Commentary Magazine


Posts For: July 27, 2011

Re: Boehner Is Struck, But Not Felled, By Critics

As Seth wrote, it looks as if House Republicans are beginning to come around in favor of the Boehner plan. It’s also being helped along by the support it’s receiving from high-profile fiscal conservatives in Congress, Politico reports:

Support from some of the more prominent conservative members could provide cover to the other members to support the bill.

“I’m a conservative, you guys say I’m a pretty hard-line conservative,” Rep. Allen West, a Tea Party favorite among the freshman class, told reporters. “I’m going to support this.” West said he “would almost put my retirement check” on the bill passing Thursday night, adding, “when you give people the opportunity to sit back and evaluate things and look at their integrity of heart, they come back and make a better decision.”

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As Seth wrote, it looks as if House Republicans are beginning to come around in favor of the Boehner plan. It’s also being helped along by the support it’s receiving from high-profile fiscal conservatives in Congress, Politico reports:

Support from some of the more prominent conservative members could provide cover to the other members to support the bill.

“I’m a conservative, you guys say I’m a pretty hard-line conservative,” Rep. Allen West, a Tea Party favorite among the freshman class, told reporters. “I’m going to support this.” West said he “would almost put my retirement check” on the bill passing Thursday night, adding, “when you give people the opportunity to sit back and evaluate things and look at their integrity of heart, they come back and make a better decision.”

Why the turnaround? Maybe because conservative opponents of the Boehner plan simply don’t have the support on the ground. The idea that large numbers of grassroots conservatives are fired up against the plan was debunked by the paltry number of activists who showed up at D.C. Tea Party rally today:

Despite featuring Tea Party icons Sens. Jim DeMint (R-SC), Mike Lee (R-UT), and Rand Paul (R-KY), among others, a gathering outside the Senate organized by the Tea Party Express to urge Republicans to stand firm against a compromise bill drew only a handful of attendees.

Reporters, many of whom came to interview presidential candidate Herman Cain, appeared to easily outnumber protesters. And despite being the most prominent attendee, Cain ended up not addressing the crowd and watched from the sidelines.

Conservative groups might be pushing back against the proposal, but there’s little evidence so far this is a grassroots-driven fight. The desolate photos of that rally are sure to comfort Republican House members who may be leaning apprehensively toward Boehner’s plan.

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NATO Must Get Qaddafi to Step Down

Jonathan Tobin is right that Britain and France’s new-found willingness to let Muammar Qaddafi remain in Libya represents a humiliating down-sizing of NATO’s objectives. Whether it amounts to a defeat, as Jonathan suggests, remains to be seen. Much would be determined by the sort of conditions Qaddafi would agree to if he stayed in Libya. Would he truly divorce himself from politics, as Britain and France demand, or would he try to manipulate the government from the sidelines?

He would not pose a major threat if he were removed in the way Hosni Mubarak was removed in Egypt, with the onetime dictator going into internal exile and concentrating on fighting various ailments and charges of corruption. But we are a long way from that happening. The priority now for NATO must be to get Qaddafi to step down, period; whether he remains in the country or not should be a secondary concern.

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Jonathan Tobin is right that Britain and France’s new-found willingness to let Muammar Qaddafi remain in Libya represents a humiliating down-sizing of NATO’s objectives. Whether it amounts to a defeat, as Jonathan suggests, remains to be seen. Much would be determined by the sort of conditions Qaddafi would agree to if he stayed in Libya. Would he truly divorce himself from politics, as Britain and France demand, or would he try to manipulate the government from the sidelines?

He would not pose a major threat if he were removed in the way Hosni Mubarak was removed in Egypt, with the onetime dictator going into internal exile and concentrating on fighting various ailments and charges of corruption. But we are a long way from that happening. The priority now for NATO must be to get Qaddafi to step down, period; whether he remains in the country or not should be a secondary concern.

The fact that Britain and France are seeming to relax their stand on Qaddafi is a sign of NATO’s failure to achieve that objective so far. But that failure need not be permanent. All that may be required to turn around a stalemated war effort and produce a breakthrough would be a bigger American commitment. But that would require Obama to modify his “lead from behind” doctrine.

 

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Susan Rice’s Absence Did Not Go Unnoticed

On Tuesday, the United States reaffirmed its opposition to Palestinian plans to sidestep negotiations with Israel and declare a state this fall at the United Nations. But Ambassador Susan Rice, Washington’s top representative at the UN, was apparently nowhere to be found. At the last open meeting of the UN Security Council prior to the Palestinians’ expected unilateral declaration of independence (UDI), Rice’s deputy, U.S. Deputy Permanent Representative Rosemary DiCarlo, pronounced that “symbolic actions to isolate Israel at the United Nations in September will not create an independent Palestinian state. The United States will not support unilateral campaigns at the United Nations in September or any other time.”

While the statement was reassuring, Rice’s absence is troubling.

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On Tuesday, the United States reaffirmed its opposition to Palestinian plans to sidestep negotiations with Israel and declare a state this fall at the United Nations. But Ambassador Susan Rice, Washington’s top representative at the UN, was apparently nowhere to be found. At the last open meeting of the UN Security Council prior to the Palestinians’ expected unilateral declaration of independence (UDI), Rice’s deputy, U.S. Deputy Permanent Representative Rosemary DiCarlo, pronounced that “symbolic actions to isolate Israel at the United Nations in September will not create an independent Palestinian state. The United States will not support unilateral campaigns at the United Nations in September or any other time.”

While the statement was reassuring, Rice’s absence is troubling.

She has been instrumental in President Obama’s administration’s most important multilateral achievements. She herded the international community with great tenacity on Iran sanctions last year and war with Libya this year. In the case of both multilateral efforts, it was clear Obama could not have moved those mountains without his trusted adviser.

