Commentary Magazine


Posts For: September 2011

Obama’s Disquieting Heroic Fantasies

At a speech before the Congressional Black Caucus this weekend, President Obama told the crowd, “I don’t have time to feel sorry for myself. I don’t have time to complain.” He also told the CBC to “take off your bedroom slippers” and “put on your marching shoes.” And he scolded them to “stop complaining, stop grumbling, stop crying.”

I have written before  about Obama’s deep, almost desperate, need to portray himself as the opposite of what he is, to conceive of himself in a way that is at odds with reality. We have seen it in all sorts of areas, including claiming himself to be a voice of civility, portraying himself as a champion of bi-partisanship, lecturing others about profligate spending, and saying he is the only responsible “adult” in Washington. Now we see this habit in a new arena – this time, the president as Obama the Stoic, a man so committed to “pressing on” for the cause of social justice he just doesn’t have time to feel sorry for himself. Indeed, he has now decided to sermonize to others not to complain, not to grumble, and to “stop crying.”

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At a speech before the Congressional Black Caucus this weekend, President Obama told the crowd, “I don’t have time to feel sorry for myself. I don’t have time to complain.” He also told the CBC to “take off your bedroom slippers” and “put on your marching shoes.” And he scolded them to “stop complaining, stop grumbling, stop crying.”

I have written before  about Obama’s deep, almost desperate, need to portray himself as the opposite of what he is, to conceive of himself in a way that is at odds with reality. We have seen it in all sorts of areas, including claiming himself to be a voice of civility, portraying himself as a champion of bi-partisanship, lecturing others about profligate spending, and saying he is the only responsible “adult” in Washington. Now we see this habit in a new arena – this time, the president as Obama the Stoic, a man so committed to “pressing on” for the cause of social justice he just doesn’t have time to feel sorry for himself. Indeed, he has now decided to sermonize to others not to complain, not to grumble, and to “stop crying.”

This is akin to John Edwards hosting a weekend seminar on the importance of marital fidelity.

If there has been a president in my lifetime who has felt more sorry for himself – who has laid the blame for his failures on more people (George W. Bush, the Congressional GOP, the Tea Party, conservative talk radio hosts, millionaires and billionaires) and more things (ATMs, Japanese tsunamis, the Arab Spring, Fox News, Wall Street, et cetera) – I can’t think of who that might be. As the wheels on the Obama presidency come off, as his record of ineptness becomes more indisputable, Obama is becoming more intemperate, more aggrieved, more prickly, and more detached from reality.

What we are seeing is a president attempt to create, almost out of whole cloth, his own character, his own narrative, his own truth. That might work in an F. Scott Fitzgerald novel; it works less well in an American presidential campaign.

To watch a young child indulge in heroic fantasies of himself can be charming. To watch a president indulge in heroic fantasies of himself is disquieting.

 

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A Danger in Idle Threats

I’ve been on the road and so am late reacting to comments Adm. Mike Mullen, the outgoing chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, gave before the Senate Armed Services Committee on September 22, but they are worth considering:

I think over the summer there was a significant spike into what the secretary said earlier with respect to Iran supporting two Shi’a extremist groups, AAH [Asaib Ahl al-Haq] and KH [Kata’ib Hezbollah]. And they have control of that — very clear. Because we went by several channels, but politically to Iraq; Iraq went to Iran, and it stopped. So it is — there’s no question that Iran can control this, and it’s a very dangerous potential. And they’re shipping EFPs [Explosively Formed Projectiles] and IRAMs [improvised rocket-assisted munitions] in particular, and the IRAMs are getting bigger and bigger… If they keep killing our troops, that will not be something we will just sit idly by and watch.

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I’ve been on the road and so am late reacting to comments Adm. Mike Mullen, the outgoing chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, gave before the Senate Armed Services Committee on September 22, but they are worth considering:

I think over the summer there was a significant spike into what the secretary said earlier with respect to Iran supporting two Shi’a extremist groups, AAH [Asaib Ahl al-Haq] and KH [Kata’ib Hezbollah]. And they have control of that — very clear. Because we went by several channels, but politically to Iraq; Iraq went to Iran, and it stopped. So it is — there’s no question that Iran can control this, and it’s a very dangerous potential. And they’re shipping EFPs [Explosively Formed Projectiles] and IRAMs [improvised rocket-assisted munitions] in particular, and the IRAMs are getting bigger and bigger… If they keep killing our troops, that will not be something we will just sit idly by and watch.

While I would normally applaud the notion the White House and Pentagon will not “sit idly by and watch” as adversaries murder Americans, there is a danger in idle threats. After all, during the tenures of both Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, if not American policy, it was the American reality that the White House and Pentagon did “just sit idly by and watch” as the Iranian government kept killing our troops. Frankly, that was also the reality of the Clinton years as well given Iranian complicity in the Khobar Towers bombing.

The point of this is not simply to lament that recent administrations have been asleep at the switch when it comes to ensuring there is a cost to murdering Americans. Rather, the problem is from an Iranian perspective, American redlines are drawn with a feather in the sand. Overconfidence can lead to misjudgment and conflict. Unless we find a way to restore our credibility and convince adversaries the cost of killing Americans will be too high for them to bear, we’ll be doing our men and women in uniform and our own national security a severe disservice.

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Obama’s Plan to Create Jobs (For Lawyers)

During Obama’s LinkedIn town hall today, he touched on a provision in his jobs bill that’s supposed to prevent employers from basing their hiring decisions on a job-seeker’s employment status. Because the long-term unemployed are less likely to get hired, the bill would make it illegal for a company to “discriminate” against people who are out of work.

As you can imagine, the law would have some disastrous unintended consequences. From the Oregon Business Report:

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During Obama’s LinkedIn town hall today, he touched on a provision in his jobs bill that’s supposed to prevent employers from basing their hiring decisions on a job-seeker’s employment status. Because the long-term unemployed are less likely to get hired, the bill would make it illegal for a company to “discriminate” against people who are out of work.

As you can imagine, the law would have some disastrous unintended consequences. From the Oregon Business Report:

As a practical matter, any unemployed person rejected from a job could demonstrate a prima facie claim for discrimination simply by showing he or she was unemployed and then didn’t get the job. Further, the cases will invariably turn on “yes you did, no I didn’t” factual disputes about the hiring decision: did the employer make the decision because of reasons underlying the person’s unemployment (lawful) or simply because the person was unemployed (unlawful)?

Not only would snubbed job applicants be able to effortlessly sue the employers who turned them down, but it would also be exceedingly difficult for the employers to get the cases dismissed before trial. Which of course translates into a lot of hefty legal fees for employers – and a lot of happy employment lawyers:

Because of those subtle factual nuances, and procedural rules that presume the truth of a plaintiff’s allegations until trial, it could be virtually impossible to get even baseless claims dismissed before trial, such as at summary judgment. That makes defending those cases much more difficult and expensive.

Would the risk of a crippling lawsuit make an employer more or less likely to hire? The answer is obvious. And not only is the law a disincentive for job-creation, it also could end up having the opposite intended effect for the long-term unemployed. An employer might not even consider an unemployed applicant, rather than take a chance and bring him in for an interview. Because if the candidate isn’t hired, the company could open itself up to legal trouble. The law could end up being devastating for unemployed people.

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Mirror, Mirror on the Wall…

Last week, I noted that William Cohen’s Politico piece, by focusing on off the battlefield issues, ignored the serious battlefield raised by the United States’ increased use of drones. Peter Finn’s report in the Washington Post on America’s development of autonomous robotics – robots with the ability to “think” and act without human intervention – takes Cohen’s approach and doubles down. Mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the most self-absorbed of all?

