in 1948. Less than one-quarter of teens (24 percent) have jobs, compared to 42 percent in the summer of 2001. And in a story in the Wall Street Journal, we read this:

Two years ago, officials said, the worst recession since the Great Depression ended. The stumbling recovery has also proven to be the worst since the economic disaster of the 1930s. Across a wide range of measures—employment growth, unemployment levels, bank lending, economic output, income growth, home prices and household expectations for financial well-being—the economy’s improvement since the recession’s end in June 2009 has been the worst, or one of the worst, since the government started tracking these trends after World War II.

This merely confirms what those of us at CONTENTIONS have been writing about for many months now. Still, those nine words about the recovery — “the worst since the economic disaster of the 1930s” — are arresting. And underneath the data are countless human lives that are being disrupted, traumatized, and in some cases, ruined.

“Every single month you’re struggling, struggling, struggling,” Javier Toro, 49, a father of three, told the Journal. He makes $13 an hour as a customer service representative at a non-profit that administers a program offering free energy efficiency upgrades to homeowners. The program, funded by the 2009 stimulus law, ends in a few months as government funds dry up. He’s paying about $100 a month to keep current on $3,000 in credit card debt, but making no headway paying down principal. To make ends meet, he’s cut his cable and Internet service and the fixed telephone line to his rented home.

Toro added, “You don’t see when this is going to stop.”

Perhaps a good place to start is with a new president in January 2013.

I’m not one of those who believe a president is omnipotent when it comes to the economy; there are structural challenges that pre-date the Obama presidency. At the same time, I wouldn’t want to underestimate the enormous, negative ramifications the Obama Era has had on our economy. Obama’s policies have shattered the hopes and dreams of many of the people–young and old–whom he was elected to serve. They won’t, and they shouldn’t, forget that anytime soon.

According to the Department of Labor, a smaller share of 16-19-year-olds are working than at any time since records began to be kept in 1948. Less than one-quarter of teens (24 percent) have jobs, compared to 42 percent in the summer of 2001. And in a story in the Wall Street Journal, we read this:

Two years ago, officials said, the worst recession since the Great Depression ended. The stumbling recovery has also proven to be the worst since the economic disaster of the 1930s. Across a wide range of measures—employment growth, unemployment levels, bank lending, economic output, income growth, home prices and household expectations for financial well-being—the economy’s improvement since the recession’s end in June 2009 has been the worst, or one of the worst, since the government started tracking these trends after World War II.

This merely confirms what those of us at CONTENTIONS have been writing about for many months now. Still, those nine words about the recovery — “the worst since the economic disaster of the 1930s” — are arresting. And underneath the data are countless human lives that are being disrupted, traumatized, and in some cases, ruined.

“Every single month you’re struggling, struggling, struggling,” Javier Toro, 49, a father of three, told the Journal. He makes $13 an hour as a customer service representative at a non-profit that administers a program offering free energy efficiency upgrades to homeowners. The program, funded by the 2009 stimulus law, ends in a few months as government funds dry up. He’s paying about $100 a month to keep current on $3,000 in credit card debt, but making no headway paying down principal. To make ends meet, he’s cut his cable and Internet service and the fixed telephone line to his rented home.

Toro added, “You don’t see when this is going to stop.”

Perhaps a good place to start is with a new president in January 2013.

I’m not one of those who believe a president is omnipotent when it comes to the economy; there are structural challenges that pre-date the Obama presidency. At the same time, I wouldn’t want to underestimate the enormous, negative ramifications the Obama Era has had on our economy. Obama’s policies have shattered the hopes and dreams of many of the people–young and old–whom he was elected to serve. They won’t, and they shouldn’t, forget that anytime soon.

Read Less

Is Israel Expected to Negotiate with a Hamas-Fatah Government?

It’s a simple question, and yet Obama administration officials are continuing to dance around the answer. Last week, the Washington Post’s Greg Sargent asked David Axelrod whether Israel would be expected to negotiate with a Palestinian unity government that includes Hamas, and here was Axelrod’s response:

“The president does not believe that any country can be asked to negotiate with a terrorist organization that is sworn to its destruction and unwilling to abandon that goal or embrace a peaceful settlement of the conflict,” [Axelrod] said. “He could not have been clearer about that.”

But the question wasn’t whether Israel would be expected to negotiate with Hamas. The question was whether Israel would be expected to negotiate with a Palestinian unity government that included Hamas. As I wrote last month, there could certainly be a unity arrangement in which Fatah alone handled the negotiations, and Hamas was charged with running the domestic services portion of the administration. Would Israel then be expected to negotiate with such a government?

We don’t know because, as far as I’ve seen, the administration hasn’t definitively said.

“No country can be expected to negotiate with a terrorist organization sworn to its destruction,” Obama said during his AIPAC speech. “We don’t expect Israel to negotiate with a Hamas government,” White House Middle East director Steve Simon reportedly said during an off-the-record conference call with Jewish community leaders. But it’s unclear whether that includes a Hamas-Fatah unity arrangement.

It wouldn’t be difficult for the White House to simply say, “We don’t expect Israel to negotiate with a Hamas-Fatah unity government.” But by explicitly stating this, the administration would be taking a major option off the table. White House officials are desperate to restart peace talks, and they may think that will require putting pressure on Israel to sit down with a Palestinian unity government that includes Hamas.

It’s a simple question, and yet Obama administration officials are continuing to dance around the answer. Last week, the Washington Post’s Greg Sargent asked David Axelrod whether Israel would be expected to negotiate with a Palestinian unity government that includes Hamas, and here was Axelrod’s response:

“The president does not believe that any country can be asked to negotiate with a terrorist organization that is sworn to its destruction and unwilling to abandon that goal or embrace a peaceful settlement of the conflict,” [Axelrod] said. “He could not have been clearer about that.”

But the question wasn’t whether Israel would be expected to negotiate with Hamas. The question was whether Israel would be expected to negotiate with a Palestinian unity government that included Hamas. As I wrote last month, there could certainly be a unity arrangement in which Fatah alone handled the negotiations, and Hamas was charged with running the domestic services portion of the administration. Would Israel then be expected to negotiate with such a government?

We don’t know because, as far as I’ve seen, the administration hasn’t definitively said.

“No country can be expected to negotiate with a terrorist organization sworn to its destruction,” Obama said during his AIPAC speech. “We don’t expect Israel to negotiate with a Hamas government,” White House Middle East director Steve Simon reportedly said during an off-the-record conference call with Jewish community leaders. But it’s unclear whether that includes a Hamas-Fatah unity arrangement.

