Commentary Magazine


Posts For: November 9, 2011

After Perry Meltdown, Romney’s Still the Candidate to Beat

It was a moment that will live on as long as American democracy or at least as long as there is video and a way to watch it. Rick Perry’s extended brain freeze when he couldn’t remember which government agencies he wanted to disband was as awkward a moment as has ever been witnessed during a national political debate and far worse than any of his previous debate mishaps that caused his poll numbers to crater. Not only will there be no Perry comeback, but in spite of his large campaign war chest it is hard to see how a candidacy that is no more of a punch line than anything else survives after this.

But while everyone will be talking more about Perry’s blooper film highlight more than any other moment in tonight’s debate, the evening produced some other clear winners and losers. Herman Cain showed that in spite of crippling accusations of sexual harassment from four different women, he’s undaunted and able to put on another spirited performance. Newt Gingrich once again showed why he thrives in any debate format. Yet the even bigger story is that despite taking a pounding from the moderators, Mitt Romney is the one who left the stage as the most likely to win the nomination.

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It was a moment that will live on as long as American democracy or at least as long as there is video and a way to watch it. Rick Perry’s extended brain freeze when he couldn’t remember which government agencies he wanted to disband was as awkward a moment as has ever been witnessed during a national political debate and far worse than any of his previous debate mishaps that caused his poll numbers to crater. Not only will there be no Perry comeback, but in spite of his large campaign war chest it is hard to see how a candidacy that is no more of a punch line than anything else survives after this.

But while everyone will be talking more about Perry’s blooper film highlight more than any other moment in tonight’s debate, the evening produced some other clear winners and losers. Herman Cain showed that in spite of crippling accusations of sexual harassment from four different women, he’s undaunted and able to put on another spirited performance. Newt Gingrich once again showed why he thrives in any debate format. Yet the even bigger story is that despite taking a pounding from the moderators, Mitt Romney is the one who left the stage as the most likely to win the nomination.

Though many observers have been wondering which of the Republicans will benefit the most from a Cain collapse, a better question to ask is who will snatch up those who were still backing Perry prior to his latest addition to the annals of political bloopers. The obvious answer would be either Cain or Gingrich since they appear to be the most viable of all the conservatives left in the race. But with both of these men burdened with flaws that may prove insurmountable obstacles to victory once the votes start being counted in the caucuses and primaries, a slightly battered Mitt Romney must still be considered the Republican to beat.

It wasn’t a great night for Romney, who was put often put on the defensive on healthcare–the issue that remains his Achilles’ heel. Romney stumbled at times and looked queasy when reminded that he had worked with Ted Kennedy to pass his Massachusetts bill that Democrats now say inspired Obamacare. Pressed to explain his reputation as a flip-flopper, he astonished the audience by pointing out that as a man with a 42-year marriage and a lifelong Mormon he is anything but inconstant. But Romney never lost his cool and was still able to score points in defense of the market and in favor of a measured approach to tax reform that will serve him well in the general election.

Cain’s low point was his answer to the inevitable question about the sexual harassment. As he did during yesterday’s disastrous news conference, he simply denied everything and called his accusers — all four of them — liars. The audience roared its approval, but this issue won’t go away. His fans may consider it unfair, but unless he can prove they all are not telling the truth, his candidacy is fatally compromised. Yet as the night went on, Cain regained his confidence and resumed spewing the sort of comic one-liners that won him the affection of so many Republicans. Though he has probably reached his ceiling in the polls, Cain’s strong performance may have ensured that his numbers won’t crater the way some expected they would.

Similarly, it was another good night for Gingrich, who again won applause by bashing the moderators and the press. His recent surge in the polls will probably continue, but it should be pointed out that this has only been made possible by the fact that no one has taken him seriously as a potential president.

Romney may still be having trouble convincing most conservatives that he can be trusted, but with the conservative field still deeply divided even after a Perry meltdown, it’s difficult to envision either Cain or Gingrich, let alone marginal figures like Michele Bachmann or Rick Santorum (both of whom had trouble making their voices heard during the debate) being able to take advantage of Romney’s weakness. So long as there are multiple conservative challengers all competing for the same slice of the electorate, Romney is still well placed to emerge with pluralities in all of the early states. Though Tea Partiers and social conservatives are still having trouble warming up to him, the race is still Romney’s to lose.

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Live Blog: The GOP Debate

The debate ends. The biggest story line is clearly the Perry meltdown. Close second are the strong performance by Herman Cain and Newt Gingrich. But the bottom line is that Romney is still the most likely to be nominated.

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Cain’s doing well turning Dodd-Frank into a laugh line. He may be fatally damaged by harassment charges but he’s having another strong night.

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Michele Bachmann is the first to raise the military threat from China. Strong point and well argued. But she’s still struggling to get any traction in this debate. Good debate performances haven’t helped her.

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Romney says you can love free trade while still calling for demanding an end to Chinese trade cheating. Gingrich seems to agree. Hutnsman says Romney’s pandering. So is Huntsman. The difference is that Romney is pandering to Americans.

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The debate ends. The biggest story line is clearly the Perry meltdown. Close second are the strong performance by Herman Cain and Newt Gingrich. But the bottom line is that Romney is still the most likely to be nominated.

