Commentary Magazine


Posts For: August 2, 2011

Now that the Debt Distraction is Over…

President Obama says it’s time to turn his attention to jobs, as if the recent debate was the one thing holding him back from tackling unemployment. As the Weekly Standard’s Mark Hemingway points out, this isn’t the first time Obama has promised to “turn his attention” to the economy. Unfortunately, each time he’s tried, other issues have always seemed to get in the way.

“It’s increasingly clear that the Obama administration devoted all of its energy upfront to passing the stimulus package and Obamacare and then expected the economy and entitlements to sort themselves out while they coasted until the next campaign,” Mark writes. “At a certain point, you pivot so many times you’re just going in circles, like someone put a blindfold on Obama and told him we’re playing Pin the Tail on the Economy.”

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President Obama says it’s time to turn his attention to jobs, as if the recent debate was the one thing holding him back from tackling unemployment. As the Weekly Standard’s Mark Hemingway points out, this isn’t the first time Obama has promised to “turn his attention” to the economy. Unfortunately, each time he’s tried, other issues have always seemed to get in the way.

“It’s increasingly clear that the Obama administration devoted all of its energy upfront to passing the stimulus package and Obamacare and then expected the economy and entitlements to sort themselves out while they coasted until the next campaign,” Mark writes. “At a certain point, you pivot so many times you’re just going in circles, like someone put a blindfold on Obama and told him we’re playing Pin the Tail on the Economy.”

It seems Obama’s entire presidency has been plagued with one interruption after another. Before the debt ceiling debate, the president’s job creation plans were thwarted by the unhelpful Weiner distraction.

Prior to that was the irritating risk of a government shutdown. The Wisconsin protests and the birth certificate controversy also got in the way of Obama’s economic agenda, according to the administration. And that’s not counting all the foreign policy inconveniencies the White House had to diffuse when it would have rather concentrated on jobs and the economy: Libya, Afghanistan, the international threat of a Koran-burning Florida pastor.

But who knows? Maybe if the world just gives the president some peace and quiet until November 2012, he’ll actually be able to make some progress on the economy.

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A Closer Look at the Romney-Perry “Feud”

Now that Rick Perry appears to be on the verge of declaring his candidacy for the Republican nomination and has already settled into the second-place slot in the polls behind Mitt Romney, some of the commentary has turned to how these two candidates feel about each other. The verdict: not exactly warm and fuzzy.

From today’s Austin American-Statesman:

A heated 2006 conversation in Austin is often recounted in Perry circles. Romney was the chairman of the Republican Governors Association and had hired TV adman Alex Castellanos to help Republican candidates across the country.

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Now that Rick Perry appears to be on the verge of declaring his candidacy for the Republican nomination and has already settled into the second-place slot in the polls behind Mitt Romney, some of the commentary has turned to how these two candidates feel about each other. The verdict: not exactly warm and fuzzy.

From today’s Austin American-Statesman:

A heated 2006 conversation in Austin is often recounted in Perry circles. Romney was the chairman of the Republican Governors Association and had hired TV adman Alex Castellanos to help Republican candidates across the country.

Perry didn’t like that because Castellanos was also a key player in Carole Keeton Strayhorn’s inner circle. Strayhorn, a Democrat-turned-Republican-turned-independent, was running against Perry that year. Perry and his camp wondered why the Republican Governors Association would hire someone who was trying to beat a Republican governor. But Romney kept Castellanos on board and hired him again to work on his 2008 presidential campaign.

The next year, Perry snubbed Romney and the rest of the Republican presidential field by endorsing former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani. And then he singled out Romney for criticism in his 2008 book about the Boy Scouts, On My Honor.

But upon close inspection, how much is really here? There is certainly something to the first issue, of Romney hiring Castellanos while the latter was working against Perry during an election. I would imagine that would produce a bitter memory for Perry, and understandably so. But the other two leave me unconvinced. Notice how the author writes Perry snubbed Romney and the rest of the Republican presidential field by endorsing Giuliani. Was there any reason to assume Perry might endorse Romney? I don’t think so.

This doesn’t have much in common with Charlie Crist’s shenanigans in the 2008 election in which he promised to endorse Giuliani, then said he’d either endorse Giuliani or no one at all, then endorsed John McCain. But Rick Perry is no Charlie Crist–something for which the conservative movement is quite appreciative.

The Boy Scouts issue is actually an interesting one considering the scrutiny Perry has received for his stance on gay marriage–he supports the right of the states to legalize it, but would also support a constitutional amendment opposing it. The Boy Scouts were apparently excluded from volunteering in the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics–when Romney was at the helm–and Perry speculated this might be because the Scouts had recently won a court battle to ban openly gay Scout leaders, and Romney was defending gay groups’ interests by not allowing the Scouts to participate.

