Commentary Magazine


Posts For: September 2011

Herman Cain?

Dissatisfaction with the other candidates and his own strong performances in the debates has lifted Herman Cain from who-do-these-guys-think-they-are territory to a-long-shot-but-who-knows land. Certainly a mark of that new status is yesterday’s Wall Street Journal column by Daniel Henninger.

The main objection to Cain is that he has never held public office. Given the fact that Barack Obama has never held anything but, I’m not sure that that is such a disqualifying attribute.

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Dissatisfaction with the other candidates and his own strong performances in the debates has lifted Herman Cain from who-do-these-guys-think-they-are territory to a-long-shot-but-who-knows land. Certainly a mark of that new status is yesterday’s Wall Street Journal column by Daniel Henninger.

The main objection to Cain is that he has never held public office. Given the fact that Barack Obama has never held anything but, I’m not sure that that is such a disqualifying attribute.

Potential presidents’ résumés are usually judged according to political experience, executive experience, and foreign-affairs experience. Cain has only the executive experience, and did pretty well at it, according to Henninger. But are the other two so vital? Of the last six presidents, only George H. W. Bush and Obama can claim “foreign-policy experience,” and Obama’s consisted of nothing more than two years as a Senate backbencher (the last two years of his Senate career consisted almost entirely of running for president). Bush II, Clinton, Reagan, and Carter had all been governors.

And, of course, the dirty little secret about foreign affairs is that they are a lot less complicated than domestic affairs, however fraught with peril. Presidents must deal with 300 million citizens, but only about 190 countries. And, when push really comes to shove, only about ten countries, the Great Powers, must be really taken into account.

So I don’t find Herman Cain’s résumé fatally defective. And his nomination would have two big plusses. One, it would rip the race card right out of the Democrats’ hands and two, it would set up a race between—in Glenn Reynolds marvelous phrase—Cain and Unable.

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Justice Brought to Awlaki

David Petraeus developed a reputation for preaching a softer-side of counterinsurgency but it is important to remember that in Iraq and Afghanistan he was responsible for the deaths of vast numbers of Islamist militants—more than any other American, I would wager. Now in his new capacity as CIA director he has notched another important kill: A CIA drone fired a Hellfire missile in Yemen which blew up Anwar al-Awlaki, the head of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

It is very much to President Obama’s credit that he authorized the dispatch, without any legal proceedings, of the American-born Awlaki—something that the ACLU no doubt deplores and that a fainter-hearted president would have shied away from. And it is very much to the CIA’s credit that it managed to track him down and kill him.

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David Petraeus developed a reputation for preaching a softer-side of counterinsurgency but it is important to remember that in Iraq and Afghanistan he was responsible for the deaths of vast numbers of Islamist militants—more than any other American, I would wager. Now in his new capacity as CIA director he has notched another important kill: A CIA drone fired a Hellfire missile in Yemen which blew up Anwar al-Awlaki, the head of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

It is very much to President Obama’s credit that he authorized the dispatch, without any legal proceedings, of the American-born Awlaki—something that the ACLU no doubt deplores and that a fainter-hearted president would have shied away from. And it is very much to the CIA’s credit that it managed to track him down and kill him.

This is of great importance because since the decline in capacity of al-Qaeda’s central organization in Pakistan, AQAP has emerged as its most threatening affiliate, and the one with the greatest interest in, and capacity for, staging attacks against the American homeland. Awlaki was also a high profile, English-speaking inspiration for lone-wolf jihadists such as the Fort Hood shooter, Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan. His demise is a victory for justice and a blow to AQAP. But there is no reason to believe that the blow will be fatal.

In the past, terrorist organizations such as al-Qaeda in Iraq, Hamas, and Hezbollah have been able to replace their leaders after they were killed. AQAP may well have a similar regenerative capacity. It is helped by the political chaos that grips Yemen, a land that is lightly governed in the best of times. Taking advantage of this turmoil, AQAP has been able to carve out control of territory in southern Yemen, with hopes of expanding its sphere of influence. It also has links to the Shabab in Somalia, which similarly controls large swathes of land. When terrorist groups manage to control territory, they are unlikely to be destroyed by the mere loss of their leaders. There must be a state powerful enough to exert control on a 24/7 basis, something that doesn’t exist in either Yemen or Somalia.

We should by all means celebrate Awlaki’s demise but we should not assume that AQAP died with him.

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Anyone Seen 20,000 Libyan Missiles?

ABC News reports that Muammar Qaddafi’s surface-to-air missile stockpiles have gone missing without much of a trace. This nightmare cuts to the most dangerous problem with Barack Obama’s lead-from-behind Libya strategy: it’s bad.

The word “triumphalism” came to be synonymous with the Bush administration and the Iraq war. But Tripoli had barely fallen when Obama supporters like Fareed Zakaria declared the effort, literally, a model victory: “The Libyan intervention offers a new model for the West,” he wrote in Time, explaining that it was “a new model in that it involved an America that insisted on legitimacy and burden sharing, that allowed the locals to own their revolution.” And to own about 20,000 of their dictator’s missiles.

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ABC News reports that Muammar Qaddafi’s surface-to-air missile stockpiles have gone missing without much of a trace. This nightmare cuts to the most dangerous problem with Barack Obama’s lead-from-behind Libya strategy: it’s bad.

The word “triumphalism” came to be synonymous with the Bush administration and the Iraq war. But Tripoli had barely fallen when Obama supporters like Fareed Zakaria declared the effort, literally, a model victory: “The Libyan intervention offers a new model for the West,” he wrote in Time, explaining that it was “a new model in that it involved an America that insisted on legitimacy and burden sharing, that allowed the locals to own their revolution.” And to own about 20,000 of their dictator’s missiles.

“I think the probability of al-Qaeda being able to smuggle some of the stinger-like missiles out of Libya is probably pretty high,” says former White House counterterrorism adviser Richard Clarke. If the great risk of American assertiveness was that it caused supposed “blowback” among impacted populations, the problem with American constraint is one of terrorist facilitation. In Libya we were only ever half in, at best. We took our time and kept our distance—and left weapons stockpiles out for the taking. At the UN last week, Obama cited Libya as “a lesson in what the international community can achieve when we stand together as one.” It sure is.

And something tells me the international community wouldn’t mind a return of the American World Police right about now. Terrorists use surface-to-air missiles to target internationalism itself, in the form of air travel. In response to the crisis, the U.S. is going to expand its presence in post-Qaddafi Libya, something my colleague Max Boot wisely recommended a long time ago.

In a perfect tragicomic remark, Assistant Secretary of State Andrew Shapiro told ABC News, “We’re making great progress and we expect in the coming days and weeks we will have a much greater picture of how many [missiles] are missing.” If figuring out how bad off you are is great progress, then we’re all moving toward a smashing success.

This disaster is also a lesson on American interests. In a post-9/11 world, vital national interests are not what they used to be. In May, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said of Libya, “I don’t think it’s a vital interest of the United States.” In the traditional sense of neighborhood, power, and reach, he was right. But if 20,000 stinger missiles were at risk of disappearing in the island nation of Tonga, that dot in the South Pacific would become a vital interest for America. This is a burdensome reality that can’t be wished away or shared with an under-resourced international community.

There are still responsibilities that can’t be seen to with drone strikes, troop withdrawals, diplomatic gestures, or multilateralism. If America continues to shirk its global duties, terrorists and other bad actors will continue to see their fortunes rise. That this is a new model for the West is undoubtedly true.