Perhaps Rice’s demanding schedule is getting the better of her. While other permanent UN representatives are based in New York and are dedicated full-time to the international debate over the General Assembly resolutions looming between now and September, Rice splits her time between New York and Washington. Rice, of course, enjoys a cabinet level position, and is often at the ear of the president.

By all accounts, the Palestinians are closing in on the numbers they need (if they haven’t already).  If U.S. policy is to stymie a vote in the General Assembly, where a two-thirds majority can pass a measure that would enable Palestinians to prosecute Israel in international legal fora, why wasn’t Rice making more multilateral magic?

Rather than launching a full court press to divert the Palestinian unilateral declaration, Rice delegated the job to her deputy. And while DiCarlo enjoys the rank of ambassador, the other Security Council members got the message. The president did not send his close adviser.

To make matters worse, a spokesman from the U.S. mission reluctantly admitted via email that Tuesday’s open debate was the last this summer on Middle East issues —in other words, the last opportunity for the U.S. to publicly make its case.

Just what was America’s closing arguments at the UN?  The statement, (here) reveals the U.S. apparently does not view the Palestinian unilateral declaration as worthy of long refutation. Rather, the statement devotes just a few sentences at the top, explaining why unilateralism is ill-advised. By contrast, some three-quarters of the statement laid out the well-known contours of the president’s policies in the Middle East, from settlements and Syria to Lebanon and Gaza.

Thus, while the Obama administration’s public opposition to Palestinian unilateralism is both commendable and commonsensical, the execution of its policy has been a failure. The question now is whether the White House failed to execute a successful policy, or succeeded in executing a failed one.

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Boehner Is Struck, But Not Felled, By Critics

The tide is turning in favor of John Boehner on the debt ceiling debate within the GOP. I wrote this morning that perhaps Tea Party Patriots leader Mark Meckler had overplayed his hand, causing him to lose leverage over House Republicans who were suspicious of Boehner’s bill but still want to see the debt ceiling raised. Meckler’s comments this morning made Boehner the only game in town for such congressmen.

Now it seems a second case of overzealous opposition to Boehner has worked in Boehner’s favor. Some Republican Study Committee staffers were caught whipping up opposition to Boehner’s deal among House members, infuriating the GOP caucus. The description of the confrontation inside a party meeting about the incident is jarring. “I’ve never seen anything like it,” one GOP aide told Politico. One congresswoman is contemplating quitting the RSC. Rep. Jim Jordan, chairman of the RSC, seemed humbled.

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The tide is turning in favor of John Boehner on the debt ceiling debate within the GOP. I wrote this morning that perhaps Tea Party Patriots leader Mark Meckler had overplayed his hand, causing him to lose leverage over House Republicans who were suspicious of Boehner’s bill but still want to see the debt ceiling raised. Meckler’s comments this morning made Boehner the only game in town for such congressmen.

Now it seems a second case of overzealous opposition to Boehner has worked in Boehner’s favor. Some Republican Study Committee staffers were caught whipping up opposition to Boehner’s deal among House members, infuriating the GOP caucus. The description of the confrontation inside a party meeting about the incident is jarring. “I’ve never seen anything like it,” one GOP aide told Politico. One congresswoman is contemplating quitting the RSC. Rep. Jim Jordan, chairman of the RSC, seemed humbled.

The interesting part of this is just how strong Boehner may—I stress may—come out of this. He certainly had the toughest job. He had to negotiate with Obama, Harry Reid, and his own caucus. That meant staving off a Tea Party rebellion and getting Eric Cantor–the Republican with the most to gain if Boehner’s speakership goes down in flames—on board with his plans. On top of everything, Obama was making regular speeches to the American people, a venue and a tactic that were both simply unavailable to Boehner and which gave Obama a built-in advantage over public opinion.

How do you craft a bill in that environment? First by accepting that it will not be perfect. But you also have to give voice to the Tea Party Republicans without letting them take over the negotiations. Boehner did this by happily passing the “Cut, Cap, and Balance” legislation and making sure that, during the process, he was a loud voice of support for the bill.

Once “Cut, Cap, and Balance” died in the Senate, Boehner had room to resume negotiations on his bill with Reid. Sensing the momentum change, Obama pulled Reid from the negotiations and then made a primetime speech blaming the Republicans. Boehner’s next move was shrewd but risky: he asked for some time to respond right after Obama. It was risky because Boehner is not a particularly good speaker, but also because Obama has been unable to move public opinion in support of his initiatives. If Obama wasn’t convincing on TV Monday night, Boehner might turn a win into a loss by also being unconvincing. It would be worse for Boehner, however, because he’d be the last failed pitchman American viewers saw that night.

Boehner wasn’t great, but he was good enough and even landed a couple of decent lines, such as his comment about “The crisis atmosphere that [Obama] has created.” The first sign of victory for Boehner ironically was when the White House threatened to veto his new bill. When Obama promised to veto “Cut, Cap. and Balance,” this was the statement: “If the President were presented this bill for signature, he would veto it.” On Tuesday, here was the White House’s new veto threat: “The Administration strongly opposes House passage of the amendment in the nature of a substitute to S. 627.  If S. 627 is presented to the president, the president’s senior advisers would recommend that he veto this bill.” Translation: Reid better kill this bill in the Senate, or it’s going to be signed into law.

Then came an even stronger rebellion from Boehner’s right, led by the RSC and a few outside conservative groups. But when you strike the king, as they say, you better kill the king. The RSC didn’t, and I imagine that will be the last attempt they make on Boehner’s speakership in this debate.

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How Al Shabaab Recruited 40 Americans Since 2007

When Americans think of the homegrown terror threat, many tend to think of al-Qaeda — and names like Anwar Al Awlaki and Adam Gadahn, who are associated with the recruitment of U.S. citizens.

