Commentary Magazine


Posts For: September 22, 2011

Debates Are Killing Perry’s Candidacy

Rick Perry entered tonight’s Republican presidential debate with an opportunity to reverse the image of him as a poor speaker that had slowed the momentum of his campaign. Instead, he reinforced it. Perry may have started out strong, but once again, his energy and focus seemed to leave him in the second hour of the debate. He clearly flubbed a chance to nail Romney on health care as well as his other changes of position.

Even worse for Perry, immigration emerged as an issue in which the Texas governor has taken a position that, however justified, allows his main rival Mitt Romney to outflank him on the right. That’s a potentially crippling blow to Perry, because it could serve to distract conservatives from Romney’s sponsorship of the law that inspired Obamacare and the other flip-flops that have defined his political career.

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Rick Perry entered tonight’s Republican presidential debate with an opportunity to reverse the image of him as a poor speaker that had slowed the momentum of his campaign. Instead, he reinforced it. Perry may have started out strong, but once again, his energy and focus seemed to leave him in the second hour of the debate. He clearly flubbed a chance to nail Romney on health care as well as his other changes of position.

Even worse for Perry, immigration emerged as an issue in which the Texas governor has taken a position that, however justified, allows his main rival Mitt Romney to outflank him on the right. That’s a potentially crippling blow to Perry, because it could serve to distract conservatives from Romney’s sponsorship of the law that inspired Obamacare and the other flip-flops that have defined his political career.

Once again, Romney showed himself to be a superior debater. Though he didn’t win every exchange with Perry, especially at the start of the debate, by the end of the evening, there was no question the Texan was faltering. And he tacked hard to the right on immigration by bashing Perry’s support for education for illegals. That’s a cynical and self-defeating position for anybody who cares about the future of the GOP, but it is exactly what conservatives want to hear.

While Perry has done well on the stump, he just can’t seem to keep it together at these debates. Coming off his poor performances in the previous two debates, you have to wonder why his preparation was so poor for the third. That either speaks to his shortcomings or an arrogant refusal to understand mistakes have to be corrected.

Since we know reaction to the past two debates first slowed Perry’s momentum and then trimmed what had become an impressive lead, we can only expect his even worse performance in Orlando will further diminish his standing. Perry needs to understand these debates are killing his candidacy. While he may think the fact the next debate won’t be until Oct. 11 is good news for him, that also means he must wait three weeks for another chance to do better.

Romney still has no good answer for his health care positions and will have a hard time winning the support of Tea Partiers and other conservatives. Nor is it clear whether tacking to the center on Social Security and entitlements while tacking to the right on immigration is something he can continue to do. But there’s no question Perry’s juggernaut has been halted and perhaps derailed. Romney may be closing the once large gap between his poll numbers and those of the Texas governor.

This doesn’t mean Perry is finished. He has too much support in the GOP core and the ability to appeal strongly to conservatives in a way Romney simply can’t. But if Perry doesn’t get his act together soon, his candidacy is going to crash and burn.

Other than a few good one-liners (largely from the second-tier candidates) the debates are not riveting television. But they are having a decisive impact on the course of the Republican race. Unless Perry finds a new debate coach or can sneak some caffeine onto the podium, he may be the first frontrunner to have his candidacy derailed largely by an inability to debate.

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LIVE BLOG: The Republican Debate

Bottom line: Horrible debate.

Rick Perry is…not smooth in these debates. He had a prepared coup de grace on Romney’s flip-flopping and he lost his train of thought in the middle. It was painful.

Herman Cain discussing why his cancer treatment might not have gone as well under Obamacare may have been the single best moment of these Republican debates.

Oh good. No questions about Europe or the meltdown of Greece but a question about whether Rick Perry and George W. Bush are having a conflict.

“Any type of sexual activity has no place in the military,” says Rick Santorum, launching a million one-liners.

Perry is asked about Pakistan. He had clearly boned up on issues relating to Obama’s choice to distance the U.S. from India, but he is still uncomfortable talking about foreign policy.

“If you mess with Israel, you mess with the United States of America,” says Herman Cain.

Mitt Romney, asked about Israel, says you don’t allow one inch of space between you and your friends, though you can argue privately.

“I don’t think you have a heart,” Perry says about the notion of not educating the children of illegals. A very strong answer but it could be devastating to him.

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Bottom line: Horrible debate.

Rick Perry is…not smooth in these debates. He had a prepared coup de grace on Romney’s flip-flopping and he lost his train of thought in the middle. It was painful.

Herman Cain discussing why his cancer treatment might not have gone as well under Obamacare may have been the single best moment of these Republican debates.

Oh good. No questions about Europe or the meltdown of Greece but a question about whether Rick Perry and George W. Bush are having a conflict.

“Any type of sexual activity has no place in the military,” says Rick Santorum, launching a million one-liners.

Perry is asked about Pakistan. He had clearly boned up on issues relating to Obama’s choice to distance the U.S. from India, but he is still uncomfortable talking about foreign policy.

“If you mess with Israel, you mess with the United States of America,” says Herman Cain.

