Commentary Magazine


Posts For: October 25, 2011

Did FDR Act to Save the Jews of the Middle East? An Exchange.

On October 12, I wrote in Contentions to take issue with an article published in the Forward by former New York District Attorney Robert M. Morgenthau and New York University Law Professor Frank Tuerkheimer in which the two attempted to cite the American involvement in the North African campaign during World War II as proof that Franklin Roosevelt had successfully saved the Jews of North Africa and British Mandate Palestine. They have replied to that post with the following letter. My response to their letter follows.

Jonathan Tobin’s response to our article addresses both an issue we did not raise and ignores the geography and realities of the North Africa campaign.  We wrote that after the Pearl Harbor attack by Japan that Roosevelt adopted a “Germany first” policy, a politically unattractive plan to defeat Germany, the enemy that had not actually attacked us.  Roosevelt sensed that “German control over an industrial Europe would pose far greater danger to the United States in the long run.”

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On October 12, I wrote in Contentions to take issue with an article published in the Forward by former New York District Attorney Robert M. Morgenthau and New York University Law Professor Frank Tuerkheimer in which the two attempted to cite the American involvement in the North African campaign during World War II as proof that Franklin Roosevelt had successfully saved the Jews of North Africa and British Mandate Palestine. They have replied to that post with the following letter. My response to their letter follows.

Jonathan Tobin’s response to our article addresses both an issue we did not raise and ignores the geography and realities of the North Africa campaign.  We wrote that after the Pearl Harbor attack by Japan that Roosevelt adopted a “Germany first” policy, a politically unattractive plan to defeat Germany, the enemy that had not actually attacked us.  Roosevelt sensed that “German control over an industrial Europe would pose far greater danger to the United States in the long run.”

Tobin writes of Rommel’s victories in North Africa as “scaring” the Allies but, in the long run, “his chances of ever entering Cairo, let alone Jerusalem and Tel Aviv” as being “doomed.”

The noted diplomatic and military historian of the Second World War Gerhard Weinberg has written, “The Germans did not send the Afrika Korps into Egypt to dismantle the pyramids for shipment to Berlin but rather to make possible the killing of the Jewish inhabitants of the Palestine mandate, as Hitler promised the grand mufti of Jerusalem.” And Weinberg has commented “most have ignored the critical role that Roosevelt’s actions to ensure the supply of the British army fighting in North Africa and to provide it with the equipment needed to defend the southern approach to Palestine played in enabling that army to stop the Germans.”

Finally, Professor Weinberg has reminded us that American reaction to the Holocaust should be considered in “the context of reality instead of the outrage of retrospective analysis blinded by the enormity of human suffering. This is critical for any understanding of those sad events.”

The thrust of our article is that Roosevelt’s incisiveness and political courage saved the lives of thousands and thousands of Jews and enabled the Jews of Palestine to wage their successful war for independence. Nothing Mr. Tobin writes changes that.

Robert M. Morgenthau and Frank Tuerkheimer

Jonathan S. Tobin responds:

Robert M. Morgenthau and Frank Tuerkheimer’s valiant effort to somehow vindicate the legacy of Franklin Roosevelt vis-à-vis the Holocaust continues to fall flat. Their assertion that I don’t understand the military history they cite is ludicrous. It is their attempt to take a chapter of military history out of context that is the problem here.

They may be able to cite one German historian who has tried to prove the murderous fantasies of the pro-Nazi Palestinian leader Haj Amin Husseini were the motivations for all German military movements in the Mediterranean. But this is simply not true. Adolf Hitler would have happily slaughtered any Jew who came under his power, but he did not send Erwin Rommel and the Afrika Korps to the Western Desert as part of plan to murder the Jews of the pre-state yishuv in Palestine. Rather, the mission of Rommel and his troops was to prevent the British from overrunning all of Italian-held Libya as they were threatening to do in early 1941. The fortunes of the North African campaign were reversed several times before the final Allied victory in 1943. (Benghazi, the provisional capital of anti-Qaddafi Libyan insurgents changed hands five times within two years.) There is no proof Hitler saw the dispatch of what was — when compared to the scale of the armies employed on both the Western and Eastern fronts — a token force to North Africa as having as its ultimate goal the conquest of all of the Middle East. Nor did the Germans ever divert anywhere close to the amount of resources or equipment to the Mediterranean to allow Rommel to do anything more than unsuccessfully threaten Cairo.

By the same token, Roosevelt’s dispatch of equipment to the Middle East had as its sole purpose the strengthening of the British military position as a prelude to taking the war to Europe. FDR was mainly concerned, as was Winston Churchill, with defending the Suez Canal, not the “southern approach to Palestine.” To assert the contrary is absurd. Moreover, any residual benefit to the Jews of North Africa of the decision to fight in North Africa (which was initially resisted by the Americans whose preference was always to launch a second European front rather than to shore up British imperial interests in the Med) was purely accidental.

Part of the reason why Roosevelt has been judged harshly for his lack of response to the Holocaust is that the fate of the Jews was always a non-issue for him. His sole concern was winning the war. One could make an argument that doing so ultimately saved many lives. But while FDR deserves great credit for that victory, it was won too late to save six million Jews. As historian Lucy Dawidowicz memorably wrote, even though the Allies and the Soviets won their wars against the Axis, the Germans can be said to have largely won theirs against the Jews. Contrary to Morgenthau and Tuerkheimer, American involvement in North Africa perfectly illustrates Roosevelt’s lack of concern for the Jews. Neither the well-being of the Jews of Palestine nor those in Nazi-occupied Libya or those parts of North Africa owned by Vichy France ever entered in FDR’s decision-making process.

The article of Morgenthau and Tuerkheimer, like many other efforts designed to clean up Roosevelt’s deservedly poor image with respect to his response to the Holocaust requires readers to suspend disbelief in a manner  inconsistent with the duties of a historian. The facts of American indifference and inaction — a record that was only ameliorated in a limited fashion by the noble efforts of, among others, Mr. Morgenthau’s father Henry — cannot be erased by the desire of some to salvage the reputation of an otherwise revered president.

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Russia Tries to Block Report on Iran Nukes

With the International Atomic Energy Agency set to release a new report next month detailing Iran’s efforts to create a nuclear weapon, Tehran’s main protector in the international community is making a last ditch effort to squelch the watchdog group’s efforts to blow the whistle on this threat.

Russia announced today it opposed the IAEA’s plans to publish a report about the military implications of Iran’s illegal push for nukes. In what can only be described as an utterly disingenuous appeal, Moscow said bringing out the truth would heighten suspicion about Iran’s nuclear program and “strain” efforts to bring about a diplomatic solution to the problem. They are right on both counts, but anyone who thinks Russia’s diplomatic ventures on the issue are aimed at stopping Iran from getting nukes hasn’t been paying attention the last few years.

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With the International Atomic Energy Agency set to release a new report next month detailing Iran’s efforts to create a nuclear weapon, Tehran’s main protector in the international community is making a last ditch effort to squelch the watchdog group’s efforts to blow the whistle on this threat.

Russia announced today it opposed the IAEA’s plans to publish a report about the military implications of Iran’s illegal push for nukes. In what can only be described as an utterly disingenuous appeal, Moscow said bringing out the truth would heighten suspicion about Iran’s nuclear program and “strain” efforts to bring about a diplomatic solution to the problem. They are right on both counts, but anyone who thinks Russia’s diplomatic ventures on the issue are aimed at stopping Iran from getting nukes hasn’t been paying attention the last few years.