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Cain’s doing well turning Dodd-Frank into a laugh line. He may be fatally damaged by harassment charges but he’s having another strong night.

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Michele Bachmann is the first to raise the military threat from China. Strong point and well argued. But she’s still struggling to get any traction in this debate. Good debate performances haven’t helped her.

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Romney says you can love free trade while still calling for demanding an end to Chinese trade cheating. Gingrich seems to agree. Hutnsman says Romney’s pandering. So is Huntsman. The difference is that Romney is pandering to Americans.

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I’m not sure if the other candidates are laughing with Cain or at him every time he says “bold” or “9-9-9.” It’s sort of funny for him to have a tag line like that but can’t increase anyone’s confidence in his grasp of issues.

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Perry asked another question where he’d have to list three things. Finally remembers the third agency he’d cut: Dept. of Energy. I don’t think the employees there are worried. Department of Energy is going to be the punchline to a lot of jokes in the years to come.

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Gingrich gives us the historical perspective on student loans. Another good moment for him.

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Ron Paul says student loans are a failure. By the way, broad camera shot shows that Perry is still on stage. Think he’d like to be somewhere else?

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The candidates are talking about social security and the trust fund. But everyone watching has to be still thinking about Perry’s onstage meltdown. A memorable moment in the history of American political debates. It will be replayed as long as video exists. His well-financed campaign staff is going to have a hard time explaining that. But chances are they’re already e-mailing out resumes as we speak.

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Herman Cain is getting warmed up again. After that nasty defense against sexual harassment accusers, he seems to have recovered his buoyant spirit. Say what you will about him but he’s quite the performer.

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Perry says the problem isn’t partisanship. Good moment. But then he forgets which government agencies he wants to get rid of. Awful, awkward moment. If that doesn’t kill his candidacy, nothing will.

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Romney looks queasy when reminded that he worked with Ted Kennedy on healthcare. But then says the problem with partisanship is that instead of leadership all we have is a president solely focused on re-election.

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Caterillar CEO says he doesn’t like partisanship. Not sure about that but we love those machines that knock down houses that shelter Palestinian terrorist tunnels.

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Halfway through the debate the one clear result is that Rick Perry seems more irrelevant than ever.

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First stumble for Romney when asked about the role of states in health care. That’s still his Achilles’ heel. But he quickly shifts back to bashing Obamacare and recovers his cool. And he reassures us he’s not going to get rid of Medicare.

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By now it’s clear. All Republicans believe in the market.

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Health care in 30 seconds? Republicans stay on message on private accounts with even Mitt agreeing with Ron Paul. Gingrich won’t bite and instead attacks moderator for asking stupid question. Good point. Promises Lincoln-Douglas debate with Obama with no moderator. Well, at least none of these CNBC moderators would be an improvement.

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Huntsman  lectures the candidates about the pain of those suffering from the bad economy. But like everything else he says, nobody cares. Then says banks should be charged more fees. Sounds like more pain for their customers.

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Gingrich says don’t blame my consulting for Fannie and Freddie. They didn’t listen to me. They weren’t the only ones.

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Bachmann puts some zing into the GOP line about housing: Fannie and Freddie execs get bonuses. That’s real crony capitalism.

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Perry starts his answer with the usual paean to Texas. Wants all government regulations to be audited for job creation.

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Romney: Government can’t go out and buy all the houses to keep the prices from crashing.

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Question about housing prompts Gingrich’s usual Dodd-Frank bashing. He’s right of course. The government can’t fix the housing crisis. Romney responds by agreeing that we must let the markets work. Says the right course is to do the exact opposite of everything Obama has done.

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At the first break. So far Herman Cain is playing to the crowd and doing well smearing those that he claims smeared him. Romney took shots from the moderators but not his opponents but stayed cool and remained on message. And as we have seen in every one of these debates, Gingrich thrives when he can bash the press and wax philosophical.

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Bachmann says freedom isn’t free. She’s right but it’s a better argument to be used against defense cuts than in favor of a flat tax.

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Why no flat tax for Mitt? He says Obama has failed the middle class and prefers breaks for them, flat tax later. Yes, he’s the one who’s looking toward the general election.

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Cain is asked for a rationale for junking progressive taxation. Presented with an opportunity to give his philosophy, he goes into his normal “bold” 9-9-9 schtick. But gets big applause for saying tax codes don’t raise taxes, politicians do. Kind of like criminals, murder and guns.

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Gingrich says the reason the corporation-hating Occupy crowd and liberal economists don’t understand history. Excellent point. Also blasts the media for not asking the OWS demonstrators who will pay for the park if there are no profits. Good moment for Newt.

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Jim Cramer yells a quote of Milton Friedman. Mitt says you don’t have to choose between profits and the people. Mitt gets excited when he talks about the beauty of profit. Says Obama and the Dems like jobs but not the businesses that create them.

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Romney won’t bite at question about whether he would keep on Cain as CEO if he took over his company because of charges against him. Says Cain and the people will have to deal with this, not him.

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Great lead in to question about Cain’s harassment charges. No company would hire a CEO with character charges hanging over him. He answers that he is innocent and that his character is unblemished. Cheers show some of his supporters think all the women are lying and he’s telling the truth.

