The Senate unanimously confirmed a U.S. special envoy to Burma last week. This is a big policy reversal; the United States has historically avoided high-level diplomatic presence in Myanmar, refusing to engage such a dictatorial regime. The military junta has repeatedly shown it won’t be persuaded to change its ways, regardless of diplomatic engagement. Despite the United States’ good intentions, by honoring Burma with the attention of a senior diplomat, we lend an air of legitimacy to a regime lacking it.
Sending a special envoy makes even less sense in light of the last three years. In 2009, the Obama administration re-evaluated U.S. policy, deciding to devote more aid to Burma and to begin direct, high-level dialogue. Practically, this meant the Obama administration engaged with the junta at a level unprecedented since the 1988 military coup.
Jonathan is right the president’s policies on Jerusalem are not going to bring anyone closer to a peace agreement, and in fact they only muddy the waters. But there’s an extra dose of irony in all this. As Daniel Halper reports, the State Department released a statement today reaffirming their official position that they have no idea what this thing called “Jerusalem” is or where it might be found. In a follow-up post, Halper shows that after his blog post made the rounds, the White House scrubbed the word “Israel” from photographs that used to read “Jerusalem, Israel.”
This is pure amateur hour at this point. Is the president so stubborn he will scrub all references to Jerusalem being in Israel from the public record just to be consistent with a separate but equally asinine policy? Additionally, while the president certainly does seem within his rights to decide “Jerusalem, Israel” cannot be put on U.S. passports, the decision not to recognize Israeli sovereignty over the parts of Jerusalem no one disputes only encourages more building in the city.
Tim Pawlenty’s presidential campaign has endured a summer of misery and disappointment. But the question before us now is whether this once promising first-tier contender has come to the end of his tether. It is possible a good performance at the televised debate in Ames on Thursday night or a better than expected showing in the straw poll on Saturday will resurrect his candidacy. But don’t count on it.
The expected entry of Rick Perry into the race this weekend further complicates an already barely tenable situation for Pawlenty. In May, he looked to be the main rival to Mitt Romney and hoped to get strong support from conservative Christians and Tea Partiers. Three months later, he’s become an afterthought in the wake of the rise of Michele Bachmann and the anticipated push from Perry. Indeed, in a poll published today, he finished dead last among Michigan Republicans trailing even Thaddeus McCotter, a first that provoked a cascade of satirical remarks about Pawlenty on Twitter (though McCotter has nothing to brag about since the same poll showed a majority of Republicans in his home state had never heard of him).
According to Gallup, “Americans’ economic confidence plunged to -53 in the week ending Aug. 7, a level not seen since the recession days of March 2009.” The survey goes on to report economic confidence deteriorated even faster in July and the first week of August than it did in June compared with May. “This plunge in confidence contrasts with the relatively flat trend in 2010,” according to Gallup. “It also places consumer perceptions of the economy in the range of March 2009 during the recession.”
In addition — and not coincidentally — the president’s job approval rating has dropped to 40 percent, tying his low from a week ago, and his disapproval rating is now 50 percent. It’s only a matter of time before Obama’s approval rating sinks below 40 percent, at which point the rising concern among Democrats will turn to panic.
Rick Perry’s reported decision to announce his candidacy on the same day as the Ames straw poll apparently isn’t playing well with some Iowans. In particular, Craig Robinson, editor of The Iowa Republican, seems to be taking the news remarkably hard:
Stealing some of the media attention away from the straw poll and the candidates that are participating on Saturday may seem like a savvy thing to do, but it comes at a high price. Perry now risks alienating the very people he needs to support him in order to win the nomination. It also seems arrogant to think that he can steal the some of the spotlight from Ames. National members of the media are already in Iowa to cover the lead up to the straw poll and Thursday night’s Fox News debate. Perry is basically going to attempt inject himself in to the national news story, but his speech and entrance into the race will not match the excitement of Ames.
I want to reinforce Jonathan’s excellent post on the efforts under way by the Obama campaign to begin a “ferocious personal assault on Mitt Romney’s character and business background.”
The Politico story quotes a prominent Democratic strategist aligned with the White House as saying, “Unless things change and Obama can run on accomplishments, he will have to kill Romney.” And Smith and Martin of Politico report Obama’s aides “are increasingly resigned to running for reelection in a glum nation. And so the candidate who ran on ‘hope’ in 2008 has little choice four years later but to run a slashing, personal campaign aimed at disqualifying his likeliest opponent.”
The Obama administration renewed its attack on Jewish Jerusalem today by formally condemning the construction of apartments in part of the city. The approval last week of a housing project in the Har Homa neighborhood of the city was blasted by the State Department as being contrary to the peace process and an impediment to the renewal of negotiations with the Palestinians.