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Barack Obama’s War on Human Excellence

I wanted to add to Alana’s comments on the postby a major finanacer supporter of President Obama, Ted Leonsis, in which he takes the president to task for Mr. Obama’s repeated appeal to class warfare.

“I say this as I read all of the rhetoric about Class Warfare, the rift that is being created between economic middle and lower class and as the President said ‘those millionaires and billionaires,’” according to Leonsis. “The real rift in philosophy though is do you want the Government to create jobs and stimulate the economy or do you want America’s small business to be the engine of growth?”

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I wanted to add to Alana’s comments on the postby a major finanacer supporter of President Obama, Ted Leonsis, in which he takes the president to task for Mr. Obama’s repeated appeal to class warfare.

“I say this as I read all of the rhetoric about Class Warfare, the rift that is being created between economic middle and lower class and as the President said ‘those millionaires and billionaires,’” according to Leonsis. “The real rift in philosophy though is do you want the Government to create jobs and stimulate the economy or do you want America’s small business to be the engine of growth?”

Mr. Leonsis goes on to say this:

This is counter to the American Dream and is really turning off so many people that love America and basically carry our country on their back by paying taxes and by employing people and creating GDP. This is a bad move all designed by some pollster who said this is the way to get votes during the re-election. It should be stopped. We should be healing and creating teams NOT dividing and pitting people against one another… I voted for our President. I have maxed out on personal donations to his re-election campaign. I forgot his campaign wants to raise $1 billion. THAT is a lot of money–money–money–money! Money still talks. It blows my mind when I am asked for money as a donation at the same time I am getting blasted as being a bad guy!

The obvious question, of course, is what on earth was Mr. Leonsis expecting when he supported Mr. Obama in the first place. But set that aside for now. Mr. Leonsis’ core insight, which is that those who achieve financial success are viewed by the Obama administration (and most liberals) as a suspect class, bordering on being an enemy of the state, is quite important. So is his warning that the president is seeking to divide us by income and class.

All of this is of course very much at odds with how Abraham Lincoln (among others) understood the American Dream, which is based on upward mobility and ensuring equality of opportunity rather than equality of outcome. “The progress by which the poor, honest, industrious and resolute man raises himself, that he may work on his own account and hire somebody else … is the great principle for which this government was really formed,” Lincoln said.

Now it’s important to point out that an argument over the tax code and the relative burdens we place on people with different incomes is fully appropriate. A progressive tax system is defensible in my view and, more importantly, in the view of Adam Smith.

But what Mr. Obama is doing is something well beyond that. He is stoking the embers of class resentment. He views financial success with skepticism and wariness (a pass is given to Mr. Obama himself and other rich liberals). “Profits” is synonymous with greed. One of the primary functions of the state is to level out differences among citizens. Income needs to be redistributed. And the tax code is an instrument to achieve “fairness,” which the left views through a moral rather than an economic lens.

But there is something else going on here as well: The Obama presidency, animated by a progressive impulse, wants to punish success. The president wants to use the state to discourage high aspirations and high achievement. And this has radiating, injurious effects.

One of the concerns the philosopher Leo Strauss had about modern regimes was a lack of concern for human excellence. He believed, in the words [http://www.claremont.org/publications/crb/id.1075/article_detail.asp] of Tom West, “that government’s most important task is to help the citizens live the good life by promoting the right ideal of human excellence.”

That is in many respects an alien concept to our current president. He believes in using government, as well as his bully pulpit, to bludgeon those who excel in business and commerce. They need to punished, targeted, and marginalized. The fact that this is contrary to prosperity and flourishing matters hardly at all. To find this sentiment in a university professor would be predictable. To find it in an American president is quite rare – and quite pernicious as well.

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The Obama Meltdown

Oh, my.

According to Rasmussen Reports, President Obama leads GOP presidential candidate Herman Cain by only five points. In addition, the president is drawing less than 40 percent support from those polled (39 percent v. 34 percent). And in a new Harris poll, Mr. Obama trails Representative Ron Paul by two points.

What this suggests is that Mr. Obama’s slide in the polls in accelerating, and it’s not clear just where the floor for him is. What we are witnessing is an Obama Meltdown, with the public turning hard and in overwhelming numbers against the president. We may soon get to the point where anyone short of a deceased person – Mel Gibson, Barry Bonds, Lady Gaga — may be within single digits of Mr. Obama in any given poll.

The Obama presidency is being crushed by events. So is Mr. Obama’s party. An open revolt among Democrats is getting closer by the day.

Oh, my.

According to Rasmussen Reports, President Obama leads GOP presidential candidate Herman Cain by only five points. In addition, the president is drawing less than 40 percent support from those polled (39 percent v. 34 percent). And in a new Harris poll, Mr. Obama trails Representative Ron Paul by two points.

What this suggests is that Mr. Obama’s slide in the polls in accelerating, and it’s not clear just where the floor for him is. What we are witnessing is an Obama Meltdown, with the public turning hard and in overwhelming numbers against the president. We may soon get to the point where anyone short of a deceased person – Mel Gibson, Barry Bonds, Lady Gaga — may be within single digits of Mr. Obama in any given poll.

The Obama presidency is being crushed by events. So is Mr. Obama’s party. An open revolt among Democrats is getting closer by the day.

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Cartoonist to be Tried for Insulting Islam

If free speech and religious tolerance–even tolerance toward those who renounce religion–is the mark of a liberal, free society, then Turkey is moving headlong into Islamic Republic of Iran territory. A cartoonist who questioned religious devotion and the existence of God in a cartoon will be tried in Turkey.  According to Hurriyet, “The Istanbul chief public prosecutor’s office charged cartoonist Bahadır Baruter with ”insulting the religious values adopted by a part of the population’ and requested his imprisonment for up to one year.”

If Turkey’s Jews were the canary in the coal mine, then Turkey today has become the Centralia mine fire. No longer can Turkey be said to enjoy freedom of religion, a free press, or the trappings of any other modern, European society.

If free speech and religious tolerance–even tolerance toward those who renounce religion–is the mark of a liberal, free society, then Turkey is moving headlong into Islamic Republic of Iran territory. A cartoonist who questioned religious devotion and the existence of God in a cartoon will be tried in Turkey.  According to Hurriyet, “The Istanbul chief public prosecutor’s office charged cartoonist Bahadır Baruter with ”insulting the religious values adopted by a part of the population’ and requested his imprisonment for up to one year.”

If Turkey’s Jews were the canary in the coal mine, then Turkey today has become the Centralia mine fire. No longer can Turkey be said to enjoy freedom of religion, a free press, or the trappings of any other modern, European society.

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Palin Should Be More Honest About Her Reasons For Not Running

As a general rule, my view is the less said about Sarah Palin these days, the better. But she gave an interview to Fox’s Greta van Susteren that did catch my eye. Governor Palin, in discussing whether or not she would run for the presidency, said this:

Does a title shackle a person? Are they, someone like me who’s maverick – you know I do go rogue and I call it like I see it and I don’t mind stirring it up in order to get people to think and debate aggressively and to find solutions to the problems that our country is facing – somebody like me, is a title and is a campaign too shackling? Does that prohibit me from being out there, out of the box, not allowing handlers to shape me and to force my message to be what donors or what contributors or what political pundits want it to be. Does a title take away my freedom to call it like I see it and to affect positive change that we need in this country? That’s the biggest contemplation piece in my process.

Where to begin?