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Michele Bachmann wins the pool for the person who picked her to make the first mention of immigration. Rick Santorum is the first to mention Obamacare.

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Gingrich leads off with a favorite hobby horse. Fire Ben Bernanke. Then goes back to the group message that Obama’s debt is killing the country.

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Perry offered an opportunity to attack Romney as a flip-flopper. He doesn’t bite. Instead, he goes back to the no bailout of Italy theme. I guess this is the new positive Perry not the rabid attack dog of the last debate.

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Romney says 42-year-marriage and lifelong Mormonism shows he’s not a flip-flopper.

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Romney called out by moderator for flip-flopping on auto industry bailout. Romney stands his ground again saying managed bankruptcy from the start would have been better than the bailout and says the government gave away companies to the UAW and Fiat.

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So all of the Republicans asked about Italy won’t admit that a default there will affect us here. All blame it on debt and Obama. Everyone stays on message.

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Jim Cramer yells at Huntsman. Huntsman looks like he’s thinking of a joke but knows he shouldn’t say it.

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Jim Cramer can yell all he likes. Ron Paul doesn’t care.

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Herman Cain’s answer is about growth. Let Italy fail. We can’t help them. Mitt Romney says Europe can take care of itself. And don’t bail out U.S. banks with Italian debt. Applause line.

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Dow Jones drop by 400 points due to the Italian collapse is the first question.

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Sounds like hometown boy Mitt Romney and Herman Cain got the most cheers during the introductions.

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The CNBC preview once again has the feel of an NFL pregame show. Is it really Occupy Wall Street versus the GOP?

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Debate Preview: Who’s the Target This Week?

It’s been three weeks since last we gathered in front of our television sets and computers to watch a Republican presidential debate. Since Oct. 18, Mitt Romney’s support has held steady. Herman Cain has surged. Newt Gingrich has popped in the polls. Rick Perry hasn’t made any progress. And the rest of the field, well the best we can say of them is that they’re still there.

Of course, Cain has had some other problems too. It will be interesting to see if Cain’s unflappable demeanor has suffered since the sexual harassment charges that have thrown his campaign off message came out.

But the interesting thing to see at tonight’s debate in Michigan will be to determine which of the candidates is the one the others try to knock off. Will it be a newly vulnerable Cain? The surging Gingrich? Or will it be Romney again, a sure sign that he is still seen as the frontrunner despite his problems convincing conservatives that he isn’t a RINO.

The debate is about to start. Let’s see what happens.

It’s been three weeks since last we gathered in front of our television sets and computers to watch a Republican presidential debate. Since Oct. 18, Mitt Romney’s support has held steady. Herman Cain has surged. Newt Gingrich has popped in the polls. Rick Perry hasn’t made any progress. And the rest of the field, well the best we can say of them is that they’re still there.

Of course, Cain has had some other problems too. It will be interesting to see if Cain’s unflappable demeanor has suffered since the sexual harassment charges that have thrown his campaign off message came out.

But the interesting thing to see at tonight’s debate in Michigan will be to determine which of the candidates is the one the others try to knock off. Will it be a newly vulnerable Cain? The surging Gingrich? Or will it be Romney again, a sure sign that he is still seen as the frontrunner despite his problems convincing conservatives that he isn’t a RINO.

The debate is about to start. Let’s see what happens.

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Forced Marriages in Germany Becoming More Prevalent

Immigration is good. When handled properly, it can rejuvenate societies; seize advantage from other nations’ brain drain to infuse expertise into key industries; and correct demographics to ensure healthy growth. When uncoordinated, however immigration can undercut societies.

Several years ago, I went to Rotterdam, in the Netherlands, and met with members of their city council. I asked what I thought would be a “gimme” question: “What does it mean to be Dutch?” They could not answer. They did not require immigrants to master the Dutch language, or encourage assimilation. Cultural equivalency pervaded the Dutch politicians: To insist on any identity would imply one to be superior to another. This creates an irony in which immigrants flood to a new society to seek a better life but, by their unwillingness to accept the values which made the society in their destination great, they end up replicating the faults of the homeland from which they fled.

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Immigration is good. When handled properly, it can rejuvenate societies; seize advantage from other nations’ brain drain to infuse expertise into key industries; and correct demographics to ensure healthy growth. When uncoordinated, however immigration can undercut societies.

Several years ago, I went to Rotterdam, in the Netherlands, and met with members of their city council. I asked what I thought would be a “gimme” question: “What does it mean to be Dutch?” They could not answer. They did not require immigrants to master the Dutch language, or encourage assimilation. Cultural equivalency pervaded the Dutch politicians: To insist on any identity would imply one to be superior to another. This creates an irony in which immigrants flood to a new society to seek a better life but, by their unwillingness to accept the values which made the society in their destination great, they end up replicating the faults of the homeland from which they fled.