But like previous statements from the administration, the complaint about apartments in Har Homa has little to do with the moribund peace process and everything to do with an Obama policy decision to treat the hundreds of thousands of existing Jews living in parts of Israel’s capital as being no different from the most remote hilltop settlements in the West Bank. Despite the rhetoric from Washington, Har Homa isn’t up for grabs in a theoretical peace deal, and housing there won’t stop a two-state solution if the Palestinians ever decide they want one. What it is an obstacle to is an effort to rip Jerusalem apart and to evict Jews from their homes.
Much will be said about today’s Politico story on President Obama’s strategy for the 2012 election: “kill Romney,” according to one White House-aligned strategist. But it should also be noted the story makes one gargantuan mistake.
Here is how the authors present it: “The dramatic and unabashedly negative turn is the product of political reality…. And so the candidate who ran on ‘hope’ in 2008 has little choice four years later but to run a slashing, personal campaign aimed at disqualifying his likeliest opponent.” This portrayal of the Obama plan to use dirty tricks and character assassination to win as something new–as a change in direction–is a frankly astonishing thing to say. What Politico describes in the article could easily be mistaken for a wrap-up of Obama’s 2008 election strategy. Let’s take a stroll down memory lane, shall we?
As if the job market hasn’t suffered enough recently, chain restaurants are now bracing themselves for the additional financial hardship of enforcing an Obamacare policy requiring them to include calorie information on their in-store menus.
The new rule might now sound expensive in theory, but Phil Klein explains the unintended impact it’s already having on small, individually-run franchises:
How pathetic is it that Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Bahrain are taking a stronger stand on Syria than the United States? On Monday, those three Gulf nations–none of them a paragon of democratic virtue, to put it mildly–all withdrew their ambassadors from Damascus in protest against Bashar al-Assad’s massacres of his own people.
There is, of course, a sectarian edge to this act–Assad and the ruling clique are Alawites, an Shiite offshoot, while most of those who are getting massacred are Sunnis. The Saudi, Kuwaiti and Bahraini ruling families are of course, Sunnis, too. One might even cynically conclude they see nothing wrong with slaughtering Shiites–as the Bahraini security forces have been doing lately with Saudi help–but, Sunnis are a different story.
The brilliant and pseudonymous British social worker who blogs under the name “Winston Smith”—he won a major commentating prize last year called the Orwell Prize—has a stinging post this morning about the events tearing his country apart. It’s worth reading in full, but in the middle is a quote that crystallizes the reasons why Britain was so ripe for this bizarre crime spree: “This morning on Sky News, the Home Secretary, Theresa May, dismissed the option of using water cannon when she said: “The way we police in Britain is not through use of water cannon…the way we police in Britain is through consent of communities.”
The Home Secretary is, effectively, the national chief of police. What this quote reveals is that the reason Britain has gone lawless is that the law is not actually enforced. Policing is ultimately not about “consent.” That is what the political process is for, to write the laws with the consent of the governed. The police department is to enforce those laws on behalf of the communities that might—as if happening right now—be destroyed by the failure to do so.
If May keeps her job, David Cameron will lose his.
In what must be considered one of the most ridiculous statements uttered recently in the already absurd world of international diplomacy, Iran today called upon Britain to show “restraint” with the rioters who are looting and burning in London. The Iranian Foreign Ministry also called for the British government to open a “dialogue” with demonstrators and for human rights groups to investigate the behavior of the London police.
This is, of course, the same Iranian government that rigged a presidential election so as to ensure the continuance in power of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and then launched a brutal crackdown against demonstrators who took to the streets of Tehran to protest the theft. Iran is a brutal, theocratic tyranny where human rights are conspicuous by their absence. Opponents of the mullah’s regime, religious minorities and other dissidents have all faced violence and repression from the government. Britain is a democracy where the police have the duty to enforce the rule of law and do so with what objective observers have noted might be a little too much “restraint.” But as much as we may well laugh at Iran’s chutzpah, this idiotic statement should remind us hypocrisy of this sort is not an anomaly in international discourse. It is enshrined in the institutions of the United Nations.
Somehow, the prospect of a double-dip recession has only caused the left to double-down on its delusion.
In their minds, Standard & Poor’s downgrade is unrelated to the years of runaway federal spending and fiscal impropriety – it’s merely a statement about the heated politics of the moment, driven largely by Tea Party divisiveness/obstructionism/extremism. In comparison to these mental gymnasts, President Obama’s halfhearted suggestions we may have to do something about entitlements almost look responsible and self-aware.
Remember real terrorism? The kind that hit us almost ten years ago? With the turmoil of collapsing markets and climbing joblessness, it’s easy to forget that Americans went into this decade worrying first and foremost about another 9/11-scale al-Qaeda attack. Being weeks away from the 10th anniversary of 9/11, it’s striking to note that the U.S. has not suffered an organized terrorist attack in all this time. And, boy, have we come to take it for granted.