There’s natural concern –perhaps even natural repugnance – at the idea of machines taking the place of soldiers as trigger-pullers, and you don’t need to think about the Terminator to understand why. And some of the robotics enthusiasts Finn quotes seem to be working undercover for the opposition: Ronald Arkin’s belief it is possible to build “ethical military drones and robots” that would fire with proportionality and recognize surrender, among other requirements, carries less conviction than the view of a University of Michigan expert that common sense is both the most important human skill and the toughest one to program.

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Last week, I noted that William Cohen’s Politico piece, by focusing on off the battlefield issues, ignored the serious battlefield raised by the United States’ increased use of drones. Peter Finn’s report in the Washington Post on America’s development of autonomous robotics – robots with the ability to “think” and act without human intervention – takes Cohen’s approach and doubles down. Mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the most self-absorbed of all?

There’s natural concern –perhaps even natural repugnance – at the idea of machines taking the place of soldiers as trigger-pullers, and you don’t need to think about the Terminator to understand why. And some of the robotics enthusiasts Finn quotes seem to be working undercover for the opposition: Ronald Arkin’s belief it is possible to build “ethical military drones and robots” that would fire with proportionality and recognize surrender, among other requirements, carries less conviction than the view of a University of Michigan expert that common sense is both the most important human skill and the toughest one to program.

But what comes through most clearly in Finn’s article is that the issues raising concern about military robotics are ethical and legal, not strategic.  Unfortunately, the current emphasis on drones – both from enthusiasts and skeptics — repeats the fallacy Fred Kagan addressed half a decade ago: the way the U.S. focus on military transformation in the 1990s tended to convert war into “killing people and blowing things up,” at the expense of defining and achieving political objectives that can be advanced with the use of force. Drones are one valuable tool in a much larger toolkit, but the idea war can be reduced to strikes from above is wrong, and should have been refuted by our experience in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Instead, of course, it is our discomfort with the kind of wars we have been forced to fight in those countries that has lent steam to the political enthusiasm for drones. That is understandable, but unfortunately in war, the enemy gets a vote too, and if they want to fight insurgencies, we are going to have to fight
counter-insurgencies. Inevitably, the potential rise of autonomous robots has already led to the creation of the “International Committee for Robot Arms
Control.” The pattern for the future is clear: the U.S. and a few other countries will (continue to) invest heavily into military robotics, while most countries will
be unable to keep up. Within a decade, Western NGOs will demand an arms control treaty, which most nations, lacking any skin in the game, will be only too
happy to negotiate.

The U.S. will then be trapped – as it currently is on cluster munitions – between continuing to use weapons that serve important military purposes and its NGO community, supported by liberal politicians, who will play to the gallery by demanding the U.S. sign the treaty. What no one will be talking about is that relying on remote weapons like drones has costs of its own, and the most important of these costs is not humanitarian, or legal, but strategic.

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Putin’s Ruthlessness on Full Display

Vladimir Putin’s decision to return to the Russian presidency, despite the drama surrounding the announcement, surprised almost no one. Putin hinted at his return along the way, at times so obviously as to suggest he had lost interest in the game. For example, when he sent his NATO envoy, Dmitri Rogozin, to speak at a conference with President Dmitry Medvedev earlier this month, Rogozin contradicted all Medvedev’s main points. No one would dare show up the president in public like that without Putin’s express direction.

And while that may have been embarrassing for Medvedev, there was no international audience for that episode. The way Putin announced his return on Friday, however, was in the fashion most degrading to Medvedev. He said: “I want to say directly: An agreement over what to do in the future was reached between us several years ago.” In other words, Putin declared in front of Medvedev and while the country was watching that Medvedev never had any power and he never would. But it got even worse for Medvedev, and fast.

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Vladimir Putin’s decision to return to the Russian presidency, despite the drama surrounding the announcement, surprised almost no one. Putin hinted at his return along the way, at times so obviously as to suggest he had lost interest in the game. For example, when he sent his NATO envoy, Dmitri Rogozin, to speak at a conference with President Dmitry Medvedev earlier this month, Rogozin contradicted all Medvedev’s main points. No one would dare show up the president in public like that without Putin’s express direction.

And while that may have been embarrassing for Medvedev, there was no international audience for that episode. The way Putin announced his return on Friday, however, was in the fashion most degrading to Medvedev. He said: “I want to say directly: An agreement over what to do in the future was reached between us several years ago.” In other words, Putin declared in front of Medvedev and while the country was watching that Medvedev never had any power and he never would. But it got even worse for Medvedev, and fast.

Immediately after the announcement that Medvedev would become Putin’s prime minister–reversing nothing but the titles the two men have as they sit atop the “tandemocracy”–Russian Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin thundered that he would resign if Medvedev became prime minister. (He did not complain about Putin’s looming presidency, as he is an ally of the Russian strongman.) This–not the announcement Putin would become president–terrified Kudrin’s Western counterparts. Kudrin is a budget hawk given to free market economics, and represents the voice of reason within the government of a country rich in oil and natural gas.

If the fact that the world yawned at Medvedev’s future but panicked at the prospect of losing Kudrin wasn’t bad enough for the sitting Russian president, Kudrin’s threat was interpreted both inside and outside Russia as Kudrin’s way of making a play for prime minister himself–something that remains a distinct possibility, even though Medvedev has already been publicly designated as the next prime minister. Today, in what may have been the most damaging incident yet, Medvedev ordered Kudrin to resign from the government. Though Kudrin eventually submitted his resignation, he made a show of reminding Medvedev that he didn’t actually have the power to fire him outright. Here is how Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty described the ensuing exchange:

A surprisingly defiant Kudrin said that he would consult with Prime Minister Vladimir Putin before taking any action. Medvedev ordered Kudrin to make his decision by the end of the day.

“You know what?” he told Kudrin. “You can consult with whomever you want — with the prime minister — but as long as I am the president, I make such decisions myself.”

Medvedev seemed eager to demonstrate to the public and to senior officials that he remains the president until the end of his term in May 2012.

The exchange could provoke a crisis since, under the Russian constitution, the Russian president can only fire a deputy prime minister on the recommendation of the prime minister, although he can fire the entire government, including Putin.

Kudrin’s grandstanding was another boon to Putin, since it made Medvedev look like a powerless president who could be defied without consequence; Medvedev is now dangerously close to being a political laughingstock. Though Putin values loyalty–indeed, it is the foundation of the siloviki’s consolidation of power in the post-Yeltsin years–he may value raw power and political legitimacy even more. As such, he will strongly consider replacing Medvedev next year with Kudrin. In a note of bitter irony, Medvedev was once the relative “liberal” the international community hoped would be in power; without question the West would now rather have Kudrin as prime minister.

It’s unclear if Medvedev became too ambitious for Putin’s taste, or if Putin is so commanded by his own insatiable ego he cannot control himself, but in three days Putin has presided over the political tarring and feathering of his faithful, handpicked governing proxy. If any in the West doubted Putin’s authoritarian instincts, they have now lost any shred of justification for their naïveté.

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Cash for “Clunkers,” But not Disaster Aid?