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As a general rule, my view is the less said about Sarah Palin these days, the better. But she gave an interview to Fox’s Greta van Susteren that did catch my eye. Governor Palin, in discussing whether or not she would run for the presidency, said this:

Does a title shackle a person? Are they, someone like me who’s maverick – you know I do go rogue and I call it like I see it and I don’t mind stirring it up in order to get people to think and debate aggressively and to find solutions to the problems that our country is facing – somebody like me, is a title and is a campaign too shackling? Does that prohibit me from being out there, out of the box, not allowing handlers to shape me and to force my message to be what donors or what contributors or what political pundits want it to be. Does a title take away my freedom to call it like I see it and to affect positive change that we need in this country? That’s the biggest contemplation piece in my process.

Where to begin?

How about with the observation that the argument that titles like president/presidential candidate shackles a person just doesn’t hold together. Ms. Palin complains that a run for the presidency would “prohibit” her from getting her message out because “handlers” would “shape me and … force my message to be” what others would want it to be.

But where is it written in stone that a candidate has to accede to the wishes of her “handlers”? Self-confident candidates – and I’ve known a few in my time — would simply ignore advice that they consider limiting. Indeed, one of the great opportunities afforded to those running for president is to inject certain issues into the public conversation and to get people to debate solutions to our challenges (think Ronald Reagan and supply side economics). Having worked in the White House, I can report to Ms. Palin that, based on my observations, the title “president” is not limiting or shackling in the least. President Lincoln didn’t find it so. He was actually able to advance some fairly significant ideas during both his various candidacies and his presidency. The presidency, in fact, allows an individual to shape history in a way that few others can ever hope to experience.

That isn’t a reason by itself to run for president. Ms. Palin may well have other interests. The grind of a campaign may no longer appeal to her. Neither might the pay cut. I get all that. But justifying a decision not to run for president by insisting that she’s better than the process – that she’s too “rogue,” too “independent,” and too much of a “maverick” to be constrained by a campaign and the office of the presidency – is embarrassing. It also reveals, I think, a deep-seated insecurity. Ms. Palin knows full well she wouldn’t do well running for president (give her points for self-awareness), but she feels the need to try to place a cloak of virtue around herself to explain it.

Governor Palin should be more honest with us, and with herself, for the reasons she won’t run. Because the idea that she can influence events more as a Fox News analyst (which may be a great gig) than as president of the United States is quite silly. She can’t possibly believe that. Can she?

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HHS Bans Staff from Speaking Freely with Media

Health and Human Services has just released a revised media policy, which forbids staffers from talking to journalists without first getting authorization from the HHS press office. The policy also bans employees from speaking off-the-record with reporters, rules that could significantly hinder investigative journalism.

Health-focused trade publications, which are dependent on confidential sources in agencies like the HHS, are already blasting the policy. Jim Dickinson, editor of FDA Webview and FDA Review called them a “Soviet-style power grab” and warned that the “existing [trade] media will likely die out” because of them:

The new formal HHS Guidelines on the Provision of Information to the News Media represent, to this 36-year veteran of reporting FDA news, a Soviet-style power-grab. By requiring all HHS employees to arrange their information-sharing with news media through their agency press office, HHS has formalized a creeping information-control mechanism that informally began during the Clinton Administration and was accelerated by the Bush and Obama administrations.

Consider how impossible these guidelines make the acquisition by a journalist of confidential internal sources in an agency like FDA. The existence of such confidential sources gave an economic foundation to and made possible the foundation of my own media, and the founding of earlier trade media such as The Pink Sheet and Food Chemical News, among many others.

The rules will make accurate coverage of the HHS much more difficult. Banning HHS staffers from talking off-the-record could have a chilling effect, and requiring them to get their conversations with journalists authorized by the media relations office means that the public will get less truth and more spin.

And as Cato’s Michael Cannon points out, the policy changes come at a noteworthy time:

Since this came on the heels of an HHS official announcing that the agency is scuttling ObamaCare‘s long-term care entitlement, a.k.a. the “CLASS Act,” one wonders if there is a connection.  Or maybe HHS is just motivated by a general fear that the more the public learns about ObamaCare, the less we will like it.

It sounds like the changes have been happening slowly for some time, but the agency’s decision might have been prompted by an embarrassing email leak from the CLASS Act office last week. The major concern now is that if HHS gets away with this new policy, other government agencies could end up following suit.

Health and Human Services has just released a revised media policy, which forbids staffers from talking to journalists without first getting authorization from the HHS press office. The policy also bans employees from speaking off-the-record with reporters, rules that could significantly hinder investigative journalism.

Health-focused trade publications, which are dependent on confidential sources in agencies like the HHS, are already blasting the policy. Jim Dickinson, editor of FDA Webview and FDA Review called them a “Soviet-style power grab” and warned that the “existing [trade] media will likely die out” because of them:

The new formal HHS Guidelines on the Provision of Information to the News Media represent, to this 36-year veteran of reporting FDA news, a Soviet-style power-grab. By requiring all HHS employees to arrange their information-sharing with news media through their agency press office, HHS has formalized a creeping information-control mechanism that informally began during the Clinton Administration and was accelerated by the Bush and Obama administrations.

Consider how impossible these guidelines make the acquisition by a journalist of confidential internal sources in an agency like FDA. The existence of such confidential sources gave an economic foundation to and made possible the foundation of my own media, and the founding of earlier trade media such as The Pink Sheet and Food Chemical News, among many others.

The rules will make accurate coverage of the HHS much more difficult. Banning HHS staffers from talking off-the-record could have a chilling effect, and requiring them to get their conversations with journalists authorized by the media relations office means that the public will get less truth and more spin.

And as Cato’s Michael Cannon points out, the policy changes come at a noteworthy time:

Since this came on the heels of an HHS official announcing that the agency is scuttling ObamaCare‘s long-term care entitlement, a.k.a. the “CLASS Act,” one wonders if there is a connection.  Or maybe HHS is just motivated by a general fear that the more the public learns about ObamaCare, the less we will like it.

It sounds like the changes have been happening slowly for some time, but the agency’s decision might have been prompted by an embarrassing email leak from the CLASS Act office last week. The major concern now is that if HHS gets away with this new policy, other government agencies could end up following suit.

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A Time for Reflection and Rededication

Sundown tonight marks the start of the Jewish New Year that begins with the celebration of Rosh Hashanah. The ten days from the start of that holiday until the end of Yom Kippur next week are known as the Days of Awe in Judaism. During this period, Jews reflect on their deeds in the past year and seek to account for them to their Creator as well as their fellow human beings. This period of introspection should cause all of us to think about what we have done in the past 12 months and work to improve ourselves.

It would also be good advice for many world leaders as we observe the circus at the United Nations where nations line up to cheer dictators and to single out Israel for discriminatory treatment. As Jews around the globe take note of their shortcomings, perhaps those who have done so much to encourage hatred of the Jewish state and the Jewish people should take a few moments and own up to their policies that have done so much harm and which have made peace even more unlikely.

Though we refer  to Jewish tradition, the notion of accountability is something that speaks directly to the problems of any democracy which is based on the concept that elected leaders are judged by the voters. For those in both parties who have sought to demonize their political opponents, the dawn of the New Year represents an opportunity to step back and realize that attempts to brand leaders, parties and movements as being beyond the pale or even questioning the wisdom of democracy itself — that is to say, questioning the right of the voters to override the dictates of the politicians and the intellectuals — has done much to undermine any hope for a resolution of our national problems.