It wouldn’t be difficult for the White House to simply say, “We don’t expect Israel to negotiate with a Hamas-Fatah unity government.” But by explicitly stating this, the administration would be taking a major option off the table. White House officials are desperate to restart peace talks, and they may think that will require putting pressure on Israel to sit down with a Palestinian unity government that includes Hamas.

Read Less

A Normal Party and the Difference Between Bush and Perry

According to the New York Times’ David Brooks, Republican hardliners against tax increases are turning the GOP into a “psychological protest” rather than a “normal political party.” Brooks is upset that after having forced Democrats to come far closer to their position on taxes and spending in order to cut a deal to extend the national debt ceiling, there is little chance the House majority will embrace what he considers to be “the deal of the century.”

To Brooks, the Democrats’ offer on the debt ceiling is the “Mother of All No-Brainers,” and his anger at the GOP’s insistence that no taxes, including those the columnist minimizes as mere loophole closing, is more than a bit over the top. He blasts them as insensible to the “logic of compromise” or the “legitimacy of scholars and intellectual authorities.” Those opposed to the raising of some tax rates aren’t merely wrong, they “have no sense of moral decency,” since he thinks their brinksmanship with the Democrats over the debt means they don’t care if the nation defaults on its sacred pledge to pay back what it owes (even though the chances of an actual federal bankruptcy are fairly slim).

It is fascinating that a writer who usually seems more interested in sociology than in politics (and who has written brilliantly about the former in his classic Bobos in Paradise) seems so little interested in what has driven the “protest movement” that has transformed the Republicans.

Read More

According to the New York Times’ David Brooks, Republican hardliners against tax increases are turning the GOP into a “psychological protest” rather than a “normal political party.” Brooks is upset that after having forced Democrats to come far closer to their position on taxes and spending in order to cut a deal to extend the national debt ceiling, there is little chance the House majority will embrace what he considers to be “the deal of the century.”

To Brooks, the Democrats’ offer on the debt ceiling is the “Mother of All No-Brainers,” and his anger at the GOP’s insistence that no taxes, including those the columnist minimizes as mere loophole closing, is more than a bit over the top. He blasts them as insensible to the “logic of compromise” or the “legitimacy of scholars and intellectual authorities.” Those opposed to the raising of some tax rates aren’t merely wrong, they “have no sense of moral decency,” since he thinks their brinksmanship with the Democrats over the debt means they don’t care if the nation defaults on its sacred pledge to pay back what it owes (even though the chances of an actual federal bankruptcy are fairly slim).

It is fascinating that a writer who usually seems more interested in sociology than in politics (and who has written brilliantly about the former in his classic Bobos in Paradise) seems so little interested in what has driven the “protest movement” that has transformed the Republicans.

Part of the answer comes in an article published in the Times on the same day as his column. Though ostensibly focused on the feud between Texas Governor Rick Perry and his predecessor in Austin, President George W. Bush, the piece highlights the disgust many in the GOP felt about the big-spending Republican Congress that ruled on Capitol Hill until the Democratic victory in the fall of 2006. Perry’s charge that Bush was never a fiscal conservative rings true for Republicans who regretted the expansion of federal spending that took place under the 43rd president, even though his record has since been eclipsed by the schemes advocated by Barack Obama.

It is clear Bush’s inner circle has no more use for Perry than Brooks has for the Tea Party, but this dispute is about more than personalities. In 1994, Republicans won the Congress pledging to fight for a smaller government but within 12 years had become as addicted to earmarks, legislative pork and massive government spending as their opponents. Many Republicans believed the 2006 election was  just comeuppance for that failure and hope the GOP majority elected last fall won’t make the same mistake. That fear of the slippery slope of Washington compromises is what animates the resistance from both grass roots Republicans and the GOP House caucus to the “sweet” deal offered by the Democrats.

Brooks may be correct this compromise could be seen (if viewed in a historical context) as a victory for Republican principles, but it is just as easy to see it as the first step toward a “normal” government that will inevitably raise taxes rather than cut entitlements. That sentiment may seem irresponsible to the columnist, but it’s the inevitable response to the GOP’s recent history of abandoning principle once in office.

Read Less

Greece Calls Flotilla Activists’ Bluff

The purpose of the Gaza flotilla, we’ve been told, is to transport humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip. Well, now Greece, which has blocked the flotilla from leaving its shores, has offered to transport this aid to the Palestinians. And — surprise, surprise — the “activists” have reportedly rejected this proposal:

Organizers of the flotilla seeking to break Israel’s blockade over the Gaza Strip on Sunday rejected an offer by Athens to allow Greek Navy ships to transfer the humanitarian aid they had planned to bring with them to Gaza on their behalf.

Earlier on Sunday, activists on the flotilla ship The Audacity of Hope announced an open-ended hunger strike aimed at pressuring the U.S. government to allow the ship to set sail to the Gaza Strip, organizers said.

If the flotilla organizers are honestly and primarily concerned about the welfare of the people of Gaza, wouldn’t they feel an urgent need to transport this humanitarian aid to them as quickly as possible? The rejection of Greece’s offer conclusively proves what many Israel supporters have said all along. The purpose of the flotilla isn’t to help the Palestinian people, it’s to launch a political attack on Israel.

As Christopher Hitchens wrote in Slate yesterday, the self-proclaimed flotilla activists have basically aligned themselves with Hamas, and these efforts to break Israel’s naval blockade give political support to the terrorist government. Hitchens wondered whether the media covering the flotilla would ask the organizers why they are assisting the goals of Hamas, which has officially adopted the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, oppresses its own people, and has condemned the killing of Osama bin Laden. It remains to be seen whether any reporters have the courage to ask these simple questions.

The purpose of the Gaza flotilla, we’ve been told, is to transport humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip. Well, now Greece, which has blocked the flotilla from leaving its shores, has offered to transport this aid to the Palestinians. And — surprise, surprise — the “activists” have reportedly rejected this proposal:

Organizers of the flotilla seeking to break Israel’s blockade over the Gaza Strip on Sunday rejected an offer by Athens to allow Greek Navy ships to transfer the humanitarian aid they had planned to bring with them to Gaza on their behalf.

Earlier on Sunday, activists on the flotilla ship The Audacity of Hope announced an open-ended hunger strike aimed at pressuring the U.S. government to allow the ship to set sail to the Gaza Strip, organizers said.

If the flotilla organizers are honestly and primarily concerned about the welfare of the people of Gaza, wouldn’t they feel an urgent need to transport this humanitarian aid to them as quickly as possible? The rejection of Greece’s offer conclusively proves what many Israel supporters have said all along. The purpose of the flotilla isn’t to help the Palestinian people, it’s to launch a political attack on Israel.