Since the beginning of the last decade, Iran has played Western diplomats for fools with Russian assistance. Every effort to reach out to Tehran, including the Bush administration’s try at outsourcing diplomacy via France and Germany and Barack Obama’s celebrated and disastrous “engagement” policy has been a failure, though not from lack of Western effort. The Iranians, with Russia standing by as their helpful partner, have become experts at stringing along American and European envoys with proposals about stopping their nuclear plans or rendering it harmless. But every time even one of these largely symbolic measures gets close to fruition, the ayatollahs back away.

The result of all this diplomacy is that Iran has gained several years to get closer to their nuclear goal while the West continues to fool itself into believing just one more try will get the job done. Though the Russians have as much reason to fear a nuclear Iran as anyone else, they continue to facilitate this farce because Moscow’s boss Vladimir Putin believes anything that thwarts American foreign policy goals constitutes a win for his government.

The one bright spot in an otherwise dismal international scene in which apathy about this deadly nuclear threat seems to be universal is the IAEA. Under the leadership of Yukio Amano, the agency has ramped up its efforts to uncover the truth about Iran, making no secret of its determination to remove any doubt about the nature of the problem. It is to be hoped a strongly worded report from the IAEA will help galvanize international efforts to impose serious sanctions on Iran rather than the weak measures passed by the United Nations with Russian and Chinese assent.

While Russia can’t silence the IAEA, it can make it difficult for the UN to use the new report as an impetus for strong action. The best response to the Russian initiative aimed at silencing the watchdog group would be a strong statement from President Obama signaling not only that the United States demands the publication of the report, but that it will immediately take its findings to the Security Council as evidence of the need for action. In the past, as his wont, Obama has appeased Russia and thus failed to exercise the decisive leadership this dilemma requires. If the president once again allows Moscow to dictate the extent of pressure on Iran, it will be yet another in a long list of failures that mark the decline of American prestige and power during the last three years.

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Details Emerge on Student Loans Plan

The Wall Street Journal has some of the specifics from President Obama’s student loan plan, which he’ll formally announce tomorrow at Auraria campus in Denver, Colorado. It sounds like he’s going to use executive power to institute a new loan consolidation program, and bump up the start date for an income-based loan repayment initiative that’s already been approved by Congress:

The change could affect an estimated 5.8 million people who hold two types of student loans—government-backed loans issued by the private sector under the Federal Family Education Loan program and “direct loans” issued by the government, an administration official said. Consolidating the loans would result in lower interest rates and reduced monthly payments, as well as additional loan-forgiveness and repayment options.

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The Wall Street Journal has some of the specifics from President Obama’s student loan plan, which he’ll formally announce tomorrow at Auraria campus in Denver, Colorado. It sounds like he’s going to use executive power to institute a new loan consolidation program, and bump up the start date for an income-based loan repayment initiative that’s already been approved by Congress:

The change could affect an estimated 5.8 million people who hold two types of student loans—government-backed loans issued by the private sector under the Federal Family Education Loan program and “direct loans” issued by the government, an administration official said. Consolidating the loans would result in lower interest rates and reduced monthly payments, as well as additional loan-forgiveness and repayment options.

The president also will announce an acceleration of an income-based repayment program. Existing rules allow graduates to limit their loan payments to 15 percent of their income, with all debt forgiven after 25 years of payments. Congress already has passed a change to that program that would allow borrowers in 2014 to pay 10 percent of their income, with all loans forgiven after 20 years. On Wednesday, Obama will announce that he is speeding up this program so it will affect students beginning next year instead of in 2014.

These aren’t exactly radical proposals. It sounds like Obama’s more interested in checking off another item on the campaign to-do list (call this one “Make token gesture on student loans”), rather than making more necessary substantial changes. And in case it wasn’t clear enough this is a purely political move, Obama is pushing forward the date that the repayment program begins by two years, to his reelection year.

But the plan also has problems from a policy angle. Increasing the number of student loans that will be forgiven without full repayment is both a moral hazard (by encouraging risky borrowers to enter the system) and an additional burden on taxpayers. It’s also another step toward total forgiveness of student loans, which is one of the top demands from Occupy Wall Street activists. That idea doesn’t go over as well with most Americans, who oppose the deal by 66 percent, according to a Rasmussen poll out today.

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A Crimson Stain on the Obama Presidency

On the matter of the Obama administration’s announcement that all of our roughly 40,000 troops will leave Iraq by the end of the year, a few thoughts:

1. Liberals who opposed the war and hated President Bush are now defending President Obama’s decision by arguing that the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), signed during the Bush presidency, set the end of 2011 as the official end of American involvement in Iraq. To gain a deeper understanding of matters, let’s turn to the New York Times , hardly a pro-Bush media outlet, on this matter: “At the end of the Bush administration, when the Status of Forces Agreement, or SOFA, was negotiated, setting 2011 as the end of the United States’ military role, officials had said the deadline was set for political reasons, to put a symbolic end to the occupation and establish Iraq’s sovereignty. But there was an understanding, a senior official here [in Baghdad] said, that a sizeable American force would stay in Iraq beyond that date.” The Times went on to report, “Through the summer, American officials continued to assume that the agreement would be amended, and Mr. Obama was willing to support a continued military presence.”

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On the matter of the Obama administration’s announcement that all of our roughly 40,000 troops will leave Iraq by the end of the year, a few thoughts:

1. Liberals who opposed the war and hated President Bush are now defending President Obama’s decision by arguing that the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), signed during the Bush presidency, set the end of 2011 as the official end of American involvement in Iraq. To gain a deeper understanding of matters, let’s turn to the New York Times , hardly a pro-Bush media outlet, on this matter: “At the end of the Bush administration, when the Status of Forces Agreement, or SOFA, was negotiated, setting 2011 as the end of the United States’ military role, officials had said the deadline was set for political reasons, to put a symbolic end to the occupation and establish Iraq’s sovereignty. But there was an understanding, a senior official here [in Baghdad] said, that a sizeable American force would stay in Iraq beyond that date.” The Times went on to report, “Through the summer, American officials continued to assume that the agreement would be amended, and Mr. Obama was willing to support a continued military presence.”

2. The U.S. commander in Iraq, General Lloyd Austin, had requested that as many as 18,000 troops remain in Iraq. But as was the case in Afghanistan, America’s community-organizer-in-chief overruled his military advisers.

3. There are multiple, compelling reasons General Austin wanted nearly 20,000 troops to remain in Iraq, including reducing Iran’s influence in Iraq; keeping the different factions in Iraq from violently turning on each other; maintaining American leverage on the government in Baghdad and within the region; and ensuring that
al-Qaeda doesn’t once again set its roots in Iraq.

Iraq remains a fragile nation and militarily vulnerable (including lacking air and naval power and intelligence assets). There are reasons Iraqi leaders said privately they wanted America to maintain a military presence in Iraq. John Burns, the Pulitzer-Prize-winning foreign correspondent who spent five years in Iraq, told Hugh Hewitt about his reaction to the Obama announcement: “It’s a sense of foreboding for Iraq, because I have very little confidence that the center can hold there without the tripwire that American troops represent. They were and remain, until December the 31st, the final guarantor of a constitutional process, flawed as it may be, in Iraq. When they’re gone, I think all bets are off.”