But House Homeland Security investigators found that Qaeda-linked Somali terrorist group Al Shabaab may be just as much of a danger when it comes to the recruitment of young Muslim Americans. Committee chair Peter King revealed during a hearing today that at least 40 Americans have joined Shabaab since 2007.

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When Americans think of the homegrown terror threat, many tend to think of al-Qaeda — and names like Anwar Al Awlaki and Adam Gadahn, who are associated with the recruitment of U.S. citizens.

But House Homeland Security investigators found that Qaeda-linked Somali terrorist group Al Shabaab may be just as much of a danger when it comes to the recruitment of young Muslim Americans. Committee chair Peter King revealed during a hearing today that at least 40 Americans have joined Shabaab since 2007.

Of this group, 15 have been  killed while fighting with Shabaab and three have been prosecuted in the U.S. But at least 21 still remain at large. This is a growing concern for national security officials because Shabaab-linked incidents account for the largest percentage of homegrown terrorism cases pursued by the Department of Justice during the last few years.

One reason why Shabaab has been so successful at enlisting U.S. citizens is because it operates a robust radicalization network within the country. According to the committee’s report, “Shabaab recruiters have used mosques as cover and as safe places to meet to discuss recruitment and radicalization efforts to send fighters to join a foreign terrorist group, as well as to recruit and raise money to support Shabaab.”

The report details a recent attack on a Minneapolis cleric who voiced disapproval of Shabaab, which is one especially disturbing example of how Muslim American communities are targeted by extremists:

Also in Minneapolis on July 5, a Saudi cleric who denounced Shabaab and other Somali combatants inside the Abubakr As-Saddique Islamic Center  – where most of the city’s missing Somali-American men once congregated – was allegedly assaulted by an angry mob shouting “Allahu Akhbar!” (“God is great!”) A recording and account of the assault were immediately posted on overseas-based jihadi chatrooms before most in Minneapolis knew it happened.

“They glorified Allah and showered him with hits and kicks,” a jihadi wrote in a posting on the Shumukh al-Islam forum, which was obtained by the SITE Intelligence Group. “Next time, with permission from Allah, cut off the head of the likes of this filthy one.”

This recruitment activity is most active within the Somali immigrant community in the cities of Minneapolis, Boston, Seattle, Washington, D.C., San Diego, Columbus and Lewiston, Maine – business centers where Somali Americans and immigrants often travel back and forth to their home country.

“Most of these travelers go to Somalia on legitimate business, such as visiting relatives,” reports the committee. But because of the unstable nature of Somalia, intelligence and law enforcement officials have a difficult time tracking the “minority of Somali travelers from the U.S. who link up with Shabaab for terror training or combat.”

Not only does the Shabaab’s active recruitment pose a physical danger, it also poses a psychological danger to the Somali immigrant communities that it terrorizes. These recruiters have already stolen the lives of 40 Americans, who were mainly in their late teens and 20s.

The manipulative tactics of Shabaab recruiters who prey on young immigrants should make all Americans concerned about the government being able to successfully monitor and combat this terror group. Immigrant communities are some of the most vulnerable in the U.S., and that alone should be reason for Congress to continue pursuing this issue until better solutions are found.

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Liberal Civility Watch: Tea Party Likened to Hezbollah

The Tea Party has taken a number of hits this week. Some of those associated with this movement have assumed an absolutist position on the debt ceiling debate that could make it difficult if not impossible to resolve the crisis on terms even most Republicans could accept. But while it is one thing to call them obstructionist, has the tone of public discourse in this country sunk so low that it is acceptable to call them terrorists?

Apparently the New York Times and its Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Thomas Friedman think so.

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The Tea Party has taken a number of hits this week. Some of those associated with this movement have assumed an absolutist position on the debt ceiling debate that could make it difficult if not impossible to resolve the crisis on terms even most Republicans could accept. But while it is one thing to call them obstructionist, has the tone of public discourse in this country sunk so low that it is acceptable to call them terrorists?

Apparently the New York Times and its Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Thomas Friedman think so.

In his column today, Friedman sticks up for President Obama’s position on raising taxes more than Senate Democrats have done. But it isn’t enough for him to rant about Tea Partiers being “ignorant” and having no notion of “national greatness.” He has to call them the “Hezbollah faction” of the Republican Party.

While Friedman is using the word Hezbollah as some kind of a metaphor, he knows enough about Lebanon to know the difference between an American political movement and a terrorist organization. You may disagree with the Tea Party, but how many people have they murdered? The answer is zero, though liberals have treated this broad-based faction that more or less won the 2010 congressional elections for the GOP in abusive terms. In fact, far from being akin to a violent Islamist group, the Tea Party exemplifies the essence of democracy in that it is a grass roots movement that reflects the views of a significant number of Americans.

As much as Friedman, like President Obama, likes to pose as being above the fray of petty factions, he is not so much arguing with the Tea Party as he is attempting to delegitimize them.  Al -Qaeda, Hamas and Hezbollah are not metaphors, anymore than the word Nazi or Communist. If anyone who disagrees with Friedman and the Times mindset can be labeled the moral equivalent of a terrorist, then what sort of outrage can we muster against actual killers?

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CBO Finds Reid’s Plan Saves Less than Advertised

The Congressional Budget Office analysis of Sen. Harry Reid’s deficit reduction plan found that it saved $2.2 trillion, which is less than the $2.7 trillion touted by the senator. But the CBO’s number also includes roughly $1 trillion in savings from the wind-down of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, which Republicans argue have already been accounted for.

Senate Republicans quickly jumped on the findings to slam Reid for using “accounting gimmicks” to give the appearance that his plan includes far more reductions than it actually does.

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The Congressional Budget Office analysis of Sen. Harry Reid’s deficit reduction plan found that it saved $2.2 trillion, which is less than the $2.7 trillion touted by the senator. But the CBO’s number also includes roughly $1 trillion in savings from the wind-down of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, which Republicans argue have already been accounted for.