As Christopher Hitchens wrote in Slate yesterday, the self-proclaimed flotilla activists have basically aligned themselves with Hamas, and these efforts to break Israel’s naval blockade give political support to the terrorist government. Hitchens wondered whether the media covering the flotilla would ask the organizers why they are assisting the goals of Hamas, which has officially adopted the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, oppresses its own people, and has condemned the killing of Osama bin Laden. It remains to be seen whether any reporters have the courage to ask these simple questions.

Read Less

That Gallup Poll on Jews and Obama

The talk of the Jewish world today is that Gallup has found no significant change in the president’s popularity among Jews after the controversies of the past few months. Gallup measures his approval at 60 percent, statistically unchanged from the 64 percent previously measured—but significantly changed from the 80 percent he registered a few months into 2009. So an argument is raging about what this means—an argument that largely misses the point about the nature of the difficulty between Obama and the Jewish community.  For those Jews whose support for the president was going to be affected by his behavior toward Israel, the damage was pretty much done last year. In one sense, then, what the president’s behavior this year has done is to make it unlikely his popularity among Jews will rise again to the levels it once enjoyed. So by continuing to behave in a manner many of us perceive as hostile, he has solidified some opposition among those who were enthusiastic about him in 2008. I know this at one level anecdotally, as many liberal Jews of my acquaintance—and there are many—have expressed personal disappointment to me. but it also jibes with the many stories one reads about the kinds of concerns being expressed in the Jewish community as a whole.

This doesn’t mean Jews won’t vote for him again, and in landslide numbers, in 2012—especially if the Republicans put up someone Jews decide to despise. But which Jews vote or don’t vote for Obama doesn’t matter all that much except when it comes to conversations around the seder table.

Where it matters—where Obama’s team is clearly worried and where it is seeking to come up with counterarguments to give to surrogates—is money. It’s one thing to cast a single vote as the member of a small minority community to which outsized attention is paid. But Jews are uncommonly generous givers, both philanthropically and politically, and while they might still cast a vote for Obama, they might give him nothing. Or half what they gave him in 2008. And that decline in enthusiasm might be reflected not only in giving to the reelection campaign, but to Democratic campaigns generally. That’s the real fear, and that’s the real problem for the Democrats. They have Jewish support at the ballot box. They can bank on that.  They’re worried they won’t be able to bank on Jewish support in the other sense of the term, and that worry is very real, and very realistic, and can’t be argued away.

The talk of the Jewish world today is that Gallup has found no significant change in the president’s popularity among Jews after the controversies of the past few months. Gallup measures his approval at 60 percent, statistically unchanged from the 64 percent previously measured—but significantly changed from the 80 percent he registered a few months into 2009. So an argument is raging about what this means—an argument that largely misses the point about the nature of the difficulty between Obama and the Jewish community.  For those Jews whose support for the president was going to be affected by his behavior toward Israel, the damage was pretty much done last year. In one sense, then, what the president’s behavior this year has done is to make it unlikely his popularity among Jews will rise again to the levels it once enjoyed. So by continuing to behave in a manner many of us perceive as hostile, he has solidified some opposition among those who were enthusiastic about him in 2008. I know this at one level anecdotally, as many liberal Jews of my acquaintance—and there are many—have expressed personal disappointment to me. but it also jibes with the many stories one reads about the kinds of concerns being expressed in the Jewish community as a whole.

This doesn’t mean Jews won’t vote for him again, and in landslide numbers, in 2012—especially if the Republicans put up someone Jews decide to despise. But which Jews vote or don’t vote for Obama doesn’t matter all that much except when it comes to conversations around the seder table.

Where it matters—where Obama’s team is clearly worried and where it is seeking to come up with counterarguments to give to surrogates—is money. It’s one thing to cast a single vote as the member of a small minority community to which outsized attention is paid. But Jews are uncommonly generous givers, both philanthropically and politically, and while they might still cast a vote for Obama, they might give him nothing. Or half what they gave him in 2008. And that decline in enthusiasm might be reflected not only in giving to the reelection campaign, but to Democratic campaigns generally. That’s the real fear, and that’s the real problem for the Democrats. They have Jewish support at the ballot box. They can bank on that.  They’re worried they won’t be able to bank on Jewish support in the other sense of the term, and that worry is very real, and very realistic, and can’t be argued away.

Read Less

Can Pawlenty Re-Brand Himself?

Tim Pawlenty has kicked off the second half of 2011 with a statewide Iowa TV ad buy for a commercial in which the former Minnesota governor portrays himself as the scourge of state worker unions who “won” when they confronted him with demands. The ad, first reported by Politico, reflects a strategy in which Pawlenty (whom some think will be adversely affected by the current stalemate in his home state which has led to a government shutdown), doubles down on the attention given the situation in Minnesota by identifying himself with governors like New Jersey’s Chris Christie and Wisconsin’s Scott Walker.

It is an effective ad that seems to address Pawlenty’s greatest problem: even after months of campaigning, he still seems to lack a clear message or the ability to connect with key GOP constituencies. This is all the more problematic since it comes after a month in which his poor debate performance, lagging fundraising and the rise of Michele Bachmann overshadowed substantial economic and foreign policy speeches that ought to have bolstered his candidacy.

Pawlenty’s problem is examined at length by New York Times blogger Nate Silver, who aptly dubs the Minnesotan the “RC Cola candidate.” Pawlenty’s dilemma is his bland image is not merely a function of what appears to be a frustratingly bland personality. It is also the product of his own background and positions on the issues that put him pretty much smack dab in the middle of the Republican field. On a spectrum in which candidates can be defined by their identification as either insurgents or establishment types and by positions that are either moderate or conservative, Pawlenty is in the middle on both scores. Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman are both seen as establishment moderates, while Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann are viewed as insurgent conservatives. Pawlenty is between all of them.

Read More

Tim Pawlenty has kicked off the second half of 2011 with a statewide Iowa TV ad buy for a commercial in which the former Minnesota governor portrays himself as the scourge of state worker unions who “won” when they confronted him with demands. The ad, first reported by Politico, reflects a strategy in which Pawlenty (whom some think will be adversely affected by the current stalemate in his home state which has led to a government shutdown), doubles down on the attention given the situation in Minnesota by identifying himself with governors like New Jersey’s Chris Christie and Wisconsin’s Scott Walker.