But as the Statesman notes, Romney told the Scouts–confirmed by a Scout leader at the time–they could help in many ways, but many of them were under the requisite age for volunteering for certain roles. It was from those roles they were being excluded.

One additional footnote on the Romney-Perry battle: Romney today picked up the support of Ambassador Mary Kramer, an Iowa Republican who was George W. Bush’s envoy to Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean. This led Ben Smith to relay a story from Kramer’s memoirs, in which her replacement as ambassador demanded she vacate the premises quickly, forcing Kramer to break commitments she had already made. That replacement was Mary Ourisman, a Republican donor who was, Smith notes, “recently sighted at a Perry event.”

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No Nuke-Related Deaths at Fukushima

This startling detail appears in a story published today at MSNBC.com about radiation at Japan’s Fukushima nuclear plant:

Two workers at the plant died in the initial earthquake and tsunami disasters on March 11 and a third died from a heart attack on May 14 while working in a waste disposal building. All three deaths were unrelated to nuclear radiation.

No one has died from the radiation leaked at Fukushima. Amazing, when you consider the accident caused Germany to forswear nuclear power altogether, and anti-nuclear activists in every free country have been pushing their governments to follow suit.  What’s even more amazing is the story itself is headlined “Death in seconds” and details newly discovered pockets of radiation at the plant “that could lead to incapacitation or death after just several seconds of exposure.” We shouldn’t be callous about the potential long-term damage, and few things are scarier than an unstoppable nuclear meltdown, but it sure seems like a political meltdown immediately supplanted the original disaster.  

This startling detail appears in a story published today at MSNBC.com about radiation at Japan’s Fukushima nuclear plant:

Two workers at the plant died in the initial earthquake and tsunami disasters on March 11 and a third died from a heart attack on May 14 while working in a waste disposal building. All three deaths were unrelated to nuclear radiation.

No one has died from the radiation leaked at Fukushima. Amazing, when you consider the accident caused Germany to forswear nuclear power altogether, and anti-nuclear activists in every free country have been pushing their governments to follow suit.  What’s even more amazing is the story itself is headlined “Death in seconds” and details newly discovered pockets of radiation at the plant “that could lead to incapacitation or death after just several seconds of exposure.” We shouldn’t be callous about the potential long-term damage, and few things are scarier than an unstoppable nuclear meltdown, but it sure seems like a political meltdown immediately supplanted the original disaster.  

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Excessive Defense Cuts Too Risky

So, the budget battle is over. Or is it? In the way typical of Washington, lawmakers have reached a deal that, while it includes some immediate budget cuts, defers the biggest decisions for future resolution. Now it will be up to the super committee to figure out how to cut at least $1.2 trillion in spending, or else automatic cuts will be enforced in the fall, with half falling on defense, the other half on Medicare and other social programs.

Opinions differ as to whether the automatic cuts will take place, but Bill Kristol worries they might be, and I’m inclined to agree. That would be a catastrophe for the future of American power: The armed forces can survive, barely, the $350 billion in cuts over 10 years mandated by the first part of the budget package. They could not survive, at least not in their current form, an extra $600+ billion in cuts.

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So, the budget battle is over. Or is it? In the way typical of Washington, lawmakers have reached a deal that, while it includes some immediate budget cuts, defers the biggest decisions for future resolution. Now it will be up to the super committee to figure out how to cut at least $1.2 trillion in spending, or else automatic cuts will be enforced in the fall, with half falling on defense, the other half on Medicare and other social programs.

Opinions differ as to whether the automatic cuts will take place, but Bill Kristol worries they might be, and I’m inclined to agree. That would be a catastrophe for the future of American power: The armed forces can survive, barely, the $350 billion in cuts over 10 years mandated by the first part of the budget package. They could not survive, at least not in their current form, an extra $600+ billion in cuts.

That is a bigger cut than even Harry Reid advocated, and Gen. Martin Dempsey, the incoming chairman of the Joint Chiefs, rightly warned implementing Reid’s plan “would be extraordinarily difficult and very high risk.”

Nothing less than than the future of American power hangs in the balance. The 21st century could well be the Chinese century, not the American century, if cuts on that scale are implemented.

That makes it essential congressional Republicans man the ramparts and prevent the evisceration of our armed forces. And for that to happen, congressional leaders must appoint members of the House and Senate Armed Services Committees to the super committee. The lawmakers most knowledgeable about, and passionate about, the armed forces must be in the middle of deliberations to make clear to their colleagues excessive cuts will carry a price tag that cannot be measured simply in dollars and cents.