Mitt Romney, asked about Israel, says you don’t allow one inch of space between you and your friends, though you can argue privately.

“I don’t think you have a heart,” Perry says about the notion of not educating the children of illegals. A very strong answer but it could be devastating to him.

Romney hitting Perry on in-state tuition for illegal aliens. He’s got the argument down–but I don’t believe he actually believes what he’s saying.

If Romney thinks he can get away with refusing to address the question of whether he supports Obama’s “Race to the Top” or not, he’s very much mistaken.

On the other hand, Romney’s blizzard of words is a convenient method of talking his way out of positions problematic with the Republican base.

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Pakistan–More Enemy Than Friend?

Talk about an inconvenient truth. Admiral Mike Mullen testified today that Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Agency was behind the attack carried out by the Haqqani Network on the U.S. embassy in Kabul last week as well as other attacks, including the massive truck-bombing of a U.S. base on Sept. 10 that injured 77 troops.

Mullen’s revelation is no great surprise given the intimate ties between the Haqqanis and the ISI. But it does raise the ticklish question of what do we do about what is, after all, an act of war. In this regard, the current situation recalls the 1981 assassination attempt on Pope John Paul II. There was considerable evidence linking the Bulgarian secret service—and, through it, the Russian KGB—to the attack, but there was a widespread sense in the West that we’d rather not look into that too deeply. After all, if it were true, there would be some obligation to do something about it—but what? Nobody wanted to risk war with the Soviet Union under any circumstances. Thus, we turned a blind eye to the possible conspiracy behind the attack on the Pope.

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Talk about an inconvenient truth. Admiral Mike Mullen testified today that Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Agency was behind the attack carried out by the Haqqani Network on the U.S. embassy in Kabul last week as well as other attacks, including the massive truck-bombing of a U.S. base on Sept. 10 that injured 77 troops.

Mullen’s revelation is no great surprise given the intimate ties between the Haqqanis and the ISI. But it does raise the ticklish question of what do we do about what is, after all, an act of war. In this regard, the current situation recalls the 1981 assassination attempt on Pope John Paul II. There was considerable evidence linking the Bulgarian secret service—and, through it, the Russian KGB—to the attack, but there was a widespread sense in the West that we’d rather not look into that too deeply. After all, if it were true, there would be some obligation to do something about it—but what? Nobody wanted to risk war with the Soviet Union under any circumstances. Thus, we turned a blind eye to the possible conspiracy behind the attack on the Pope.

So it is with Pakistan: It continues to carry out terrorist acts in both India and Afghanistan, yet policymakers in the West would rather turn a blind eye and retreat into hackneyed phrases about the need for “engagement.” Mullen’s declaration makes that charade harder to carry out. But that doesn’t mean anything substantive will change. Because Pakistan is, like the Soviet Union, a nuclear-armed state. It is also home to countless Islamist fanatics who would take advantage of treacherous terrain to wage guerrilla warfare on any invader—as they have done for centuries and as they currently do against Pakistan’s own army.

Absent a Pakistan-sponsored attack on the American homeland, the use of military force against the Pakistani state would appear to be off the table. But what does that leave us? The same policy of engagement—aid combined with browbeating—which has failed over the course of the last decade. Policymakers in Washington debate minor tweaks to this policy, not a wholesale revision. Perhaps they are right; goodness knows, I have no magical solution to offer. But at least we need to face the facts squarely and realize that Pakistan—or at the very least its ISI—is more enemy than friend.

 

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The Terrorist State in Gaza Looms Over Abbas and the UN Debate

Palestinian Authority chief Mahmoud Abbas is apparently enjoying a brief moment of popularity at home as he attempts to get the United Nations to grant his request for statehood without first being required to make peace with Israel. But as today’s generally flattering front page feature in the New York Times reveals, Abbas may have set in motion a chain of events that may lead to his undoing.

Though the Times gives him undeserved credit for promoting a culture of non-violence among Palestinians, it is candid enough to reveal most Palestinians have a very different view than their unelected leader of the meaning of the diplomatic circus unfolding in New York this week. While Abbas claims, somewhat disingenuously, his UN gambit is intended to revive peace talks with Israel, the vast majority of Palestinians see it as more than a symbolic gesture. They want to couple this demand with efforts to impose Palestinian sovereignty over all of the West Bank and parts of Jerusalem. And they seem willing to do so even if it means a violent confrontation with the Israeli army and the hundreds of thousands of Jews who live in communities the Palestinians say must be part of a Jew-free Palestinian state. The disconnect between their expectations and the fact Abbas’ New York adventure will change nothing on the ground is bound to lead to both violence and a dramatic downturn in Abbas’ popularity.

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Palestinian Authority chief Mahmoud Abbas is apparently enjoying a brief moment of popularity at home as he attempts to get the United Nations to grant his request for statehood without first being required to make peace with Israel. But as today’s generally flattering front page feature in the New York Times reveals, Abbas may have set in motion a chain of events that may lead to his undoing.