Senate Republicans quickly jumped on the findings to slam Reid for using “accounting gimmicks” to give the appearance that his plan includes far more reductions than it actually does.

“By comparing his plan to that unrealistic baseline—generating the appearance of savings the GOP could easily have claimed but chose not to—CBO is obliged to tally the war savings even though they do not exist and even though they do not constitute a spending cut,” said Stephen Miller, Republican communications director for the Senate budget committee. “It’s just one more huge accounting gimmick. At bottom, Reid’s plan leaves us with—at the very best—one dollar in cuts for every three dollars in debt hike.”

But Republicans have little leverage to criticize the Reid plan, since analysis of Rep. John Boehner’s dueling proposal found that his only included $851 billion in reductions. Boehner is reworking it, but will he actually be able to come up with cuts that would make it substantially larger than Reid’s? In the time he has, it doesn’t seem likely. If there are legitimate reasons for the GOP to oppose the Senate Democrat’s proposal, it will probably be based on how heavy Reid’s plan is on defense reductions. But as of now, both plans seem to be equally unpalatable to fiscal hawks.

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What’s Obama’s Fallback Position if Congress Succeeds?

Yesterday, the White House let it be known that if House Speaker John Boehner’s latest debt ceiling proposal passes Congress, President Obama would veto the bill. Considering at the time the Republican caucus in the House of Representatives seemed to be in a state of pandemonium that seemingly doomed the Speaker’s chances of getting it passed, it seemed like a fairly safe bet the president wouldn’t have to make good on this threat.

But a day later, the situation may be a bit different.

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Yesterday, the White House let it be known that if House Speaker John Boehner’s latest debt ceiling proposal passes Congress, President Obama would veto the bill. Considering at the time the Republican caucus in the House of Representatives seemed to be in a state of pandemonium that seemingly doomed the Speaker’s chances of getting it passed, it seemed like a fairly safe bet the president wouldn’t have to make good on this threat.

But a day later, the situation may be a bit different.

Although Tea Party activists are screaming bloody murder about Boehner’s bill, with some even calling for his replacement as Speaker, the House GOP may be regaining its collective equilibrium with more members moving toward support of their leader. While its passage is by no means certain, the notion that it will fail when it comes to a vote tomorrow is probably more a matter of wishful thinking on the part of Boehner’s critics on both the right and the left than reasoned analysis.

If it does pass, then things get slightly more interesting as the House and the Senate will then attempt to bridge the gap between Boehner’s bill and the Senate debt ceiling plan put forward by Democratic leader Harry Reid. That will more or less put us back where we were this past weekend when Boehner and Reid were working to bridge their differences until President Obama ordered a halt to the Democrat’s attempt at a compromise.

At that point, the ball will be back in the president’s court. Will he insist, as he did in his demagogic speech on Monday that any solution to the crisis that does not include tax increases is unacceptable? Will he again try to spike any attempt at a compromise between Republicans and Democrats in Congress because it does not jive with his notions of “balance?” And, finally, if cooler heads prevail on the eve of the August 2 deadline and a debt-ceiling bill is presented to him for his signature, will he really plunge the economy into chaos for the sake of being able to go on railing about corporate jets and the supposedly under-taxed rich?

A veto would be an enormous gamble that could bring down on his head the full force of public blame for the crisis he has so assiduously tried to put on the Republicans. Signing the bill would be the right thing to do, but it would also make it impossible for him to credibly carry on with his class warfare rants about the evil GOP throwing grandmothers off the cliff.

Up until this point, the president appears to have carefully thought through his role in this crisis. He has stuck to a stance that is antithetical to compromise and eschewed the opportunity to lead in favor of one that allowed him to kibitz on the sidelines. If Congress can’t get its act together this week, he may be able to stick to that plan. But if it acts, then it will be time for the president to make a choice that, despite his pose as the only adult in the capital, he would prefer to avoid.

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Re: Norway: Israel Brings Terrorism on Itself

Alana Goodman provides an infuriating example of the European capacity to blame the victim.  While Norwegian Ambassador Svein Sevje was referring to Palestinian terrorism, the Palestinians do not exist in a vacuum. Quite the contrary. The Iranian government quite openly supports terrorism in the guise of “resistance.”  Accordingly, it would be appropriate if Sevje would revisit his remarks given those of Iran’s Basij [paramilitary] Chief Mohammad-Reza Naqdi who just the other day said, “In order to safeguard the country [Iran], we have no other solution but to eradicate the Zionist regime.”

Alana Goodman provides an infuriating example of the European capacity to blame the victim.  While Norwegian Ambassador Svein Sevje was referring to Palestinian terrorism, the Palestinians do not exist in a vacuum. Quite the contrary. The Iranian government quite openly supports terrorism in the guise of “resistance.”  Accordingly, it would be appropriate if Sevje would revisit his remarks given those of Iran’s Basij [paramilitary] Chief Mohammad-Reza Naqdi who just the other day said, “In order to safeguard the country [Iran], we have no other solution but to eradicate the Zionist regime.”

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NATO: Will Turkey Give Secrets to China and Russia?

I’ve written here before about how Turkey surprised the Pentagon by holding war games with the Chinese Air Force. I also raised concern about the Obama administration’s willingness to sell Turkey our next generation F-35 Joint Strike Fighters without so much as reporting to Congress on the possibility the stealth technology upon which U.S. national security will depend might be reverse engineered should Turkey give its new allies China and Iran access to the plane. On this latter issue, the Senate Armed Service Committee is asleep at the switch: All it needs to do is demand the Pentagon report to it about the possibilities and vulnerabilities of the leakage of F-35s technologies should a current or future Turkish government, or rogue individuals within, allow the Iranians or Chinese to access the plane. The Pentagon will not conduct a thorough assessment unless an appropriate committee in Congress mandates it.

