Tonight’s debate in Las Vegas was clearly the most spirited and most entertaining of all the Republican presidential debates so far. But aside from the opening sequence in which the entire field jumped on Herman Cain’s 9-9-9 tax scheme, the main event of the evening was not much different from the last debate in which frontrunner Mitt Romney was attacked from all sides. Though Cain was the media’s flavor of the week, his rivals seemed convinced Romney was still the man to beat in the GOP race.
Romney’s patience and endurance was tested to the limit as he was subjected to a series of vicious attacks on immigration, health care and jobs policy. But Romney, who has emerged this year as one of the most polished and able political debaters in recent memory, ended the evening still on his feet without any of the others able to say they had floored him.
We came into the evening wondering whether Herman Cain would sound serious enough but after 2 hours, it was clear that Mitt Romney was still the main target for most of the other candidates. He took a lot of shots but emerged still sounding strong and was again the best debater on stage. Perry sounded better but not good enough to recover from his past debacles. It’ll be interesting to see whether the next round of polls shows Cain losing a bit ground and Romney staying on top.
The debate ends abruptly with Michele Bachmann complaining that there was no equal time. She’s right about that.
Mitt keeps saying he’s a businessman, as if he’s competing with Cain for the anti-politician vote. Of course, he’s spent most of the 20 years running for one office or another. Cain then says the difference between their business experience is that he’s main street, not Wall Street. Mitt answers by listing the companies he started. Enough already.
Tonight’s debate is the first of these gatherings since Herman Cain supplanted Rick Perry in the polls as Mitt Romney’s chief rival. That means that Cain’s performance tonight will not be judged on a curve as perhaps he had been in the past when few took him seriously as potential president. While it is certain that Michele Bachmann and Rick Santorum will take shots at Cain since they see him as their prime obstacle to first tier status, it remains to be seen whether the sinking Perry or even Romney will also subject the affable former pizza magnate to some tough questions. If so, that will be something of a compliment for Cain but it will also put him on the spot since he has never before been subjected to the sort of scrutiny that he is about to face.
Other questions that will be answered concern Perry and Romney.
Join us tonight as senior online editor Jonathan S. Tobin live blogs the latest Republican presidential debate from Las Vegas. So tune in to CNN at 8 pm and then log on to Commentarymagazine.com for live insights as the GOP contenders have at it yet again.
Jonathan, let me push back against your post. Communal solidarity in Israel — or any democracy — is often ephemeral at best and an illusion at worst. Certainly, it seems the families whose loved ones were murdered by those whom Netanyahu released today are shattering any Israeli communal solidarity. The only groups benefiting from communal solidarity today are Hamas and the Palestinians, more broadly. Just as Hezbollah did after Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from Lebanon, Hamas can now claim to have defeated Israel. For Hamas, the recruitment value will be worth hundreds of millions of dollars. The lesson Iran, Turkey, Egypt, and Hamas’ other supporters will now learn is Israel is weak and terrorist actions can succeed at a lower cost to them than diplomacy.
According to a column in Haaretz, Israel has freed 13,509 prisoners in order to win the release of a total of 16 soldiers. Some, like the author of that column, see compassion and trust fulfilled to Israelis. I seldom have the opportunity to go to Israel; during the past six years, I have spent a total of three days in the Jewish state. During the same period, I have spent several months collectively in Arab countries and other majority Muslim countries like Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Turkey. It’s for this reason I firmly believe no matter what Israelis tell themselves about the justice of their deal, no one outside of Israel in Arab states or the broader Islamic world believes it.
There are many eye-opening details in Ken Auletta’s massive New Yorker piece on the ascension of Jill Abramson to the editorship of the New York Times—suffice it to say that while he seems to admire her, he makes her sound pretty dreadful—but surely the most startling is this passage, which refers to the dog she got in 2007 that is the subject of her new book, The Puppy Diaries:
She planned to apply in the newsroom some of the “positive training” that she lavished on Scout. She and her husband, she writes in her book, used “encouragement, not punishment” to train Scout, rewarding her for good behavior with a piece of kibble. “In one’s relationship with dogs and with a newsroom, a generous amount of praise and encouragement goes much better than criticism,” she says.
This is apparently because she was known to be berating and abusive. So now Jill Abramson will improve her management skills by treating the employees of the New York Times as though they were dogs!
My home state of Virginia was supposed to be, for Democrats, a model political state, one that foreshadowed many good things to come. Barack Obama was the first Democrat to win the state since 1964, after all, and Virginia, we were told, was in the process of moving from Red (reliably Republican) to Purple (up-for-grabs) on its way to Blue (reliably Democratic). Virginia symbolized the wide appeal of Obama, who would expand the electoral map for Democrats at every level. All of which makes this Associated Press story so disconcerting for Obama and his party.