When asked by Hewitt if he sees a potential for the return of the 2006 civil war, Burns said this: “I do. I do see that potential. I just noticed … that one of the Iraqi groups, insurgent groups, al Qaeda-linked groups, is claiming that they killed 60 people in Baghdad in the last ten days. The tempo of atrocities is on the rise again. And I think a lot of guns have been holstered, waiting for Americans to go.”

The guns are about to be unholstered.

4. Negotiating with the Iraqi leadership isn’t easy, as anyone who has dealt with them can tell you. But the Obama administration made diplomatic error after diplomatic error over the issue of granting immunity to American troops. The administration “misread Iraqi politics and the Iraqi public,” in the words of the Times, and forced the Iraqis to take a public stand on a deeply contentious and divisive issue. The administration’s diplomacy was so inept, in fact, that one can reasonably conclude the White House half wanted this whole effort to fail so Obama could simply wash his hands of a war he never supported in the first place.

5. Even if one was a critic of the war at its outset, as Barack Obama was, we are where we are. The war has been waged, the money has been spent, the lives have been lost. Those are the awful consequences of war, both the justified and the unjustified ones. The burning question facing the Obama administration was whether it would
parley the sacrifices of America into a strategic advantage for us. Would we strengthen our position by having
helped to establish, and maintain a presence in, a relatively stable, self-governing Arab nation that was a strategic ally? The answer was delivered to us last Friday, in words that (stunningly) took pride in an American defeat. I can’t recall an American president taking such delight in such a disturbing turn of events for our nation’s security interests.

It would take a book, not a blog post, to chart the massive missteps and errors and missed opportunities of the Obama presidency. But I would wager that when we look back, events will lead us to conclude Obama’s role in losing the Iraq war (and not only the Iraq war) will rank very high among them. I hope I am wrong. But if I am right, then the fact that two difficult wars, in which successful outcomes were possible, were lost — in large measure for partisan political gain, in order to help secure his re-election — will leave a crimson stain on the Obama presidency.

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Turkish Reversal on Israeli Earthquake Aid Won’t Mend Diplomatic Break

It is testimony to the severity of the earthquake in Turkey that after two days of turning down foreign assistance and, in particular, desperately needed help from its nearby former friend Israel, Ankara has finally relented. The Jerusalem Post reports that after several rebuffs of Israeli overtures the Turks reached out to the Jewish state via its embassy. Tonight, a plane will carry the first of several loads of equipment to Turkey. But anyone believing this gesture marks a thawing of relations between the two countries is probably mistaken.

The first plane sent to Turkey from Israel was a civilian plane chartered by the Defense Ministry. The most logical explanation for this otherwise puzzling decision not to use a military aircraft is that despite backing down from their refusal to accept Israeli help, the ban imposed on Israeli military aircraft flying in Turkish airspace at the time of the Gaza flotilla confrontation between the two nations may still be in place. The alacrity of the Israeli response to Turkey’s need will, like most good deeds, probably go unrewarded as the Islamist government in Ankara continues to make a pitch for leadership of the Muslim world based on its hostility to its former strategic ally.

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It is testimony to the severity of the earthquake in Turkey that after two days of turning down foreign assistance and, in particular, desperately needed help from its nearby former friend Israel, Ankara has finally relented. The Jerusalem Post reports that after several rebuffs of Israeli overtures the Turks reached out to the Jewish state via its embassy. Tonight, a plane will carry the first of several loads of equipment to Turkey. But anyone believing this gesture marks a thawing of relations between the two countries is probably mistaken.

The first plane sent to Turkey from Israel was a civilian plane chartered by the Defense Ministry. The most logical explanation for this otherwise puzzling decision not to use a military aircraft is that despite backing down from their refusal to accept Israeli help, the ban imposed on Israeli military aircraft flying in Turkish airspace at the time of the Gaza flotilla confrontation between the two nations may still be in place. The alacrity of the Israeli response to Turkey’s need will, like most good deeds, probably go unrewarded as the Islamist government in Ankara continues to make a pitch for leadership of the Muslim world based on its hostility to its former strategic ally.

Last December, when Israel was dealing with forest fires in the Carmel Forest in the northern region of the country, many hoped the fact that Turkey sent a plane to help put out the flames would help both sides smooth over their dispute. But though Israel was properly grateful for the Turkish gesture, relations have worsened as Ankara has fully embraced the Hamas regime in Gaza. While one would hope Israel’s eagerness to help would soften the hearts of the Turks, given the commitment of the Erdoğan government to a pan-Islamic foreign policy that would return Turkey to the position of preeminence it had during the Ottoman era, seems to preclude a rapprochement.

Had their needs been less severe, it is entirely possible Turkey would have stuck to its refusal to accept Israeli help. But given the reports of terrible damage, homelessness and the inability of the government to get aid where it is needed in a timely fashion, it appears Erdoğan had no choice to but to break down and let the Israelis bring in assistance.

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The 2.0 Version of Rick Perry

According to Politico, “The Rick Perry relaunch has finally arrived.”

We’re told the Texan will “wage a more focused and aggressive campaign.” Perry’s new consultants are a “roster of some of the most nationally seasoned and toughest names in the Republican media world.” Not only that, “They’re disciplined.” And oh, how it shows. Because only a disciplined, well-oiled, purring-with-efficiency campaign would have their candidate double down on the birther story on the very day he releases his long-awaited economic plan.

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According to Politico, “The Rick Perry relaunch has finally arrived.”

We’re told the Texan will “wage a more focused and aggressive campaign.” Perry’s new consultants are a “roster of some of the most nationally seasoned and toughest names in the Republican media world.” Not only that, “They’re disciplined.” And oh, how it shows. Because only a disciplined, well-oiled, purring-with-efficiency campaign would have their candidate double down on the birther story on the very day he releases his long-awaited economic plan.

“It’s fun to poke at [the president] a little bit and say, ‘Hey, how about it. Let’s see your grades and your birth certificate,’” according to the newly disciplined Perry. And what fun it is! At a time of enormous economic anxiety in the nation, the American people are clearly hoping and praying that a fellow with Perry’s unsurpassed wit and humor would take center stage to poke fun at Barack Obama on the issue of whether he was born in the USA. Because everyone knows that’s the pathway to the presidency.

Having seen the 2.0 version of Rick Perry on display, I’m already beginning to miss the (comatose) 1.0 version.

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Will Libya and Other States Carve Out Their Own “Islamic Democratic” Identity?

Recent events from the Middle East are no doubt providing further fodder for those concerned about the rise of Islamic sharia law: The leader of Libya’s transitional government said his country’s laws will be based on sharia, while in Tunisia an Islamist party, Ennahdha, won that country’s first free elections. Does this mean that the dark night of “Islamo-fascism” is descending across the Middle East? Probably not.

Saying a country’s legal system will be based on sharia law is about as descriptive as saying it will be based on the Ten Commandants or the teachings of Christ. Like Christianity, Judaism or any other religion, Islam is subject to countless interpretations. Sharia law has meant many different things in many different countries across the ages. Even Islamic fundamentalists are not all alike. Wahhabis rule in both Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, yet liquor is readily available in the latter but not the former.