While Senators Carl Levin and John McCain drop the ball on American security, however, NATO is becoming increasingly concerned about Turkey’s outreach to China and Russia. The Turkish military is now considering the purchase of its own air defense system from either Russia or China. Because neither the Chinese nor Russian systems are compatible with existing NATO systems, Turkey would need to share NATO codes and technology with our adversaries to make its systems work. An unnamed Western expert quoted in the Turkish press explained, “If, say, the Chinese win the competition, their systems will be in interaction, directly or indirectly, with NATO’s intelligence systems, and this may lead to the leak of critical NATO information to the Chinese, albeit inadvertently. So this is dangerous.”

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I’ve written here before about how Turkey surprised the Pentagon by holding war games with the Chinese Air Force. I also raised concern about the Obama administration’s willingness to sell Turkey our next generation F-35 Joint Strike Fighters without so much as reporting to Congress on the possibility the stealth technology upon which U.S. national security will depend might be reverse engineered should Turkey give its new allies China and Iran access to the plane. On this latter issue, the Senate Armed Service Committee is asleep at the switch: All it needs to do is demand the Pentagon report to it about the possibilities and vulnerabilities of the leakage of F-35s technologies should a current or future Turkish government, or rogue individuals within, allow the Iranians or Chinese to access the plane. The Pentagon will not conduct a thorough assessment unless an appropriate committee in Congress mandates it.

While Senators Carl Levin and John McCain drop the ball on American security, however, NATO is becoming increasingly concerned about Turkey’s outreach to China and Russia. The Turkish military is now considering the purchase of its own air defense system from either Russia or China. Because neither the Chinese nor Russian systems are compatible with existing NATO systems, Turkey would need to share NATO codes and technology with our adversaries to make its systems work. An unnamed Western expert quoted in the Turkish press explained, “If, say, the Chinese win the competition, their systems will be in interaction, directly or indirectly, with NATO’s intelligence systems, and this may lead to the leak of critical NATO information to the Chinese, albeit inadvertently. So this is dangerous.”

Turkey was once a strong U.S. ally. Today, it is increasingly a liability. The United States should not dispense with alliances carelessly, but cultivating diplomatic goodwill should never trump recognition of reality. “Trust, but verify” was one of Ronald Reagan’s signature phrases. When it comes to Turkey, it’s time for far less trust and far more verify.

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False Analogies Distract from the Real Terrorist Threat

Last week’s terror attack in Norway prompted various commentators to try to draw analogies between right-wing and Islamic terror (here, for instance). There are two problems with this. One is the sheer falsity of the analogy, beyond the obvious fact that both are appalling and inexcusable. The other is that right-wing terror has a real analog – namely, left-wing terror. And by omitting this from the discussion, and instead treating terror as the exclusive province of one political camp, it becomes all too easy to use attacks like last week’s as fodder for cheap political point-scoring rather than trying to address a real problem.

While many people tend to associate terror with the right rather than the left, it’s important to realize this is false. Indeed, as the International Herald Tribune reported this week, European police were more  concerned about left-wing than right-wing terror as recently as April, and for  good reason: Right-wingers didn’t commit a single terror attack in 2010,  according to Europol, whereas left-wing and anarchist groups perpetrated 45, up 12  percent from  2009.

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Last week’s terror attack in Norway prompted various commentators to try to draw analogies between right-wing and Islamic terror (here, for instance). There are two problems with this. One is the sheer falsity of the analogy, beyond the obvious fact that both are appalling and inexcusable. The other is that right-wing terror has a real analog – namely, left-wing terror. And by omitting this from the discussion, and instead treating terror as the exclusive province of one political camp, it becomes all too easy to use attacks like last week’s as fodder for cheap political point-scoring rather than trying to address a real problem.

While many people tend to associate terror with the right rather than the left, it’s important to realize this is false. Indeed, as the International Herald Tribune reported this week, European police were more  concerned about left-wing than right-wing terror as recently as April, and for  good reason: Right-wingers didn’t commit a single terror attack in 2010,  according to Europol, whereas left-wing and anarchist groups perpetrated 45, up 12  percent from  2009.

So why do people nevertheless think of terror as the right’s exclusive domain? My guess is this is a legacy of the Nazis, whose crimes were horrendous enough that, in the West’s consciousness, they completely overshadowed the mass murders perpetrated  by Communist regimes in the Soviet Union and China, thus creating an association between the right and ideological murder that persists to this day. Yet this  association might have surprised most Westerners in the decades preceding World War I, when left-wing anarchists perpetrated a spate of bombings and  assassinations throughout Europe and the U.S.

Clearly, the fact left-wing terror also exists doesn’t make right-wing terror any better. But if both sides could frankly acknowledge they have problems of roughly equal magnitude on their respective fringes, then instead of using terror attacks to try to score political points off each other, they might be able to focus on the real threat – Islamic terror – which in magnitude is greater than either.

Neither left-wing nor right-wing terrorism benefits from state sponsors; neither controls territory in its own right; neither is backed by a global fundraising network that includes international charities and religious institutions; and neither operates a worldwide network of schools to indoctrinate children with its terrorist philosophies.

Islamic terror, in contrast, has all of the above: state sponsors (Iran, Syria, Pakistan, etc.), terrorist groups that control territory in their own right (Hezbollah, Hamas, the Taliban, etc.), a global fundraising network comprised of charities and mosques, and madrassas worldwide where children are indoctrinated in Islamic fundamentalism. All of this gives Islamic terrorists far greater capabilities than either right-wing or left-wing terrorists have – which is precisely why the vast majority of attacks worldwide in recent years have been perpetrated by Islamists.

Islamic terror is the real global threat nowadays. That doesn’t mean either right-wing or left-wing terror should be ignored. But excessive focus on a minor threat at the expense of a major one is the best possible way to assure more deadly attacks in the future.

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Freudian Slip in Persian?