The passage of the calendar also reminds us at COMMENTARY of the urgency of our four-fold task to speak up in defense of Zionism and Israel; to bear witness against the scourge of anti-Semitism; to support the United States as well as the best of Western civilization. Our work is, as our editor John Podhoretz wrote back in February 2009, an act of faith in the power of ideas as well as in our own nation and as we take inventory of our personal lives we also seek to rededicate ourselves to the causes to which our magazine is devoted.

Jewish liturgy tells us that the fate of all human beings is decided during these Days of Awe but it also says that teshuva (repentance), tefilla (prayer) and tzedaka (acts of justice and charity) may avert the severe decree. In that spirit of reflection and dedication to carrying on our task of informing and educating our readers in the coming year, we at COMMENTARY wish you all a happy, healthy and peaceful New Year.

Sundown tonight marks the start of the Jewish New Year that begins with the celebration of Rosh Hashanah. The ten days from the start of that holiday until the end of Yom Kippur next week are known as the Days of Awe in Judaism. During this period, Jews reflect on their deeds in the past year and seek to account for them to their Creator as well as their fellow human beings. This period of introspection should cause all of us to think about what we have done in the past 12 months and work to improve ourselves.

It would also be good advice for many world leaders as we observe the circus at the United Nations where nations line up to cheer dictators and to single out Israel for discriminatory treatment. As Jews around the globe take note of their shortcomings, perhaps those who have done so much to encourage hatred of the Jewish state and the Jewish people should take a few moments and own up to their policies that have done so much harm and which have made peace even more unlikely.

Though we refer  to Jewish tradition, the notion of accountability is something that speaks directly to the problems of any democracy which is based on the concept that elected leaders are judged by the voters. For those in both parties who have sought to demonize their political opponents, the dawn of the New Year represents an opportunity to step back and realize that attempts to brand leaders, parties and movements as being beyond the pale or even questioning the wisdom of democracy itself — that is to say, questioning the right of the voters to override the dictates of the politicians and the intellectuals — has done much to undermine any hope for a resolution of our national problems.

The passage of the calendar also reminds us at COMMENTARY of the urgency of our four-fold task to speak up in defense of Zionism and Israel; to bear witness against the scourge of anti-Semitism; to support the United States as well as the best of Western civilization. Our work is, as our editor John Podhoretz wrote back in February 2009, an act of faith in the power of ideas as well as in our own nation and as we take inventory of our personal lives we also seek to rededicate ourselves to the causes to which our magazine is devoted.

Jewish liturgy tells us that the fate of all human beings is decided during these Days of Awe but it also says that teshuva (repentance), tefilla (prayer) and tzedaka (acts of justice and charity) may avert the severe decree. In that spirit of reflection and dedication to carrying on our task of informing and educating our readers in the coming year, we at COMMENTARY wish you all a happy, healthy and peaceful New Year.

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The “Obama-Antichrist” Movement

Earlier this week, a crazed heckler with a reputation for yelling nutty things at L.A.-area events called President Obama the “Antichrist” at a political fundraiser, before being dragged screaming out of the room by the Secret Service. Normally this heckler would be dismissed as a lunatic. Instead, some media outlets are wondering whether he’s part of a growing right-wing movement that believes Obama is the Antichrist:

Ironically, the remark about Obama as the Antichrist came the same day that The New York Times ran an op-ed arguing that the Antichrist is assuming a bigger place in the public discourse, as evangelical Christian ideas about the end times gain traction.

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Earlier this week, a crazed heckler with a reputation for yelling nutty things at L.A.-area events called President Obama the “Antichrist” at a political fundraiser, before being dragged screaming out of the room by the Secret Service. Normally this heckler would be dismissed as a lunatic. Instead, some media outlets are wondering whether he’s part of a growing right-wing movement that believes Obama is the Antichrist:

Ironically, the remark about Obama as the Antichrist came the same day that The New York Times ran an op-ed arguing that the Antichrist is assuming a bigger place in the public discourse, as evangelical Christian ideas about the end times gain traction.

In a piece titled “Why the Antichrist Matters in Politics,” Washington State University history professor Matthew Avery Sutton argues that, for some Christians, Obama fits into ideas about the Antichrist, whose arrival is believed to be a portent of the end times and Jesus’ second coming:

Lawrence O’Donnell even devoted a whole segment of his MSNBC show to discussing whether conservative Christians share the heckler’s beliefs:

“The resistance to fact is not evenly distributed in this country, or among political persuasions. The more southern and the more Republican you are, the more likely you are to be wrong about the president’s birthplace and his religious beliefs…We don’t know what percent of South Carolina Republicans believe the president is the Antichrist, but you can be sure it is not zero.”

Remember, it was MSNBC that obsessed over “birthers,” long after they were rejected and denounced by the conservative movement. Apparently, the demise of the birther-fringe has some liberals panicking that issues of actual substance are going to be addressed during this election. So expect to hear a lot more about the dawn of the “Obama-Antichrist” movement from the same media figures, especially if Obama’s poll numbers continue to drop.

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Abbas Apologists Twist the Truth

By asking the United Nations to recognize Palestinian independence, Mahmoud Abbas and his Palestinian Authority have abandoned the peace process in the hope the international community will give them what they want without having to make peace with Israel. That puts Abbas’ Western cheering section in a bind, because it is impossible to look at his strategy or his UN speech without understanding the fundamental disconnect between their position and any hope for peace. But that hasn’t stopped many of them from attempting to turn the facts on their head by blaming the whole mess on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Netanyahu is an easy target among the foreign policy establishment and other members of the chattering classes because he refuses to play along with the myth of Palestinian reasonableness that is such an integral part of the peace process mindset. William Saletan provided an excellent example of this willful blindness in a piece published this week in Slate. In it, he preposterously claims the standoff is all a clever plot by Netanyahu to obfuscate the truth about Abbas’ desperate search for peace that is every bit as disingenuous as the Palestinian’s hate-filled speech to the General Assembly.

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By asking the United Nations to recognize Palestinian independence, Mahmoud Abbas and his Palestinian Authority have abandoned the peace process in the hope the international community will give them what they want without having to make peace with Israel. That puts Abbas’ Western cheering section in a bind, because it is impossible to look at his strategy or his UN speech without understanding the fundamental disconnect between their position and any hope for peace. But that hasn’t stopped many of them from attempting to turn the facts on their head by blaming the whole mess on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Netanyahu is an easy target among the foreign policy establishment and other members of the chattering classes because he refuses to play along with the myth of Palestinian reasonableness that is such an integral part of the peace process mindset. William Saletan provided an excellent example of this willful blindness in a piece published this week in Slate. In it, he preposterously claims the standoff is all a clever plot by Netanyahu to obfuscate the truth about Abbas’ desperate search for peace that is every bit as disingenuous as the Palestinian’s hate-filled speech to the General Assembly.

Saletan breaks down Netanyahu’s diabolical attack on peace to four points. The first is his claim the Israeli is wrong to say the Palestinians won’t negotiate, even though that is the obvious truth. Even during the 10 months when, at the behest of the Obama administration, Netanyahu froze building in the West Bank, Abbas wouldn’t talk with him.

Saletan asserts that a few secret meetings with Israeli President Shimon Peres in which the Palestinians have refused to agree to any terms or to resume formal negotiations is itself a form of negotiation. He then says Abbas’ end run around the peace process to the UN is also merely a negotiating tactic. In other words, Abbas’ lips may say “no,” but Saletan advises the Israelis to believe he really means “yes.” With that sort of logic, one supposes Saletan must have a lot of fans among male college students who haven’t had much success with women.