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Recent events from the Middle East are no doubt providing further fodder for those concerned about the rise of Islamic sharia law: The leader of Libya’s transitional government said his country’s laws will be based on sharia, while in Tunisia an Islamist party, Ennahdha, won that country’s first free elections. Does this mean that the dark night of “Islamo-fascism” is descending across the Middle East? Probably not.

Saying a country’s legal system will be based on sharia law is about as descriptive as saying it will be based on the Ten Commandants or the teachings of Christ. Like Christianity, Judaism or any other religion, Islam is subject to countless interpretations. Sharia law has meant many different things in many different countries across the ages. Even Islamic fundamentalists are not all alike. Wahhabis rule in both Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, yet liquor is readily available in the latter but not the former.

Islamist parties do not necessarily take their inspiration from the Taliban, Hamas, or the Iranian mullahs. In fact, the failure of all three of those Islamist regimes–in Afghanistan, Gaza and Iran–to deliver economic or social progress has done much to discredit them in the Muslim world. That doesn’t mean most Muslims are ready to embrace a strictly secular regime; but then even in Europe, Christian Democratic parties are common, and in the United States many political candidates claim to take their marching orders from the Almighty.

There is a yearning in the Islamic world for a new type of governance that can combine some traditional Muslim precepts with democracy and economic development. Turkey’s AK party is probably the exemplar of these yearnings, and while the AK, and its leader, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, are highly problematic in many ways (not least for their militantly anti-Israel attitude), they are not a threat to the West in the same way that Hamas, Hezbollah, or Iran are.

Will Tunisia, Libya and other states manage to carve out their own “Islamic democratic” identity? That remains to be determined. Much depends on whether modernizing Islamist parties such as Ennahdha are sincere in their embrace of pluralism and minority rights, or whether their rhetoric along those lines has been designed to deceive.

Ennahadha, for one, will now be put to the test. As long as Tunisia and other states continue to hold regular elections, the will of the people will act as a sharp check on the Islamists’ possible extremism, as there is little evidence Tunisians or anyone else in the region wants to live in a Taliban-like state. (The Taliban, take note, did not come to power by the ballot box and even now remain extremely unpopular in Afghanistan notwithstanding all the shortcomings of the Karzai government.)

Future elections are not, of course, guaranteed. But to the extent the U.S. has any influence over the process, we should work to ensure democratic accountability; refusing to deal with the Islamist trend across the region isn’t an option–the best we can do is to try to moderate it and integrate it within a rule-of-law framework.

 

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Can Perry’s Shakeup Save His Campaign?

It’s fitting that Perry’s bringing in a former FEMA director to try to rescue his campaign from the brink of disaster. Joe Allbaugh – who also ran Bush-Cheney 2000 –and a handful of other establishment-type figures have just been hired as senior advisers. But is the shakeup too late, and too little, to save him?

Herman Cain is rapidly cementing his position as the non-Romney frontrunner. And the latest CBS/NYT poll shows Perry trailing not just Romney and Cain, but also no-shots like Ron Paul and Newt Gingrich.

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It’s fitting that Perry’s bringing in a former FEMA director to try to rescue his campaign from the brink of disaster. Joe Allbaugh – who also ran Bush-Cheney 2000 –and a handful of other establishment-type figures have just been hired as senior advisers. But is the shakeup too late, and too little, to save him?

Herman Cain is rapidly cementing his position as the non-Romney frontrunner. And the latest CBS/NYT poll shows Perry trailing not just Romney and Cain, but also no-shots like Ron Paul and Newt Gingrich.

If there was ever going to be a comeback, today’s flat-tax proposal seemed like a good start. Perry gave a great speech, outlined a plan that’s attractive to a lot of conservatives, and managed to get it a ton of media attention. But he fell face first on it when he brought up the “birther” issue for the second time this week. The big story of the day could have been Perry’s tax plan. Now it’s whether or not he believes Obama was born in the U.S. This was a completely unnecessary, self-inflicted injury.

It doesn’t hurt Perry to have some new and experienced campaign advisers on board. But there’s only so much they can do. Perry’s biggest problem so far hasn’t been campaign mismanagement; it’s been his own words. From the early campaign trail gaffes, to the incoherent debate arguments and “birther” comments, Perry’s mouth has been his worst enemy. If his new advisers can somehow help him manage that, then he may have a shot.

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Iraq Pullout Won’t Boost U.S. in the Pacific

It is becoming fashionable to say—as Leon Panetta just did during his trip to Asia—that America’s withdrawal from Iraq, soon to be followed presumably by a departure from Afghanistan, will allow us to focus on the far-more-important Asia-Pacific region. I cannot deny the importance of Asia, where we face our only near-peer competitor in the world (China), but it is simplistic in the extreme to say that our drawdown in the Middle East will make us stronger farther east.

American power in the Far East, as elsewhere in the world, rests in large part on American credibility. That credibility has been hurt by our impending departure from Iraq, which will leave a nascent democratic state at the mercy of its enemies. It will be hurt even further if we pull most of our troops out of Afghanistan before that country has been stabilized—as President Obama is likely to do. That is a lesson that allies in Asia, such as Taiwan, Japan, and South Korea will learn from—as will China, which will have fresh cause to doubt American staying power in the fight for freedom.
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It is becoming fashionable to say—as Leon Panetta just did during his trip to Asia—that America’s withdrawal from Iraq, soon to be followed presumably by a departure from Afghanistan, will allow us to focus on the far-more-important Asia-Pacific region. I cannot deny the importance of Asia, where we face our only near-peer competitor in the world (China), but it is simplistic in the extreme to say that our drawdown in the Middle East will make us stronger farther east.

American power in the Far East, as elsewhere in the world, rests in large part on American credibility. That credibility has been hurt by our impending departure from Iraq, which will leave a nascent democratic state at the mercy of its enemies. It will be hurt even further if we pull most of our troops out of Afghanistan before that country has been stabilized—as President Obama is likely to do. That is a lesson that allies in Asia, such as Taiwan, Japan, and South Korea will learn from—as will China, which will have fresh cause to doubt American staying power in the fight for freedom.

Beyond credibility there is the issue of resources: It may be plausible to say that we will be able to focus scarce defense dollars on Asia, but the reality is that the entire defense budget is rapidly contracting: already this year we have seen more than $450 billion in cuts, with another $600 billion potentially coming down the pike. This means that, even if we devote more of our budget to East Asia (which means more spending on the Air Force and Navy, less on the Army and Marine Corps), in absolute terms, our commitment is likely to shrink. Certainly our resources will not grow as fast as China’s—Beijing is increasing defense spending by double digits every year.

Keep in mind what happened after the Vietnam War: Our departure from Vietnam did not make us stronger anywhere—not in the rest of Asia, not in Europe, not in Latin America, and not in the Middle East. As our defense budget fell, along with our prestige and the morale of our military, our enemies rejoiced and took the opportunity to challenge our power—whether it was the 1975 Mayaguez incident (when the Khmer Rouge seized an American cargo ship) or the 1979 Iranian hostage crisis, Sandinista takeover in Nicaragua, and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. We were seen as a helpless giant.

To avoid a similar fate in the near-future, we must assure a good outcome in Afghanistan and Iraq, which will require a long-term troop commitment in both cases—and we must avoid cutting the defense budget any further. Unfortunately, neither condition is likely to be met as long as Obama remains in office.