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Nothing to Celebrate

One bright side about the debt ceiling deal passing: maybe now we’ll actually find out exactly what it’s going to do.

The wording of the deal is so vague (intentionally? because of the last-minute time crunch?) that national security experts who focus on the defense budget for a living have had a hard time agreeing on how it will impact defense.

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One bright side about the debt ceiling deal passing: maybe now we’ll actually find out exactly what it’s going to do.

The wording of the deal is so vague (intentionally? because of the last-minute time crunch?) that national security experts who focus on the defense budget for a living have had a hard time agreeing on how it will impact defense.

But what does seem true is roughly $350 billion of the initial $900 billion reductions will be cut from the “security category” – the Pentagon, Homeland Security, some others – during the next 10 years. Those groups will fight it out each year about how exactly those reductions are spread out amongst themselves.

Then there’s the super committee, which will basically be playing Russian roulette with the Department of Defense budget. If the committee can’t agree on reductions, defense loses: $600 billion, according to reports. And if the committee does agree on reductions…well, there’s a good chance defense might still lose.

Why make defense the scapegoat, the one area forced to endure the brunt of the reductions? To most bystanders, it must look like it’s the source of our escalating deficit problems.

It’s not. The Department of Defense baseline spending has only grown an average of 3.5 percent each year during the last 10-year-period (FY02 to FY11). That’s not exactly an excessive or dramatic number, especially considering America is fighting three wars.

Which gets us to the heart of the problem with the deal: it lays disproportionate and undue blame on the DoD, while largely letting the true source of our deficit crisis – entitlements – off the hook. Sure, the deal (imperfect as it is) was necessary to avoid devastating political and economic repercussions. But it’s also a big middle finger to national defense, which isn’t exactly something to celebrate.

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The Liberals Are Throwing Tantrums

Jonah Goldberg has a remarkable rant about press bias over at National Review Online you really have to read. He takes on the fact that liberal commentators and liberal politicals now feel entirely free to refer to conservative Republicans, especially those aligned with the Tea Party, as terrorists, jihadists, thugs, dictators, and the like, without fearing the consequences of media blowback. But I’m struck by a quality shared by all those who engage in increasingly uncontrolled rhetoric about the role of the members of Congress who opposed a debt-ceiling increase and any deal: They sound impotent.They are hurling violent words at the people they dislike because they cannot believe their own arguments are not winning the day.

As it happens, I too think a failure to raise the debt ceiling would have been wildly reckless. But for those who voted as they did, the most minimal elementary fairness should be extended: They told their constituents they wouldn’t. They ran for election in 2010 promising to do what they could to change the relationship of the body politic to the federal government, to reverse the spending mania in Washington, and to hold true to principles of limited government. They won. They were presented with bills they thought failed the test. They voted against those bills. In what conceivable universe is this entirely appropriate behavior by elected officials trying to fulfill their campaign promises tyrannous, terroristic, jihadist, or anything else? Opposing tax hikes is the act of a jihadist? Wanting larger cuts in government programs is terrorism? Exercising the right to assemble into a loose coalition to oppose such things is dictatorial?

It isn’t, of course. These words are tossed about because the people who speak them are becoming aware of the fact that they have lost the national argument they believed they had won in 2008. They are revealing themselves as losers, sore losers, bad losers. And Joe Nocera, Paul Krugman, Fareed Zakaria, and others aren’t making arguments. They’re throwing petulant tantrums.

Jonah Goldberg has a remarkable rant about press bias over at National Review Online you really have to read. He takes on the fact that liberal commentators and liberal politicals now feel entirely free to refer to conservative Republicans, especially those aligned with the Tea Party, as terrorists, jihadists, thugs, dictators, and the like, without fearing the consequences of media blowback. But I’m struck by a quality shared by all those who engage in increasingly uncontrolled rhetoric about the role of the members of Congress who opposed a debt-ceiling increase and any deal: They sound impotent.They are hurling violent words at the people they dislike because they cannot believe their own arguments are not winning the day.

As it happens, I too think a failure to raise the debt ceiling would have been wildly reckless. But for those who voted as they did, the most minimal elementary fairness should be extended: They told their constituents they wouldn’t. They ran for election in 2010 promising to do what they could to change the relationship of the body politic to the federal government, to reverse the spending mania in Washington, and to hold true to principles of limited government. They won. They were presented with bills they thought failed the test. They voted against those bills. In what conceivable universe is this entirely appropriate behavior by elected officials trying to fulfill their campaign promises tyrannous, terroristic, jihadist, or anything else? Opposing tax hikes is the act of a jihadist? Wanting larger cuts in government programs is terrorism? Exercising the right to assemble into a loose coalition to oppose such things is dictatorial?