Next, Saletan dismisses Israel’s insistence the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state as a mere pretext for avoiding peace. Saletan says the PLO recognized Israel’s existence in the Oslo Accords, and it’s none of the Palestinians’ business how Israel defines itself. But he is deliberately missing the point. So long as the Palestinians won’t acknowledge the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn, Israelis have no guarantee a peace deal isn’t an interim step that will merely postpone the next round of fighting. Saletan says negotiating a resolution of the Palestinian claim that the descendants of the 1948 refugees can “return” to Israel doesn’t mean the Arabs have to say the words “Jewish state.” But they must do so, because without that Palestinians will never construe any peace agreement as an end to the century-old conflict.

In a particularly dishonest passage, Saletan claims Israel’s peace treaty with Jordan (which has no mention of the “Jewish state” issue) proves Netanyahu’s insistence on this point is a pretext. But it does no such thing. Jordan and Israel can be at peace because the Hashemite Kingdom’s existence isn’t predicated on wiping out its neighbor. Since the focus of Palestinian nationalism has always been the eradication of Israel, they must specifically abandon this quest. The United Nations sanctioned the creation of a specifically “Jewish state” alongside an Arab one in Mandatory Palestine in the 1947 partition resolution that was categorically rejected by the Arab and Muslim worlds. If the Palestinians want to finally retract that refusal, one of the things they will have to accept is this language.

This point is directly related to Saletan’s third charge, which is that Netanyahu’s harping about Abbas’ belief that all of Israel is occupied Palestinian territory is a ploy to blow up the chances for peace. The Israeli rightly noted that for Abbas to say there has been 63 years of “occupation” gives the lie to the notion the conflict is just about the West Bank and Jerusalem or settlements. Saletan argues that Abbas has already said he will concede Israel’s title to pre-1967 Israel, and this should end the discussion. But so long as the Palestinians hold onto an irredentist ideology that sees all of Israel as land that must be recovered, peace is impossible. If Abbas wants Israelis to believe they are not just giving up land that will be used, as was the case with Gaza in 2005, as a launching pad for terrorist attacks on what is left of Israel, then he must sing a very different tune.

Lastly, Saletan argues the reduction of terrorist attacks against Israelis in the West Bank in the past few years proves Abbas means what he says about peace. But lowering the toll of Jewish casualties had little or nothing to do with Abbas and everything to do with the security fence and the aggressive Israeli army patrols and checkpoints in the West Bank. The circumstances that led to the quiet in the West Bank in the past few years after the mayhem of the second intifada that preceded it would be dramatically altered by a Palestinian state. If the IDF no longer had the ability to roam the area, that would allow terror groups — both those run by Abbas’ Fatah Party and Hamas — to do whatever they wanted. That would inevitably mean more Jewish blood shed, but it would also doom Abbas, because the only thing that prevents the sort of coup that won Gaza for Hamas in the West Bank is Israel’s military. It isn’t Abbas who keeps the peace now, and the idea he would do so in the future without the help of the IDF and with Hamas still in control of Gaza is absurd.

The refusal of the Palestinians to negotiate and to be willing to give up the conflict remains the only real obstacle to peace. Abbas proved in 2008 when he rejected Ehud Olmert’s offer of a state that he had the power to end the conflict against the will of his people or Hamas. That’s why he went to the UN rather than back to the negotiating table. Fallacious attacks on Netanyahu such as those produced by Saletan may help obscure the truth about the Palestinians, but they cannot alter the truth about the situation.

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Obama Flounders in Swing State Polls

President Obama’s jobs plan hasn’t helped boost his favorability in two key swing states, according to the latest Quinnipiac poll. The majority of voters in Ohio and Pennsylvania say he doesn’t deserve reelection. In Pennsylvania, Obama is in a statistical dead-heat with Mitt Romney for the 2012 election, while in Ohio he ties both Romney and Perry.

In other words, Obama’s taxpayer-bankrolled visits to swing states have had little impact on voters. Fox News reports:

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President Obama’s jobs plan hasn’t helped boost his favorability in two key swing states, according to the latest Quinnipiac poll. The majority of voters in Ohio and Pennsylvania say he doesn’t deserve reelection. In Pennsylvania, Obama is in a statistical dead-heat with Mitt Romney for the 2012 election, while in Ohio he ties both Romney and Perry.

In other words, Obama’s taxpayer-bankrolled visits to swing states have had little impact on voters. Fox News reports:

President Obama has been campaigning almost non-stop since Labor Day, but his political fortunes have hardly improved. Obama’s September blitz through swing states, backed up with an aggressive media schedule, has apparently yielded little for the embattled incumbent. …

In Ohio and neighboring Pennsylvania, 51 percent of voters said Obama didn’t deserve a second term. In Virginia, the lynchpin to Obama’s 2012 strategy, a Roanoke College poll found the president with a 39 percent rating. In North Carolina, the great Obama success story of 2008, a High Point University poll finds the president with a 41 percent job-approval rating.

In fact, Obama has actually seen his approval rating in Ohio slip since the summer, despite the time he’s spent campaigning in the state recently. If the president expected the trips to generate political pressure on the GOP to pass his bill, he was clearly mistaken.

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And the 2011 Winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature Is. . . .

Two years ago, in “How to Pick a Nobel Winner,” I suggested that the literature prize is “apparently awarded by much the same method that the chairmanship of the UN Human Rights Commission is determined — on a rotating basis, as long as Israel and (increasingly) the United States are excluded.” The last American to be selected was Toni Morrison, 18 years ago. An Israeli has been honored only once, when Sh. Y. Agnon shared the 1966 prize with the German Jewish poet Nelly Sachs.

The numbers are very much to the point, since the Nobel committee prefers not to allow too much time to elapse between awards to the same country, the same linguistic sphere. And in recent years, even the gender imbalance has begun to be corrected. Since 1991, women have won six of the 20 prizes. Still, while women have never captured the prize in back-to-back years, men often have; and the Peruvian novelist Mario Vargas Llosa, a contributor to COMMENTARY, won last year. He was the first man of the right to take home the award since V. S. Naipaul was recognized in 2001. Two prizes in a decade — the literary right is doing only slightly worse than women.

The obvious omission from the winners’ list in recent years has been poets. Since the inception of the literature prize in 1944, poets have been selected for 18 out of 69 prizes, more than a quarter of them or an average of one poet every three-and-two-thirds years. Yet no poet has won the Nobel Prize in literature since 1995 and 1996 when Wislawa Szymborska of Poland and Seamus Heaney of Ireland were “decorated” in consecutive years.

And finally there is language to consider. English-language writers have been named to 18 prizes; Spanish writers to 9; French, 8; German, 6. The other European languages — Russian, Italian, Swedish, Polish, Hungarian, Czech, Yiddish — have shared 19 prizes among them. Writers in non-European languages have only won the prize five times.