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Obama Gives Up Pose as Nation’s “Healer”

President Obama told an audience in Nevada on Monday that he will be regularly announcing “executive actions” his administration will take to “heal the economy” without the “dysfunctional” Congress.

“I’m here to say to all of you and to say to the people of Nevada and the people of Las Vegas, we can’t wait for an increasingly dysfunctional Congress to do its job. Where they won’t act, I will,” Obama said. “I’ve told my administration to keep looking every single day for actions we can take without Congress, steps that can save consumers money, make government more efficient and responsive, and help heal the economy. And we’re going to be announcing these executive actions on a regular basis,” according to the president.

The president’s formulation – to help “heal the economy” – got me thinking. Where oh where have we heard that verb “heal” before?

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President Obama told an audience in Nevada on Monday that he will be regularly announcing “executive actions” his administration will take to “heal the economy” without the “dysfunctional” Congress.

“I’m here to say to all of you and to say to the people of Nevada and the people of Las Vegas, we can’t wait for an increasingly dysfunctional Congress to do its job. Where they won’t act, I will,” Obama said. “I’ve told my administration to keep looking every single day for actions we can take without Congress, steps that can save consumers money, make government more efficient and responsive, and help heal the economy. And we’re going to be announcing these executive actions on a regular basis,” according to the president.

The president’s formulation – to help “heal the economy” – got me thinking. Where oh where have we heard that verb “heal” before?

And then it came to me – Barack Obama, during the 2008 campaign, when he said, “That’s why I’m asking you to stand with me, that’s why I’m asking you to caucus for me, that’s why I am asking you to stop settling for what the cynics say we have to accept. In this election—in this moment—let us reach for what we know is possible. A nation healed. A world repaired. An America that believes again.”

Which is different than when Obama said this: “Because if we are willing to work for it, and fight for it, and believe in it, then I am absolutely certain that generations from now, we will be able to look back and tell our children that this was the moment when we began to provide care for the sick and good jobs to the jobless; this was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal; this was the moment when we ended a war and secured our nation and restored our image as the last, best hope on earth.”

America’s Great Physician appears to be lowering his sights a bit. He’s gone from promising us that he’d heal the planet, to a promise that he would heal the nation, to a promise that he’ll simply heal the economy. Perhaps by the end of his administration he’ll promise to heal athlete’s foot. My guess is he’ll be as successful with that as he was with the other three.

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Mixed Reviews for Perry’s Optional Flat Tax

Rick Perry just gave a red-meat-heavy speech on his “Cut, Balance and Grow” plan (which he also outlined this morning at the Wall Street Journal). But he was light on specifics. Here’s what we know about the plan so far:

  1. He’s proposing an optional flat tax of 20 percent, allowing Americans to keep their current income tax rate if they prefer.
  2. The new rate “preserves mortgage interest, charitable and state and local tax exemptions for families earning less than $500,000 annually, and it increases the standard deduction to $12,500 for individuals and dependents.”
  3. His plan abolishes the death tax.
  4. It lowers the corporate tax rate to 20 percent.
  5. Eliminates the tax on Social Security benefits.
  6. Caps federal spending at 18 percent of GDP, freezes federal wages and hiring.
  7. Allows younger workers the option of placing their Social Security contributions in private accounts.

Perry also touched on Medicare and Medicaid reform (he proposes raising the age of Medicare recipients and handing over Medicaid to the states, among other ideas). It was a good speech. Perry was articulate. The question is whether he’ll be able to make the same arguments off-the-cuff. Based on Perry’s Q&A with the New York Times this morning – in which, as Jonathan wrote, he veered off once again into birtherism while trying to sell his plan – this is definitely a concern.

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Rick Perry just gave a red-meat-heavy speech on his “Cut, Balance and Grow” plan (which he also outlined this morning at the Wall Street Journal). But he was light on specifics. Here’s what we know about the plan so far:

  1. He’s proposing an optional flat tax of 20 percent, allowing Americans to keep their current income tax rate if they prefer.
  2. The new rate “preserves mortgage interest, charitable and state and local tax exemptions for families earning less than $500,000 annually, and it increases the standard deduction to $12,500 for individuals and dependents.”
  3. His plan abolishes the death tax.
  4. It lowers the corporate tax rate to 20 percent.
  5. Eliminates the tax on Social Security benefits.
  6. Caps federal spending at 18 percent of GDP, freezes federal wages and hiring.
  7. Allows younger workers the option of placing their Social Security contributions in private accounts.

Perry also touched on Medicare and Medicaid reform (he proposes raising the age of Medicare recipients and handing over Medicaid to the states, among other ideas). It was a good speech. Perry was articulate. The question is whether he’ll be able to make the same arguments off-the-cuff. Based on Perry’s Q&A with the New York Times this morning – in which, as Jonathan wrote, he veered off once again into birtherism while trying to sell his plan – this is definitely a concern.

As for the substance of the plan itself, there is a lot for conservatives to love. James Pethokoukis writes:

It creates a flattish consumption tax that reduces penalties on work, saving, and investment. That could add at least a half percentage point to long-term GDP growth going forward with an immediate boost from reduced business/investor/consumer uncertainty. And if it does kill the healthcare tax exclusion, that would go a long way toward creating a consumer-driven healthcare market.

But of course it also has its faults. The most obvious one at the moment is the fact that it’s “optional” – Americans can choose to keep their current income tax rate over the flat tax. Pethoukis calls this “gimmicky.” Not only that, it seems to contradict Perry’s key argument that his plan would simplify the current tax system. Adding another element to the current system could actually make it more complicated.

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Political Extortion: The Effort to Get Jews to Keep Quiet About Obama and Israel

The debate about the appalling effort by the Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee to stifle discussion about Israel continues to simmer. As I wrote yesterday, the “Unity Pledge” promoted by the ADL and the AJC is aimed at removing Israel as an election issue in the upcoming presidential contest. Considering President Obama’s record on Israel has been the subject of non-stop debate since he took office, the pledge simply doesn’t pass the political smell test, as it would give him immunity for three years of picking fights with Israel’s government and tilting the diplomatic playing field in the direction of the Palestinians.

In today’s Tablet, Marc Tracy offers an interesting argument as a reason for conservative critics of Obama to observe the ADL and AJC’s oath of omerta about the president’s attitude toward Israel. Tracy contends that if Obama is re-elected despite a successful effort by Republicans to portray him as a foe of Israel, that would effectively destroy a bipartisan consensus on the issue. So according to this scenario, the best thing for friends of Israel to do is to keep quiet about Obama’s record lest he take revenge on the Jewish state in his second term. Yet what Tracy seems to ignore is if Obama truly were no friend to Israel or at the very least an unreliable one, his re-election would make the same point. That presents the pro-Israel community with the option of either staying silent about his record and thereby vindicating Obama’s decision to distance the United States from Israel or speak out and show that most Americans don’t support Israel. But this is a false choice.

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The debate about the appalling effort by the Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee to stifle discussion about Israel continues to simmer. As I wrote yesterday, the “Unity Pledge” promoted by the ADL and the AJC is aimed at removing Israel as an election issue in the upcoming presidential contest. Considering President Obama’s record on Israel has been the subject of non-stop debate since he took office, the pledge simply doesn’t pass the political smell test, as it would give him immunity for three years of picking fights with Israel’s government and tilting the diplomatic playing field in the direction of the Palestinians.