It isn’t, of course. These words are tossed about because the people who speak them are becoming aware of the fact that they have lost the national argument they believed they had won in 2008. They are revealing themselves as losers, sore losers, bad losers. And Joe Nocera, Paul Krugman, Fareed Zakaria, and others aren’t making arguments. They’re throwing petulant tantrums.

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Poll: American Muslims Don’t Care for CAIR

This brand new Gallup poll isn’t just an interesting read, it also backs up several of the points House Homeland Security Chair Peter King has been trying to make during his radicalization hearings. Out of all religious groups Gallup surveyed, Muslim Americans are the least likely to have confidence in the FBI and military institutions. They also don’t feel represented by most of the Muslim American organizations currently operating in the U.S., including the controversial Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR).

King has stressed the tension between Muslim Americans and law enforcement could obstruct or hinder FBI investigations. While the numbers don’t sound dangerously low, just 60 percent of Muslim Americans say they have confidence in the FBI, compared to 75 percent or more of Americans of other religious backgrounds.

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This brand new Gallup poll isn’t just an interesting read, it also backs up several of the points House Homeland Security Chair Peter King has been trying to make during his radicalization hearings. Out of all religious groups Gallup surveyed, Muslim Americans are the least likely to have confidence in the FBI and military institutions. They also don’t feel represented by most of the Muslim American organizations currently operating in the U.S., including the controversial Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR).

King has stressed the tension between Muslim Americans and law enforcement could obstruct or hinder FBI investigations. While the numbers don’t sound dangerously low, just 60 percent of Muslim Americans say they have confidence in the FBI, compared to 75 percent or more of Americans of other religious backgrounds.

Meanwhile, just 12 percent of Muslim American men and 11 percent of Muslim American women say they feel like CAIR represents their interests. Single digits say their interests are represented by other groups, including the Islamic Society of North America, the Muslim Public Affairs Council and the Islamic Circle of North America. A majority of males and a plurality of females say no Muslim American groups represent their interests. This is both a good sign and a bad sign — King has been highly critical of groups like CAIR, arguing they try to create a divide between the Muslim community and law enforcement officials. But it’s also important Muslim Americans feel there are Islamic organizations working in their best interests.

The findings are vital, because, according to the survey, religious groups are more likely to “thrive” when they have high confidence in national security institutions. The same holds true for Muslim Americans:

A regression analysis sheds light on the traits most closely associated with thriving in every major American religious group. Among U.S. Protestants, Catholics, Jews, and Mormons, a college education, a high level of religious observance (attending services at least once a week), and confidence in national security organizations such as the FBI are all predictive of thriving. These same traits plus a few others — including strongly identifying with the U.S. — are also predictive of Muslim Americans’ likelihood to thrive.

It sounds like King’s hearings are on the right track–not just in the interest of national security– but also in the interest of helping the Muslim American community thrive both financially and socially.

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Revealing Operational Details Will Make it Harder for Special Ops in the Future

This week’s New Yorker has a riveting account by freelance journalist Nicholas Schmidle of the raid that killed Osama bin Laden. Reading it, I was reminded of this hilarious satirical video which has “The Navy SEAL who killed Osama bin Laden” bragging to all the patrons of a San Diego bar about his achievement. It looks as if some of the participants in the raid–or at least those involved in its planning–talked to Schmidle.

I don’t necessarily think there is anything wrong with that–not much in the way of operational details seems to have been compromised in this article, at least not beyond what has already been reported. The only real news nugget is the special operators had made previous, unreported forays into Pakistan; but that should hardly come as a shock, given the already extensive reporting about another form of U.S. special operations in Pakistan–namely, the Predator strikes. Still, the Special Operations community is undoubtedly guilty of hypocrisy: they pull a tight blanket of secrecy around their operations but peel it back when they have an especially notable success to publicize.

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This week’s New Yorker has a riveting account by freelance journalist Nicholas Schmidle of the raid that killed Osama bin Laden. Reading it, I was reminded of this hilarious satirical video which has “The Navy SEAL who killed Osama bin Laden” bragging to all the patrons of a San Diego bar about his achievement. It looks as if some of the participants in the raid–or at least those involved in its planning–talked to Schmidle.