A new study suggests Germany must soon face questions regarding the nexus between immigration and culture. From Der Spiegel:

A new study has revealed that thousands of young women and girls in forced marriages seek help every year in Germany. The vast majority of victims come from Muslim families, and many have been threatened with violence or even death. The numbers involved are much higher than previously suspected…. The report revealed that one-third of victims were threatened with death if they did not go through with the forced marriage. The vast majority — 83.4 percent — of the victims of forced marriage come from households with Muslim parents. According to the Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper, almost two-thirds of the cases come from devout religious families. Many of the victims experienced extreme violence, and 27 percent were threatened with weapons or with death. Almost a third of those forced into marriage in Germany were 17 years old or younger, and another 40 percent were between the ages of 18 and 21.

While Germany has a law on the books which makes it a crime to force women and girls into marriage, it is clear the law is not effective. It will be interesting to see how the German government responds, if at all.

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Solyndra Emails Show Discussions Between Kaiser and WH

New emails released by the House Energy and Commerce Committee take a sledgehammer to the White House’s claim it never discussed loans with Obama-bundler and Solyndra-backer George Kaiser. In fact, Republicans may have underestimated how enthusiastic some White House officials were about helping Kaiser with Solyndra. Make sure to move any sharp objects out of stabbing distance from your eyes before reading this:

Emails among George Kaiser, head of the George Kaiser Family Foundation; Ken Levit, the executive director of the Foundation; and Steve Mitchell, who manages Argonaut Private Equity and was a member of Solyndra’s board, show that Vice President Joe Biden’s office was very gung-ho.

“They about had an orgasm in Biden’s office when we mentioned Solyndra,” reads a Feb. 27, 2010, email from Levit to Mitchell. A follow-up email from Mitchell to Levit later that day responds with: “That’s awesome! Get us a (Department of Energy) loan.” …

In an email from Mitchell to Kaiser on March 5, 2010, Mitchell writes that “it appears things are headed in the right direction and [Energy Secretary Steven] Chu is apparently staying involved in Solyndra’s application and continues to talk up the company as a success story.”

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New emails released by the House Energy and Commerce Committee take a sledgehammer to the White House’s claim it never discussed loans with Obama-bundler and Solyndra-backer George Kaiser. In fact, Republicans may have underestimated how enthusiastic some White House officials were about helping Kaiser with Solyndra. Make sure to move any sharp objects out of stabbing distance from your eyes before reading this:

Emails among George Kaiser, head of the George Kaiser Family Foundation; Ken Levit, the executive director of the Foundation; and Steve Mitchell, who manages Argonaut Private Equity and was a member of Solyndra’s board, show that Vice President Joe Biden’s office was very gung-ho.

“They about had an orgasm in Biden’s office when we mentioned Solyndra,” reads a Feb. 27, 2010, email from Levit to Mitchell. A follow-up email from Mitchell to Levit later that day responds with: “That’s awesome! Get us a (Department of Energy) loan.” …

In an email from Mitchell to Kaiser on March 5, 2010, Mitchell writes that “it appears things are headed in the right direction and [Energy Secretary Steven] Chu is apparently staying involved in Solyndra’s application and continues to talk up the company as a success story.”

More from the emails can be read here, in the letter Reps. Fred Upton and oversight panel chair Cliff Stearns sent to the White House today. Administration officials are objecting that the emails were “cherry picked” by Republicans, but it’s hard to spin the meaning here. No matter how you read them, they clearly contradict the White House’s unequivocal statement that Solyndra wasn’t discussed with Kaiser. Unless Kaiser and others were lying in the emails, how does the administration explain this?

Considering the fact that Kaiser bundled between $50,000 and $100,000 for Obama in 2008, it’s extremely pertinent to know whether he discussed Solyndra loans during his numerous White House meetings. The emails bolster the Republican investigation, and will increase pressure on the White House to turn over additional emails the GOP has subpoenaed.

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Can Romney Sell Himself to Conservatives?

Tonight’s Republican presidential debate is the first since Herman Cain’s campaign was rocked by multiple accusations of sexual harassment against the Godfather Pizza CEO. That will cause many of those tuning into the latest installment of America’s popular political reality show to focus on whether Cain’s good humor and likability have survived the pounding he has taken from both the media and the women who say he victimized them. But the main event tonight doesn’t concern Cain’s troubles. The real issue is whether Mitt Romney can make any headway with conservatives.

With his recent address on the economy, Romney began an effort to persuade conservatives that despite his refusal to embrace radical proposals on Social Security and Medicare and his Massachusetts health care bill that resembled Obamacare, he was really one of them. It’s a tough sell since up until now he has chosen to play it safe about entitlement reform. But by moving closer to the Paul Ryan model on that issue and focusing on his desire to defund liberal causes like public broadcasting and Planned Parenthood while also emphasizing his belief in cutting spending and opposition to tax increases, Romney has an opportunity to make inroads in what remains a divided and flawed field of conservative alternatives.

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Tonight’s Republican presidential debate is the first since Herman Cain’s campaign was rocked by multiple accusations of sexual harassment against the Godfather Pizza CEO. That will cause many of those tuning into the latest installment of America’s popular political reality show to focus on whether Cain’s good humor and likability have survived the pounding he has taken from both the media and the women who say he victimized them. But the main event tonight doesn’t concern Cain’s troubles. The real issue is whether Mitt Romney can make any headway with conservatives.