It is an effective ad that seems to address Pawlenty’s greatest problem: even after months of campaigning, he still seems to lack a clear message or the ability to connect with key GOP constituencies. This is all the more problematic since it comes after a month in which his poor debate performance, lagging fundraising and the rise of Michele Bachmann overshadowed substantial economic and foreign policy speeches that ought to have bolstered his candidacy.

Pawlenty’s problem is examined at length by New York Times blogger Nate Silver, who aptly dubs the Minnesotan the “RC Cola candidate.” Pawlenty’s dilemma is his bland image is not merely a function of what appears to be a frustratingly bland personality. It is also the product of his own background and positions on the issues that put him pretty much smack dab in the middle of the Republican field. On a spectrum in which candidates can be defined by their identification as either insurgents or establishment types and by positions that are either moderate or conservative, Pawlenty is in the middle on both scores. Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman are both seen as establishment moderates, while Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann are viewed as insurgent conservatives. Pawlenty is between all of them.

That might be a big advantage for Pawlenty, since he can theoretically appeal to all wings of his party. This is reflected in the Minnesotan’s relatively high favorability ratings since, unlike his competitors, no GOP group views him as completely unacceptable. But his middle-of-the-road personality and politics has also led to him being overshadowed by his livelier opponents. As Silver puts it, “A lot of voters might find him acceptable — but the types of voters who find him acceptable will also tend to find a lot of other candidates acceptable.”

Like any other commodity that is unable to distinguish itself from its competition on fundamentals, Pawlenty is going to need a better marketing strategy that will lift him out of the doldrums. Silver’s point is since Pawlenty is facing well-funded opponents who have no problem being identified by the public, he runs the risk of becoming another RC Cola, a bland drink  most consumers won’t reject if they are confronted with it, but something they won’t choose if they can have Coke or Pepsi.

After months of Pawlenty projecting himself as the human embodiment of “Minnesota Nice,” it’s time for the candidate to start projecting a stronger conservative and insurgent message. While Americans don’t care for extremists, his latest ad shows he may understand the only thing in the middle of the road is road kill.

Read Less

Those Second Thoughts About DSK

The improbable turn of events in the Dominique Strauss-Kahn case last week did nothing if provide a good deal of fodder for conversation at July 4thget-togethers. It has also provided some material for opinion writers.

At the Wall Street Journal, Bret Stephens asks why almost all of us were prepared to accept that DSK was guilty. With characteristic honesty, Stephens points out that many of us frankly enjoyed the spectacle of this “mandarin of the tax-exemptocracy being pulled from the comfort of his first-class Air France seat and dispatched to Riker’s Island without regard to status or dignity.”

The idea of a privileged member of the French governing class being forced to account for his mistreatment of a hotel maid was, Stephens points out, a delicious parable with a tidy moral. If DSK was a “philandering rogue,” we were ready to accept that he was, perforce, also a brute and his alleged victim, perfectly honest. We believed it to be true because we wanted it to be true. The idea of his guilt fit nicely with how we think the world really works, even if our conception of things isn’t always true. Stephens rightly points out the apparent collapse of these conclusions ought to lead us to question other seemingly unchallengeable assumptions that many of us take for granted. For example, the “climate change obsession, with its Manichean concept of polluting corporations versus noble eco-warriors,” or “the Israel obsession, with its notion that if only Jewish settlements were removed from the West Bank peace would break out throughout the Middle East.”

Stephens is right about all of this, but as much as there is a lesson here about not buying into the conventional wisdom, I also find myself agreeing with two writers who took a different tack on the case. Joe Nocera of the New York Times and (to my surprise) Peter Beinart of the Daily Beast both rightly defend the prosecution’s handling of the case. While DSK’s accuser turned out to have a less then sterling background, the police and the DA’s office did not simply assume, as would have been the case in France, a prominent person’s word should be more trustworthy than that of a chambermaid.

Read More

The improbable turn of events in the Dominique Strauss-Kahn case last week did nothing if provide a good deal of fodder for conversation at July 4thget-togethers. It has also provided some material for opinion writers.

At the Wall Street Journal, Bret Stephens asks why almost all of us were prepared to accept that DSK was guilty. With characteristic honesty, Stephens points out that many of us frankly enjoyed the spectacle of this “mandarin of the tax-exemptocracy being pulled from the comfort of his first-class Air France seat and dispatched to Riker’s Island without regard to status or dignity.”

The idea of a privileged member of the French governing class being forced to account for his mistreatment of a hotel maid was, Stephens points out, a delicious parable with a tidy moral. If DSK was a “philandering rogue,” we were ready to accept that he was, perforce, also a brute and his alleged victim, perfectly honest. We believed it to be true because we wanted it to be true. The idea of his guilt fit nicely with how we think the world really works, even if our conception of things isn’t always true. Stephens rightly points out the apparent collapse of these conclusions ought to lead us to question other seemingly unchallengeable assumptions that many of us take for granted. For example, the “climate change obsession, with its Manichean concept of polluting corporations versus noble eco-warriors,” or “the Israel obsession, with its notion that if only Jewish settlements were removed from the West Bank peace would break out throughout the Middle East.”

Stephens is right about all of this, but as much as there is a lesson here about not buying into the conventional wisdom, I also find myself agreeing with two writers who took a different tack on the case. Joe Nocera of the New York Times and (to my surprise) Peter Beinart of the Daily Beast both rightly defend the prosecution’s handling of the case. While DSK’s accuser turned out to have a less then sterling background, the police and the DA’s office did not simply assume, as would have been the case in France, a prominent person’s word should be more trustworthy than that of a chambermaid.

It’s true the tabloids abused DSK and, as our colleague John Steele Gordon pointed out, the “perp walk” that he was subjected to was an unnecessary humiliation. But rather than blaming the unsophisticated Americans for DSK’s travails, the French should be examining their own society as more women step forward to tell of their being victimized by sexual predators (including one who alleges DSK tried to rape her).

Like Nocera, I’d still rather live in a country where a man like DSK  has to account for his actions toward an immigrant hotel housekeeper rather than one “where crimes against women are routinely excused with a wink and a nod and where people without money or status are treated like the nonentities the French moneyed class believe they are.”

Read Less

Gallup: Jewish Americans Still Approve of Obama

Despite a flurry of signs the Obama administration may be having difficulty maintaining its support from Jewish donors after his ’67 borders speech, a new Gallup poll out today found that 60 percent of Jewish Americans approve of Obama’s job performance — a percentage “statistically unchanged” from the 64 percent which approved of him in April. In addition, 32 percent of Jewish Americans disapproved of the president’s performance, which also conforms closely to his previous disapproval ratings this year.