My colleague Ali Alfoneh, who compiles an indispensable daily round up of the Iranian press, points me to this embarrassing catch from an Iranian website.

On July 23, assassins in Tehran killed 35-year-old nuclear scientist Daryoush Rezaei.  Iran’s semi-official Fars News Agency originally reported that the scientist had been involved in nuclear weapons work. That’s not something Iranian officials are allowed to admit, however, and so now Fars News has rewritten the story to omit that detail.  How do you say Freudian slip in Persian?

My colleague Ali Alfoneh, who compiles an indispensable daily round up of the Iranian press, points me to this embarrassing catch from an Iranian website.

On July 23, assassins in Tehran killed 35-year-old nuclear scientist Daryoush Rezaei.  Iran’s semi-official Fars News Agency originally reported that the scientist had been involved in nuclear weapons work. That’s not something Iranian officials are allowed to admit, however, and so now Fars News has rewritten the story to omit that detail.  How do you say Freudian slip in Persian?

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King “Will Not Back Down” From Radicalization Hearings After Oslo

House Homeland Security Committee Chair Peter King said today he would “not back down” from his hearings into Muslim American radicalization, despite pushback from Democrats and liberals who say the recent right-wing terrorist attack in Norway is proof the congressman is unfairly targeting the Muslim community.

“Let me make this clear to the New York Times and their acolytes in the politically correct media. I will not back down from holding these hearings,” King said at the beginning of his third hearing on Muslim radicalization, which is focused on the threat of Al-Shabaab recruitment of American citizens.

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House Homeland Security Committee Chair Peter King said today he would “not back down” from his hearings into Muslim American radicalization, despite pushback from Democrats and liberals who say the recent right-wing terrorist attack in Norway is proof the congressman is unfairly targeting the Muslim community.

“Let me make this clear to the New York Times and their acolytes in the politically correct media. I will not back down from holding these hearings,” King said at the beginning of his third hearing on Muslim radicalization, which is focused on the threat of Al-Shabaab recruitment of American citizens.

In addition to the Times, Democratic members of the Homeland Security Committee have also denounced King’s hearings. During opening remarks today, ranking member Rep. Bennie Thompson referred to the lone wolf attack in Norway and asked that the hearings “be broadened to include a look at the real and present threat of domestic violent extremism.”

“It is too early to say what the people of Norway will take from this horrific national tragedy,” said Thompson. “But for me, this incident makes plain that the madness of terrorism cannot be neatly confined to any one religion, one people or one nation. Let me repeat what I said before we began. This committee needs to examine the threat from lone wolves in our midst.”

King noted Thompson had four years to look into “lone wolf” terrorism when the Democrats controlled the committee, but he neglected to do so. In addition to helping understand the threat of radicalization, King said the hearings are also “liberating and empowering” to members of the Muslim community who are concerned about extremism in their midst.

King is right to continue his hearings on Muslim radicalization. One act of terrorism in Norway does not in any way diminish the well-documented threat of sophisticated, international Muslim terrorist organizations that are attempting to radicalize and recruit American Muslims to their cause. And that couldn’t have been clearer than at the hearing today, when investigators revealed that more than 40 Americans have joined the Somali terror group Al-Shabaab.

Of course, the risk of lone wolf terrorism (which the act in Norway so far appears to be) will always exist. At the moment, there is no evidence the Norwegian suspect Anders Breivik was working under any umbrella organization. If authorities discover a network of right-wing terrorists seeking to wage war against the U.S., then its recruitment methods should be investigated by Congress. But until then, let’s focus on the threats we already have evidence of.

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When Washington Plays Telephone

As I noted yesterday, President Obama’s request that Americans deluge Congress telling them to give in to his demand on taxes to solve the debt ceiling crisis resulted in a massive surge of phone calls to House and Senate offices. Congressional websites were also jammed up.  The calls resulted in a fair amount of inconvenience for members and their staffs, but it isn’t likely it changed anyone’s mind. Considering the day ended with sentiment shifting against a deal within the Republican caucus, let alone Obama’s tax increases, it’s clear such stunts have little use except in terms of public relations.

But it turned out the switchboards on Capitol Hill weren’t the only ones lit up on Tuesday. According to the Daily Caller, conservative groups counter-attacked with their own surge. Going into action shortly after the president’s address to the nation on Monday night, groups like the American Action Network went to work urging their members to swamp Obama with responses that were the opposite of what he had asked for. And like the effort to overwhelm congressional offices with pro-Obama messages, the conservative push also worked. Apparently, the White House comments line and the phone lines were down for the better part of the day as activists decried higher taxes and urged the president to support entitlement reform.

This phone war illustrates both the strength and the limits of activism.

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As I noted yesterday, President Obama’s request that Americans deluge Congress telling them to give in to his demand on taxes to solve the debt ceiling crisis resulted in a massive surge of phone calls to House and Senate offices. Congressional websites were also jammed up.  The calls resulted in a fair amount of inconvenience for members and their staffs, but it isn’t likely it changed anyone’s mind. Considering the day ended with sentiment shifting against a deal within the Republican caucus, let alone Obama’s tax increases, it’s clear such stunts have little use except in terms of public relations.

But it turned out the switchboards on Capitol Hill weren’t the only ones lit up on Tuesday. According to the Daily Caller, conservative groups counter-attacked with their own surge. Going into action shortly after the president’s address to the nation on Monday night, groups like the American Action Network went to work urging their members to swamp Obama with responses that were the opposite of what he had asked for. And like the effort to overwhelm congressional offices with pro-Obama messages, the conservative push also worked. Apparently, the White House comments line and the phone lines were down for the better part of the day as activists decried higher taxes and urged the president to support entitlement reform.

This phone war illustrates both the strength and the limits of activism.