Though the Times gives him undeserved credit for promoting a culture of non-violence among Palestinians, it is candid enough to reveal most Palestinians have a very different view than their unelected leader of the meaning of the diplomatic circus unfolding in New York this week. While Abbas claims, somewhat disingenuously, his UN gambit is intended to revive peace talks with Israel, the vast majority of Palestinians see it as more than a symbolic gesture. They want to couple this demand with efforts to impose Palestinian sovereignty over all of the West Bank and parts of Jerusalem. And they seem willing to do so even if it means a violent confrontation with the Israeli army and the hundreds of thousands of Jews who live in communities the Palestinians say must be part of a Jew-free Palestinian state. The disconnect between their expectations and the fact Abbas’ New York adventure will change nothing on the ground is bound to lead to both violence and a dramatic downturn in Abbas’ popularity.

Though he is routinely lauded as a man of peace, Abbas has actually done nothing to change the nature of Palestinian politics. He comes across as a low-key leader in a business suit as opposed to his flamboyant terrorist predecessor Yasir Arafat, but Abbas has done nothing to stifle the incitement of hatred against Israelis and Jews that flows from his official media. Nor has he done a thing to convince Palestinians they must accept the legitimacy of a Jewish state, no matter where its borders would be drawn, or to give up on the hope of swamping Israel with the descendants of Arab refugees via the so-called right of return.

Though Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is routinely referred to as unwilling to make peace, he has accepted a two-state solution and signaled his willingness to make concessions in talks without preconditions. By contrast, Abbas has said he will only talk if Israel concedes all major points on borders, settlements and Jerusalem in advance. Even worse, Abbas has encouraged the notion Palestinian statehood could be accomplished without making any compromises on the refugees.

Abbas went to the UN as a way to evade U.S.-sponsored peace talks that might have forced him once again to turn down statehood. He knows he would not survive if he signed an accord. Palestinian pollster Khalil Shikaki told the Times the Arab Spring may have convinced many in the West Bank demonstrations will force Israel to give in to their demands. But this just shows how disconnected from reality they are. Neither demonstrations nor the UN can or should force Israel to simply give in without having their security and rights recognized in a peace treaty that would conclusively end the conflict.

Though it is rarely mentioned at the UN this week, the independent Palestinian state that already exists in Gaza looms over the debate and the future of Abbas. Abbas has consistently refused to choose between peace with Israel and peace with Hamas, because he knows to do the former would be political suicide even if accompanied by statehood. Unfortunately, by raising the expectations of his people, Abbas has created an opening for Hamas to exploit the unrest on the West Bank that will ensue after the certain failure of his UN resolution.

Though Abbas may be getting his moment in the spotlight, the price for this futile gesture will be paid in the blood of his own people as well as that of Israelis.

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The Ethics of Reviewing

Literature should never be left where sociologists can get their hands on it. They might hurt themselves. In the first issue of the new Toronto Review of Books, Phillipa Chong complains about “the professional norms of book reviewing.” A Ph.D. candidate in sociology at the University of Toronto, Chong is worried about the tendency of critics to resort to “subjective reactions” when they really should be drawing upon “specialized literary knowledge when reviewing a novel.”

Thus critics may describe a writer as “pedantic” or “showing off,” and may admit to being “annoyed” or “irritated” while reading a book. Comments like these amount to “moral criticisms of writers.” They really should not “figure prominently in their critical assessments.”

Except, of course, that these are not “moral criticisms” in any way, and not criticisms of writers at all. They are criticisms of a style. And in talking about literature, a writer’s name is shorthand for her style, since her style is three-fourths of what anyone needs to know about her. Maybe it takes specialized literary knowledge to recognize this convention of literary criticism.

In my own reviewing, I’ve only used one of Chong’s proscribed phrases, and then only negatively. In a review of Madison Jones’s Adventures of Douglas Bragg, I wrote:

In his latest [book], Jones remains much the same as he has been since publishing his first novel The Innocent at the age of thirty-two. He is unpretentious; he is not interested in showing off his literary gifts; he respects the tradition of the novel.

These are not remarks about Madison Jones’s person, but about his literary practice and habits of mind. And while Chong suggests that such remarks are just fancy ways of dressing up “personal preferences” to make them seem more “professional,” pretty much the opposite is the case. A critic, if he’s any good, does not read a new book in a vacuum. He tries to place the book on the map of literature — whether the map refers to the novelist’s career or to a larger region in which several novelists have located themselves. A writer is “pedantic” or “showing off” in comparison to other writers with similar ambitions and methods, similar charms and satisfactions.

What is unethical is to judge an actual book against the imaginary book that a critic wishes had been published instead. If by saying he is “annoyed” or “irritated,” a critic is implying that “this isn’t how the book ideally should be written,” then he is merely being parasitical upon the published novel. He is using it as an occasion, in C. S. Lewis’s phrase, for writing fiction of his own.

Chong’s article in the Toronto Review of Books, entitled “Morals and Mean Reviews,” would be too silly even to chuckle at if it did not reflect a growing cultural tendency to confuse vigorous criticism (“mean reviews”) for personal attacks. My son Dov whines that I am being “mean” when I scold him for doing something wrong, but Dov is eight years old. Adults who care about books care whether they are good. Literature is more important than its authors’ feelings — except perhaps to sociologists like Phillipa Chong.