Here’s a timely reminder that liberals haven’t always opposed cuts from the green loan program that funded Solyndra. The National Journal reports Democrats were happy to raid the renewable energy loan budget to fund “Cash for Clunkers” and a bailout for teachers’ unions in the past. But now that Republicans are demanding Democrats choose between the green initiative and averting a hurricane relief-less government shutdown of catastrophic proportions? Solyndra, it is:

But twice before, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), diverted money–$3.5 billion total–from the renewable-energy program that issued loan guarantees to Solyndra to fund other programs. The first time he dipped into the program was to pay for the administration’s ‘cash for clunkers’ program; the second time was for state aid. Democrats weren’t thrilled with Reid, but they kept their frustrations in check. But now that Republicans want to use the clean-energy money for disaster relief, Dems are standing firm.  (“Need To Know Memo,” National Journal, 9/26/11)

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Here’s a timely reminder that liberals haven’t always opposed cuts from the green loan program that funded Solyndra. The National Journal reports Democrats were happy to raid the renewable energy loan budget to fund “Cash for Clunkers” and a bailout for teachers’ unions in the past. But now that Republicans are demanding Democrats choose between the green initiative and averting a hurricane relief-less government shutdown of catastrophic proportions? Solyndra, it is:

But twice before, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), diverted money–$3.5 billion total–from the renewable-energy program that issued loan guarantees to Solyndra to fund other programs. The first time he dipped into the program was to pay for the administration’s ‘cash for clunkers’ program; the second time was for state aid. Democrats weren’t thrilled with Reid, but they kept their frustrations in check. But now that Republicans want to use the clean-energy money for disaster relief, Dems are standing firm.  (“Need To Know Memo,” National Journal, 9/26/11)

As the RNC notes, both the Cash for Clunkers program and the teachers’ union bailout were money-pits that failed to meet the initial expectations. It’s hard to defend spending renewable energy money on those programs while refusing to spend it on keeping the government open. Of course, the amount of money that Democrats and Republicans are currently squabbling over is so small in the scheme of things the shutdown will likely be prevented, either by Democrats agreeing to energy loan program cuts or through another offset.

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Defeating the Haqqani Network

The New York Times had a long and interesting front-page article on Sunday about the Haqqani network, the Pakistan-based  Islamist terrorist group which is responsible for the recent attack on the U.S. embassy in Kabul and other outrages. The article reflects understandable fatalism on the part of U.S. officials who have dealt with this evil group; there are suggestions made we need to accept the Haqqanis’ power and perhaps even to reach some kind of alliance with them as we did in the 1980s when we were fighting a mutual foe—the Red Army.

This attitude helps to explain the seemingly inexplicable fact the Haqqani network is still not listed as a proscribed terrorist group by the State Department—a fact which makes a mockery of the entire process for designating terrorist groups. It is high time we took  this step and a few others suggested in a Wall Street Journal editorial–ranging “from designating the Haqqani network a foreign terrorist organization (as a prelude to hitting its finances); withholding $1 billion in military aid to Pakistan in the absence of antiterrorist cooperation; or hitting the Haqqanis ourselves.”

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The New York Times had a long and interesting front-page article on Sunday about the Haqqani network, the Pakistan-based  Islamist terrorist group which is responsible for the recent attack on the U.S. embassy in Kabul and other outrages. The article reflects understandable fatalism on the part of U.S. officials who have dealt with this evil group; there are suggestions made we need to accept the Haqqanis’ power and perhaps even to reach some kind of alliance with them as we did in the 1980s when we were fighting a mutual foe—the Red Army.

This attitude helps to explain the seemingly inexplicable fact the Haqqani network is still not listed as a proscribed terrorist group by the State Department—a fact which makes a mockery of the entire process for designating terrorist groups. It is high time we took  this step and a few others suggested in a Wall Street Journal editorial–ranging “from designating the Haqqani network a foreign terrorist organization (as a prelude to hitting its finances); withholding $1 billion in military aid to Pakistan in the absence of antiterrorist cooperation; or hitting the Haqqanis ourselves.”

None of those steps by themselves will defeat the Haqqani network or solve the problem of Pakistani support for them and other groups such as the Taliban—but better that than inaction. Which is not to say we are doing nothing at the moment; U.S. military and intelligence forces, especially the Special Operations Command, are doing a great deal to target the Haqqani network inside Afghanistan. They have had many unheralded successes, stopping many potentially catastrophic plots. But to a large degree, the Haqqanis have enjoyed impunity within Pakistan. That needs to change, even at the risk of provoking further ire in Islamabad. Otherwise, we are putting our military and diplomatic personnel at serious risk and making it impossible to achieve our objectives in the region.

 

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Life on “Occupied” Wall Street

L. Gordon Crovitz has a good description of the kids who’ve been lining up to earn pepper-spray-victim status by “occupying Wall Street”:

Some protesters were wryly self-aware, such as the one with the sign, “College Taught Me Nothing (But They Got My Money).” Most were typical left-wing critics of markets, Zionism and people who wear fur—perhaps with an exemption for the fellow demonstrator who along with a fur cap wore a long burlap vest and goggles. A woman drew attention by going topless with “Free Bradley Manning” written on her chest, referring to the Army private accused of leaking intelligence reports to WikiLeaks.

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L. Gordon Crovitz has a good description of the kids who’ve been lining up to earn pepper-spray-victim status by “occupying Wall Street”:

Some protesters were wryly self-aware, such as the one with the sign, “College Taught Me Nothing (But They Got My Money).” Most were typical left-wing critics of markets, Zionism and people who wear fur—perhaps with an exemption for the fellow demonstrator who along with a fur cap wore a long burlap vest and goggles. A woman drew attention by going topless with “Free Bradley Manning” written on her chest, referring to the Army private accused of leaking intelligence reports to WikiLeaks.

The pastiche protest is becoming a staple of our times. Take one part class warfare, one part anti-Israel venom, and one part environmental hogwash. Add social media and serve. It does make a kind of sense. Westerners have become so accustomed to abundance that even those protesting the Western way of life are unable to choose from an array of gripes. It’s a consumer dilemma. They’re picking the best-known leftist brands without thinking much about it.

The media has been treating the protests mostly as a joke, and with this motley crew it’s easy to see why. But, in truth, the kind of imbecility now on display among oddball protesters is regularly praised by less ignorable figures all the time. Al Gore was vice president of the United States. He once won the American popular vote. He also recently called for an “American Spring, a kind of an American Tahrir Square.” Last I checked, capitalism has served Larry King pretty well. But that didn’t stop him from recommending the anti-capitalist Michael Moore’s “brilliant documentary,” Capitalism, a Love Story, and praising Moore throughout an hour-long promotional interview. And what was former Democratic Congresswoman Jane Harman doing recently on Bill Maher’s show applauding the loony leftist rants of musician Tom Morello, who once said, “Man, if we really did have a black Marxist as president, that’d be fantastic”?

It’s become impossible to tell where a deluded leftism stops and a respectable liberalism starts. For all the liberal complaining about conservative extremism becoming the norm, today’s liberal media culture earns its daily bread by flattering (or employing) everyone from Al Sharpton to Michael Moore to 9/11 Truthers like rapper Mos Def. Sure enough, on the same recent Bill Maher show that featured Harman and Morello the latter offered support to the Wall Street protestors—and no one laughed. And so liberalism continues its steady transformation into a self-righteous, incoherent, solution-free blur. Take a long, hard look at the fur-capped, begoggled, and topless misfits on Wall Street. They’re funhouse mirror images of our respected liberal elite.

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Dems Holding Up Trade Deals?

It’s been three months since Obama began urging Congress to move forward on three job-creating trade deals “right now.” And yet the White House still hasn’t submitted the free trade agreements (FTA) to Congress for a vote. While Obama has been blaming congressional Republicans for obstructionism, The Hill reports Democrats are the ones still holding up the deals:

Throughout the summer, Obama has been making the case that the trade accords with Colombia, South Korea and Panama will help the ailing economy by creating jobs. But Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) disagree.