In today’s Tablet, Marc Tracy offers an interesting argument as a reason for conservative critics of Obama to observe the ADL and AJC’s oath of omerta about the president’s attitude toward Israel. Tracy contends that if Obama is re-elected despite a successful effort by Republicans to portray him as a foe of Israel, that would effectively destroy a bipartisan consensus on the issue. So according to this scenario, the best thing for friends of Israel to do is to keep quiet about Obama’s record lest he take revenge on the Jewish state in his second term. Yet what Tracy seems to ignore is if Obama truly were no friend to Israel or at the very least an unreliable one, his re-election would make the same point. That presents the pro-Israel community with the option of either staying silent about his record and thereby vindicating Obama’s decision to distance the United States from Israel or speak out and show that most Americans don’t support Israel. But this is a false choice.

Tracy concedes that “Given President Obama’s political missteps when it comes to Israel, it seems undeniable that a call to prevent Israel ‘from becoming a wedge issue’ is pro-Democratic in effect, and so likely in intent.” He contends “the AJC and especially the ADL are not the first two organizations you would peg as Democratic or Obama shills.”  Tracy goes on to assert, “If this is the sort of thing [these groups are] calling for, then it could reflect a genuine backlash at the recent hyper-politicization of the Israel issue at the hands of groups like ECI that surrounded events such as the UN General Assembly and the special election in New York.”

But concerns about Israel’s future while Obama is in the White House that the stunning results in the NY-9 election and other polls showing the president’s declining popularity among Jews, reflect reality, not political spin. The only people who are talking about a “backlash” against efforts to hold Obama accountable are partisan Democrats who worry the issue could eat into their party’s historical stranglehold on the Jewish vote next year.

Moreover, there is something profoundly troubling about a Jewish community so worried about making its voice heard that it would silence discussion about a vital issue for fear of offending the president. If Obama intends to crack down on Israel in his second term — an idea that Israel-bashers seem to be counting on as an article of faith — it is unlikely he will be deterred by the loyalty of Jewish voters. After all, he was elected with nearly 80 percent of the Jewish vote in 2008 and promptly set out on a course in which he picked bitter and unnecessary fights with the Netanyahu government while staking out a position on Jerusalem that did more to undermine Israel’s hold on its capital than any previous occupant of the Oval Office.

If Tracy’s argument is the true motivation for this effort, then the ADL/AJC pledge seems to reflect a spirit of an earlier age in which the Jewish community was too timorous to make its voice heard on life and death issues. It would, in effect, sanction a form of political extortion in which the president would demand silence on his record on Israel without a guarantee of continued support for the Jewish state in his second term. This is an unconscionable bargain no group dedicated to support for Jewish rights or Israel ought to countenance.

But no matter what the rationale for this thinly veiled partisan power play, it is not likely to succeed. The reason why Democrats fear this discussion is that support for Israel remains a point upon which there is genuine consensus. While, as I previously wrote, Democrats can make their arguments defending his record, the undeniable difference between him and that of his predecessors George W. Bush and Bill Clinton on Israel hurts his chances of re-election with both Jewish and non-Jewish voters. No matter what the liberal Jewish establishment says or does, Obama’s record on Israel is an issue that voters will consider next year. Pledges aimed at suppressing that debate are going be ignored no matter how great the prestige of the groups recruited to front that effort.

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Candidates Say the Darndest Things

The New York Times published a condensed, edited transcript of an interview with Rick Perry today. Much of it was devoted to a defense of his flat tax proposal. Perry held his ground well in those questions and refused to concede that an abandonment of progressive taxation was unjust or that allowing the wealthy to keep more of their own money would harm anyone else.

But unfortunately for Perry, the Times reporters thought to ask him about his absurd comments about President Obama’s birth certificate, and the Texas governor responded by digging himself deeper into the hole he previously dug on this issue:

Q. Why did you choose to keep the birther issue alive?

A. It’s a good issue to keep alive. You know, [Donald Trump] has got to have some fun. It’s fun to poke him a little bit and say, “Hey, let’s see your grades and your birth certificate.” I don’t have a clue about where the president — and what this birth certificate says. But it’s also a great distraction. I’m not distracted by it.

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The New York Times published a condensed, edited transcript of an interview with Rick Perry today. Much of it was devoted to a defense of his flat tax proposal. Perry held his ground well in those questions and refused to concede that an abandonment of progressive taxation was unjust or that allowing the wealthy to keep more of their own money would harm anyone else.

But unfortunately for Perry, the Times reporters thought to ask him about his absurd comments about President Obama’s birth certificate, and the Texas governor responded by digging himself deeper into the hole he previously dug on this issue:

Q. Why did you choose to keep the birther issue alive?

A. It’s a good issue to keep alive. You know, [Donald Trump] has got to have some fun. It’s fun to poke him a little bit and say, “Hey, let’s see your grades and your birth certificate.” I don’t have a clue about where the president — and what this birth certificate says. But it’s also a great distraction. I’m not distracted by it.

While I’m sure we’re all happy to know our presidential candidates are having “fun,” questioning the citizenship of a president who has already produced a birth certificate is a dangerous road to travel down. Doing so means either Perry is actually interested in appealing to extremist “birthers,” or he is so fundamentally unserious he doesn’t understand the implications of championing a noxious conspiracy theory.

Because I find it hard to believe a generally hardheaded politician like Perry would think there is any benefit to trying to gain the approval of a marginal group unlikely to produce many votes, I’m afraid we’re left with the latter explanation.

It’s one thing for a figure like Donald Trump to talk about birth certificates. Trump is a television celebrity who occasionally poses as a politician. He is not someone who is in any danger of either being elected president or being taken seriously by anyone other than the tabloids. But Perry is a sitting governor of a major state and, though his presidential prospects have declined precipitously in recent weeks, is someone who conceivably could take the oath of office in January 2013. For him to not only raise the birther issue but then to double down on it in an interview in the Times of all places is a revealing gaffe.

Conspiracy theories such as the “birther” canard about Obama or the “truther” lies about 9/11 can eat away at the fabric of democracy. In particular, the questions about Obama’s birth provide distractions that allow liberals to portray those who make trenchant criticisms about the president’s inept administration as either racists or extremists. This is the last thing we need to hear from a serious Republican presidential candidate. To do so as some kind of an inside joke with Donald Trump shows us a side of Rick Perry that does little to inspire confidence in his judgment.

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Abbas is Torpedoing Negotiations

One aspect of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that has received more attention in recent years has been the topic of setting preconditions for negotiations. This is partially due to the Obama administration’s decision to demand a full settlement freeze–including “natural growth”–from Israel before the U.S. would throw its weight behind renewed talks.

It was poorly conceived, since prohibiting “natural growth” has no impact on borders and puts Palestinian day laborers out of work. And it didn’t do much to get negotiations going. But there is another reason preconditions should be used sparingly, and Abbas today demonstrated why. According to Haaretz:

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One aspect of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that has received more attention in recent years has been the topic of setting preconditions for negotiations. This is partially due to the Obama administration’s decision to demand a full settlement freeze–including “natural growth”–from Israel before the U.S. would throw its weight behind renewed talks.