Literature should never be left where sociologists can get their hands on it. They might hurt themselves. In the first issue of the new Toronto Review of Books, Phillipa Chong complains about “the professional norms of book reviewing.” A Ph.D. candidate in sociology at the University of Toronto, Chong is worried about the tendency of critics to resort to “subjective reactions” when they really should be drawing upon “specialized literary knowledge when reviewing a novel.”

Thus critics may describe a writer as “pedantic” or “showing off,” and may admit to being “annoyed” or “irritated” while reading a book. Comments like these amount to “moral criticisms of writers.” They really should not “figure prominently in their critical assessments.”

Except, of course, that these are not “moral criticisms” in any way, and not criticisms of writers at all. They are criticisms of a style. And in talking about literature, a writer’s name is shorthand for her style, since her style is three-fourths of what anyone needs to know about her. Maybe it takes specialized literary knowledge to recognize this convention of literary criticism.

In my own reviewing, I’ve only used one of Chong’s proscribed phrases, and then only negatively. In a review of Madison Jones’s Adventures of Douglas Bragg, I wrote:

In his latest [book], Jones remains much the same as he has been since publishing his first novel The Innocent at the age of thirty-two. He is unpretentious; he is not interested in showing off his literary gifts; he respects the tradition of the novel.

These are not remarks about Madison Jones’s person, but about his literary practice and habits of mind. And while Chong suggests that such remarks are just fancy ways of dressing up “personal preferences” to make them seem more “professional,” pretty much the opposite is the case. A critic, if he’s any good, does not read a new book in a vacuum. He tries to place the book on the map of literature — whether the map refers to the novelist’s career or to a larger region in which several novelists have located themselves. A writer is “pedantic” or “showing off” in comparison to other writers with similar ambitions and methods, similar charms and satisfactions.

What is unethical is to judge an actual book against the imaginary book that a critic wishes had been published instead. If by saying he is “annoyed” or “irritated,” a critic is implying that “this isn’t how the book ideally should be written,” then he is merely being parasitical upon the published novel. He is using it as an occasion, in C. S. Lewis’s phrase, for writing fiction of his own.

Chong’s article in the Toronto Review of Books, entitled “Morals and Mean Reviews,” would be too silly even to chuckle at if it did not reflect a growing cultural tendency to confuse vigorous criticism (“mean reviews”) for personal attacks. My son Dov whines that I am being “mean” when I scold him for doing something wrong, but Dov is eight years old. Adults who care about books care whether they are good. Literature is more important than its authors’ feelings — except perhaps to sociologists like Phillipa Chong.

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Obama Takes Jobs Speech to Boehner’s Turf

President Obama will continue his push for jobs today with a speech in Rep. John Boehner’s district that’s likely to be a rehash of the same one we’ve been hearing for weeks. His backdrop will be the Brent Spence Bridge, which he says is an example of one of the bridges he wants repaired right away. But as Andrew Malcolm points out, the president’s characterization of the project is misleading:

[P]lans are not to repair or replace the Brent Spence Bridge. But to build another bridge nearby to ease the loads. …

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President Obama will continue his push for jobs today with a speech in Rep. John Boehner’s district that’s likely to be a rehash of the same one we’ve been hearing for weeks. His backdrop will be the Brent Spence Bridge, which he says is an example of one of the bridges he wants repaired right away. But as Andrew Malcolm points out, the president’s characterization of the project is misleading:

[P]lans are not to repair or replace the Brent Spence Bridge. But to build another bridge nearby to ease the loads. …

The president’s jobs bill is designed for “immediate” highway spending.

And the new $2.3 billion Cincy Bridge is not scheduled to even start construction for probably four years, long after Republicans have scheduled the Obama presidency for completion.

Republicans are already mocking the president for claiming his stimulus bill will help repair the bridge. “Obama’s stimulus rhetoric fails to span the gap to Realityville,” said the Republican National Committee in a statement.

So why not choose another bridge to stand in front of that actually needs repairing and will actually receive funding from Obama’s proposed stimulus? Because that might require the president to bring his jobs speech to a non-battleground state, which he hasn’t seemed eager to do recently.

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Is Nicholas Kristof the New Dan Rather?

In an interview yesterday in the New York Times, Nicholas Kristof revived the myth of Iran’s alleged 2003 Grand Bargain offer. In short, Kristof – and other partisan journalists – suspended common sense and fact-checking and instead accepted the notion peddled by an Iranian-Swedish lobbyist that Iranian authorities offered a grand bargain to the Bush administration to cease terrorism and Iran’s illicit nuclear program and perhaps even bury the hatchet with Israel, if only the United States would give real security guarantees and normalize relations with Iran. Bush was too arrogant against the backdrop of the Iraq War, the story goes, and dismissed the Iranian offer outright.