According to Gallup, these numbers conflict with Ben Smith’s recent Politico article, which reported that politically-involved Jewish Democrats were growing uneasy with Obama’s positions on Israel:

The absence of a significant retreat in Jewish Americans’ approval of Obama since his Mideast policy speech contrasts with a recent commentary by Ben Smith for Politico, titled “Obama May Be Losing the Faith of Jewish Democrats,” in which he suggests a “tipping point” may have been reached with Jews who have long harbored concerns about the president’s support of Israel. That conclusion, based on Smith’s conversations with “center-left American Jews and Obama supporters — and many of them Democratic donors–may apply to certain politically active members of the Jewish-American community, but according to recent Gallup trends, is not reflective of the views of Jewish Americans more generally.

While the overall numbers don’t show a notable drop in Jewish support for Obama after his Middle East speech, they do reveal some worrying signs for the president. A Gallup poll conducted 100 days after Obama took office found that 79 percent of Jewish Americans approved of the job he was doing — closely aligning with the 78 percent who voted for him in the 2008 election. That 20-point gap could be a problem for Obama, especially in states like Florida.

What Gallup’s poll is unable to give us is a glimpse into the mindset of the politically-active Jewish Democrats and donors who Smith reported on in his article. It wouldn’t be statistically apparent if these individuals were losing faith in Obama, but it would impact the president’s reelection campaign in other ways.

Despite a flurry of signs the Obama administration may be having difficulty maintaining its support from Jewish donors after his ’67 borders speech, a new Gallup poll out today found that 60 percent of Jewish Americans approve of Obama’s job performance — a percentage “statistically unchanged” from the 64 percent which approved of him in April. In addition, 32 percent of Jewish Americans disapproved of the president’s performance, which also conforms closely to his previous disapproval ratings this year.

According to Gallup, these numbers conflict with Ben Smith’s recent Politico article, which reported that politically-involved Jewish Democrats were growing uneasy with Obama’s positions on Israel:

The absence of a significant retreat in Jewish Americans’ approval of Obama since his Mideast policy speech contrasts with a recent commentary by Ben Smith for Politico, titled “Obama May Be Losing the Faith of Jewish Democrats,” in which he suggests a “tipping point” may have been reached with Jews who have long harbored concerns about the president’s support of Israel. That conclusion, based on Smith’s conversations with “center-left American Jews and Obama supporters — and many of them Democratic donors–may apply to certain politically active members of the Jewish-American community, but according to recent Gallup trends, is not reflective of the views of Jewish Americans more generally.

While the overall numbers don’t show a notable drop in Jewish support for Obama after his Middle East speech, they do reveal some worrying signs for the president. A Gallup poll conducted 100 days after Obama took office found that 79 percent of Jewish Americans approved of the job he was doing — closely aligning with the 78 percent who voted for him in the 2008 election. That 20-point gap could be a problem for Obama, especially in states like Florida.

What Gallup’s poll is unable to give us is a glimpse into the mindset of the politically-active Jewish Democrats and donors who Smith reported on in his article. It wouldn’t be statistically apparent if these individuals were losing faith in Obama, but it would impact the president’s reelection campaign in other ways.

Read Less

Taiwan Needs Our Aircraft

A few months ago, I visited Taiwan, and received a hair-raising briefing at its defense ministry on how the military balance is shifting in favor of the mainland. The People’s Republic of China is using double-digit growth in its defense budget to field a new stealth fighter, a new aircraft carrier, new submarines, and of course lots and lots of new missiles. Taiwan, and its only real ally, the U.S., are lagging behind. That creates a dangerous situation where, in some future crisis, Beijing might gamble that it could achieve “reunification” with Taiwan by force.

To avoid that dire scenario, the U.S. needs not only to keep up the strength of our air and naval forces in the Pacific (currently imperiled by Obama’s proposed cuts in the defense budget) but also to ensure Taiwan has the means for its own defense. That is why it is so puzzling the Obama administration is refusing to sell Taiwan badly needed F-16s. Read More

A few months ago, I visited Taiwan, and received a hair-raising briefing at its defense ministry on how the military balance is shifting in favor of the mainland. The People’s Republic of China is using double-digit growth in its defense budget to field a new stealth fighter, a new aircraft carrier, new submarines, and of course lots and lots of new missiles. Taiwan, and its only real ally, the U.S., are lagging behind. That creates a dangerous situation where, in some future crisis, Beijing might gamble that it could achieve “reunification” with Taiwan by force.

To avoid that dire scenario, the U.S. needs not only to keep up the strength of our air and naval forces in the Pacific (currently imperiled by Obama’s proposed cuts in the defense budget) but also to ensure Taiwan has the means for its own defense. That is why it is so puzzling the Obama administration is refusing to sell Taiwan badly needed F-16s.

As things currently stand, Taiwan must depend on a rapidly aging fleet of F-16 A/B’s supplemented by 1950s-vintage F-5′s and its Indigenous Defense Fighter, an F-16 knock-off. This is not remotely sufficient to protect the island from the growing mainland threat. Taiwan desperately needs upgrades for its existing F-16s as well as more advanced F-16 C/F models–all of which only can be provided by the U.S.

For our part, selling the aircraft to Taiwan would be a great jobs program at a time when the unemployment rate is alarmingly high –it would generate $8.7 billion worth of sales and help keep Lockheed Martin’s F-16 production line open. That is why 47 senators have written to the White House demanding the sale be approved.

No doubt the administration continues to stall because it knows Beijing will have a fit. True, but Beijing will get over it. It certainly did last year after we sold $6.4 billion worth of military equipment to Taiwan including Patriot missiles. It has since reopened military ties with the U.S. which were cut off at that time.

In any case, we cannot let a dictatorship like China hold hostage our ability to protect an allied democracy such as Taiwan. If we do, that will cause grave doubts about the value of America as an ally and hurt our credibility throughout the Asia-Pacific region at a time when we are having a fair amount of success in assembling a de facto alliance to help keep Chinese expansionism in check.


Read Less

Exposing the Mindset of Modern Liberalism

On ABC’s “This Week”, George Will was on a panel with Georgetown University’s Michael Eric Dyson, Harvard’s Jill Lepore, and Time magazine’s Richard Stengel, all of whom discussed Obamacare and the Constitution. 

In the course of the conversation, Will said this:

The question is, has the congressional power to regulate interstate commerce been so loosely construed that now Congress can do anything at all, that there is nothing it cannot do. Let me ask the three of you. Obviously, obesity and its costs affect interstate commerce. Does Congress have the constitutional power to require obese people to sign up for Weight Watchers? If not, why not?