According to the AP, “Don’t look for Democrats in fiercely contested Virginia legislative elections to join President Barack Obama as he brings his campaign-style American Jobs Act bus tour to three cities there. For that matter, don’t expect Tim Kaine, the former Democratic National Committee chairman and Virginia’s governor two years ago, to join his old ally either.”
The enormous relief at the release of Gilad Shalit is, of course, tempered by the horrible knowledge that he was ransomed at so perilous a cost. And sadly, that cost will only now be begin to be borne in the form not only of a propaganda victory for Hamas and its relative strengthening vis-a-vis the Palestinian Authority, but also tactically and strategically. The number of actual Hamas terrorists being freed is 477, and surely among them are planners and designers of skill who will have had time during their prison stays to come up with new schema for attacking Israel. Thus, if the Netanyahu government is to be serious about what has happened, it will have to remain vigilant, focused, and ready to attack. It will, in other words, have to do what did not happen after the withdrawal from Gaza in 2005, which then-Premier Ariel Sharon predicated on the notion that there would be hell to pay if the Gazans made war on Israel. Sharon had his stroke and the rockets began flying and his successor, Ehud Olmert, was ineffectual in response. Ineffectuality on Netanyahu’s part will lead to more Israeli deaths and more Gilad Shalits. Israel will have to take preventive measures, exactly the sort that get it into trouble with the NGOs and the Europeans and the cluckers on the New York Times editorial page, to see it doesn’t happen.
Up until now we’ve been relying mainly on the incoherent ramblings of Occupy Wall Street activists to get an idea of what’s driving the movement. But Democratic pollster Douglas Schoen finally gives us some statistical insight into what OWS actually believes, with a must-read column today in the Wall Street Journal.
Schoen’s polling firm interviewed 200 activists in Zuccotti Park last week:
Michael Rubin has again put forward a strong argument as to why Israel’s release of more than 1,000 terrorists is a strategic disaster that has lowered the costs and increased the potential benefits to the terrorists of their actions. He’s also right to call out Benjamin Netanyahu for his hypocrisy on this question, because the prime minister has skewered similar prisoner exchange deals in the past.
But even if we concede these points, as in all honesty, we must, it also must be acknowledged that Netanyahu had no choice but to agree to the deal. Some have dismissed Netanyahu’s motivations as a cynical appeal to popular opinion, but many of those who have criticized the deal need to recognize there was more behind the Israeli consensus in favor of the exchange than mere sympathy for kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit and his family. As COMMENTARY contributor Daniel Gordis points out in a particularly insightful article in Foreign Affairs, backing for what even its supporters understand is a lopsided deal, is rooted in a sense of communal solidarity that resonates far more with average Israelis than the cold facts of strategy.
The Obama campaign ties its anti-Wall Street strategy all together:
“I think there’s some question as to what [Romney’s] core convictions are,” [White House adviser David] Axelrod said Tuesday on “Morning Joe.” “I think, also, he says he represents business, but he really represents the Wall Street side of business in ways — you know, he stripped down companies and outsourced jobs in ways that I think reflect people’s concerns about the economy.”
My AEI colleague Gary Schmitt points me to this Washington Post story regarding the difficulties Iran’s nuclear program faces. Toward the end of the story, the reporter turns toward the alleged Iranian terrorist plot targeting the Saudi ambassador in Washington and quotes a senior Obama administration official involved in talks with Iran saying, “We’re used to seeing them do bad things, but this plot was so bizarre, it could be a sign of desperation, a reflection of the fact that they’re feeling under siege.”
In other words, the Obama team seems to feel the response to Iranian bad behavior is conciliation. Any Iranian embrace of terrorism is the responsibility not of Iran’s leadership and the poisonous and xenophobic rhetoric Iran’s revolutionaries have embraced, but rather the United States. When will the Obama team realize the world’s ills do not rest on the United States, cease the self-flagellation, and recognize the motivation of our enemies lies in their own perverse ideologies?
Omri Ceren is absolutely correct to note how disgusting Amnesty International’s moral equivalence is regarding the ill-advised Gilad Shalit release. Alas, if such moral equivalence was only limited to non-governmental organizations.
I’m in Wiesbaden, Germany, for a conference on Afghanistan. A German friend points out this German story which quotes a German foreign ministry spokesman, like Amnesty, as calling the swap a “prisoner exchange” and continuing to suggest Israel and Hamas should build on this episode to advance the peace process. If Europeans cannot tell the difference between a democracy and an innocent soldier kidnapped in his own territory from that of a terrorist group whose charter embraces genocide, then Europe is in more of a black hole than Gilad Shalit ever was.