Alas, the story is a conspiracy for which it seems Kristof is the last adherent. I addressed most of the falsehoods about the story in The Weekly Standard and in a subsequent exchange with Barbara Slavin, a former writer for USA Today who was sharply partisan in her work on Iran. What I didn’t know at the time—and what didn’t become apparent until the discovery phase of a libel lawsuit—was that Trita Parsi, the peddler of the myth, apparently knew it to be false when he contacted folks like Slavin and Kristof. In an email exchange with Iran’s ambassador to the United Nations, Parsi asked whether the offer was Iranian in origin and was told, in no uncertain terms, that it was not. (In actuality, it appears the Swiss ambassador told the Americans the offer was Iranian in origin, while he told the Iranians the proposal originated with the Americans). Even Richard Armitage, a proponent of engaging Iran, acknowledged the offer didn’t pass the smell test.

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In an interview yesterday in the New York Times, Nicholas Kristof revived the myth of Iran’s alleged 2003 Grand Bargain offer. In short, Kristof – and other partisan journalists – suspended common sense and fact-checking and instead accepted the notion peddled by an Iranian-Swedish lobbyist that Iranian authorities offered a grand bargain to the Bush administration to cease terrorism and Iran’s illicit nuclear program and perhaps even bury the hatchet with Israel, if only the United States would give real security guarantees and normalize relations with Iran. Bush was too arrogant against the backdrop of the Iraq War, the story goes, and dismissed the Iranian offer outright.

Alas, the story is a conspiracy for which it seems Kristof is the last adherent. I addressed most of the falsehoods about the story in The Weekly Standard and in a subsequent exchange with Barbara Slavin, a former writer for USA Today who was sharply partisan in her work on Iran. What I didn’t know at the time—and what didn’t become apparent until the discovery phase of a libel lawsuit—was that Trita Parsi, the peddler of the myth, apparently knew it to be false when he contacted folks like Slavin and Kristof. In an email exchange with Iran’s ambassador to the United Nations, Parsi asked whether the offer was Iranian in origin and was told, in no uncertain terms, that it was not. (In actuality, it appears the Swiss ambassador told the Americans the offer was Iranian in origin, while he told the Iranians the proposal originated with the Americans). Even Richard Armitage, a proponent of engaging Iran, acknowledged the offer didn’t pass the smell test.

Egos in Washington are too inflated to acknowledge mistakes. Slavin, who no longer has a paper to call home, recently penned a piece for the hard-left Inter Press Service in which she lamented the failure to improve U.S.-Iran ties. Importantly, she did not even mention the alleged 2003 offer. Nor does John Limbert:  During the Bush years, Limbert cited the 2003 Grand Bargain offer as fact. Since he left the Obama administration, he has not cited it. Presumably, he recognizes it didn’t exist. Likewise, the United States Institute of Peace recently published a “Primer” on Iran, but does not mention the 2003 offer in its coverage of Bush-era diplomacy. The offer doesn’t appear in the Wikileaks cache. Most embarrassingly to Kristof, Ahmadinejad also fails to take the bait.

It is incredibly dangerous to base foreign policy on a myth. But Kristof, whose animosity toward Bush made him susceptible to a snake oil salesman’s entreaties, apparently would rather dig in Dan Rather style rather than simply acknowledge his error.

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What the Hikers’ Bail Might Buy Iran

Yesterday, Iran freed the two imprisoned American hikers after someone paid $1 million in bail. Iran reportedly seized the hikers after they allegedly strayed into Iranian territory during a hike along the border in Iraqi Kurdistan. Ten years ago, I took that same hike and don’t see how it is possible to enter Iranian territory mistakenly, although my sympathy would be greater if the Iranians strayed into Iraqi territory to seize the hikers, as some speculate.

The $1 million bail for the hikers’ release, however, is problematic. Paying bail to Iran is little different than paying ransom to kidnappers, or rewarding terrorists for their actions.

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Yesterday, Iran freed the two imprisoned American hikers after someone paid $1 million in bail. Iran reportedly seized the hikers after they allegedly strayed into Iranian territory during a hike along the border in Iraqi Kurdistan. Ten years ago, I took that same hike and don’t see how it is possible to enter Iranian territory mistakenly, although my sympathy would be greater if the Iranians strayed into Iraqi territory to seize the hikers, as some speculate.

The $1 million bail for the hikers’ release, however, is problematic. Paying bail to Iran is little different than paying ransom to kidnappers, or rewarding terrorists for their actions.

Several years ago, terrorism analyst Matthew Levitt published a book on Hamas, which I was fortunate enough to review for the New York Sun. One of the more valuable sections regarded terrorists acknowledging the financial cost of their attacks. Salah Shehada, the founder of the Izz al-Din al-Qassim Brigades estimated, for example, that each of his groups’ attacks cost between $3,500 and $50,000 to execute. Hezbollah operates more cheaply: They estimated their attacks to cost between $665 and $1,105. A Palestinian Islamic Jihad operative received $2,210 for his attacks, while a Tanzim bomb maker received $7,000.