I don’t necessarily think there is anything wrong with that–not much in the way of operational details seems to have been compromised in this article, at least not beyond what has already been reported. The only real news nugget is the special operators had made previous, unreported forays into Pakistan; but that should hardly come as a shock, given the already extensive reporting about another form of U.S. special operations in Pakistan–namely, the Predator strikes. Still, the Special Operations community is undoubtedly guilty of hypocrisy: they pull a tight blanket of secrecy around their operations but peel it back when they have an especially notable success to publicize.

On balance, I think being forthcoming makes sense in this case because it is an inspirational tale and one that should put fear into our enemies. Note especially Schmidle’s reporting (which confirms prior reports) that bin Laden was unarmed when he was killed; a SEAL shot him twice, once in the chest, once in the head, because as one Special Operations officer told him, “There was never any question of detaining or capturing him–it wasn’t a split second decision. No one wanted detainees.” Assuming that’s accurate, that is the kind of ruthlessness I believe most of the world can applaud, or at least respect–thus heightening our deterrence against terrorists and other foes.

But revealing operational details in the present instance will make it harder for the Special Operators to make a principled argument in the future to keep quiet information about other operations–including those that are not so successful.

 

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The Rapid Collapse of Liberal Presidents

As President Obama’s approval drops to 40 percent and independents are fleeing him in droves, as the economy continues to stagger and comparisons to the failed presidency of Jimmy Carter are increasingly being made by Democrats, it’s worth recalling the almost cult-like reverence Obama inspired after his election. You need not go further than this November 7, 2008 broadcast of “The Charlie Rose Show,” which featured a conversation with David Remnick of The New Yorker and historians Alan Brinkley and Michael Beschloss.

“The extraordinary outpouring of celebration, joy, and hope all over the world at this election is something I could never have imagined in my lifetime,” according to Professor Brinkley.”There’s a discipline to Obama that is so extraordinary,” he raved. And then he added: “I don’t think we’ve had a president since Lincoln who has the oratorical skills that Obama has. Obama has that quality that Lincoln had.”

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As President Obama’s approval drops to 40 percent and independents are fleeing him in droves, as the economy continues to stagger and comparisons to the failed presidency of Jimmy Carter are increasingly being made by Democrats, it’s worth recalling the almost cult-like reverence Obama inspired after his election. You need not go further than this November 7, 2008 broadcast of “The Charlie Rose Show,” which featured a conversation with David Remnick of The New Yorker and historians Alan Brinkley and Michael Beschloss.

“The extraordinary outpouring of celebration, joy, and hope all over the world at this election is something I could never have imagined in my lifetime,” according to Professor Brinkley.”There’s a discipline to Obama that is so extraordinary,” he raved. And then he added: “I don’t think we’ve had a president since Lincoln who has the oratorical skills that Obama has. Obama has that quality that Lincoln had.”

Remnick, too, compared Obama’s rhetorical skills to Lincoln. The campaign also “shows him in a decision-making mold that is very encouraging.” Obama demonstrates a “receptivity to ideas outside the frame” and possesses a “worldview that allows for complexity.” He “assumes a maturity in the American public” and possesses “great audacity.” And not to believe Obama’s election will have “enormous effect” on the streets of Cairo, or Nairobi, or Jerusalem is “naive.” We were dealing, after all, with a tranformational president unlike any in our lifetime.

On and on it went, to the point that Remnick finally had to say, “We’ll climb out of the tank soon.” And while Rose’s guests inserted a qualifier here and a caveat there, reminding viewers Obama’s greatness as a chief executive still had to be proved, the infatuation with America’s 44th president is unmistakable.

Since then, the Obama presidency has suffered an enormous erosion in support. In this country, Democrats in 2010 experienced the worst electoral thrashing since the early part of the 20th century. In the Arab world, President Obama is less popular than his predecessor. Obama’s ineptness in the debt ceiling debate has infuriated his own party; so has his lack of leadership. Even Obama’s vaunted communications skills are being roundly criticized.

We have been here before. The last liberal apotheosis was in 1964, when Lyndon Johnson won the largest victory since Franklin Roosevelt in 1936. Forty-seven Democrats were elected to the House. The early years of the Johnson presidency saw huge legislative achievements in federal aid to education, immigration, Medicare and civil rights. “The right had been rendered a joke, an embarrassment, a political footnote — probably for good,” is how Rick Perlestein, author of Nixonland, put it. “These are the most hopeful times since Christ was born in Bethlehem,” LBJ said in December 1964.

A little more than 1,000 days later, Johnson shocked the nation by declaring, “I shall not seek, and I will not accept, the nomination of my party for another term as your president.” Seven months later, Richard Nixon won the presidency, beginning a run of four GOP presidential victories in five contests.