The other panelists tried to duck Will’s question. To his credit, Will doesn’t allow them to be evasive. In pressing his point, Will elicits some remarkably illuminating answers. “I don’t know the answer to that,” Stengel admits. “It’s open,” according to Dyson.

Will did us the service of exposing the mindset of modern liberalism in the course of roughly two minutes. Two leading progressive are totally at sea when asked whether Congress has the constitutional power to require obese people to sign up for Weight Watchers.

Call it the Nanny State in a nutshell.


On ABC’s “This Week”, George Will was on a panel with Georgetown University’s Michael Eric Dyson, Harvard’s Jill Lepore, and Time magazine’s Richard Stengel, all of whom discussed Obamacare and the Constitution. 

In the course of the conversation, Will said this:

The question is, has the congressional power to regulate interstate commerce been so loosely construed that now Congress can do anything at all, that there is nothing it cannot do. Let me ask the three of you. Obviously, obesity and its costs affect interstate commerce. Does Congress have the constitutional power to require obese people to sign up for Weight Watchers? If not, why not?

The other panelists tried to duck Will’s question. To his credit, Will doesn’t allow them to be evasive. In pressing his point, Will elicits some remarkably illuminating answers. “I don’t know the answer to that,” Stengel admits. “It’s open,” according to Dyson.

Will did us the service of exposing the mindset of modern liberalism in the course of roughly two minutes. Two leading progressive are totally at sea when asked whether Congress has the constitutional power to require obese people to sign up for Weight Watchers.

Call it the Nanny State in a nutshell.


Read Less

Defending “Nation-Building”

In the L.A. Times today, I attempt to defend what to many will seem indefensible–i.e., “nation-building.” Bashing nation building has become a standard, mom-and-apple pie theme in American politics.

George W. Bush did it while running for president; his national security guru, Condoleezza Rice, famously said soldiers shouldn’t be escorting children to kindergarten. Then Bush launched two of the biggest nation-building exercises in our history–in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Why did he do it? The standard media narrative was that his administration was captured by a small cabal of neocons (read: Jews). I hardly need tell COMMENTARY readers this was a nonsensical interpretation. What changed was simply the course of events: 9/11 led us directly into Afghanistan and indirectly into Iraq. Once there, the administration realized the only responsible way out was to prop up governments capable of maintaining law and order after our departure. This forced us to engage, whether we liked it or not, in the dread exercise known as nation-building–more properly, state-building.

Unfortunately, in both cases we were late to the task, because the administration harbored so much animus against the very concept. Donald Rumsfeld was a particularly extreme case: In 2003-2004 he trashed the Clinton administration’s (relatively successful) exercises in nation-building in the Balkans because he claimed they fostered dependency–we still have a small number of troops in Kosovo, after all. So as to avoid “dependence” syndrome in Iraq, he tried to draw down U.S. troop levels as fast as possible and to keep U.S. troops from engaging too much with the civilian population. The result, as we know, was a disaster. This is what happens when we shy away from nation-building. Read More

In the L.A. Times today, I attempt to defend what to many will seem indefensible–i.e., “nation-building.” Bashing nation building has become a standard, mom-and-apple pie theme in American politics.

George W. Bush did it while running for president; his national security guru, Condoleezza Rice, famously said soldiers shouldn’t be escorting children to kindergarten. Then Bush launched two of the biggest nation-building exercises in our history–in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Why did he do it? The standard media narrative was that his administration was captured by a small cabal of neocons (read: Jews). I hardly need tell COMMENTARY readers this was a nonsensical interpretation. What changed was simply the course of events: 9/11 led us directly into Afghanistan and indirectly into Iraq. Once there, the administration realized the only responsible way out was to prop up governments capable of maintaining law and order after our departure. This forced us to engage, whether we liked it or not, in the dread exercise known as nation-building–more properly, state-building.

Unfortunately, in both cases we were late to the task, because the administration harbored so much animus against the very concept. Donald Rumsfeld was a particularly extreme case: In 2003-2004 he trashed the Clinton administration’s (relatively successful) exercises in nation-building in the Balkans because he claimed they fostered dependency–we still have a small number of troops in Kosovo, after all. So as to avoid “dependence” syndrome in Iraq, he tried to draw down U.S. troop levels as fast as possible and to keep U.S. troops from engaging too much with the civilian population. The result, as we know, was a disaster. This is what happens when we shy away from nation-building.

In Afghanistan, we are facing much the same challenge, and once again an American president directs that we should not engage in nation-building. One could take Obama’s words with a grain of salt until recently because there was little doubt we were doing nation-building in Afghanistan–except now his hasty and ill-advised orders to withdraw all of our surge forces by the end of next summer put in peril our troops’ ability to get the job done. In other words, Obama is raising the prospects of state failure–the very contingency that state-building is designed to avoid.

The more successful we are at state-building the less our commitment of troops need be; the less successful we are, the more the prospects ungoverned territory will become a breeding ground for terrorists, narco-traffickers, and other international threats, thereby neccessitating a greater commitment of U.S. troops in the future. That is a good reason why we should overcome our juvenile aversion to “nation-building” and get on with the task. Like it or not, we will be in the nation-building business for a long time to come.

We have no choice, really: If the collapse of the state in a country as remote as Afghanistan can be a direct threat to American national security (as it was on 9/11), then we do not have the luxury of overlooking any failed state anywhere in the world. That does not mean we could or should invade all these ungoverned spaces; but we definitely need to work with allies to bolster their governance capacity. Otherwise, we could pay a terrible price for our neglect.


Read Less

The Myth of the Palestinian Authority’s Readiness for Statehood

One great mystery of the Palestinian Authority’s bid for recognition as a state in September is why reputable agencies like the World Bank and the IMF would discredit themselves by declaring the PA ready for statehood. That assertion was belied once again this weekend, when Prime Minister Salam Fayyad announced PA employees will get only half their salaries this month because international donors have thus far coughed up only $330 million of the $970 million they pledged, and foreign aid accounts for fully a quarter of the PA budget.

As Omri noted here last month, one requirement for being a functioning state rather than a failed one is being able to pay the bills, so it’s hard to claim the PA is ready for statehood when it depends on donations that frequently don’t materialize. And the Arab states responsible for the current shortfall are serial defaulters on their pledges to the PA.