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It’s been three months since Obama began urging Congress to move forward on three job-creating trade deals “right now.” And yet the White House still hasn’t submitted the free trade agreements (FTA) to Congress for a vote. While Obama has been blaming congressional Republicans for obstructionism, The Hill reports Democrats are the ones still holding up the deals:

Throughout the summer, Obama has been making the case that the trade accords with Colombia, South Korea and Panama will help the ailing economy by creating jobs. But Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) disagree.

The politically awkward situation comes at a time when the nation’s unemployment rate is 9.1 percent and Republicans and Democrats are jockeying for position on job creation.

Reid has vowed to vote against all three deals when they arrive on the Senate floor, possibly as early as next month.

During the summer, Reid said he was open to supporting the FTAs as long as the union-approved Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) workers’ assistance program was passed first. The Senate passed the TAA last week, but it’s still waiting for a vote in the House.

However, Pelosi and other Democrats have maintained for a while that the TAA won’t be enough for them to support the deals. Pelosi is asking for legislation to address Chinese currency manipulation before she’ll consider the FTAs, and it sounds like Reid might be hinting in that direction as well:

Last month, in a speech to the United Steelworkers, Pelosi said China’s currency manipulation must be addressed before sending the trade deals up to Capitol Hill ….

Reid last Tuesday also addressed the currency issue: “The first major jobs bill we’re going to have is [to] send a message to the Chinese, where we’ve lost 2.8 million jobs during the last eight years, and that is we’re going to do something about Chinese currency. And we’re going to do that quickly.”

The pushback from congressional Democrats leaves Obama in a bind. He’ll hurt himself with his base if he sends them to Congress without support from Democrats and labor unions. Plus, it will muddle his argument that House Republicans are to blame for intransigence on jobs. But he’s already been demanding Congress pass the deals for months, and the longer he waits, the more incompetent he’ll end up looking.

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More Bad News for Obama and the Left on the Jewish Vote

Though Democrats have been working hard trying to put a positive spin on polls showing declining support for President Obama even among Jewish voters who identify disproportionately as both liberals and Democrats, the latest and most comprehensive such survey gives the lie to the notion all is well for the Democrats. The American Jewish Committee’s 2011 Annual Survey of Jewish Opinion showed the number of Jews who approved of Obama’s job performance dropping precipitously since just last year. Currently, 48 percent disapprove of Obama with only 46 percent approving. That’s a drop of over 10 percent since last year when 57 percent approved of the president.

That sets up the possibility of a drastic drop in the Jewish vote for the Democrats next year. The AJC survey also showed that when matched up against Mitt Romney, only 50 percent of respondents said they would vote for the president. Considering Obama won close to 80 percent of the Jewish vote in 2008, this raises the possibility of a modern historic low for the Democrats that might rival Jimmy Carter’s poor showing in 1980.

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Though Democrats have been working hard trying to put a positive spin on polls showing declining support for President Obama even among Jewish voters who identify disproportionately as both liberals and Democrats, the latest and most comprehensive such survey gives the lie to the notion all is well for the Democrats. The American Jewish Committee’s 2011 Annual Survey of Jewish Opinion showed the number of Jews who approved of Obama’s job performance dropping precipitously since just last year. Currently, 48 percent disapprove of Obama with only 46 percent approving. That’s a drop of over 10 percent since last year when 57 percent approved of the president.

That sets up the possibility of a drastic drop in the Jewish vote for the Democrats next year. The AJC survey also showed that when matched up against Mitt Romney, only 50 percent of respondents said they would vote for the president. Considering Obama won close to 80 percent of the Jewish vote in 2008, this raises the possibility of a modern historic low for the Democrats that might rival Jimmy Carter’s poor showing in 1980.

As to what’s causing Obama’s decline, Democrats have argued in recent weeks Jewish opinion of the president is merely mirroring the collapse of his numbers throughout the country. But that can hardly be good news for Obama. Though Jews, like the rest of the electorate are most unhappy about Obama’s performance on the economy, a clear majority — 53 percent–also disapprove of his handling of Israel-U.S. relations. That figure represents an increase from 45 percent who were upset about his stance toward Israel last year. As the results from the special election in the heavily Jewish New York 9th congressional district showed, the belief Obama cannot be trusted to stand by Israel is providing the GOP with some traction among Jewish voters.

Though Obama’s 50-32 percent advantage over Romney would still guarantee him a majority, that means Romney has a shot at a share of the Jewish vote that would be the highest since Ronald Reagan’s 1980 total of 39 percent. Though a decline in Jewish campaign contributions might be more decisive than a shift in the Jewish vote, that might be crucial in states like Florida or Pennsylvania if the election is close. The caveat for the Republicans is that in order to take advantage of Obama’s weakness, they’ll have to nominate someone who doesn’t scare off moderate Jewish voters. When matched up against cultural conservatives like Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann, Obama does much better. He beats Perry 55-25 and Bachmann 59-19.

As to the issues, the AJC survey also shows despite the claims of leftist groups like J Street, American Jewish opinion remains solidly behind Israel in its confrontation with the Palestinians and the Arab world. A solid majority approves of the Netanyahu government’s handling of Israel-U.S. relations and opposes the establishment of a Palestinian state or a re-division of Jerusalem. More than three quarters — 76 percent — agree with the statement that “the goal of the Arabs is not the return of occupied territories but rather the destruction of Israel.” And an only slightly smaller number think Congress should withdraw U.S. aid to the Palestinians if the Palestinian Authority and Hamas form a unity government. Such views clearly reflect that Obama’s longstanding effort to distance the United States from Israel and pressure Israel to accommodate the Palestinians is not supported by most Jews.

Despite questions about the GOP, the survey proves Obama and the Democrats can’t take the Jewish vote for granted next year. While a decisive shift will depend on the ability of the Republican candidate to show voters he is not a cultural warrior, the notion this community is abandoning Israel or supporting administration pressure on the Jewish state is a myth promoted by leftists who have lost touch with public opinion both here and in Israel.

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Breaking Faith with our Heroes and Allies

There have been many warnings issued in recent weeks about the consequences of cutting the defense budget—but little in the way of specifics. That’s because the Defense Department still hasn’t figured out how it will respond to either the $465 billion of cuts Congress has already mandated this year or the additional cuts, amounting in total to roughly a trillion dollars, that could be imposed if a super-committee doesn’t find some alternative this fall. But the House Armed Services Committee’s majority staff has performed a valuable service by releasing a detailed memo spelling out what cuts on this scale would actually entail.

It hasn’t been posted on the Internet yet, but I got a copy of the report on Friday—and it makes for alarming reading. If the Pentagon is forced to slash a trillion dollars during the next decade—which would amount to an 18 percent reduction from the Obama budget projections released earlier this year—the Committee staff projects the total size of the Army and Marine Corps could fall from 771,400 personnel today to just 571,000, a 25 percent reduction that would make it impossible to respond to a range of different contingencies around the world. Some 200,000 soldiers and Marines who signed up to serve their country will be fired—and many of them will be hard put to find work at a time when the national unemployment rate is over 9 percent and the unemployment rate for young Iraq and Afghanistan veterans is believed to be over 20 percent. (For wounded veterans the rate is said to be over 40 percent.) We would not only be breaking faith with these heroes but also jeopardizing our security—and that of our allies—in the process.

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There have been many warnings issued in recent weeks about the consequences of cutting the defense budget—but little in the way of specifics. That’s because the Defense Department still hasn’t figured out how it will respond to either the $465 billion of cuts Congress has already mandated this year or the additional cuts, amounting in total to roughly a trillion dollars, that could be imposed if a super-committee doesn’t find some alternative this fall. But the House Armed Services Committee’s majority staff has performed a valuable service by releasing a detailed memo spelling out what cuts on this scale would actually entail.