With his recent address on the economy, Romney began an effort to persuade conservatives that despite his refusal to embrace radical proposals on Social Security and Medicare and his Massachusetts health care bill that resembled Obamacare, he was really one of them. It’s a tough sell since up until now he has chosen to play it safe about entitlement reform. But by moving closer to the Paul Ryan model on that issue and focusing on his desire to defund liberal causes like public broadcasting and Planned Parenthood while also emphasizing his belief in cutting spending and opposition to tax increases, Romney has an opportunity to make inroads in what remains a divided and flawed field of conservative alternatives.

The last six months of the GOP presidential campaign has been taken up with the question of which conservative would supplant Romney as the frontrunner. The assumption on the part of many observers — including this one — was that at some point a credible conservative presidential contender who could appeal to Tea Partiers and social conservatives would emerge from the pack and then easily vanquish the more moderate Romney.

The only problem with this theory is that it turned out there was no such person. None of the conservatives who aspired to that role have proven to be either credible commanders-in-chief or viable candidates. If, as they should, most conservatives are now starting to admit that Herman Cain is not qualified to be president and that neither he, Newt Gingrich or Rick Perry are likely to be nominated, that still leaves Romney in control of the race.

As it stands now, Romney may very well win the nomination in much the same manner John McCain did in 2008 just by playing to the center-right while his numerous rivals to the right divide the conservative vote. But the former Massachusetts governor also knows that if he is to avoid McCain’s ultimate fate and beat Obama next fall he needs a united and energized Republican party with a mobilized base that will work for his election and vote in large numbers.

That means instead of disdaining conservatives who have had a hard time choosing between his competitors, he must romance them. Tonight’s debate, which will focus exclusively on economic issues, is his chance to try and get them to give him a second look.

Romney will have an advantage in one respect over his two biggest rivals. Unlike Cain and Perry, he will not go on the stage with the burden of having to defend a gimmick-like tax plan. Both Cain and Perry have struggled to explain their respective 9-9-9 and flat tax schemes in past debates, and it’s not likely either will improve in that respect. Romney will be well placed to skewer both their ideas and their inadequate arguments. However, his goal must be to do more than that. The only way to convince at least some conservatives there is more to his candidacy than Romneycare and flip-flops on abortion is to articulate his own views on smaller government and reduced spending.

Though some expect Cain to be the object of attacks from other candidates, my guess is, as was the case in past debates, it will be Romney who will be under the most fire from rivals. That makes his job harder, but it will also confirm that he remains the one most likely to be standing on the podium next September in Tampa accepting his party’s nomination.

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Colombia Should be Recognized as Reliable and Close U.S. Ally

It didn’t get the attention it deserved, but the killing of FARC [Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia] leader Alfonso Cano is another milestone in Colombia’s increasingly successful battle against what was once of the most powerful guerrilla groups in the world. It is hard to believe now, but as recently as ten years ago, FARC controlled an area larger than Switzerland and was on the verge of taking over the entire country. Colombia was widely written off as a failed narco-state. Now FARC has been marginalized. Colombia’s major cities are safe–as I saw for myself recently on my second trip there–and, while FARC can still ambush security personnel in the remote jungles, the existential threat to one of Latin America’s oldest and most durable democracies has been lifted.

What happened? As I argued in this Weekly Standard article in 2009, Colombia was saved by two developments: First the passage of Plan Colombia in 2000, a giant American aid package; second, and more importantly, the election in 2002 of Alvaro Uribe as president. Uribe turned out to be one of the most successful world leaders of the 21st century–or of the previous century. He saved his country from the FARC by implementing a full-spectrum counterinsurgency plan similar to those implemented by the U.S. in Iraq and Afghanistan. His success against FARC also allowed him to get control of, and disband, the right-wing militias which had sprung up in response to the guerrilla threat–a development similar to the way American success against al-Qaeda in Iraq made it possible to beat back the Sadrist militia. Now his success is being continued and extended by his former defense minister and successor, President Juan Manuel Santos.

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It didn’t get the attention it deserved, but the killing of FARC [Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia] leader Alfonso Cano is another milestone in Colombia’s increasingly successful battle against what was once of the most powerful guerrilla groups in the world. It is hard to believe now, but as recently as ten years ago, FARC controlled an area larger than Switzerland and was on the verge of taking over the entire country. Colombia was widely written off as a failed narco-state. Now FARC has been marginalized. Colombia’s major cities are safe–as I saw for myself recently on my second trip there–and, while FARC can still ambush security personnel in the remote jungles, the existential threat to one of Latin America’s oldest and most durable democracies has been lifted.

What happened? As I argued in this Weekly Standard article in 2009, Colombia was saved by two developments: First the passage of Plan Colombia in 2000, a giant American aid package; second, and more importantly, the election in 2002 of Alvaro Uribe as president. Uribe turned out to be one of the most successful world leaders of the 21st century–or of the previous century. He saved his country from the FARC by implementing a full-spectrum counterinsurgency plan similar to those implemented by the U.S. in Iraq and Afghanistan. His success against FARC also allowed him to get control of, and disband, the right-wing militias which had sprung up in response to the guerrilla threat–a development similar to the way American success against al-Qaeda in Iraq made it possible to beat back the Sadrist militia. Now his success is being continued and extended by his former defense minister and successor, President Juan Manuel Santos.