It was poorly conceived, since prohibiting “natural growth” has no impact on borders and puts Palestinian day laborers out of work. And it didn’t do much to get negotiations going. But there is another reason preconditions should be used sparingly, and Abbas today demonstrated why. According to Haaretz:

The Palestinian Authority is set to demand that the Quartet pressure Israel to release prisoners in fulfillment of a pledge made by former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to PA President Mahmoud Abbas, senior Palestinian sources told Haaretz on Monday.

Among the prisoners the PA wants released are Marwan Barghouti and Ahmad Saadat. The former is a member of the Fatah leadership, while Saadat is Secretary General of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP).

[…]

At the Knesset on Monday, MK Ahmed Tibi (United Arab List-Ta’al) said that Israel should not be surprised if the two current conditions the Palestinians have set for restarting talks–a halt to construction in the settlements and recognition of the 1967 borders as a basis for negotiations–become three, the third being the prisoner release.

This is obviously in response to the recent prisoner swap between Israel and Hamas for Gilad Shalit. One of the concerns about the deal was that it would strengthen Hamas. And in fact, the Haaretz article casually mentions that Hamas will be franchising its product, opening offices in Cairo and Jordan.

But more specifically, Abbas’s demand is patently absurd, and a clear indication he does not want to restart negotiations. Netanyahu has played hard-to-get himself in recent weeks, following the Palestinian attempt to void the Oslo accords at the UN. But Abbas is transparently torpedoing negotiations. He does not want Barghouti released; the suggestion that Barghouti was involved in the Shalit deal was universally seen as an attempt by Hamas to embarrass Abbas.

Abbas’s term in office legally ended quite some time ago. Barghouti’s popularity would easily eclipse that of Abbas, and finally give the Palestinians a reason to evict Arafat’s understudy. Abbas knows that Israel won’t agree to this trade. And that is the danger in opening the door to multiple preconditions: it’s a slippery slope. If the Obama administration supported the settlement freeze as a precondition, why wouldn’t they support Israel using the 1949 armistice lines as a precondition? And why not Barghouti too?

Abbas’s fear is that, just as Netanyahu agreed to the previous settlement freeze, he will agree to another one. So a second precondition had to be added, in the form of using the armistice lines as the basis for negotiations. But then there were murmurs that Netanyahu was willing to accept those too. So a third must be added. Whatever it takes to keep negotiations at bay. Because negotiations are also a slippery slope: what happens if a peace deal is reached? Just think of all the trouble Abbas has had to go through just to void the last one.

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Dems Run and Hide From Obama

Politico is reporting on a trend others have been commenting on for some time: Democratic candidates are treating Barack Obama as if he has a communicable disease.

“In trips to Michigan, North Carolina and Pennsylvania — all states that he carried in 2008 — members of Congress were notably missing from the president’s side,” according to the story. “Though none came out and said they were deliberately avoiding him, they didn’t have to: Dodging a presidential candidate who’s riding low in the polls is a time-honored political practice.”

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Politico is reporting on a trend others have been commenting on for some time: Democratic candidates are treating Barack Obama as if he has a communicable disease.

“In trips to Michigan, North Carolina and Pennsylvania — all states that he carried in 2008 — members of Congress were notably missing from the president’s side,” according to the story. “Though none came out and said they were deliberately avoiding him, they didn’t have to: Dodging a presidential candidate who’s riding low in the polls is a time-honored political practice.”

According to the story, the September 13 House special elections in New York and Nevada and the October 4 West Virginia gubernatorial special election — haven’t done much to inspire confidence about Obama’s ability to help the entire ticket. “The president was unquestionably an anchor on the Democratic nominees in each race,” Politico reports.

In North Carolina, only Senator Kay Hagan, who isn’t up for reelection until 2014, and veteran Representative Mel Watt, who represents a majority black district, appeared with the president. North Carolina’s six other Democratic House members took a pass, offering a variety of excuses.

“[Obama] may end up being the Walter Mondale of 1984,” said Raleigh-based Democratic strategist Brad Crone, recalling that the only elected official who risked being seen with the party’s nominee that year was the longtime agriculture commissioner.

When Democratic strategists are comparing the incumbent Democratic president’s appeal to Walter Mondale — co-owner with George McGovern of the worst landslide presidential defeat in American history — you know things are going rather badly. And as Ed Morrissey points out, for candidates in Pennsylvania and Michigan to run and hide from Obama is fairly remarkable, given that the last time those states voted Republican was almost a quarter-century ago (1988).

For Republican candidates from coast to coast, hope and change are on the way.

 

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Herman Cain’s Smoking Ad

It’s amazing that a simple shot of a man puffing on a cigarette can turn an otherwise boring political ad into a viral sensation:

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It’s amazing that a simple shot of a man puffing on a cigarette can turn an otherwise boring political ad into a viral sensation:

The video is brilliant in that it’s tricked a whole lot of people to sit through 40 seconds of happy platitudes about Herman Cain before getting to the scandalous part. Meanwhile, the media is reading all sorts of underlying meanings into the video. “When he headed the National Restaurant Association in the late 1990s, Cain lobbied against smoking bans in restaurants,” writes the Hotline in its post on the video. “A web ad from the Tea Party favorite’s team serves as a reminder that Cain used to lead a lobbying group that fought tobacco rules,” reports The Atlantic.

These reporters are thinking too hard. The video isn’t trying to make a political statement about cigarettes (it’s not making a social commentary on it either, though the fascination with it does say something about society). It’s a simple gimmick to get attention for the video while trying to send this message about Cain: he’s a “maverick” who doesn’t follow the typical rules of politics. Whereas candidate Obama was sneaking cigarettes in the dead of night in 2008, Herman Cain is pushing his smoking chief of staff out in front of a video camera in 2011. You can’t get more un-Washington-like than that.

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What Makes an American Jewish Hero?

The JTA has published another article on the ousting of a Jewish Voice for Peace activist from the Jewish Federations of North America’s “Jewish Community Heroes” contest. While this specific tempest in a teapot has
thankfully received little traction to date, it nevertheless points to a debate about whether or not to welcome Jewish anti-Israelists into the communal fold that will likely figure at the center of American Jewish discussion for years
to come.

The JFNA is the organizing body for the many Federations around the continent, which collectively raise and distribute more than $3 billion annually for communal needs. The heroes contest is a three-year-old affair designed to garner greater, and well-deserved, attention for this work by allowing anyone to nominate individuals as a “hero.” Nominees can then collect online votes, and the top 10 finalists in two categories move on to a panel of judges, who
select a “hero” of the year who gets a $25,000 grant, as well as another four finalists who also get grants in the thousands of dollars, all through the Federation structure. Jay Feinberg, founder and head of the eminently worthy Gift of Life foundation dedicated to finding Jewish bone marrow donors and last year’s winner, is a good example of an ideal candidate.

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The JTA has published another article on the ousting of a Jewish Voice for Peace activist from the Jewish Federations of North America’s “Jewish Community Heroes” contest. While this specific tempest in a teapot has
thankfully received little traction to date, it nevertheless points to a debate about whether or not to welcome Jewish anti-Israelists into the communal fold that will likely figure at the center of American Jewish discussion for years
to come.