When either side of the political aisle or activist groups mobilize their grass roots, they can make themselves heard. A phone surge can be a highly effective tactic when it focuses on a specific issue and where there isn’t a big pushback from the other side. It can make members of Congress pay attention to issues or legislation they might not have thought much about and impresses upon them the fact there is a constituency to be pleased or offended by how they vote.

But when both sides are going all out–such as in the debt ceiling fight–these phone calls don’t accomplish very much. Members of Congress already know both liberals and conservatives are riled up about the issue, and nothing activists say is likely to influence politicians who have, for the most part, made up their minds. When both ends of the spectrum play this card, it just reinforces that this is an issue the extremes consider a zero sum game.

It is telling however. that while congressional Republicans and Democrats were struggling with the issues, the president decided to act like an activist rather than someone genuinely concerned with solving the problem. Obama’s phone game did nothing to affect the outcome of this struggle, but it did highlight the absence of leadership in the White House.

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Did the Tea Party Just Inadvertently Give Boehner an Opening?

Does an extremely tough position by official Tea Party groups on the debt ceiling herald the end of John Boehner’s attempts to pass legislation on the issue, or does it paradoxically breathe new life into the negotiations?

Mark Meckler, co-founder of the Tea Party Patriots–the nation’s largest Tea Party group–was interviewed by the Daily Beast’s Patricia Murphy, who asked him whether Tea Party chapters would organize primary challenges to House Republicans who followed Boehner’s lead and struck a deal on raising the debt ceiling. Here was Meckler’s response:

It’s hard to predict exactly what will happen. But I can tell you that there are certainly a lot of thoughts out in the Tea Party network across the country about primary-ing people, including freshmen who seem to be going off the rails so early.

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Does an extremely tough position by official Tea Party groups on the debt ceiling herald the end of John Boehner’s attempts to pass legislation on the issue, or does it paradoxically breathe new life into the negotiations?

Mark Meckler, co-founder of the Tea Party Patriots–the nation’s largest Tea Party group–was interviewed by the Daily Beast’s Patricia Murphy, who asked him whether Tea Party chapters would organize primary challenges to House Republicans who followed Boehner’s lead and struck a deal on raising the debt ceiling. Here was Meckler’s response:

It’s hard to predict exactly what will happen. But I can tell you that there are certainly a lot of thoughts out in the Tea Party network across the country about primary-ing people, including freshmen who seem to be going off the rails so early.

Just what constitutes “going off the rails” and therefore earning a primary challenge? “Folks who vote for a debt ceiling increase are going off the rails,” Meckler responded.

That at least won’t happen today. As the Washington Post reports, the Congressional Budget Office may have guaranteed the “no” votes of many already-skeptical Republicans when it said Boehner’s bill would cut $850 billion over the next decade, not the $1.2 trillion he initially claimed:

The news from the CBO alarmed conservatives, who were already balking at what they considered timid spending reductions. It also meant Boehner’s bill would not meet his own demand that the cuts exceed the size of the $900 billion debt-limit increase.

Yesterday, Jonathan Chait wrote that because President Obama is, well, the president, he can get the Democrats to make almost any deal he wants, but Boehner has conservative House Republicans to answer to, and it puts him in a box. “This constraint on his maneuvering ability gives him a huge advantage in the game of chicken against Obama. In other ways, though, it dramatically inhibits him,” Chait wrote.

This is because of what Sarah Binder classifies as “single minded seekers of re-nomination,” an update on David Mayhew’s description of members of Congress as “single-minded seekers of re-election.” In safe districts, which many of the congressional districts on both sides of the aisle are, re-election is not the concern; an effective primary challenge is. This is what Meckler is referring to as well.

But it’s possible Meckler may have overplayed his hand on this one, and unintentionally freed up some House Republicans to compromise. If Republicans will be “primaried” for simply voting for an increase in the debt limit under any circumstances, the details of Boehner’s plan become less important. It takes Boehner out of that box, because the GOP will be divided along different lines. Had Meckler said, “Folks who vote to raise the debt limit without serious structural reforms and at least $1.5 trillion in real savings are going off the rails,” then Boehner would have to negotiate with those who share Meckler’s view. But because Boehner will not consider not raising the debt limit at all, he in effect cannot negotiate with Meckler’s constituents.

Meckler, I think, may have just taken himself out of the game–or at least out of this game. This may not end up helping Boehner, because enough of the House GOP may still demand steeper cuts than Boehner can deliver. But he would be foolish not to play on Meckler’s terms and divide his caucus between those who want to raise the debt ceiling and those who don’t, and try his best to avoid the details.

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Polls: Obama’s Approval Ratings Plunging

Frank Newport, editor in chief of The Gallup Poll, writes that President Obama averaged a 43 percent job approval rating for the week of July 18-24, tied for the lowest weekly average of his administration.

A separate poll, this one from the Washington Post-ABC News, finds the number of liberal Democrats who strongly support Obama’s record on jobs plunged 22 points from 53 percent last year to 31 percent today. The number of African Americans who believe the president’s actions have helped the economy has dropped from 77 percent in October to just over half of those surveyed. A staggering 90 percent of those surveyed said the economy is not doing well. More than four out of five report that jobs are difficult to find. And only 41 percent approve of the job the president is doing when it comes to creating jobs.

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Frank Newport, editor in chief of The Gallup Poll, writes that President Obama averaged a 43 percent job approval rating for the week of July 18-24, tied for the lowest weekly average of his administration.

A separate poll, this one from the Washington Post-ABC News, finds the number of liberal Democrats who strongly support Obama’s record on jobs plunged 22 points from 53 percent last year to 31 percent today. The number of African Americans who believe the president’s actions have helped the economy has dropped from 77 percent in October to just over half of those surveyed. A staggering 90 percent of those surveyed said the economy is not doing well. More than four out of five report that jobs are difficult to find. And only 41 percent approve of the job the president is doing when it comes to creating jobs.