Thankfully, President Obama finally endorsed the package of a long-overdue Free Trade Agreement with Colombia that rewards that country’s success and draws it even closer to the U.S. It would be good, however, if there were more general recognition that Colombia is one of the closest and most reliable American allies in the world–a country that has stood by us for many decades (Colombian troops fought alongside Americans in the Korean War) and that in the future promises to be a major trade partner.

It is high time to dispel outdated images of terrorism and drug trafficking, because, although both terrorism and drug trafficking remain issues, they no longer define Colombia as they once did. It is a country that is safe to travel to and do business with–and a country that can be an important American partner in dealing with threats such as Hugo Chavez and Mexican narco-traffickers. Indeed, Mexico would do well to import Colombian advisers to help its embattled security forces get control of their powerful narco-gangs.

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Chaos at Voice of America- Persian Service

I’ve written before about a lack of professionalism and aimlessness that afflicts American government broadcasting into Iran. Alas, at Voice of America, it seems that the situation has gone from bad to worse. Its director Ramin Asgard, a veteran of the Foreign Service, appears to have embraced the State Department’s mentality that Voice of America should be a tool with which to build bridges toward the Islamic Republic of Iran, rather than use information to try to undermine the regime or shed light on its dark corners, something that was the basis of the Voice of America mission during the Cold War.

I had criticized Asgard before for a posting on the Voice of America (VOA) website in which a staff member he supervised wrote in a news report that American neoconservatives hate Iranians, something which is ridiculous, false, and unprofessional. Asgard neither apologized nor corrected the report; he has increasingly embraced the National Iranian American Council, a group whose founder wrote in a chat room that everything he does, he does for Iran.

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I’ve written before about a lack of professionalism and aimlessness that afflicts American government broadcasting into Iran. Alas, at Voice of America, it seems that the situation has gone from bad to worse. Its director Ramin Asgard, a veteran of the Foreign Service, appears to have embraced the State Department’s mentality that Voice of America should be a tool with which to build bridges toward the Islamic Republic of Iran, rather than use information to try to undermine the regime or shed light on its dark corners, something that was the basis of the Voice of America mission during the Cold War.

I had criticized Asgard before for a posting on the Voice of America (VOA) website in which a staff member he supervised wrote in a news report that American neoconservatives hate Iranians, something which is ridiculous, false, and unprofessional. Asgard neither apologized nor corrected the report; he has increasingly embraced the National Iranian American Council, a group whose founder wrote in a chat room that everything he does, he does for Iran.

In recent weeks, Asgard has systematically fired many of the Voice of America broadcasters and commentators who took a more dubious line toward the Islamic Republic. The result has been chaos in the newsroom, something which now the Islamic Republic’s press has picked up and gloats about. Kayhan, the newspaper most closely affiliated with the Supreme Leader, has gone so far as to predict who Asgard will next fire for criticizing Tehran.

Every coherent strategy should follow the so-called DIME paradigm: It should have Diplomatic, Informational, Military, and Economic components, each of which should be undertaken in conjunction with the other rather than in any artificial sequence. (Military doesn’t mean bombing; it can mean preparing for containment, or at least preparing for any action of last resort.) I have attended panels in which VOA or Radio Free Europe officials have argued that self-criticism builds credulity and equated editorial guidance—or adherence to an overarching strategy—as equivalent to censorship. Clearly, the Obama administration and, frankly the Bush and Clinton administrations before it, has not had any comprehensive or coherent strategy.

Given that the results of Asgard’s tenure are now clear, perhaps it’s time for the Congress to demand explanations and input: What is the purpose of VOA Persian? Why is the service blighted by so much chaos that authorities in Tehran now gloat? What is Asgard’s philosophy and what does he understand VOA’s purpose and goals to be? More broadly, perhaps the State Department can explain whether the goal of American diplomacy should be rapprochement with the Islamic Republic or, eventually, enabling the Iranian people to take matters into their own hands and, on their own, finally win freedom from their own internal oppressors.

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Live Blogging the GOP Debate Tonight

Join us tonight as senior online editor Jonathan Tobin live blogs the Republican presidential debate on economic policy in Michigan. Tune in to CNBC at 8pm and then log on to commentarymagazine.com for live insights as the GOP contenders have at each other again for the first time in three weeks.

Join us tonight as senior online editor Jonathan Tobin live blogs the Republican presidential debate on economic policy in Michigan. Tune in to CNBC at 8pm and then log on to commentarymagazine.com for live insights as the GOP contenders have at each other again for the first time in three weeks.

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Injured Grandma Recounts “Sickening” Clash with Occupy DC Thugs

The Occupy Wall Street movement has been marred by numerous public relations flaps during the past few months: the rioting in Oakland, the rapes at Zuccotti, the dead bodies discovered at various protest sites. But one of the most devastating is the recent video of a 78-year-old woman getting knocked down a flight of cement stairs by a “human chain” of Occupy DC protesters.

The woman in the video, which has been viewed over 100,000 times since it was posted on YouTube three days ago, is Dolores Brodersen. To the Occupy DC protesters chanting anti-capitalist slogans in her face, she may have seemed like the archetypal enemy: an older white woman, well-dressed, leaving a Koch brothers-sponsored dinner. The reality would probably surprise them.