There are substantial differences between the Obama and Johnson situations, of course, beginning with the fact Obama will run for re-election. Still, to witness the rapid collapse of the two most liberal presidents of the modern era is a reminder of how transitory approbation and extolment can be. We’ve learned that historians and journalists might want to exercise a bit more restraint before comparing (rhetorically or otherwise) a one-term senator who has just won an election to Lincoln.

We’re reminded, too, qualities that appear to be strengths when things are going well are viewed as weaknesses when things are collapsing. And in the case of Obama, some of us warned at the dawn of his presidency governing would be much more challenging  than he and his academic/journalistic courtiers imagined. The widespread cockiness that characterized the early days of the Obama presidency has given way to confusion. Obama’s own aides are now privately conceding he may well lose his re-election bid.

Whether or not that happens remains to be seen. And it’s conceivable Obama will fashion a stirring comeback that relies on a surging economic recovery.

But I rather doubt it. I have believed all along Obama’s ultimate failure as a president will be the result of terribly flawed policies, which are in turn the product of his liberal/progressive political ideology. If I am wrong, the burden will be on me to explain why Barack Obama became a great and successful president. But if I am right, I look forward to a future “Charlie Rose Show” that features Messrs. Remnick, Brinkley, Beschlos, and Rose explaining how our next Lincoln–a man they considered nearly flawless and destined for once-in-a-century greatness–turned out to have failed his country on so many counts.

 

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Obama’s Curious Interpretation of International Borders

The Associated Press touched off a round of Knesset-ology yesterday when it reported, based on an Israeli TV report, Benjamin Netanyahu “has agreed to negotiate the borders of a Palestinian state based on the cease-fire line that marks off the West Bank.” The story termed this a “dramatic policy shift.”

Was Netanyahu now capitulating to President Obama’s declaration that negotiations start at the 1949 armistice lines? Did something change? Unfortunately, the subsequent articles in the Israeli and American press weren’t much help. Both sides are being vague about what it actually means, but it’s all based on one question: whether the 1949 armistice lines (also referred to as the 1967 lines) should be treated as though they constitute an international border. Curiously, however, we were given a reminder this week of an actual international border where U.S. assets have been attacked and its clear boundary recognition ignored. Yet the president, far from giving a national speech hectoring the leader of that country (as he did to Netanyahu) seems unmoved.

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The Associated Press touched off a round of Knesset-ology yesterday when it reported, based on an Israeli TV report, Benjamin Netanyahu “has agreed to negotiate the borders of a Palestinian state based on the cease-fire line that marks off the West Bank.” The story termed this a “dramatic policy shift.”

Was Netanyahu now capitulating to President Obama’s declaration that negotiations start at the 1949 armistice lines? Did something change? Unfortunately, the subsequent articles in the Israeli and American press weren’t much help. Both sides are being vague about what it actually means, but it’s all based on one question: whether the 1949 armistice lines (also referred to as the 1967 lines) should be treated as though they constitute an international border. Curiously, however, we were given a reminder this week of an actual international border where U.S. assets have been attacked and its clear boundary recognition ignored. Yet the president, far from giving a national speech hectoring the leader of that country (as he did to Netanyahu) seems unmoved.

Last week, Eli Lake reported U.S. intelligence officials have confirmed a previous claim by Georgia that a bomb blast at the American embassy in Tbilisi last year was carried out by the Russian military. “It is written without hedges, and it confirms the Georgian account,” an American official told Lake.

In a follow-up, Lake reported the Russian intelligence (GRU) officer suspected, Maj. Yevgeny Borisov, remains at his post in the Georgian province of Abkhazia–a clear swipe at American officials’ concern:

Some U.S. intelligence officials complained that the U.S. reaction to the possible state-sponsored terrorism has been too weak. “The fact that this GRU major is still at large in Abkhazia should tell you all you need to know about how effective our response has been,” one U.S. intelligence official said.

Normally, intelligence officers who are exposed by another government are recalled home and their careers are cut short.

In today’s edition of the New York Times, Ellen Barry received a response from Russia’s foreign ministry to Friday’s Senate resolution describing Abkhazia and South Ossetia as “occupied by the Russian Federation.” The statement was utterly dismissive of the U.S. government’s right to declare borders in Russia/Georgia: “The statement of the American senators about this testifies either to illiteracy of international law, or else complete disregard for the real facts.”

And what are those real facts? Barry explains:

Little has changed on the ground since Russia and Georgia agreed to a cease-fire after five days of combat in August 2008. The French-brokered deal required Russia to withdraw its troops to prewar positions, but Russia then argued that its recognition of the two enclaves nullified that commitment. Although the United States has maintained that Russia is in violation, the dispute has been soft-pedaled amid efforts to work cooperatively with Moscow on issues like Iran’s nuclear program and the war in Afghanistan.