Indeed, Palestinians themselves don’t consider their government(s) functional, which makes it even harder to see the PA as ready for statehood. Last month, for instance, Gaza residents blocked access to UNRWA summer camps to demand the UN agency rebuild their houses, which were destroyed during the second intifada. They didn’t address this demand to Gaza’s official Hamas-run government. Nor did they address it to the PA, though Hamas and the Fatah-led PA recently signed a unity deal whose stated purposes include reconstructing Gaza. Faced with two Palestinian governments that could credibly be deemed responsible, the demonstrators dismissed them both as useless and pinned their hopes on UNRWA.

Compounding the problem is the fact that continued donations from Western countries – which generally do honor their pledges, and hence constitute the mainstay of the PA’s budget – depend largely on the presence of one man: Fayyad. This is widely recognized by Palestinians: A poll last month found they preferred Fayyad as the unity government’s prime minister by a two-to-one margin over Hamas’ candidate; the pollster attributed this to the belief Fayyad’s presence would reduce or eliminate the danger of international sanctions against the unity government. PA President Mahmoud Abbas also recognizes this. Indeed, he warned Hamas this weekend that its opposition to Fayyad endangered the statehood bid, because “we are subject to very sensitive and fateful conditions.” Translation: To continue donating, the West needs a government with a non-corrupt, non-terrorist facade, and Fayyad is the only man who can provide it.

It’s hard to see how the PA can be deemed ready for statehood if its financial viability depends on the continued tenure of one individual. After all, Fayyad isn’t immortal; what happens if he dies? And it’s especially hard when one partner in the unity government is adamantly demanding his ouster.

In sum, we have a would-be state whose viability depends on unreliable donations plus a single individual whom half  his government wants to oust, and whose own citizens don’t see as capable of addressing basic needs. In what conceivable sense does that constitute readiness for statehood?

One great mystery of the Palestinian Authority’s bid for recognition as a state in September is why reputable agencies like the World Bank and the IMF would discredit themselves by declaring the PA ready for statehood. That assertion was belied once again this weekend, when Prime Minister Salam Fayyad announced PA employees will get only half their salaries this month because international donors have thus far coughed up only $330 million of the $970 million they pledged, and foreign aid accounts for fully a quarter of the PA budget.

As Omri noted here last month, one requirement for being a functioning state rather than a failed one is being able to pay the bills, so it’s hard to claim the PA is ready for statehood when it depends on donations that frequently don’t materialize. And the Arab states responsible for the current shortfall are serial defaulters on their pledges to the PA.

Indeed, Palestinians themselves don’t consider their government(s) functional, which makes it even harder to see the PA as ready for statehood. Last month, for instance, Gaza residents blocked access to UNRWA summer camps to demand the UN agency rebuild their houses, which were destroyed during the second intifada. They didn’t address this demand to Gaza’s official Hamas-run government. Nor did they address it to the PA, though Hamas and the Fatah-led PA recently signed a unity deal whose stated purposes include reconstructing Gaza. Faced with two Palestinian governments that could credibly be deemed responsible, the demonstrators dismissed them both as useless and pinned their hopes on UNRWA.

Compounding the problem is the fact that continued donations from Western countries – which generally do honor their pledges, and hence constitute the mainstay of the PA’s budget – depend largely on the presence of one man: Fayyad. This is widely recognized by Palestinians: A poll last month found they preferred Fayyad as the unity government’s prime minister by a two-to-one margin over Hamas’ candidate; the pollster attributed this to the belief Fayyad’s presence would reduce or eliminate the danger of international sanctions against the unity government. PA President Mahmoud Abbas also recognizes this. Indeed, he warned Hamas this weekend that its opposition to Fayyad endangered the statehood bid, because “we are subject to very sensitive and fateful conditions.” Translation: To continue donating, the West needs a government with a non-corrupt, non-terrorist facade, and Fayyad is the only man who can provide it.

It’s hard to see how the PA can be deemed ready for statehood if its financial viability depends on the continued tenure of one individual. After all, Fayyad isn’t immortal; what happens if he dies? And it’s especially hard when one partner in the unity government is adamantly demanding his ouster.

In sum, we have a would-be state whose viability depends on unreliable donations plus a single individual whom half  his government wants to oust, and whose own citizens don’t see as capable of addressing basic needs. In what conceivable sense does that constitute readiness for statehood?

Read Less

When Nanny State Activism Goes Wrong

I spent much of the past two weeks in Australia, where the Australian government’s ban on live cattle exports to Indonesia was headline news. Beef and ranching, of course, is a major industry in Australia, as is export of live cattle to Indonesia where they are slaughtered in Indonesian slaughterhouses for meat.  Trouble started several weeks ago when a muckraking Australian television show broadcast images of animal cruelty in an Indonesian slaughterhouse. Never mind that there are hundreds of Indonesian slaughterhouses, most of which maintain humane standards, and that tens of thousands of Australians make their livelihood by exporting cattle. Ignore the fact that Australian cattle provide affordable meat for Indonesia’s poor: The Australian government had political points to score, and responded to hand-wringing by animal rights activists by banning export of live cattle to Australia.

What happened next was predictable: Unable to make money to pay their staff or feed their cattle, multi-generational family ranches have now closed. One ranch owner who has 8,000 cattle bred for the Indonesian market which she can no longer afford said, “I don’t know what else we can do but start shooting them. I can’t stand there and watch them die of thirst.” Now investors are reconsidering and in some case severing plans to invest in rural Australia, as second order effects continue to ripple through the economy. Even if the government eats crow and overturns its ill-conceived ban, it will be too late for hundreds if not thousands of families. But, at least Prime Minister Julia Gillard can savor the green vote as her poll numbers continue to free fall.

I spent much of the past two weeks in Australia, where the Australian government’s ban on live cattle exports to Indonesia was headline news. Beef and ranching, of course, is a major industry in Australia, as is export of live cattle to Indonesia where they are slaughtered in Indonesian slaughterhouses for meat.  Trouble started several weeks ago when a muckraking Australian television show broadcast images of animal cruelty in an Indonesian slaughterhouse. Never mind that there are hundreds of Indonesian slaughterhouses, most of which maintain humane standards, and that tens of thousands of Australians make their livelihood by exporting cattle. Ignore the fact that Australian cattle provide affordable meat for Indonesia’s poor: The Australian government had political points to score, and responded to hand-wringing by animal rights activists by banning export of live cattle to Australia.

What happened next was predictable: Unable to make money to pay their staff or feed their cattle, multi-generational family ranches have now closed. One ranch owner who has 8,000 cattle bred for the Indonesian market which she can no longer afford said, “I don’t know what else we can do but start shooting them. I can’t stand there and watch them die of thirst.” Now investors are reconsidering and in some case severing plans to invest in rural Australia, as second order effects continue to ripple through the economy. Even if the government eats crow and overturns its ill-conceived ban, it will be too late for hundreds if not thousands of families. But, at least Prime Minister Julia Gillard can savor the green vote as her poll numbers continue to free fall.