For the sake of simplicity, let’s assume each terrorist attack costs $5,000; after all, terrorist groups needn’t pay regular salaries or pensions because, it seems, the U.S. State Department is willing to do that for them. If we take the $5,000 figure, those who paid the bail may have just financed 200 attacks. It may be good to have our hostages home, but to celebrate their release is unfortunate without acknowledging the death sentences those who paid the bail just signed on innocent civilians elsewhere.

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2012 Could Hinge on Florida Independents

As the Republican candidates ready for the debate in Orlando tonight, a Quinnipiac poll reports some gloomy news for Obama in Florida:

In 2008, then-Senator Barack Obama won Florida’s presidential election by winning over the state’s independent voters. Exit polls show 52 percent of them voted for Obama. That was then, this is now – and recent polls show that important voting bloc is cooling to the president.

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As the Republican candidates ready for the debate in Orlando tonight, a Quinnipiac poll reports some gloomy news for Obama in Florida:

In 2008, then-Senator Barack Obama won Florida’s presidential election by winning over the state’s independent voters. Exit polls show 52 percent of them voted for Obama. That was then, this is now – and recent polls show that important voting bloc is cooling to the president.

According to the latest Quinnipiac poll, just 33 percent of Florida’s independent voters approve of the job the president is doing. A whopping 61 percent disapprove of his performance. …

Given the make up of Florida’s electorate, independent voters will make all the difference. Democrats make up 41 percent of the state’s registered voters, Republicans account for 36 percent. Nearly a quarter of Florida’s voters have elected not to register with either party.

To win in Florida, Obama will have to win 50 percent of independent voters, reports the St. Petersburg Times. Even a small drop in support could signal trouble, as he only carried independent voters by 52 percent in 2008. And what Quinnipiac found was definitely more than a small drop.

A related problem for Obama: Florida tends to be a microcosm of the nation when it comes to presidential politics. The state has voted with the national winner in every election since 1996 (and before 1992, it voted with the winner in every election since 1976). And the independent voters cooling to Obama in Florida are mirroring the national trend, as we can see from yesterday’s McClatchy-Marist poll, which found independent voters say they won’t support the president in 2012—53 percent to 28 percent.

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Is This Romney’s Moment?

Tonight’s Republican presidential debate in Orlando comes at an interesting moment in the race. Rick Perry’s initial burst to the top has petered out after a couple of uninspiring debate performances. That allowed former frontrunner Mitt Romney to gain back some ground, setting up what might be a memorable confrontation this evening that could set the tone for the rest of the campaign.

The emergence of Perry has given Romney’s campaign a focus it had lacked until now. Making conservatives love Romney has been a tough sell given his record of flip-flops and championing of a Massachusetts health care bill strikingly similar to Obamacare. The GOP grass roots may never like Romney, but if he can convince most Republicans Perry can’t beat Barack Obama, he will have found a path to the nomination. But convincing the party Perry is the second coming of Barry Goldwater or George McGovern won’t be as easy as Romney may think.

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Tonight’s Republican presidential debate in Orlando comes at an interesting moment in the race. Rick Perry’s initial burst to the top has petered out after a couple of uninspiring debate performances. That allowed former frontrunner Mitt Romney to gain back some ground, setting up what might be a memorable confrontation this evening that could set the tone for the rest of the campaign.

The emergence of Perry has given Romney’s campaign a focus it had lacked until now. Making conservatives love Romney has been a tough sell given his record of flip-flops and championing of a Massachusetts health care bill strikingly similar to Obamacare. The GOP grass roots may never like Romney, but if he can convince most Republicans Perry can’t beat Barack Obama, he will have found a path to the nomination. But convincing the party Perry is the second coming of Barry Goldwater or George McGovern won’t be as easy as Romney may think.

Since his poll numbers leveled off, it’s obvious Perry has two different sets of problems. One is despite his record of electoral victories in a huge state like Texas, he has come across in the debates as a bit soft and unready for the kind of tough exchanges that come with a presidential candidacy. The other is a lot of the characteristics that endear him to Tea Partiers and other conservatives are a turn off for the talking heads and other party figures who are solely focused on winning next November. His vulnerability on issues like Social Security, his passionate religious faith and his image as a shoot-from-the-hip Texan has convinced many Republicans he can’t beat Obama.

This means tonight is Romney’s moment to take back control of this race. If he emerges the clear victor in the debate it would feed the doubts that have emerged about Perry. Even more importantly, it might stifle talk of a Chris Christie candidacy that would only serve to divide the moderate and centrist vote and ensure Perry’s nomination.

Going on the offensive and pounding Perry on Social Security hoping it leads to more gaffes from the Texan seems like the obvious move for Romney. But doing so will require some nimble footwork. Running to the left of anyone, even Rick Perry, is a perilous business in a Republican primary. Setting yourself up as the moderate in the race makes sense if you are thinking general election, but not when you’re vying for conservative votes.