The JFNA is the organizing body for the many Federations around the continent, which collectively raise and distribute more than $3 billion annually for communal needs. The heroes contest is a three-year-old affair designed to garner greater, and well-deserved, attention for this work by allowing anyone to nominate individuals as a “hero.” Nominees can then collect online votes, and the top 10 finalists in two categories move on to a panel of judges, who
select a “hero” of the year who gets a $25,000 grant, as well as another four finalists who also get grants in the thousands of dollars, all through the Federation structure. Jay Feinberg, founder and head of the eminently worthy Gift of Life foundation dedicated to finding Jewish bone marrow donors and last year’s winner, is a good example of an ideal candidate.

Jewish Voice for Peace had the clever idea this year of nominating its deputy director for the contest. A few weeks ago, it was noticed that she was running number 10 in the voting, putting her on pace to at least be named a semi-finalist. When the alarm was raised, JFNA quickly removed her from the contest, releasing a statement that read, in part, “A central value of The Jewish Federations of North America is to support Israel, and the Jewish Heroes rules preclude us from accepting any nominees whose aims run counter to that mission.” In other words, a laudable statement of moral clarity that did not shy away from the basic truth that whatever else JVP might be, its inability to voice support for Israel’s continued existence as a Jewish state, regular partnerships with the most radical anti-Israel groups, and support for BDS, means it is most certainly beyond the pale.

It is a central marketing premise of JVP, though, to play up the allegedly “silencing” of both Israel-critical Jews and gentiles in America. Exactly the formula used to such successful PR effect by other noted conspiracy-mongers who cried about their silencing all the way to the bank to deposit their $750,000 advance from the most prestigious publishing house in the country.

You see JVP’s total adoption of this meme nearly everywhere, from the title of its blog (“Muzzlewatch”) to an April
2011 San Francisco Chronicle op-ed
complaining that efforts to remove university sponsorship from an anti-Israel event held at Berkeley’s law school threatened free speech. So it is no wonder that the group is using its most recent ousting to try to galvanize a campaign against JFNA.

Of course, pro-Israel Jews can’t prevent JVP from speaking any more than we can anyone else. Lack of confidence on this point though can make Jewish organizations an easy target. So when JVP and its staff aren’t being named to the Forward 50 list or invited to sit at panels at prominent synagogues, they’ll be whining about their silencing, and at least sometimes getting in the door for it.

Reason enough to do whatever one can to let JFNA know leaving JVP outside to sulk was the right thing to do.

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First Fruits of Shalit Deal: Egypt Joins the Hostage-Taking Party

The ink on Israel’s ransom deal for Gilad Shalit is barely dry, but already, the first fruits are visible: Hamas’ success in obtaining 1,027 terrorists for one kidnapped soldier convinced Egypt to enter the hostage-taking business as well.

Today, Israel’s cabinet is set to approve freeing 25 Egyptian prisoners in exchange for Israeli-American Ilan Grapel. Though the exact prisoner list hasn’t yet been released, Egyptian press reports say all are suspected or convicted of crimes like murder, drug smuggling and human trafficking; an Israeli group says half were involved in terror.

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The ink on Israel’s ransom deal for Gilad Shalit is barely dry, but already, the first fruits are visible: Hamas’ success in obtaining 1,027 terrorists for one kidnapped soldier convinced Egypt to enter the hostage-taking business as well.

Today, Israel’s cabinet is set to approve freeing 25 Egyptian prisoners in exchange for Israeli-American Ilan Grapel. Though the exact prisoner list hasn’t yet been released, Egyptian press reports say all are suspected or convicted of crimes like murder, drug smuggling and human trafficking; an Israeli group says half were involved in terror.

Grapel was arrested in Cairo on June 12, when Egypt, which was deeply involved in brokering the Shalit deal, already knew how much Israel was willing to pay. That he was seized purely as a hostage is obvious from the sheer ludicrousness of the charges. He was originally accused of espionage, but as his classmates at Emory University noted, it would take an extraordinarily incompetent spy to post Facebook photos of himself in his Israeli army uniform: If he were really spying for Israel, highlighting his connection with its army is the last thing he’d do. At some point, even Cairo realized this, so it added new charges, like firebombing Egyptian police stations during the revolution. But it never produced any evidence for those, either.

The motive is equally obvious. As Egypt’s Foreign Ministry noted, the families of Egyptians jailed in Israel began demanding their release the minute they learned of the Shalit deal; the government undoubtedly predicted this reaction and prepared in advance. After all, its status among the post-revolutionary masses is already shaky; it can’t afford to be seen as less capable of extorting the hated Zionists than Hamas.

Granted, these 25 prisoners don’t compare to the hundreds of high-level terrorists freed for Shalit, but the principle is the same; Cairo’s hostage was simply much less valuable. Not only are Grapel’s American parents incapable of
waging the superb Israeli PR campaign conducted by Shalit’s Israeli parents, but someone who traveled to Egypt to work for a legal aid organization and then enthusiastically joined Egypt’s revolution (see photo) can’t compare with an on-duty soldier kidnapped from Israeli soil: While few Israelis could imagine their son in Grapel’s shoes, almost all, in a country where military service is near-universal, could imagine their son in Shalit’s place.

That Egypt’s post-revolutionary government is behaving like a terrorist organization is disgraceful, but hardly surprising: It already showed its contempt for the norms of civilized international behavior last month, when it stood idly by as Israel’s embassy in Cairo was sacked and a mob threatened to lynch the Israeli personnel inside (it finally intervened only at the last moment in response to a phone call from Barack Obama, presumably explaining that if the Israelis were killed, Egypt could kiss its $2 billion a year in U.S. aid good-bye).

Nevertheless, it’s deeply worrying that even a country technically at peace with Israel now feels no qualms about treating it the way Hamas does. It’s hard to imagine better proof of just how badly the Shalit deal undermined Israeli deterrence.

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Halevy Puts Onus on Israel

Former Mossad boss Efraim Halevy’s analysis of the Shalit deal and its implications is astounding.

Certainly it is likely factors like the regional instability created by the Arab Spring, a strategic aim to buttress Egypt’s fledgling government, and a desire to punish Abu Mazen for his unilateral statehood bid, all played a role in the timing of this deal. But the notion that the deal qualifies as “negotiation” with Hamas and that Israel should seize this opportunity to work towards peace with the terrorist organization is ludicrous, as Jonathan pointed out last week.

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Former Mossad boss Efraim Halevy’s analysis of the Shalit deal and its implications is astounding.

Certainly it is likely factors like the regional instability created by the Arab Spring, a strategic aim to buttress Egypt’s fledgling government, and a desire to punish Abu Mazen for his unilateral statehood bid, all played a role in the timing of this deal. But the notion that the deal qualifies as “negotiation” with Hamas and that Israel should seize this opportunity to work towards peace with the terrorist organization is ludicrous, as Jonathan pointed out last week.

It is lamentable that someone with Efraim Halevy’s experience can still conclude the onus is on Israel to make overtures to a willing Hamas, and to lamentingly predict Israel will fail, leaving Hamas with no recourse but a justified return to its violent ways.

Halevy has made similar comments before. Within a year, intolerable rocket attacks finally forced Israel to launch Operation Cast Lead. Given Hamas’ ongoing refusal to recognize Israel and the calls for more Gilad Shalits, it is difficult to believe anything has changed.

 

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