So the Russian line is since it declared South Ossetia and Abkhazia to be its possession, the matter is solved. The U.S. has not fought the Russians on this, because we’re trying to get their cooperation on other matters. It is interesting to see–whether or not you agree with the president’s position on either issue–the difference in the way the administration practices statecraft with regard to Russia and Israel.

Russia invaded another country’s sovereign territory, crossing international borders and refusing to give up their claim to land inside Georgia. Our response is not to challenge them on it. Israel, however, is quite clearly our ally with whom we have a great relationship that benefits our national interests in the Middle East. The White House’s response is to browbeat Netanyahu into recognizing lines that are explicitly not international borders to bring him in line with the president’s disregard for Israelis living on the other side. It’s quite a contrast.

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Deal Trick Allows Congress to Delay Budget Decisions for Two Years

Here’s one more reason why many Democrats are privately loving the debt ceiling deal – it “deems” a budget for the next two years, allowing them to avoid a showdown like the one that nearly ground the government to a halt last spring.

COMMENTARY obtained a memo sent out by the Senate Democratic Policy & Communications Center, which shows Democrats raving about the budget gimmick (emphasis mine):

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Here’s one more reason why many Democrats are privately loving the debt ceiling deal – it “deems” a budget for the next two years, allowing them to avoid a showdown like the one that nearly ground the government to a halt last spring.

COMMENTARY obtained a memo sent out by the Senate Democratic Policy & Communications Center, which shows Democrats raving about the budget gimmick (emphasis mine):

One important but overlooked element of the bipartisan debt limit compromise is that it greatly defuses the potential for intense budget showdowns over the next two years. 

The compromise expected to pass today, in effect, “deems” a budget resolution passed for each of the next two fiscal years. …

The effect of both facilitating the 302(a) allocations and establishing the security firewall under this debt-limit deal is that the legislation greatly reduces the odds of a budget standoff at the end of the current fiscal year on September 30.  While the various appropriations subcommittees will still need to reach agreement on how to meet their respective spending targets, and while it is always possible for congressional Republicans to try to hold up the FY12 spending bills over extraneous policy riders or other matters, the legislation significantly reduces the chances of a sequel to last spring’s government shutdown drama.

Nobody wants a standoff like last spring, but at some point soon both parties are going to have to make the tough, long-term choices that set our fiscal situation back on the right track. Some Democrats apparently want to avoid making these decisions, most likely because their favored economic policies – tax hikes and more spending – aren’t particularly popular with the American public. That’s especially true during a presidential election year, which is why they believe “deeming” the budget until after the 2012 campaign is so important.

This budget-deeming gimmick (or as one Republican Senate aide called it, “an Incumbent-Protection Program”) is one of the major reasons why ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee Jeff Sessions says he won’t support the deal.

“We’re getting pretty far away from the traditions of this body when you don’t publicly debate a budget, you create a committee of limited numbers of people to produce legislation that can’t be amended,” said Sessions in a statement last night. “For those reasons, I feel like as a senator and the ranking member on the Budget Committee who’s wrestled with this for some time, I would not be able to support the legislation. Though, I truly believe it is a step forward, and I respect my colleagues who’ve worked hard to try to bring it forward.”

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Raja Khalidi’s Revisionist History

Last week, the Palestinian Authority sought an urgent Arab League meeting to discuss its financial crisis: PA employees received only half their salaries in July, because donor states had delivered only one-third of their promised $970 million in aid. The delinquents were mainly Arab states, not Western ones, and UN development economist Raja Khalidi offered an instructive explanation for this fact in an interview with Haaretz this week:

“Even two generations after 1948, no Western donor, especially European and American, can be oblivious to their historic responsibility [for the Palestinians’ plight], and to the immediate security and political interests that the continuation of this conflict implies. Hence anything needed to keep a lid on things is to be expected, and indeed comes without asking the cost. As for Arab donors, they do not feel at all the historic responsibility for this situation.”

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Last week, the Palestinian Authority sought an urgent Arab League meeting to discuss its financial crisis: PA employees received only half their salaries in July, because donor states had delivered only one-third of their promised $970 million in aid. The delinquents were mainly Arab states, not Western ones, and UN development economist Raja Khalidi offered an instructive explanation for this fact in an interview with Haaretz this week:

“Even two generations after 1948, no Western donor, especially European and American, can be oblivious to their historic responsibility [for the Palestinians’ plight], and to the immediate security and political interests that the continuation of this conflict implies. Hence anything needed to keep a lid on things is to be expected, and indeed comes without asking the cost. As for Arab donors, they do not feel at all the historic responsibility for this situation.”