If Perry can recover his footing and stay focused for the entire debate tonight as opposed to just the first half hour (as has been the case in his two previous tries), then the electability issue may not have as much traction. Perry may not be as smooth and articulate as Romney, but neither is he a blundering buffoon. Perry’s goal must be to make Romney’s record on health care and social issues the focus of the argument. So long as Republicans are talking about Obamacare, Perry is winning. If they’re talking about Ponzi schemes, the advantage goes to Romney.

The other challenge tonight will be to see which of the two comes across as the more credible commander-in-chief on foreign policy issues. Both Romney and Perry have floundered when discussing Afghanistan in previous debates. Since the Arab-Israeli conflict is bound to come up tonight, this presents an opportunity for Perry to speak from the heart on Israel and brag about his many trips to the country in a way that will trump Romney’s blander approach.

In the last week, Romney has made significant progress in derailing a Perry juggernaut that seemed likely to overwhelm the field. Tonight is his best chance to hammer home the point he is the most electable Republican while still trying to appeal to conservatives. That will be tricky, but the key to his success isn’t so much what Romney says but whether Perry will cooperate with another lackluster performance.

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From “Yes We Can” to “But It’s Hard”

According to press reports, President Obama told supporters at a New  York fundraiser, “All that hopey changey stuff, as they say? That was real. It wasn’t something …it was real, you could feel it. You know it. It’s still there. Even in the midst of this hardship. But it’s hard. When I was in Grant Park that night, I warned everybody this was going to be hard, this wasn’t the end, it was the beginning.”

The president is spending more and more of his time these days reminding us just how hard his job is. And the fault for soaring expectations? It rests with us, not with him.

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According to press reports, President Obama told supporters at a New  York fundraiser, “All that hopey changey stuff, as they say? That was real. It wasn’t something …it was real, you could feel it. You know it. It’s still there. Even in the midst of this hardship. But it’s hard. When I was in Grant Park that night, I warned everybody this was going to be hard, this wasn’t the end, it was the beginning.”

The president is spending more and more of his time these days reminding us just how hard his job is. And the fault for soaring expectations? It rests with us, not with him.

“When I said, ‘Change we can believe in,’ I didn’t say, ‘Change we can believe in tomorrow,’ ” Obama told an audience last month. “Not, ‘Change we can believe in next week.’ We knew this was going to take time, because we’ve got this big, messy, tough democracy.”

Just for the fun of it, I went back and read his Grant Park speech. And while there was a sentence about steep climbs here and long roads there, it’s fair to say the overriding theme of his address wasn’t warning us of how arduous things were going to be under an Obama presidency. Quite the opposite, really. For example, here’s how the president-elect concluded his remarks that November evening:

This is our moment. This is our time – to put our people back to work and open doors of opportunity for our kids; to restore prosperity and promote the cause of peace; to reclaim the American Dream and reaffirm that fundamental truth – that out of many, we are one; that while we breathe, we hope, and where we are met with cynicism, and doubt, and those who tell us that we can’t, we will respond with that timeless creed that sums up the spirit of a people: Yes We Can.

The Grant Park speech shouldn’t be confused with this one, in which Obama said:

Because if we are willing to work for it, and fight for it, and believe in it, then I am absolutely certain that generations from now, we will be able to look back and tell our children that this was the moment when we began to provide care for the sick and good jobs to the jobless; this was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal; this was the moment when we ended a war and secured our nation and restored our image as the last, best hope on earth. This was the moment—this was the time—when we came together to remake this great nation so that it may always reflect our very best selves and our highest ideals.

And that speech, in turn, is different than this one, in which the  former-state-senator-and-community-organizer-turned-presidential-candidate said:

I am running in this race because of what Dr. King called “the fierce  urgency of now.” Because I believe that there’s such a thing as being too  late…. That’s why I’m running, Democrats – to keep the American Dream alive for  those who still hunger for opportunity, who still thirst for equality. That’s  why I’m asking you to stand with me, that’s why I’m asking you to caucus for  me, that’s why I am asking you to stop settling for what the cynics say we have  to accept. In this election – in this moment – let us reach for what we know is  possible. A nation healed. A world repaired. An America that believes again.

I could go on and on, but  you get the point.

Obama went well beyond  the usual campaign promises and political rhetoric. Complete with a Greek column  stage set, he cast himself as a world-historical figure who would transform America. He was  the person who would provide care for the sick and good jobs to the jobless,  heal the planet, repair the world, and halt the rise of the oceans. Divisions  within our country would end. Wars would cease. America’s image in the world would  be restored. Dictators from Havana to Tehran, from Caracas to Pyongyang, would bow to  the power of his reason. This time would be different than all the other times. Our country, after all, had never before been graced by anyone quite like Barack Obama.

That, at least, is how the  story was sold to us. Who can possibly forget this?  Or this?  But by now the cult-like chants and the “Yes We Can” refrain, the references to  Obama as a “black Jesus” (by campaign staff) and a “sort of God” (by  journalists), the comparisons to him as Lincoln  (by pundits and historians), are a distant memory. I’m reminded what Michelle  Obama said to a reporter as she watched people fawning over him at his  swearing-in to the Senate: “Maybe one day he’ll do something to merit all this  attention.”