It hasn’t been posted on the Internet yet, but I got a copy of the report on Friday—and it makes for alarming reading. If the Pentagon is forced to slash a trillion dollars during the next decade—which would amount to an 18 percent reduction from the Obama budget projections released earlier this year—the Committee staff projects the total size of the Army and Marine Corps could fall from 771,400 personnel today to just 571,000, a 25 percent reduction that would make it impossible to respond to a range of different contingencies around the world. Some 200,000 soldiers and Marines who signed up to serve their country will be fired—and many of them will be hard put to find work at a time when the national unemployment rate is over 9 percent and the unemployment rate for young Iraq and Afghanistan veterans is believed to be over 20 percent. (For wounded veterans the rate is said to be over 40 percent.) We would not only be breaking faith with these heroes but also jeopardizing our security—and that of our allies—in the process.

The Committee further projects if the trillion dollar cut occurs, the Navy will fall from 288 ships today (already the smallest figure since the 1930s) to just 238; the Air Force will go from 1,739 fighters to 1,512; and from 118 bombers to just 101. The Navy will have to mothball more than 60 ships including two carrier battle groups, while the Air Force will have to substantially reduce the procurement of the F-35 which is supposed to be our bread-and-butter fighter for decades to come; the F-35 variants intended for use on amphibious assault ships and aircraft carriers will most likely be cancelled altogether. Cutting all these programs will result in even more job losses—the report projects at least 25 percent of the civilian defense workforce will have to be furloughed, resulting in the elimination of 200,000 jobs.

Moreover, these cuts will call into question our nuclear deterrent—the bedrock of our security since 1945. The committee expects trillion dollar cut will result in significant cutbacks in our nuclear arsenal including much needed modernization of Minute Man III ICBMs and ballistic missile submarines. Also delayed or cut will be significant portions of our missile defense program which is badly needed at a time when rogue states such as Iran and North Korea are
working on longer-range missiles.

It is possible to quibble with this aspect or that of these projections; nothing is written in stone yet, and it is possible cuts will take a different form. But it is hard to quarrel with the report’s conclusion that if a trillion dollars in cuts were to occur—which looks quite possible at the moment—these cuts “would destroy jobs and stall the economy, they could force America to return to the draft, and we would incur more casualties as we defend our freedom.”

 

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Perry’s Lament: When Did Immigration Become the Top Issue for the GOP?

Rick Perry came into the Republican presidential race as the conservative alternative to Mitt Romney. Yet, all his once-promising candidacy may have accomplished is to bring many right-wingers around to Romney. By allowing the former Massachusetts governor to slip to his right on immigration, Perry may have not only sunk his own hopes for the presidency but also strengthened his main rival.

Romney’s main obstacle to the nomination has been the belief conservatives would never forgive him for passing a Massachusetts health care law that might have been the inspiration for Obamacare. But at this moment, the backlash against Perry’s defense of his state’s allowing the children of illegal immigrants an in-state discount for college seems to be even more passionate. This surprising turn of events poses the question of whether it is possible immigration has supplanted Obamacare and tax/budget issues as the top priority for Republicans? While the answer to that question is no, that may not save Perry’s faltering candidacy.

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Rick Perry came into the Republican presidential race as the conservative alternative to Mitt Romney. Yet, all his once-promising candidacy may have accomplished is to bring many right-wingers around to Romney. By allowing the former Massachusetts governor to slip to his right on immigration, Perry may have not only sunk his own hopes for the presidency but also strengthened his main rival.

Romney’s main obstacle to the nomination has been the belief conservatives would never forgive him for passing a Massachusetts health care law that might have been the inspiration for Obamacare. But at this moment, the backlash against Perry’s defense of his state’s allowing the children of illegal immigrants an in-state discount for college seems to be even more passionate. This surprising turn of events poses the question of whether it is possible immigration has supplanted Obamacare and tax/budget issues as the top priority for Republicans? While the answer to that question is no, that may not save Perry’s faltering candidacy.

Since the beginning of the Obama presidency and the passage of his trillion-dollar stimulus boondoggle, opposition to tax and spend liberalism and the expansion of entitlements has been the cause that united the Republican Party. In particular, the passage of Obamacare in 2010 mobilized the GOP base and become the issue around which the Republicans won the midterm elections. That might well have doomed Romney’s hopes had the other candidates concentrated their fire on this point and his many other flip-flops. But that’s not the way things have played out.

Instead of the field ganging up on Romney to highlight his weakness on health care, the candidates have been aiming their barbs at Perry. Though initially the press concentrated on attempts to exploit Perry’s rhetoric about Social Security, the one issue with traction for Republicans was the Texas governor’s somewhat moderate stand on immigration. Perry was beaten up in the Orlando debate last week over his skepticism about a border fence as well as his support for extending education benefits to illegals and their children that are available to other residents of the state. This issue seems to have also had a serious impact on the Florida Straw Poll vote this past weekend in which Perry was drubbed.

There is no question anger about illegal immigration resonates with conservatives and the Republican base. As someone whose entire candidacy is based on an appeal to these voters, Perry’s opinions on the issue would seem to doom his campaign. But though there is good reason to believe Perry’s candidacy is imploding, it would be a mistake to assume this means immigration will be the key issue for the GOP in 2012. Up until this kerfuffle over the Texas legislation, immigration had been of marginal interest to the candidates. Though his immigration stance is a big problem, if this was Perry’s only flaw, he might easily survive it. But coming as it does on the heels of his disastrous debate performances, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion immigration is giving conservatives the excuse they need to abandon his sinking ship.

If Perry leaves the race (which, despite his desperate position at the moment, is not something anyone should assume), it’s likely we wouldn’t hear much about immigration again. As for Romney, should he repossess the mantle of frontrunner in the wake of a Perry meltdown, we should expect his rivals to hone in on his health care problem. There is still plenty of time before the voting starts, and he should not expect to get a free pass on this issue for much longer. Those who tout Romney’s electability should also remember that as much as his cynical tilt to the right is helping him now, it may hurt him and the GOP badly next November when they seek Hispanic votes.

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Arab Spring Countries Pay the Price for the World’s Palestinian Obsession

Here’s the scariest part of events at the UN during the last week: In its obsession with the Palestinian statehood bid, the world seems quite prepared to let the entire rest of the Middle East implode.

Tunisia, Libya  and Egypt all underwent revolutions this year and are struggling to rebuild their countries; revolutions in progress are convulsing Syria and Yemen. Not only is the Israeli-Palestinian arena stable by comparison, but most of these countries, and especially Egypt and Syria, are far more important to the region’s future than the backwater of the West Bank and Gaza. Yet as Lilia Labidi, Tunisia’s new minister of women’s affairs, discovered, nobody at the UN had any attention to spare for their problems:

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Here’s the scariest part of events at the UN during the last week: In its obsession with the Palestinian statehood bid, the world seems quite prepared to let the entire rest of the Middle East implode.

Tunisia, Libya  and Egypt all underwent revolutions this year and are struggling to rebuild their countries; revolutions in progress are convulsing Syria and Yemen. Not only is the Israeli-Palestinian arena stable by comparison, but most of these countries, and especially Egypt and Syria, are far more important to the region’s future than the backwater of the West Bank and Gaza. Yet as Lilia Labidi, Tunisia’s new minister of women’s affairs, discovered, nobody at the UN had any attention to spare for their problems:

Her own appeal to the gathering for help in consolidating gains for women in Tunisia elicited little reaction, with [Secretary of State Hillary] Clinton, President Dilma Rousseff of Brazil and various other female heads of state sweeping out of the meeting on empowering women without stopping for even a hello … She found it frustrating that the question she was asked the most by people had little bearing on her projects, like improving girls’ access to elementary school. The  question she heard over and over: What effect will the revolution have on Tunisian attitudes toward the Arab-Israeli conflict?