As of this morning, the betting odds favor the Syrian poet Ali Ahmad Said Asbar, who writes under the pen name Adonis, at four to one. And for once the oddsmakers seem to be on target. Only one Arabic-language writer has ever been awarded the Nobel Prize in literature — the Egyptian novelist Naguib Mahfouz in 1988 — and Adonis is the best-known Arabic poet. If this is the Palestinians’ year at the UN, though, it may also be the Palestinians’ turn for the Nobel. Remember where you first heard the name of Samih al-Qasim (pictured at right), an Israeli Druze who celebrates the Nakba in Arabic verse. His PEN biography is here. A PBS interview with him is here. And here is a characteristic poem, entitled “End of Discussion with a Jailer”:

From the window of my small cell
I can see trees smiling at me,
Roofs filled with my people,
Windows weeping and praying for me.
From the window of my small cell
I can see your large cell.

One guess who is being addressed here. Awarding the prize to Samih al-Qasim would be a masterstroke: the Nobel Committee could recognize Israel and shame it at the same time. Qasim is not as well-known as Adonis, he is not even on the betting boards that Adonis currently tops, but he is more political — he is a voice of the Palestinian resistance to Israeli “occupation” — and the Nobel Prize dearly loves writers from the left.

Two years ago, in “How to Pick a Nobel Winner,” I suggested that the literature prize is “apparently awarded by much the same method that the chairmanship of the UN Human Rights Commission is determined — on a rotating basis, as long as Israel and (increasingly) the United States are excluded.” The last American to be selected was Toni Morrison, 18 years ago. An Israeli has been honored only once, when Sh. Y. Agnon shared the 1966 prize with the German Jewish poet Nelly Sachs.

The numbers are very much to the point, since the Nobel committee prefers not to allow too much time to elapse between awards to the same country, the same linguistic sphere. And in recent years, even the gender imbalance has begun to be corrected. Since 1991, women have won six of the 20 prizes. Still, while women have never captured the prize in back-to-back years, men often have; and the Peruvian novelist Mario Vargas Llosa, a contributor to COMMENTARY, won last year. He was the first man of the right to take home the award since V. S. Naipaul was recognized in 2001. Two prizes in a decade — the literary right is doing only slightly worse than women.

The obvious omission from the winners’ list in recent years has been poets. Since the inception of the literature prize in 1944, poets have been selected for 18 out of 69 prizes, more than a quarter of them or an average of one poet every three-and-two-thirds years. Yet no poet has won the Nobel Prize in literature since 1995 and 1996 when Wislawa Szymborska of Poland and Seamus Heaney of Ireland were “decorated” in consecutive years.

And finally there is language to consider. English-language writers have been named to 18 prizes; Spanish writers to 9; French, 8; German, 6. The other European languages — Russian, Italian, Swedish, Polish, Hungarian, Czech, Yiddish — have shared 19 prizes among them. Writers in non-European languages have only won the prize five times.

As of this morning, the betting odds favor the Syrian poet Ali Ahmad Said Asbar, who writes under the pen name Adonis, at four to one. And for once the oddsmakers seem to be on target. Only one Arabic-language writer has ever been awarded the Nobel Prize in literature — the Egyptian novelist Naguib Mahfouz in 1988 — and Adonis is the best-known Arabic poet. If this is the Palestinians’ year at the UN, though, it may also be the Palestinians’ turn for the Nobel. Remember where you first heard the name of Samih al-Qasim (pictured at right), an Israeli Druze who celebrates the Nakba in Arabic verse. His PEN biography is here. A PBS interview with him is here. And here is a characteristic poem, entitled “End of Discussion with a Jailer”:

From the window of my small cell
I can see trees smiling at me,
Roofs filled with my people,
Windows weeping and praying for me.
From the window of my small cell
I can see your large cell.

One guess who is being addressed here. Awarding the prize to Samih al-Qasim would be a masterstroke: the Nobel Committee could recognize Israel and shame it at the same time. Qasim is not as well-known as Adonis, he is not even on the betting boards that Adonis currently tops, but he is more political — he is a voice of the Palestinian resistance to Israeli “occupation” — and the Nobel Prize dearly loves writers from the left.

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The Reason for Perry’s HPV Order

The effort by Michele Bachmann to make hay out of Rick Perry’s executive order to mandate the vaccination of girls for the HPV virus may wind up hurting her more than him because of her bizarre decision to repeat an unsubstantiated claim the vaccine caused mental retardation. Nevertheless, the attempt to portray him as a big government health care tyrant put the Texas governor on the defensive. Even worse, her claim the only reason he did it was as a payoff to the Merck pharmaceutical company for campaign contributions stuck to him. That served as the excuse for the repetition of accusations from Texas liberals that he has been a pay-to-play governor.

Of course, if this were Perry’s biggest problem he’d be in good shape, because far more damage has been done by his terrible debate performances and his refusal to bow to anti-immigrant sentiment on the right. The feeling lately among pundits has been Perry’s candidacy won’t last long enough for him to recover the ground he has lost, but a story in today’s New York Times about Perry’s wife may undermine the narrative about Perry that Bachmann’s attack generated. In it we learn it was Anita Thigpen Perry, a nurse and a leading Texas advocate for the victims of sexual assault, not Merck or its lobbyists, who was probably the driving force behind Perry’s HPV decision.

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The effort by Michele Bachmann to make hay out of Rick Perry’s executive order to mandate the vaccination of girls for the HPV virus may wind up hurting her more than him because of her bizarre decision to repeat an unsubstantiated claim the vaccine caused mental retardation. Nevertheless, the attempt to portray him as a big government health care tyrant put the Texas governor on the defensive. Even worse, her claim the only reason he did it was as a payoff to the Merck pharmaceutical company for campaign contributions stuck to him. That served as the excuse for the repetition of accusations from Texas liberals that he has been a pay-to-play governor.

Of course, if this were Perry’s biggest problem he’d be in good shape, because far more damage has been done by his terrible debate performances and his refusal to bow to anti-immigrant sentiment on the right. The feeling lately among pundits has been Perry’s candidacy won’t last long enough for him to recover the ground he has lost, but a story in today’s New York Times about Perry’s wife may undermine the narrative about Perry that Bachmann’s attack generated. In it we learn it was Anita Thigpen Perry, a nurse and a leading Texas advocate for the victims of sexual assault, not Merck or its lobbyists, who was probably the driving force behind Perry’s HPV decision.

It turns out Mrs. Perry was suggesting the need for childhood immunization against HPV years before her husband issued his controversial executive order. Given that she appears to be his prime adviser on these issues, it seems likely her influence had  more to do with his decision than anything else. While this may not quiet those who have cast Perry’s immunization order as a matter of patronage rather than principle and the fight against cancer, it does give us a bit more perspective on the issue and the man. Since Perry has admitted it was his wife as much as anyone who urged him to run for president, one can easily imagine the attacks on an issue so close to her heart may have steeled his resolve to stay in the race.

Of course, that resolve may not matter much if he flops again in the next Republican presidential debate on Oct. 11 in New Hampshire. Perry’s campaign has been sending out signals in the last few days that they think they can turn the race around by redoubling their attacks on Romney. That sounds more like wishful thinking than anything else, but they have little choice but to try to weather his current tribulations in the belief he will recover and resume his role as the leading conservative in the race. Optimism about Perry’s chances may be in short supply and for good reason. But those who believe he will give up even before the votes start getting counted may have underestimated not only his determination but also the role his family has played in pushing his career decisions.