Read Less

Obama-Cuomo 2012 Rumors Heat Up

Yes, these sort of rumors tend to surface during presidential reelection campaigns, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re always unfounded. After all, President George W. Bush recently admitted he considered replacing Vice President Cheney after his first term, which substantiated the whispers swirling in 2004.

Anyway, back in April, former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown predicted President Obama would dump Vice President Biden and replace him with New York Governor and rising Democratic Party star Andrew Cuomo. Now add former New York GOP Chair William Powers to the list of Obama-Cuomo 2012 forecasters:

“Andrew had a fabulous session. It was fabulous. A property-tax cap, ethics reform and, for Democrats, gay marriage,” Powers told the New York Post’s Fredric U. Dicker.

“I don’t think there’s any doubt Obama is going to pick him as his running mate. The president is in trouble and [Vice President Joseph] Biden doesn’t bring anything to his ticket.”

“The president will call him up later this year and say, ‘Andrew, you have to do this for the good of the country.’ What’s Andrew going to say, ‘No?’ “

Biden was tapped in 2008 partly because the Obama team thought he would bring experience and a foreign policy background to the ticket. Now that the reelection campaign needs economic smarts, is a budget-cutting Democrat like Cuomo starting to look like a more appealing choice? Read More

Yes, these sort of rumors tend to surface during presidential reelection campaigns, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re always unfounded. After all, President George W. Bush recently admitted he considered replacing Vice President Cheney after his first term, which substantiated the whispers swirling in 2004.

Anyway, back in April, former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown predicted President Obama would dump Vice President Biden and replace him with New York Governor and rising Democratic Party star Andrew Cuomo. Now add former New York GOP Chair William Powers to the list of Obama-Cuomo 2012 forecasters:

“Andrew had a fabulous session. It was fabulous. A property-tax cap, ethics reform and, for Democrats, gay marriage,” Powers told the New York Post’s Fredric U. Dicker.

“I don’t think there’s any doubt Obama is going to pick him as his running mate. The president is in trouble and [Vice President Joseph] Biden doesn’t bring anything to his ticket.”

“The president will call him up later this year and say, ‘Andrew, you have to do this for the good of the country.’ What’s Andrew going to say, ‘No?’ “

Biden was tapped in 2008 partly because the Obama team thought he would bring experience and a foreign policy background to the ticket. Now that the reelection campaign needs economic smarts, is a budget-cutting Democrat like Cuomo starting to look like a more appealing choice?

It’s possible, but it seems highly, highly unlikely. First of all, Obama placed Biden in charge of the congressional deficit commission, a responsibility he probably wouldn’t give to somebody he was trying to nudge out the door. And for all of Biden’s gaffes, he and Obama seem to have maintained a good rapport. Why would the campaign drop him for Cuomo, who is largely untested nationally, and isn’t even a year into his first term as governor?

But all this speculation about Cuomo might illustrate a wistfulness in the Democratic Party for more fiscal hawkishness from the White House. Obama would be better off trying to capture that by being more open to serious spending reductions and continued tax breaks than by considering a running-mate replacement.

Read Less

If a Terrorist Group Controls an Airport, What Could Go Wrong?

Just short of four months ago, I wrote a short piece here expressing concern about Hezbollah’s infiltration of Beirut’s Rafic Hariri International Airport. The airport is a central channel for the supply of Hezbollah and an asset for which the group considers worth fighting. When Hezbollah turned its guns on its fellow Lebanese in 2008, part of its motivation was to keep control over the airport in the face of government efforts to exert its authority over the country. Lebanese said that while security officials and personnel at the airport wore Lebanese army uniforms and were largely clean shaven, they were still Hezbollah’s men.

Against the backdrop of the Arab Spring and violence in Libya and Syria, Hezbollah’s subsequent take-over of the Lebanese government has generated little attention. Not only does a terrorist group now control a major airport into which Western carriers fly, but a government which should provide oversight no longer can. No worries, though. Neither the Obama administration nor the State Department would want to make waves and raise the issue of how Hezbollah’s control of Beirut’s airport might create diplomatic tension with the new Lebanese government.  Hezbollah members might screen luggage, or load it onto the airplanes which then trans-shipped anywhere Air France, Alitalia, Lufthansa or Turkish Air fly–but what could possibly go wrong?

Just short of four months ago, I wrote a short piece here expressing concern about Hezbollah’s infiltration of Beirut’s Rafic Hariri International Airport. The airport is a central channel for the supply of Hezbollah and an asset for which the group considers worth fighting. When Hezbollah turned its guns on its fellow Lebanese in 2008, part of its motivation was to keep control over the airport in the face of government efforts to exert its authority over the country. Lebanese said that while security officials and personnel at the airport wore Lebanese army uniforms and were largely clean shaven, they were still Hezbollah’s men.

Against the backdrop of the Arab Spring and violence in Libya and Syria, Hezbollah’s subsequent take-over of the Lebanese government has generated little attention. Not only does a terrorist group now control a major airport into which Western carriers fly, but a government which should provide oversight no longer can. No worries, though. Neither the Obama administration nor the State Department would want to make waves and raise the issue of how Hezbollah’s control of Beirut’s airport might create diplomatic tension with the new Lebanese government.  Hezbollah members might screen luggage, or load it onto the airplanes which then trans-shipped anywhere Air France, Alitalia, Lufthansa or Turkish Air fly–but what could possibly go wrong?

Read Less




Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor to our site, you are allowed 8 free articles this month.
This is your first of 8 free articles.

If you are already a digital subscriber, log in here »

Print subscriber? For free access to the website and iPad, register here »

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

Please note this is an advertisement skip this ad
Clearly, you have a passion for ideas.
Subscribe today for unlimited digital access to the publication that shapes the minds of the people who shape our world.
Get for just
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor, you are allowed 8 free articles.
This is your first article.
You have read of 8 free articles this month.
YOU HAVE READ 8 OF 8
FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
for full access to
CommentaryMagazine.com
INCLUDES FULL ACCESS TO:
Digital subscriber?
Print subscriber? Get free access »
Call to subscribe: 1-800-829-6270
You can also subscribe
on your computer at
CommentaryMagazine.com.
LOG IN WITH YOUR
COMMENTARY MAGAZINE ID
Don't have a CommentaryMagazine.com log in?
CREATE A COMMENTARY
LOG IN ID
Enter you email address and password below. A confirmation email will be sent to the email address that you provide.