Ban Ki-Moon, the United Nations secretary general, conducts a version of political speed-dating during the gathering, holding a 15-minute meeting with each delegation. Virtually every leader has brought up the need to solve the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, said a senior aide, while he could not remember any discussions about the Arab revolution.

This inattention also translates into a shortage of  much-needed cash. Earlier this month, the G-8 pledged $38 billion in aid to Libya, Tunisia, Egypt, Jordan and Morocco. But while the recipients appreciated the gesture, they pointed out that of the $20 billion the G-8 promised Tunisia and Egypt in May, Tunisia has yet to receive a penny and Egypt has received only $500 million.

By contrast, Palestinians are deluged with Western aid. In 2008 and 2009, for instance, they received $2.6 billion and $3.1 billion, respectively, making the Palestinian Authority the world’s top aid recipient per capita–$725 in 2009, almost triple the $273 the G-8 just pledged the five other states.

The West has a vital interest in ensuring stability in the Arab Spring states. If these states implode, not only will hordes of migrants flood Europe’s shores, but global Islamism – and the terror it spawns – will get a tremendous boost, having “proven” because democracy failed to solve these countries’ problems, Islam must be the answer. In contrast, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict threatens no vital Western interest: The world has lived with it quite successfully for decades, and can easily do so for decades to come. But in its obsession with the unimportant and non-urgent, the West is ignoring a problem that is both important and urgent.

The primary victims of this strategic myopia are obviously the Arab Spring countries themselves. But the West is liable to pay dearly for it down the road.

 

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Obama Blasts GOP Debates

Obama’s poll numbers are scraping bottom, his own party is in revolt, and Americans are even starting to get nostalgic for the president Obama “inherited” this terrible economy from.

But on the other hand…have you seen those wacky right-wingers the Republicans are running?

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Obama’s poll numbers are scraping bottom, his own party is in revolt, and Americans are even starting to get nostalgic for the president Obama “inherited” this terrible economy from.

But on the other hand…have you seen those wacky right-wingers the Republicans are running?

At a fundraiser in San Jose, Calif., Obama said that some in the audience might be former Republicans “but are puzzled by what’s happening to that party,” and voters should back him if they believe in a “fact-based” America.

“I mean has anybody been watching the debates lately?” Obama said. “You’ve got a governor whose state is on fire denying climate change.

“It’s true. You’ve got audiences cheering at the prospect of somebody dying because they don’t have healthcare. And booing a service member in Iraq because they’re gay.”

This is part of the “new” combative Obama strategy that’s getting rave reviews from the left, so expect to hear more of it later today at the president’s LinkedIn town hall. At the Daily Beast, Michael Tomasky sees something familiar about these tactics:

Wallsten doesn’t say this outright, but the Obama ’12 operation will be, if the script laid out in the Post is adhered to, in some respects not dissimilar from the George W. Bush reelection effort. In 2004, Bush and Karl Rove decided to play largely to the base. …

Obama is in a similar but even worse position. Whereas Bush was hugging 50 percent most of the year, Obama is lower, between 40 and 47, depending on whom you believe. So he’ll really have to crank up the base. It means the end of the old there-is-no-red-or-blue America Obama, although that Obama hasn’t really been suited up and on the playing field for some time.

The difference is, Bush actually had successful policies that he was able to run on. Obama’s major accomplishment has been health care reform, which is very unpopular with the public. While demonizing the Republicans will keep the majority of his base in line, it’s also likely to turn off independent voters who might see it as especially cynical, considering the promises Obama ran on in 2008.

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The Christie Delusion

Speculation about New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has continued this weekend. Rick Perry’s dismal performance in the Florida debate and straw poll are inspiring many Republicans who are dismayed at the idea of Mitt Romney as their standard-bearer next year to beat the drums for Christie. But, as I first wrote last week, the latest Christie boomlet will only further fracture the Republican presidential race, not clarify it.

Even if we assume for the sake of argument Christie will succumb to the blandishments of those imploring him to run, the notion he will be instantly viable is a fantasy. Christie’s entry in the race will provide competition to Romney for center-right voters but none at all for Perry among conservative Christians and Tea Partiers. Indeed, rather than helping to stop the sinking Perry, Christie might do just the opposite. By weakening Romney just when he seemed to be on the rise, he might enable the Texan to survive his current crisis.

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Speculation about New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has continued this weekend. Rick Perry’s dismal performance in the Florida debate and straw poll are inspiring many Republicans who are dismayed at the idea of Mitt Romney as their standard-bearer next year to beat the drums for Christie. But, as I first wrote last week, the latest Christie boomlet will only further fracture the Republican presidential race, not clarify it.

Even if we assume for the sake of argument Christie will succumb to the blandishments of those imploring him to run, the notion he will be instantly viable is a fantasy. Christie’s entry in the race will provide competition to Romney for center-right voters but none at all for Perry among conservative Christians and Tea Partiers. Indeed, rather than helping to stop the sinking Perry, Christie might do just the opposite. By weakening Romney just when he seemed to be on the rise, he might enable the Texan to survive his current crisis.

As is the case with the various potential saviors for the GOP, all we are hearing about these days are Christie’s strengths, not his weaknesses or the immense difficulties of starting this late without much preparation, a lesson one would think Perry’s example would make abundantly clear.

Christie does bring to the table a considerable reputation as an able executive who vanquished the public employee unions and their Democratic allies. But nobody has explained how a Northeastern governor with stands on both abortion and immigration that pass for conservative in New Jersey but not in most of the rest of the country can possibly compete for the votes of the GOP grass roots against people like Perry or Michele Bachmann. What Christie will do is to make serious inroads on Romney just at the time when he is gaining traction and erasing Perry’s once large lead. Romney’s path to the nomination is based on a belief he will win enough large states like Pennsylvania to offset the advantage his more conservative opponents have in much of the South and West. Christie might make that impossible without being able to win it either.

While possessing enormous political talent and a gift for winning the fights he picks, Christie is unprepared for a run for national office and the intrusive scrutiny that comes with it. Having bridled at the coverage he already gets in Trenton and with a skin every bit as thin as Barack Obama’s without the latter’s cool temperament, it isn’t hard to imagine how badly he will react to the nastiness of life on the presidential campaign trail. The results would be noisy and entertaining but not pretty.

I still believe Christie is too smart to go down a road that is unlikely to bring him the nomination. But if he does, his late entry in the race would be exactly what Perry needs and a terrible blow to Romney.

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Who’s Committing West Bank Violence?

To listen to some reporters and commentators, the only violence in the West Bank in recent years are attacks against Arabs by maniacal right-wing Jewish settlers. That was the conceit of a New York Times feature published on Friday — the same day Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas delivered his request for statehood at the United Nations. According to Ethan Bronner’s report, Israel’s main worry wasn’t about Palestinian terror but an escalation of settler violence. The story depicted the settlers as being out-of-control and having no respect for innocent Palestinians.

However, as Friday’s lethal attack on a Jewish vehicle in the West Bank proved, the belief violence on the West Bank is a one-way street is simply untrue. Settler violence is wrong, but the notion it is unprovoked or Jews are more likely to attack Arabs in the territory is an absurd distortion of the truth.

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To listen to some reporters and commentators, the only violence in the West Bank in recent years are attacks against Arabs by maniacal right-wing Jewish settlers. That was the conceit of a New York Times feature published on Friday — the same day Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas delivered his request for statehood at the United Nations. According to Ethan Bronner’s report, Israel’s main worry wasn’t about Palestinian terror but an escalation of settler violence. The story depicted the settlers as being out-of-control and having no respect for innocent Palestinians.