The main story coming into the Republican presidential debate tonight in Las Vegas is how Herman Cain will do now that he’s seen as a contender rather than a curiosity. With polls showing the former pizza executive battling Mitt Romney for the lead, he can expect the close scrutiny that sunk other candidates when they had their moments in the spotlight. Up until now some of his gaffes — especially those that betrayed his almost complete ignorance of foreign policy issues — didn’t get that much attention simply because not many people took his candidacy seriously. Now that he finds himself in the crosshairs of the media as well as of his rivals, he won’t have that luxury anymore.
Just as important for Cain is the question of how he can position himself as more than a source of glib audience-pleasing one-liners. His bump in the polls is the result of his generally strong debate performances, but as a first-tier candidate, he has to start acting and sounding like someone who can actually govern. That will require a greater command of the issues as well as an impression of seriousness that has so far been sorely lacking from his campaign. But that’s asking a lot from a man who, despite his charm and strong speaking style, has made it clear he hasn’t the interest or the ability to discuss any topic in depth other than his “9-9-9” tax plan.
Good luck with that. As we’ve been told relentlessly, Occupy Wall Street is a leaderless movement (which means even the original creator and promoter of OWS doesn’t have to answer for his anti-Jewish writing, in the eyes of the movement’s supporters).
But with increasing reports of anti-Semitism at the OWS rallies, the Anti-Defamation League had to put out some sort of response. And while it’s a bit vague of the ADL to call for “organizers, participants and supporters” to condemn the bigotry at the rally, at least it acknowledges that the anti-Semitic incidents are becoming a problem:
It’s a small issue in the mindbending spectacle of argumentative and factual dishonesty that is President Obama’s Jewish outreach, but I genuinely don’t understand how Zvika Krieger, senior vice president of Robert Wexler’s avowedly nonpartisan S. Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace, can continue publishing “Obama is pro-Israel” articles without acknowledging he’s doing work for the Obama campaign.
You’ll recall that, in the campaign’s haste to post a Jewish outreach website, they forgot to scrub author data from their talking point PDFs. It turns out at least two of those PDFs – stamped “Paid For By Obama For America” – were shown to have been produced by Krieger. The author data has been altered in newer versions of the PDFs, by the by.
The Israel-Hamas prisoner swap seems to be popular with both Israelis and Palestinians, and the public relations battle has already commenced. But between the statements from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Gaza-based and exiled Hamas leadership, it’s easy to forget that the transitional Egyptian leadership needed a PR victory out of their role in mediating the final round of negotiations.
To drive the point home, Gilad Shalit was dragged in front of Egypt TV cameras to allow the Egyptians to spike the ball at Shalit’s expense. As if the “interview” wasn’t already asking a bit much, Amir Mizroch writes that the Egyptian translator mistranslates some of Shalit’s answers to maximize the propaganda effect. Haaretz has already picked up the story–without Mizroch’s correction–and the video is making the rounds. The worst translation, Mizroch writes, comes when Shalit says, “I don’t feel very well, am not used to seeing so many people,” which the TV station translates to: “He feels well, thanks the people who freed him.” The video is below:
Even for a man of nearly limitless hypocrisy, it is a remarkable juxtaposition.
During his remarks at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Dedication on Saturday, the president said this:
The logic of Middle East peacemaking dictates that all events are “opportunities” for Israel to make territorial concessions to sundry Arab entities. When Fatah controlled the Gaza Strip it was “an opportunity” for Israel to make peace with a broad Palestinian government, and when Fatah lost control of the Gaza Strip it was “an opportunity” for Israel to make peace with a now unencumbered West Bank government. When Hafez Assad was alive it was “an opportunity” for Israel to strike the best deal possible, and when Hafez Assad died it was “an opportunity” for Israel to embrace newly-moderated Syrian reformers.
So naturally, today’s release of Gilad Shalit, bought at the price that included the freeing of 1,000-plus mass murderers, is an “opportunity” for peace. So muse reporters at Bloomberg and ABC News (quoting “hope from the U.S.”) and CNN and The Asia Times and so on.
Inasmuch as Amnesty International bans pro-Israel advocates from entering their meetings – the latest to be denied entry, just last night, was Zionist Federation Vice Chair Jonathan Hoffman – it’s easy to see how they could cocoon themselves into producing mindless anti-Israel propaganda. And given that the organization pointedly never called for Gilad Shalit’s release, it’s predictable they would do so in the context of Israel’s kidnapped and now released soldier.
But Amnesty’s statement on the Shalit trade, titled “Israel-Hamas prisoner swap casts harsh light on detention practices of all sides,” is a barrel-scraping embarrassment even by the organization’s notoriously low standards. The vast majority of the press release is handed over to criticizing Israeli detention policies, while a grand total of two paragraphs are spent condemning Shalit’s ordeal.