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Obama’s Class Warfare Not Flying

Washington Wizards owner Ted Leonsis, one of President Obama’s major supporters, summed up the hypocrisy of the president’s class warfare rhetoric in a blog post the other day:

Economic success has somehow become the new boogie man; some in the Democratic party are now casting about for enemies and business leaders, and anyone who has achieved success in terms of rank or fiscal success is being cast as a bad guy in a black hat. …

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Washington Wizards owner Ted Leonsis, one of President Obama’s major supporters, summed up the hypocrisy of the president’s class warfare rhetoric in a blog post the other day:

Economic success has somehow become the new boogie man; some in the Democratic party are now casting about for enemies and business leaders, and anyone who has achieved success in terms of rank or fiscal success is being cast as a bad guy in a black hat. …

So for fun: I take the Acela train to Philly and NYC all of the time. Alone – no traveling companions to prep me. I have never seen our president on the train, have you? I own 50 hours on NetJets for the rare occasion I do travel by private plane. Does Air Force One charter out? Stop making private planes an issue. This is a tiny issue for us to deal with for our country.

I do have a nice home with a housekeeper. I have only one home. I bet there is more staff at the White House though? And Camp David. What kind of real estate tax is the White House paying? Nice jewelry here. Click away. Stop it. Upgrade the discourse.

It would be hypocritical enough if the Leonsis’ of the world were the only ones who would get hit by Obama’s proposed tax hikes. But families making $250,000-a-year and up would also get soaked. Same with small business owners. These people don’t want to hear the president and his ultra-rich friends like Warren Buffett demonize them for success, and act as if it isn’t a burden for them to hand over even more of their money to the federal government.

It’s also interesting Leonsis mentions Obama’s denunciations of private jets, something the president doesn’t seem to carry over to his own use of Air Force One. Notably, there has been a lot of criticism of Obama’s proposed tax on private planes – and not just from wealthy Americans who fly them. The Alliance for Aviation Across America – a group that represents small and mid-sized aviation businesses – slammed the president’s plan in a statement last week, arguing it could cost the industry jobs.

“On behalf of over 5,700 small businesses, farms, elected officials, Chambers of Commerce and aircraft operators in all 50 states, we are deeply concerned about the inclusion of a user fee tax in the president’s recently released plan to create jobs,” wrote the organization. “It is astounding that the president would include user fees – which would add to the daunting challenges already confronting businesses in this climate – in a plan that purports to create jobs and stimulate the economy.”

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The Method in the Quartet’s Madness

The run-up to the Quartet’s latest bid to restart Israeli-Palestinian talks is far more revealing than the talks themselves are likely to be, even if they ever take place. The U.S., UN, EU and Russia tried frantically to draft “terms of reference” for the talks, meaning broad parameters for what an agreement should look like. But in the end, they had to scrap the effort, because they couldn’t even reach agreement among themselves on these parameters.

In other words, contrary to the shopworn claim that “There is no mystery to what a final deal would look like” (as a New York Times editorial asserted just last week), there is so little agreement that four mediators – all of whom care much less about the issues concerned than the parties themselves – couldn’t even strike a deal on the broad outlines, much less all the pesky details.

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The run-up to the Quartet’s latest bid to restart Israeli-Palestinian talks is far more revealing than the talks themselves are likely to be, even if they ever take place. The U.S., UN, EU and Russia tried frantically to draft “terms of reference” for the talks, meaning broad parameters for what an agreement should look like. But in the end, they had to scrap the effort, because they couldn’t even reach agreement among themselves on these parameters.

In other words, contrary to the shopworn claim that “There is no mystery to what a final deal would look like” (as a New York Times editorial asserted just last week), there is so little agreement that four mediators – all of whom care much less about the issues concerned than the parties themselves – couldn’t even strike a deal on the broad outlines, much less all the pesky details.

As Reuters reported, the key sticking point was the Palestinians’ refusal, via their proxy, Russia, to recognize Israel as a Jewish state:

“The heart of the matter was that the only way in which it was going to work as a basis for negotiations was if there was a reference on the one side to ’67 lines plus swaps, which was the minimum but not sufficient requirement for the Palestinians, and a Jewish state as one of the goals of the negotiations, which was the minimum requirement of the Israelis,” said one source briefed on the negotiations….

There are many formulas to address whether Israel should be viewed as a Jewish state, including that it is a homeland for the Jewish people or that it embodies the right of the Jewish people to self-determination or that its status as a Jewish state should not prejudice any Palestinian “right of return.”

None appear to have sufficed, whether because they might be seen as unacceptable to the Israelis or because they would be impossible to swallow for the Palestinians.

So instead, the Quartet made do with urging the parties to resume negotiations “without delay or preconditions,” but on a strict timetable that gives them one month to agree on an agenda and a “method of proceeding in the negotiation.” In short, the parties themselves are supposed to agree in one month on parameters the mediators tried for months to agree on with no success.

The scary part, however, is there’s a method in this madness, and it’s implicit in the rest of the timetable: The parties are instructed to conclude a final-status deal by no later than “the end of 2012.”

In other words, the Quartet is telling the Palestinians, just keep the negotiation farce going until the end of 2012, when Barack Obama will be either a lame duck or a newly-elected second-term president, and either way will be free of the electoral constraints that currently require him to veto your bid to obtain UN recognition as a state without accepting the Jewish state’s right to exist.

If that interpretation is correct, then the most important development in the Israeli-Palestinian arena over the next year will take place not in direct talks or in the Quartet, but in Congress. For come December 2012, a credible congressional threat to the UN’s generous American funding may be the only way to halt the Palestinians’ unilateral statehood drive.

 

 

 

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Turkey Takes Thuggishness to a New Level

One of the most interesting but under-reported stories at the United Nations General Assembly this past week was the brawl which developed between Turkish security agents escorting Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and UN security officers. Colum Lynch at Foreign Policy has been all over the story, not only breaking it, but now he has supplied amateur video of the melee.  Short synopsis: Erdoğan and his detail tried to force their way through a secured door and resorted to fisticuffs when they didn’t get their way. Two UN employees were injured, one of whom had to go to the hospital.

Interestingly, Turkey—a country where press freedom has tumbled under the leadership of Erdoğan—did not initially report the incident. A Turkish journalist, however, did say that United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon subsequently apologized to Erdoğan for the incident. This in turn infuriated UN security officials who appear to have done nothing wrong.

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One of the most interesting but under-reported stories at the United Nations General Assembly this past week was the brawl which developed between Turkish security agents escorting Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and UN security officers. Colum Lynch at Foreign Policy has been all over the story, not only breaking it, but now he has supplied amateur video of the melee.  Short synopsis: Erdoğan and his detail tried to force their way through a secured door and resorted to fisticuffs when they didn’t get their way. Two UN employees were injured, one of whom had to go to the hospital.

Interestingly, Turkey—a country where press freedom has tumbled under the leadership of Erdoğan—did not initially report the incident. A Turkish journalist, however, did say that United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon subsequently apologized to Erdoğan for the incident. This in turn infuriated UN security officials who appear to have done nothing wrong.

Erdoğan is thuggish in personality and in policy. No diplomat or official should enable him. Apologizing to Erdoğan is like offering crack to an addict.  By Erdoğan’s own logic, rather than have UN officials genuflect, shouldn’t he apologize and pay compensation to the injured party? And shouldn’t the UN recognize that officers, when attacked, not only have the right to but should also defend themselves?  Probably the only thing that hasn’t happened yet (but there’s still time) is for accompanying minister Egemen Bağış or a member of his delegation to accuse the UN officers of having Jewish blood, as they did the Bulgarian foreign minister.

It’s time to stop tolerating this Turkish nonsense and, despite the steady stream of affirmation the Turkish press provides their leader, let Turks know Erdoğan’s antics are a permanent stain on their reputation.