However, as Friday’s lethal attack on a Jewish vehicle in the West Bank proved, the belief violence on the West Bank is a one-way street is simply untrue. Settler violence is wrong, but the notion it is unprovoked or Jews are more likely to attack Arabs in the territory is an absurd distortion of the truth.

Yet that is exactly the impression Bronner’s story left about the situation in the West Bank. In this telling, the Jews living in settlements are giving the Israeli government nightmares because they are liable to attack peaceful Arab protesters with lethal force in the coming weeks. Even more worrisome is their propensity to launch “price tag” assaults on Arab persons or property, including mosques. Such attacks are routinely portrayed as a radical Jewish tactic designed to intimidate their neighbors as part of a plot, as the Palestinians allege, to “steal” their land.

While Bronner does reference one infamous act of mass slaughter committed by Arabs against the settlers that took place in 2002, there is no mention in the piece of contemporary Palestinian violence against Jews. But like the attack near Kiryat Arba in which a father and a child were killed after their vehicle crashed as a result of a rocks crashing through the windshield, the Jews in the settlements are routinely subjected to deadly attacks from Palestinians. According to the Israeli police, there were 18 such incidents in the Hebron area alone this month. Fortunately, the aim of the Arab stone-throwers is not always as accurate as the one who killed 25-year-old Hillel Palmer and his one-year-old son Jonathan on Friday.

The murder of these two people cannot justify any violence committed by settlers against Arabs. Any Jews carrying out vigilante attacks or any other illegal activity should be caught and punished. But the idea such Jewish crimes outnumber or are even remotely comparable to the vast total of Palestinian attacks on Jewish property or individuals in the West Bank is simply crazy. The nearly 300,000 Jews who live in the territories do so under constant threat of terror attacks and the sort of vehicular homicide that took the lives of the Palmers. Yet only a tiny minority has ever resorted to retaliation of any kind.

Recent events in the West Bank are merely a continuation of the same narrative that has characterized the conflict during the past century. The Arabs have always treated Jewish settlement in any part of the country as a foreign invasion to be resisted by all means. Jewish retaliation for this violence has been sporadic and rare. One needn’t be a proponent of the settlements or the settlers to understand the common portrayal of them in the Western press as violence-prone maniacs is a politicized distortion of the truth. The same can be said of the depiction of West Bank Arabs as only being hapless victims rather than is actually the case–the source of almost all of the violence.

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Mearsheimer’s Vanishing Veneer of Respectability

John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt have spent much of the last few years since the publication of their infamous screed The Israel Lobby posing as victims of vicious smears. They have claimed their careers were hurt by their willingness to denounce Israel and its supporters and cried bloody murder over the fact many commentators saw a clear connection between their absurd arguments that a vast conspiracy of allies of Zionism was manipulating American policy.

But it’s going to be just a little harder for one of this duo to assert his innocence when it comes to charges of Jew-hatred. Mearsheimer is rightly being called to account for his endorsement of a new book by a Holocaust denier. As Jeffrey Goldberg noted in The Atlantic, after years of pretending he is no anti-Semite, Mearsheimer isn’t even “bothering to make believe anymore.”

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John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt have spent much of the last few years since the publication of their infamous screed The Israel Lobby posing as victims of vicious smears. They have claimed their careers were hurt by their willingness to denounce Israel and its supporters and cried bloody murder over the fact many commentators saw a clear connection between their absurd arguments that a vast conspiracy of allies of Zionism was manipulating American policy.

But it’s going to be just a little harder for one of this duo to assert his innocence when it comes to charges of Jew-hatred. Mearsheimer is rightly being called to account for his endorsement of a new book by a Holocaust denier. As Jeffrey Goldberg noted in The Atlantic, after years of pretending he is no anti-Semite, Mearsheimer isn’t even “bothering to make believe anymore.”

The author of the book Mearsheimer admires is Gilad Atzmon, an ex-Israeli who not only doubts the truth of the Holocaust but also thinks the Jews persecuted Hitler and Nazi persecution of the Jews was justified. For Atzmon, any expression of Jewish identity is tantamount to racism. He believes Israel is worse than Nazi Germany. His hatred of his own people has even motivated him to claim medieval blood libels might have been true, and the Protocols of the Elders of Zion provides historical insights about the Jews.

When blogger Adam Holland contacted Mearsheimer about his praise of Atzmon, the University of Chicago professor didn’t back down from writing his blurb: “I have no reason to amend it or embellish it, as it accurately reflects my view of the book.”

The Israel Lobby was itself a typical example of anti-Semitic invective in the way it sought to delegitimize Israel’s American supporters and to single them out as sinister forces undermining democracy. But because its authors were two distinguished academics, they were able to cloak their prejudice in more respectable garb. One can only hope Mearsheimer’s endorsement of Atzmon helps to strip away that unjustified veneer of respectability that continues to attach to the authors’ work.

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Netanyahu’s Charm Offensive With Obama

It’s doubtful he will get any credit for it, but Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is conducting a full-throttle charm offensive on behalf of President Obama. Netanyahu’s praise for the president’s UN speech on Wednesday was fulsome and included no caveats about Obama’s bragging about trying to tilt the diplomatic playing field in the direction of the Palestinians on the 1967 lines or his predilection for moral equivalence between the two sides in the Middle East conflict. Subsequently, Netanyahu also rebuked a member of his party who appeared with Texas Governor Rick Perry last week at a press conference during which Obama’s negative attitude toward Israel was denounced. And this was not long after Jerusalem treated Obama’s helpful phone call to Egypt during the attack on the Israel embassy in Cairo earlier this month as heroic rather than routine.

For those who think the primary image of the U.S.-Israel relationship is that of Netanyahu lecturing Obama about the dangers of a return to the 1967 lines during a White House photo op, the idea the prime minister is sucking up to the president is somewhat amusing. But it is nevertheless true. And as much as there has been no diminishment of the White House’s resentment of Netanyahu, the willingness of the Israeli leader to vouch for Obama may prove quite useful for the Democrats next year.

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It’s doubtful he will get any credit for it, but Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is conducting a full-throttle charm offensive on behalf of President Obama. Netanyahu’s praise for the president’s UN speech on Wednesday was fulsome and included no caveats about Obama’s bragging about trying to tilt the diplomatic playing field in the direction of the Palestinians on the 1967 lines or his predilection for moral equivalence between the two sides in the Middle East conflict. Subsequently, Netanyahu also rebuked a member of his party who appeared with Texas Governor Rick Perry last week at a press conference during which Obama’s negative attitude toward Israel was denounced. And this was not long after Jerusalem treated Obama’s helpful phone call to Egypt during the attack on the Israel embassy in Cairo earlier this month as heroic rather than routine.

For those who think the primary image of the U.S.-Israel relationship is that of Netanyahu lecturing Obama about the dangers of a return to the 1967 lines during a White House photo op, the idea the prime minister is sucking up to the president is somewhat amusing. But it is nevertheless true. And as much as there has been no diminishment of the White House’s resentment of Netanyahu, the willingness of the Israeli leader to vouch for Obama may prove quite useful for the Democrats next year.

The Israeli leader has actually done his best to avoid spats with Obama. Netanyahu’s infamous lecture was an understandable reaction to Obama’s decision to ambush the prime minister in his Middle East policy speech on the eve of Netanyahu’s trip to Washington this spring. That spat, like the all too public arguments with Israel that have been an ongoing feature of the Obama administration from its first days in office, was the result of a deliberate decision by the president to pick a fight with Netanyahu. But even during the worst of the White House’s attempts to humiliate him, such as the argument over the supposed “insult” to Vice President Joe Biden over building in Jerusalem in 2010, Netanyahu has kept his cool. He refused to publicly answer the slights and genuine insults. It should also be remembered that during his triumphant address to Congress days after Obama’s ambush, Netanyahu spoke for the most part as if the president agreed with him and sought to highlight their points of agreement, not their differences.