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The Occupy Wall Street movement has been marred by numerous public relations flaps during the past few months: the rioting in Oakland, the rapes at Zuccotti, the dead bodies discovered at various protest sites. But one of the most devastating is the recent video of a 78-year-old woman getting knocked down a flight of cement stairs by a “human chain” of Occupy DC protesters.

The woman in the video, which has been viewed over 100,000 times since it was posted on YouTube three days ago, is Dolores Brodersen. To the Occupy DC protesters chanting anti-capitalist slogans in her face, she may have seemed like the archetypal enemy: an older white woman, well-dressed, leaving a Koch brothers-sponsored dinner. The reality would probably surprise them.

Dolores, a grandmother of three, is a retired special education teacher. She worked in the Detroit public school system for 40 years. And she lives on a pension. “A Michigan education pension,” she told me over the phone. “I’m certainly not rich and I never have been. I’m a teacher. I’m retired. I never made a lot of money.”

Dolores took an 11-hour bus ride to attend the Koch dinner in D.C., part of a $350 package she purchased through Americans for Prosperity. After a short hospital visit, she’s now back home in Michigan, trying to put the events from that day behind her. But some effects still linger: bruises, headaches in the back of her head, and anxiety. “Talking about it makes my stomach sick,” she said. “I was feeling so bad this afternoon after talking about it. [Reporters] wanted to come in and film it, and I just couldn’t do it.”

She never did find out who pushed her down the stairs, and says she’s not planning to take legal action against the protesters. It’s also impossible to tell from the video whether the shove was intentional. But Dolores has a guess as to what prompted the Occupiers to get physical with the dinner attendees: “I think they thought we were all rich or something,” she said.

This gets to the heart of the problem with Occupy Wall Street. The class warfare it promotes dehumanizes people to the extent where it seems appropriate to vandalize stores, urinate on banks, and barricade buildings. It engenders a Haves vs. Have Nots mentality, where the only way one side can win is if the other loses.

Most Americans just don’t see the world that way, which is why they haven’t embraced the Occupy movement. Many can sympathize with some of the movement’s concerns about Wall Street corruption and the cozy relationship between big business and government. But the difference is most Americans take out their concerns at the ballot box, not by intimidating and assaulting a group of private citizens attending a dinner.

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Republicans Should Not Ask for Obama Apology on Israel Gaffe

Several Republican lawmakers, and presidential candidate Michele Bachmann are calling on President Obama to apologize for an open-microphone incident in which he and French President Nicolas Sarkozy appear to one-up themselves in their personal antipathy toward Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.  Whether Obama apologizes or not is his call, but it is unseemly and not the job of various senators and representatives to demand it. If Israel wants an apology, either Netanyahu can ask for one, or  Israel’s ambassador in Washington can make the demand.

Give the president his due: At least he laid bare his antipathy. No longer do voters need to await a Los Angeles Times‘ decision to release the videotape which allegedly shows Obama bashing the Jewish state. Let Democrats try to spin Obama’s remarks for the positive: Increasingly, it’s clear their spirit isn’t in it. The Democratic Party has cast true liberals outside its umbrellas. Those who believe Israel has the right to exist behind secure borders simply are no longer welcome in the mainstream Democratic Party. Take one look at the blog of John Podesta’s Center for American Progress and the sheer antipathy Democrats hold for Israel becomes clear. Meanwhile, if Americans do not approve of Obama’s embrace of adversaries and bashing of allies, then they can simply take their views to the ballot box and toss Obama out.

 

Several Republican lawmakers, and presidential candidate Michele Bachmann are calling on President Obama to apologize for an open-microphone incident in which he and French President Nicolas Sarkozy appear to one-up themselves in their personal antipathy toward Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.  Whether Obama apologizes or not is his call, but it is unseemly and not the job of various senators and representatives to demand it. If Israel wants an apology, either Netanyahu can ask for one, or  Israel’s ambassador in Washington can make the demand.

Give the president his due: At least he laid bare his antipathy. No longer do voters need to await a Los Angeles Times‘ decision to release the videotape which allegedly shows Obama bashing the Jewish state. Let Democrats try to spin Obama’s remarks for the positive: Increasingly, it’s clear their spirit isn’t in it. The Democratic Party has cast true liberals outside its umbrellas. Those who believe Israel has the right to exist behind secure borders simply are no longer welcome in the mainstream Democratic Party. Take one look at the blog of John Podesta’s Center for American Progress and the sheer antipathy Democrats hold for Israel becomes clear. Meanwhile, if Americans do not approve of Obama’s embrace of adversaries and bashing of allies, then they can simply take their views to the ballot box and toss Obama out.

 

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Executive Order Signed Against Wasteful Spending Cuts

President Obama warned he’d take unilateral action on the economy if Congress didn’t pass his jobs bill, and he made good on that promise by signing an executive order against wasteful spending this morning:

“This morning, President Obama will sign an Executive Order that will cut waste and promote more efficient spending across the federal government. … [T]he President is directing agencies to reduce spending on travel; limit the number of information technology devices (e.g. cell phones, smartphones, tablets, laptops) that can be issued to individual employees; stop unnecessarily printing documents that can be posted online; shrink the executive fleet of the federal government; and stop using taxpayer dollars to buy swag — the plaques, clothing, and other unnecessary promotional items that agencies purchase.”