In American political discussion the term terrorist has been downgraded to a metaphor. It’s now applied without shame to conservatives fighting on the front lines of the spending debate. It was half a century after the total defeat of the Third Reich before Jerry Seinfeld could jokingly refer to a grouchy soup vendor as Nazi; ten years after 9/11, the Tea Party is a jihad organization.
Because we haven’t been attacked over these years a delusional sense of inevitable security has set in, as if we were never really going to be attacked again anyway. The truth, however, is another matter. In a recent column in the Daily News, New York Police Commissioner Ray Kelly lists 13 terrorist plots against New York alone that have been thwarted. These include a scheme to destroy the Brooklyn Bridge, a bomb plot aimed at the Herald Square subway station, and several others targeting synagogues and Jewish centers. Why didn’t these plots, or many others, come to fruition? Because, for all the tragedy, controversy, and regret, America got a lot right in the past ten years of the war on terror. That’s a fact.
With that in mind, New Yorkers are invited to a COMMENTARY Forum on this important and neglected topic, Tuesday, August 16 at the Ethical Culture Society in Manhattan. COMMENTARY’s Editor, John Podhoretz, is moderating, and the participants are Ross Douthat, Andrew C. McCarthy, and yours truly. Click here for tickets and information. I hope to see all of you there.
Politico reports today the Obama White House thinks they have found the key to the president’s re-election: a campaign strategy whose purpose is to “kill Romney.” Democrats will not only seek to besmirch the record of the former Massachusetts governor, but they will also slime his character in a conscious effort to model their campaign after Republican attacks on John Kerry in 2004.
That Democrats resort to such tactics is a clear indication of the desperation Obama’s operatives must be feeling as they contemplate trying to re-elect a president who is giving a good impression of Herbert Hoover as the economy sinks on his watch. But the decision has two major drawbacks Obama’s advisers seem not to understand. Far from aiding the president’s 2012 hopes, the “kill Romney” approach may actually hurt Obama far more than it may help.
If there is a silver lining in yesterday’s stock market crash–aside from the fact the markets are rebounding today–it is that other countries aren’t doing any better. The Dow Jones Industrial Average may be down 7% this year (as of yesterday’s close), but, as the Los Angeles Times reminds us, the major stock market indexes are down 14% in Germany, 16% in Australia, and 30% in Brazil. Germany and France are in danger of debt downgrades of their own.
Why is this a silver lining? It’s true our economy doesn’t benefit if other countries do poorly as well. But our standing as a nation does hinge in part on how other countries stand. If we are in a downward spiral while other countries are growing strongly, this can signal American decline. But if we decline slightly, while others decline even more, that will not hurt our relative standing.
How bad was the president’s speech yesterday? So bad that Dana Perino, former press secretary for George Bush, dismissed it on Fox News last night as the work of TOTUS (Teleprompter Of The United States). Even the usually supportive Dana Milbank of the Washington Post was appalled by it: “It’s not exactly fair to blame Obama for the rout: Almost certainly, the markets ignored him. And that’s the problem: The most powerful man in the world seems strangely powerless, and irresolute, as larger forces bring down the country and his presidency.” His column’s ending is devastating:
I don’t want to get too far ahead of the process, he [press secretary Jay Carney] explained to the Wall Street Journal’s Laura Meckler, adding that Obama will be contributing to that process, not driving it or directing it.
Loyalty to subordinates is a sign of character on the part of a leader. But under certain circumstances, it can also be an indication that a leader isn’t prepared to come to grips with a grim situation as well as having lost touch with political reality. The news that Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner has announced he will stay on until the end of President Obama’s term in office is just such a situation.
Geithner is not the sole or even the principal author of our economic woes. Indeed, because he is one of the people in the administration who have pushed for deficit reduction, a good argument can be made that he needs to stay, because the alternatives would almost certainly be worse. But the downward spiral of the American economy and the feckless performance of the president himself when he spoke yesterday about the downgrade of the country’s credit rating is a set of circumstances that demands drastic action from the White House. Obama needs to do something to convince the public he understands this and is prepared to act. Yesterday’s speech showed us that save for anti-Republican demagoguery, Obama is out of ideas. The announcement there will be no changes in his economic team is merely confirmation he his prepared to go down with the economic ship as his chances for re-election sink.
How many Newsweek cover mini-scandals have we been through since Tina Brown took charge of the magazine? There was the one about the resurrected Princess Diana, then Romney as a dancing Mormon, and now finally a supposedly sexist photo of Rep. Michele Bachmann channeling a young Charles Manson. There probably have been some others I missed.
But if there’s a trend here, it’s not sexism. Newsweek has had plenty of women on its front page since Brown took over, and none of them have been portrayed particularly unflatteringly (not even the conservative ones). Still, some conservatives, and liberal groups like the National Organization for Women, have argued this latest Bachmann cover exposes Newsweek as misogynistic. They say the magazine wouldn’t have used such an unflattering photo of a man, or dubbed him the “King of Rage” (Bachmann is called the “Queen of Rage” in the headline).