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Christie’s Game

I don’t understand exactly what Chris Christie is up to—or, rather, what the people around him might be up to, since they would probably be well-advised to stop issuing statements that don’t reflect the reality of what he is or is not willing to say—but that sure was one interesting performance he put on last night, as I write in today’s New York Post:

Christie certainly laid out an interesting course for a presidential bid — one that would seek to appeal to those primary voters who want a government that can function, not just the most ideologically conservative government imaginable.

Were Christie to run, therefore, he wouldn’t be running to fill the hardline-conservative slot now held so shakily by Rick Perry. He would be running on his own star power and with his own message to conservatives: I get things done, and I would agree with you most of the time … pretty much.

He can’t go on like this much longer; among other things, if he is going to run, he has to get himself on the Michigan ballot and he needs signatures by the middle of October. Also, his teasing is going to get the people who are interested in his candidacy more than a little angry if he doesn’t quit it.

I don’t understand exactly what Chris Christie is up to—or, rather, what the people around him might be up to, since they would probably be well-advised to stop issuing statements that don’t reflect the reality of what he is or is not willing to say—but that sure was one interesting performance he put on last night, as I write in today’s New York Post:

Christie certainly laid out an interesting course for a presidential bid — one that would seek to appeal to those primary voters who want a government that can function, not just the most ideologically conservative government imaginable.

Were Christie to run, therefore, he wouldn’t be running to fill the hardline-conservative slot now held so shakily by Rick Perry. He would be running on his own star power and with his own message to conservatives: I get things done, and I would agree with you most of the time … pretty much.

He can’t go on like this much longer; among other things, if he is going to run, he has to get himself on the Michigan ballot and he needs signatures by the middle of October. Also, his teasing is going to get the people who are interested in his candidacy more than a little angry if he doesn’t quit it.

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Christie Doesn’t Shut Door to 2012 Run

He didn’t say “yes” last night. But then again, he didn’t explicitly say “no.” And judging from the reactions on Twitter, Chris Christie’s answer on whether he’ll run for president is open to interpretation:

“I saw something great today on the Politico website. They put a minute and 53 seconds of my answers strung back to back to back together on the question of running for the presidency,” he said. “Everyone go to Politico.com, it’s right on the front page. Those are the answers.”

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He didn’t say “yes” last night. But then again, he didn’t explicitly say “no.” And judging from the reactions on Twitter, Chris Christie’s answer on whether he’ll run for president is open to interpretation:

“I saw something great today on the Politico website. They put a minute and 53 seconds of my answers strung back to back to back together on the question of running for the presidency,” he said. “Everyone go to Politico.com, it’s right on the front page. Those are the answers.”

The video is a compilation of every time Christie’s answered the 2012 question. In most of the clips, he bluntly denies he’s contemplating a run. He also told the audience – which was literally begging him to enter the race – that he knows he has to “feel” the desire to run for president before he can do it, and that he’s “taking in” what his supporters are telling him.

But his response didn’t include three words: “I’m not running.” Those would have quelled (most of the) speculation that’s been growing the past few days. Instead, by directing people to a video, he managed to keep the uncertainty alive – and he had to have been aware of that. As Maggie Haberman notes, “pointing to it was a way for Christie to not have to give a current version of ‘no.’”

At HotAir, Allahpundit writes that left Christie with a great opening, should he decide to enter the race:

The thing is, he wouldn’t definitively say whether he feels the drive or not. And the crowd was simply eating out of his hand. If he needs a pretext in a week or two to explain why he’s changed his mind, he could point to this speech and the reaction from the audience as having driven him to it.

A few indications Christie might be weighing a run: 1.) His blatant swipes at Rick Perry during his speech; 2.) His uncharacteristic vagueness in responding to the 2012 question; 3.) The speech itself, which outlined a broad national vision (touching on foreign and domestic policy) and included plenty of digs at Obama. It was also terrific (read in full here).

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Putin: A Banana Republic Ruler?

The most provocative article I’ve read on Russia in recent days is this Washington Post op-ed by the always interesting Ralph Peters, a military intelligence officer turned novelist and strategic analyst. I don’t always agree with Peters, but I always find him worth reading. In this article, he takes the typically unconventional position that while Vladimir Putin may be a bad man but a great czar—a leader who, like Peter the Great, has managed to maximize the power, wealth and influence of  his country.

Peters is deft, and accurate, in exposing how Putin rules not with a Stalinist reign of terror but by forging an implicit social contract that Russians are free to grumble about the government in private as long as they don’t do anything to try to change it politically. Those who violate this unwritten rule are either killed or thrown in jail—and most Russians either ignore or applaud the punishment meted out to these “troublemakers.” I suspect Peters is particularly on the money when he writes:

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The most provocative article I’ve read on Russia in recent days is this Washington Post op-ed by the always interesting Ralph Peters, a military intelligence officer turned novelist and strategic analyst. I don’t always agree with Peters, but I always find him worth reading. In this article, he takes the typically unconventional position that while Vladimir Putin may be a bad man but a great czar—a leader who, like Peter the Great, has managed to maximize the power, wealth and influence of  his country.

Peters is deft, and accurate, in exposing how Putin rules not with a Stalinist reign of terror but by forging an implicit social contract that Russians are free to grumble about the government in private as long as they don’t do anything to try to change it politically. Those who violate this unwritten rule are either killed or thrown in jail—and most Russians either ignore or applaud the punishment meted out to these “troublemakers.” I suspect Peters is particularly on the money when he writes:

Domestically, Putin’s tactile sense of his people is matchless. His bare-chested poses seem ludicrous to us, but Russians see a nastoyashi muzhik, a “real man.” And his sobriety makes him the fantasy husband of Russia’s beleaguered wives.

But let’s not get carried away by Putin’s achievement. Much of his purported success is due to factors beyond his control—namely that Russia has a lot of oil and gas at a time when prices are high, that a good deal of the economy was privatized before he took control, and that he inherited a formidable arsenal of nuclear weapons. Much of Russia’s economic growth comes from commodity exports, but when prices tumble, as they did in 2008-2009, the impact is severe. Putin has had hopes of diversifying the economy, but little has been accomplished thanks to pervasive corruption, lack of the rule of law, and the uncertainty that always comes with rule by a capricious, secretive clique. In global rankings of GDP per capita, Russia, at  $15,900, ranks behind Puerto Rico and Portugal—and more to the point, behind Hungary, Poland, Lithuania, Slovakia, and other former Soviet captive states that have flourished in spite of lacking Russia’s mineral riches. Moreover, the long-term outlook for Russia is grim: its population is in free fall and its landscape is a blighted environmental wasteland.

It did not have to turn out this way. Boris Yeltsin did much to democratize Russian politics and free its economy from state control. Admittedly, Yeltsin also ceded much power to powerful businessmen known as oligarchs who took advantage of government connections to accrue vast wealth. But Russia in the 1990s appeared to be on its way to becoming a “normal” country—meaning Western, liberal, prosperous. It is not impossible to imagine a different sort of ruler building on Yeltsin’s achievement during the past decade instead of dismantling it. If Putin had been that kind of ruler, he would be remembered someday as another Konrad Adenauer or even a George Washington. Instead, with his latest machinations—engineering another laughable job swap with the pliant Dmitry Medvedev that will allow him to become president for another decade or more—he seems destined to be remembered as a banana republic ruler, a Peron or Pinochet with nukes.

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