For those with any historical knowledge, this statement is mind-boggling – because Arab states certainly should feel historic responsibility. Had they not  rejected the 1947 UN Partition Plan, a Palestinian state would have arisen in 1948. Had five Arab armies not invaded the nascent Israel that year, there would have been no Palestinian refugees. Had Jordan and Egypt so chosen, they could have created a Palestinian state anytime from 1948 to 1967, when they controlled the West Bank and Gaza, respectively. Had three Arab states not declared war on Israel in 1967, Israel wouldn’t have captured these territories. And had the Arabs accepted any of Israel’s numerous peace offers since then, a Palestinian state could have arisen long ago.

Western states, in contrast, have no historical responsibility whatsoever: They supported a Palestinian state back in 1947 and have tried hard to midwife one ever since.

Unless, of course, you believe the problem isn’t the lack of a Palestinian state, but the very existence of a Jewish one. For that, the West does bear some  responsibility. Britain’s 1917 Balfour Declaration made it the first major power to support establishing a Jewish “national home”; the Western-dominated League of Nations approved this goal in 1922; Britain’s control of Mandatory Palestine (1917-48) advanced Jewish preparations for statehood, despite London’s later efforts to thwart Israel’s birth (including closing the gates to Jewish refugees from Hitler’s Europe and arming the Arab states that invaded Israel in 1948); Western and Western-backed states provided the UN majority that approved Israel’s creation in 1947; and Western arms sales have since been vital to Israel’s defense.

Unfortunately, much of the Arab world still does view Israel’s existence as the fundamental problem. That’s precisely why two-thirds of Palestinians still say their ultimate goal is Israel’s eradication, and why Palestinian and other Arab leaders adamantly demand a Palestinian “right of return,” aka Israel’s eradication by demography. That’s also the main reason why the conflict remains unresolved.

But Khalidi’s insight has another important ramification: Because the Arabs, Palestinians included, still deny all responsibility for creating the Palestinian problem, they feel no obligation to compromise in order to solve it. After all, why should innocent victims have to accommodate their oppressor’s demands?

And that’s precisely why the “forget history, let’s just move forward” approach favored by the West and Israel’s left keeps failing. In this conflict, the historical facts are vital. Only if the Arabs acknowledge their responsibility for the problem will they be willing to compromise to resolve it.

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GOP Should Rally to Armed Forces’ Defense

Alana is absolutely correct that defense remains on the chopping block as a result of the debt-ceiling compromise. The first wave of cuts will include $350 billion taken from the Department of Defense and other security agencies during the next ten years: less than President Obama and most Democrats wanted but still a significant hit. Really worrisome is the potential for another $600 billion in defense cuts this fall if budget negotiators cannot reach agreement on a combination of other measures to reduce the public debt. That’s enough to eviscerate the military and bring back the hollow force of the 1970s.

But that’s not a foregone conclusion. Much will depend on how much fortitude Republicans display this fall in defending defense. That’s why it is good to see House Republicans rallying to the armed forces’ defense–and not only them. Mitt Romney has also taken a stand against the debt-ceiling compromise which he worries “opens the door to higher taxes and puts defense cuts on the table.” Although he is accused of vacillating on foreign affairs, Romney has actually been a consistent champion of the troops–and the funds needed to  fund them. I trust other Republican presidential candidates will join him in voicing their support for fully funding the government’s most essential function.

 

Alana is absolutely correct that defense remains on the chopping block as a result of the debt-ceiling compromise. The first wave of cuts will include $350 billion taken from the Department of Defense and other security agencies during the next ten years: less than President Obama and most Democrats wanted but still a significant hit. Really worrisome is the potential for another $600 billion in defense cuts this fall if budget negotiators cannot reach agreement on a combination of other measures to reduce the public debt. That’s enough to eviscerate the military and bring back the hollow force of the 1970s.

But that’s not a foregone conclusion. Much will depend on how much fortitude Republicans display this fall in defending defense. That’s why it is good to see House Republicans rallying to the armed forces’ defense–and not only them. Mitt Romney has also taken a stand against the debt-ceiling compromise which he worries “opens the door to higher taxes and puts defense cuts on the table.” Although he is accused of vacillating on foreign affairs, Romney has actually been a consistent champion of the troops–and the funds needed to  fund them. I trust other Republican presidential candidates will join him in voicing their support for fully funding the government’s most essential function.

 

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