As the economy continues to remain (in Bill Clinton’s words) “dead flat,” as the world ignores our wishes and goes along its merry way, as the president’s approval ratings sink to new lows, and as he continues to question the patriotism of his critics and stoke embers of resentment, it is worth recalling just how much Barack Obama promised to be and just how far he has fallen short of it all.

A little more than two-and-a-half years into the job, “Yes We Can” has been replaced with a new  motto: “But It’s Hard.”

Sic transit gloria mundi.

 

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Issa Endorses Romney, Brownback Endorses Perry

House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa’s has really raised his profile with conservatives for taking on issues like Operation Fast and Furious and Solyndra. So his endorsement of Mitt Romney is a great pickup for the candidate, and it can certainly help boost Romney’s credibility with conservative voters:

Darrell Issa, the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, will endorse Mitt Romney ahead of tonight’s debate in Florida. Issa’s battles with the White House have made him a hero to conservatives. The endorsement is doubly significant because Issa backed John McCain last time, and his rags-to-riches story gives him credibility with the GOP donor class. Romney sees him as an important asset in California. From Chairman Issa’s forthcoming statement: “The country would be well served to have someone who knows how the economy works and has worked in the private sector. President Obama never worked in the real economy – we can’t afford to have another president who has spent his career outside the real economy.”

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House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa’s has really raised his profile with conservatives for taking on issues like Operation Fast and Furious and Solyndra. So his endorsement of Mitt Romney is a great pickup for the candidate, and it can certainly help boost Romney’s credibility with conservative voters:

Darrell Issa, the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, will endorse Mitt Romney ahead of tonight’s debate in Florida. Issa’s battles with the White House have made him a hero to conservatives. The endorsement is doubly significant because Issa backed John McCain last time, and his rags-to-riches story gives him credibility with the GOP donor class. Romney sees him as an important asset in California. From Chairman Issa’s forthcoming statement: “The country would be well served to have someone who knows how the economy works and has worked in the private sector. President Obama never worked in the real economy – we can’t afford to have another president who has spent his career outside the real economy.”

Meanwhile, favorite of the religious right Sam Brownback will reportedly endorse Perry. It doesn’t come as much of a surprise, and because the religious right already supports Perry, the endorsement probably won’t give him a bump there. But it could potentially ease some of the lingering concerns value voters have, like the Gardasil issue:

Brownback, who also ran for president in 2008 and served in the U.S. Senate, now becomes the third governor to endorse Perry — joining Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal and Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval.

The endorsement is not a complete surprise. Brownback attended Perry’s prayer rally, “The Response,” at Reliant Stadium in Houston in August.

In the U.S. Senate, Brownback, who is a Catholic convert, championed social conservative causes, including working to end human trafficking and defending the right to life. He is considered a hero of the social conservative movement.

Interestingly, both Issa and Brownback endorsed McCain in 2008, so they both have a record of backing the winning candidate.

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ATF Gun Dealer Calls Murdered Patrolman “Collateral Damage”

ABC News published more bombshell audio recordings of conversations between a gun dealer and an ATF agent, who were both intimately involved in the Fast and Furious gunrunner scandal. The latest audio appears to reveal dealer Andre Howard and ATF agent Hope McAllister discussing the murder of border patrol agent Brian Terry as “collateral damage”:

Dealer: Unfortunately a consequence occurred from a weapon shall we say that found its way into the wrong area ok and that was not anticipated. Nobody could foresee that that’s collateral damage I think the term is. It happened. It’s terrible. That’s life ok we move on. Unfortunately, Mr. Dodson with his allegation is a pain in the a–. Now, my understanding now is it will be impossible now that he will be able to substantiate anything directly because that evidence is gone. I want you to know that. It don’t exist. Not that one. You understand me?

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ABC News published more bombshell audio recordings of conversations between a gun dealer and an ATF agent, who were both intimately involved in the Fast and Furious gunrunner scandal. The latest audio appears to reveal dealer Andre Howard and ATF agent Hope McAllister discussing the murder of border patrol agent Brian Terry as “collateral damage”:

Dealer: Unfortunately a consequence occurred from a weapon shall we say that found its way into the wrong area ok and that was not anticipated. Nobody could foresee that that’s collateral damage I think the term is. It happened. It’s terrible. That’s life ok we move on. Unfortunately, Mr. Dodson with his allegation is a pain in the a–. Now, my understanding now is it will be impossible now that he will be able to substantiate anything directly because that evidence is gone. I want you to know that. It don’t exist. Not that one. You understand me?

Agent: MMhmm.

Dealer: Good. I get that.

The dealer, Howard, is now a key witness for the House Oversight Committee investigation, and claims to have made the recordings so he could blow the whistle on the operation. Whatever Howard’s motive, McAllister’s speedy “mhmm” of agreement says it all.

The full set of audio tapes has been turned over to the committee, and the other ones that have leaked out so far to CBS News have also shed light on the internal ATF reaction to the developing scandal. Based on the audio released, it sounds like this controversy is deeper and more reprehensible than anyone initially suspected.

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