A man of Obama’s arrogance and narcissism cannot process failure very well –and being surrounded on almost every side by failures of his own making can cause anger, denial and blame shifting. His public comments take on a “woe is me” quality. And beyond all that is an effort to create an optical illusion in which Obama casts himself as courageous, non-partisan, mature, reasonable and anti-ideological. The zeal with which Obama and his team are pursuing this make-over is somewhat impressive. But ultimately, it’s also fruitless. Not even Barack Obama can escape responsibility for his staggering record of incompetence.

 

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More Phantom Cuts in the Reid Budget?

Yesterday, I wrote that Sen. Harry Reid was obscuring the numbers of his deficit reduction plan by including $1.2 trillion in “war spending cuts” that were already planned for. But a Republican Senate Budget Committee aide now tells me Reid appears to have also inflated his $1.2 billion in deficit reduction from discretionary spending caps.

According to committee analysts, Reid’s baseline doesn’t include $400 billion in savings already enacted in the continuing resolution. Which would mean there’s only $800 billion in new savings in his plan. Add that to the $1.2 trillion in phantom war spending reductions, and it makes you wonder exactly how much of of Reid’s “savings” are real, and how much are just number tricks.

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Yesterday, I wrote that Sen. Harry Reid was obscuring the numbers of his deficit reduction plan by including $1.2 trillion in “war spending cuts” that were already planned for. But a Republican Senate Budget Committee aide now tells me Reid appears to have also inflated his $1.2 billion in deficit reduction from discretionary spending caps.

According to committee analysts, Reid’s baseline doesn’t include $400 billion in savings already enacted in the continuing resolution. Which would mean there’s only $800 billion in new savings in his plan. Add that to the $1.2 trillion in phantom war spending reductions, and it makes you wonder exactly how much of of Reid’s “savings” are real, and how much are just number tricks.

In fact, GOP analysts say the spending cuts appear to be closer to $1 trillion during the next decade than to the $2.7 trillion that Reid initially claimed. In response to the analysis of Reid’s budget, Sen. Jeff Sessions, ranking member of the Budget Committee, released the following statement:

As feared, the Majority Leader’s bill does not achieve anything close to the promised savings. Spending next year would be only $3 billion less than the amount enacted for 2011. Far from the $2.7 trillion in cuts claimed, the true spending cuts in this proposal are closer to $1 trillion over ten years—roughly a third of what was advertised—while asking for a nearly $3 trillion increase in the debt limit. This falls far short of the idea that a dollar in cuts should accompany every dollar increase in the debt limit.

Sessions also endorsed a short-term extension – which he stressed must include immediate cuts during the extension period – in order to allow more time for negotiation.

“Given the late hour, rather than rush through poorly-vetted legislation to grant the president the largest debt ceiling increase in history, we should pursue a more reasonable approach: a short-term extension with real cuts during the immediate time period the extension covers—not ten years down the road,” said Sessions.

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House GOP in Danger of Falling Into Obama’s Trap

Despite his pose of moderation, President Obama has maintained an obstructionist attitude throughout the debt ceiling crisis. By demanding higher taxes and engaging in class warfare rhetoric, the White House demonstrated that what it wanted was not a solution to the problem of how to raise the debt ceiling but to avoid one. Its apparent goal was to set off a chain of events that would recreate the government shutdown of 1995 with Obama playing President Clinton and House Speaker John Boehner in the role of Newt Gingrich.

Up until this point, the House Republican leadership has managed to avoid playing into Obama’s hands. They have continued to negotiate and to stick to their guns on taxes. But rather than merely stamp their feet, they proposed solutions and made it clear if anyone was going to endanger the country’s credit rating, it was the scaremongering president, not them. But if rebels within the GOP caucus reject Boehner’s current proposal, they will be doing exactly what Obama wants them to do.

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Despite his pose of moderation, President Obama has maintained an obstructionist attitude throughout the debt ceiling crisis. By demanding higher taxes and engaging in class warfare rhetoric, the White House demonstrated that what it wanted was not a solution to the problem of how to raise the debt ceiling but to avoid one. Its apparent goal was to set off a chain of events that would recreate the government shutdown of 1995 with Obama playing President Clinton and House Speaker John Boehner in the role of Newt Gingrich.

Up until this point, the House Republican leadership has managed to avoid playing into Obama’s hands. They have continued to negotiate and to stick to their guns on taxes. But rather than merely stamp their feet, they proposed solutions and made it clear if anyone was going to endanger the country’s credit rating, it was the scaremongering president, not them. But if rebels within the GOP caucus reject Boehner’s current proposal, they will be doing exactly what Obama wants them to do.

Tea Partiers in the House are right to point out that Boehner’s deal isn’t perfect and will enable more spending while not cutting enough entitlements. But as much as an absolute refusal to raise the debt ceiling or countenance another dime of spending may play well in a Republican primary (as Michele Bachmann has been trying to demonstrate), Congress simply cannot allow the debt ceiling deadline to expire. If they do, then they are handing Obama a victory he didn’t earn and wouldn’t have won on his own.

A collapse of Boehner’s current plan would make it clear the Republican party is just not prepared to govern. Since the Democratic alternative proposed by Senator Harry Reid also eschews higher taxes, it’s time for Republicans to realize they have largely won the argument on the debt and to cash their winnings via Boehner’s proposal. If they don’t, the choices will all be bad for the GOP. Either Democrats and moderate Republicans will adopt an alternative debt plan (that conservatives will hate far more than Boehner’s) or there will be no solution at all, and the White House and the Democrats will be able to point to the failure of the GOP to back Boehner as the cause of the catastrophe.

Republicans simply must pass Boehner’s plan and then dare the Democrats to turn it down and shoulder the responsibility for what follows. If House rebels spike the Speaker’s initiative, it will mean Obama will get the government shutdown he wanted all along which will discredit the GOP and make his re-election that much easier.

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