Netanyahu’s critics will argue the current charm offensive with the White House is a matter of necessity. Israel needs Obama to veto a unilateral declaration of Palestinian independence. They are right about that, but there’s more that motivates the Israeli’s actions. Should Obama follow up his veto at the UN with another campaign of brutal pressure on Israel, Netanyahu will hope to position himself in such a way as to rally his nation’s American supporters in both political parties to act as a brake on the president’s policies without openly offending the White House.

Netanyahu’s willingness to pile on the praise in quotes that can be used by Democrats next year to bolster Obama’s re-election campaign may annoy his Republican admirers, but it makes sense. If Obama is re-elected next year, that will present a challenge for Israel, but he won’t be able to blame Netanyahu for helping the Republicans. And if, as many in Israel hope, Obama is defeated, then none of this will matter.

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The Anti-Liberals Strike Back

If you missed Hussein Agha and Robert Malley’s long piece The Arab Counterrevolution in the New York Review of Books a couple of weeks ago, as I did, go back and take a look. It’s not the least bit dated and is, in fact, one of the better analyses published lately of what is called the Arab Spring.

Middle Eastern liberals, they argue, only affected the direction of Arab history this year for the briefest of periods. The Arab revolution began on December 17, 2010, when Mohamed Bouazizi kicked off the revolt against Tunisia’s dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali by setting himself on fire in the town of Sidi Bouzid. The Arab revolution ended, they say, on February 12, the day after Hosni Mubarak was removed from his palace in Cairo. Men with guns and theology have been in charge of history’s direction since then.

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If you missed Hussein Agha and Robert Malley’s long piece The Arab Counterrevolution in the New York Review of Books a couple of weeks ago, as I did, go back and take a look. It’s not the least bit dated and is, in fact, one of the better analyses published lately of what is called the Arab Spring.

Middle Eastern liberals, they argue, only affected the direction of Arab history this year for the briefest of periods. The Arab revolution began on December 17, 2010, when Mohamed Bouazizi kicked off the revolt against Tunisia’s dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali by setting himself on fire in the town of Sidi Bouzid. The Arab revolution ended, they say, on February 12, the day after Hosni Mubarak was removed from his palace in Cairo. Men with guns and theology have been in charge of history’s direction since then.

“The outcome of the Arab awakening,” they write, “will not be determined by those who launched it. The popular uprisings were broadly welcomed, but they do not neatly fit the social and political makeup of traditional communities often organized along tribal and kinship ties, where religion has a central part and foreign meddling is the norm. The result will be decided by other, more calculating and hard-nosed forces.”

A military junta rules Egypt and is cutting deals with Islamists. A motley collection of armed rebels is in charge of Libya. The ruthless Bashar al-Assad is still the tyrant of Syria. Tunisia looks better, as should be expected, but Islamists are gaining strength even there where they are weakest. Political liberalism (in the general and classical sense) has always been marginal in the Arab world and it still is. We shouldn’t expect mature democracies to emerge over there until that changes. The Arab Spring may well be the beginning of liberalism’s rise, but that doesn’t mean it’s dominant yet.

Agha and Malley go off the rails a bit when they argue so-called moderate Islamist organizations like the Muslim Brotherhood may turn out to be the West’s best allies against armed Islamists. That is unlikely. Most Sunni Arab terrorist organizations of the Islamist bent splintered off from the Muslim Brotherhood. Unless armed Islamists start targeting Egyptian civilians first and foremost, as their counterparts did in Iraq, Islamists of every variety will almost certainly band together against Westerners and the Arab world’s own liberal and genuinely moderate “infidels.” After all, Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood is currently aligned with the totalitarian Salafist movement, from which al-Qaeda springs, and is openly hostile toward not only Israel and the United States but also everyone and every party in Egypt that does not toe its line.

The West’s best and most natural allies in the Middle East and North Africa are the region’s liberals, which is why American foreign policy makers should do everything in their power, even when not much can be done, to give them a lift.

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Was Florida the Last Straw for Perry?

Unlike the Iowa Straw Poll, which has been around for a long time and has some relevance to the caucuses in that state, there is little reason to take the Florida Straw Poll conducted yesterday all that seriously. Even some of those who voted for Herman Cain, who was the unexpected winner, understood he has no chance to be elected president. But the fact Rick Perry competed and lost was more significant than Cain’s win.

Unlike Mitt Romney and Michele Bachmann, who wisely passed on the Florida poll, Perry went all out to win it and failed. Coming on the heels of his awful performance in the Orlando debate that preceded the event on Thursday, the campaign of the Texas governor looks to be in a free fall. The question for Perry is increasingly becoming not so much how he recovers his mojo as the frontrunner, but will he survive the grueling run up to the caucuses and primaries?

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Unlike the Iowa Straw Poll, which has been around for a long time and has some relevance to the caucuses in that state, there is little reason to take the Florida Straw Poll conducted yesterday all that seriously. Even some of those who voted for Herman Cain, who was the unexpected winner, understood he has no chance to be elected president. But the fact Rick Perry competed and lost was more significant than Cain’s win.

Unlike Mitt Romney and Michele Bachmann, who wisely passed on the Florida poll, Perry went all out to win it and failed. Coming on the heels of his awful performance in the Orlando debate that preceded the event on Thursday, the campaign of the Texas governor looks to be in a free fall. The question for Perry is increasingly becoming not so much how he recovers his mojo as the frontrunner, but will he survive the grueling run up to the caucuses and primaries?

It is hard to muster a case for optimism for Perry right now. Though he entered the race as a conservative savior and amassed a huge lead in the polls, the debates have exposed him. He has come across not merely as a poor debater but as someone without focus or energy. The attacks on his record from Romney and Bachmann as well as other candidates have hurt, but not as much as his own inability to offer a confident and articulate counter-attack. Yet, the willingness to write Perry off may be a bit premature.

Future debates will give Perry a chance to erase the fumbling impression he left the public with this past week. After three straight poor performances, his chances of winning the next one or two may seem dim, but we should remember, Perry is not a political novice. He may not have been prepared for the national stage, but this is a man who has won races in a large state. If he is willing to work at it, he could improve or at least not embarrass himself again.

Second, the real danger for Perry is his stance on immigration has allowed Romney to slip to the right of him on at least this one issue. This is crucial, because no matter how poor his competition fares, Romney must win over some conservatives if he is to win the nomination. But as much as rousing the rabble over the possibility the children of illegal immigrants might get an in-state discount to attend college offers Romney a chance to play the conservative, there is no reason to believe immigration has somehow eclipsed the budget and taxes as the prime issue for the Tea Party conservatives who gave Perry his lead in the polls.

Third, Perry is not so much competing for votes with Romney as he is with Bachmann and lesser conservatives like Rick Santorum and Cain. Romney’s record as the man who passed the bill that inspired Obamacare and his various flip-flops on the issues still renders him vulnerable to a strong conservative, assuming there is one still in the running by the time the votes start counting in 2012.

That means unless and until a more credible conservative challenger to Romney comes along, Perry still has a chance, albeit a far slimmer one than he had just a couple of weeks ago. As New York Times blogger Nate Silver wrote yesterday, “in the parlance of the bond rating agencies, it is appropriate to put Mr. Perry’s campaign on a ‘negative outlook,’ but it is a little early for a full downgrade.”

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