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President Obama warned he’d take unilateral action on the economy if Congress didn’t pass his jobs bill, and he made good on that promise by signing an executive order against wasteful spending this morning:

“This morning, President Obama will sign an Executive Order that will cut waste and promote more efficient spending across the federal government. … [T]he President is directing agencies to reduce spending on travel; limit the number of information technology devices (e.g. cell phones, smartphones, tablets, laptops) that can be issued to individual employees; stop unnecessarily printing documents that can be posted online; shrink the executive fleet of the federal government; and stop using taxpayer dollars to buy swag — the plaques, clothing, and other unnecessary promotional items that agencies purchase.”

As the RNC has been reminding us today, Obama’s targeting of “wasteful spending” has been going on since at least December, 2009. Wouldn’t an executive order against overzealous printing and unnecessary government novelty items have been more useful back then?

Speaking of which, whatever happened to Obama’s last big push to cut wasteful spending over the summer? You know, the one where Joe Biden promised to take his budget-cutting scalpel to “excessive” government websites, like the one dedicated to the Desert Tortoise? The Desert Tortoise website is still around, but now the original www.DesertTortoise.Gov redirects viewers to www.MojaveData.gov/deserttortoise_gov. Hopefully, Obama’s latest effort will be a little more successful.

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Resenting Israel, Not Netanyahu

Barack Obama’s dislike of Benjamin Netanyahu was not a state secret prior to the publication of his candid exchange about the Israeli prime minister with French President Nicolas Sarkozy. So the fact the two have a low opinion of Netanyahu and consider dealing with him to be a burden isn’t exactly news. But while much of the commentary about this kerfuffle has centered on the question of who should be most embarrassed by the revelation — Netanyahu or his two highly placed critics — there is a more important point here.

Netanyahu has a well-earned reputation as a prickly and somewhat unpleasant fellow to deal with–in Israeli political circles as well as the world of international diplomacy. But when Sarkozy and Obama grouse about him, the resentment they are giving voice to hasn’t all that much to do with whether or not Netanyahu is a charm school dropout. What really annoys them is his inherent skepticism about the peace process.

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Barack Obama’s dislike of Benjamin Netanyahu was not a state secret prior to the publication of his candid exchange about the Israeli prime minister with French President Nicolas Sarkozy. So the fact the two have a low opinion of Netanyahu and consider dealing with him to be a burden isn’t exactly news. But while much of the commentary about this kerfuffle has centered on the question of who should be most embarrassed by the revelation — Netanyahu or his two highly placed critics — there is a more important point here.

Netanyahu has a well-earned reputation as a prickly and somewhat unpleasant fellow to deal with–in Israeli political circles as well as the world of international diplomacy. But when Sarkozy and Obama grouse about him, the resentment they are giving voice to hasn’t all that much to do with whether or not Netanyahu is a charm school dropout. What really annoys them is his inherent skepticism about the peace process.

Despite his reputation as a hard-liner (a phrase treated in many press accounts as if it were part of his name), Netanyahu has a long record of attempts to conciliate the Palestinians in order to make peace. During his first term as prime minister in the 1990’s he signed two agreements conceding parts of the West Bank to the Palestinian Authority. He enacted a settlement-building freeze in the West Bank during his current administration and formally endorsed the idea of a Palestinian state. But despite all of this, Netanyahu has never consented to playing the familiar game in which the onus for peace is placed only on Israel to make concessions and not the Palestinians.

Throughout both of his terms as Israel’s leader, Netanyahu has insisted on pointing out the failures of the Palestinians to abide by their Oslo commitments. Rather than meekly nod along when Obama or Sarkozy speak of the need for Israel to relinquish territory, Netanyahu has had the chutzpah to publicly talk back to them about Israel’s rights and not just its immediate security needs. Though he has sometimes given in to their demands if he thought it was in his country’s interests, he has also made it clear that doing so is a grave concession that could bring deadly consequences. Any Israeli who speaks in this manner, which necessarily complicates the efforts of the peace processers to ignore the Palestinians’ reluctance to make peace, is not going to be liked.

Much like Menachem Begin, the first member of his party to serve as Israel’s prime minister, Netanyahu cannot play the unctuous diplomat. Though he has made concessions and sought to reach out to other countries as well as ably making his country’s case before the American people, he does so as a proud, stiff-necked Jew, not a supplicant or a starry-eyed dreamer who is beguiled by an unrealistic vision about the intentions of his Palestinian negotiating partners.

Netanyahu has more than his share of personal flaws. But what Sarkozy and Obama are telling us is that the Israeli won’t play by their rules and knuckle under when his country’s rights are imperiled. Though he values Israel’s alliance with the United States, Netanyahu’s idea of his responsibilities is one in which he prioritizes defending his country’s interests over making nice with heads of state.

It should be conceded that his tactics don’t always work well, and he won’t win any foreign popularity contests. But the issue here isn’t Netanyahu. An Israeli leader who won’t acquiesce to the lies other leaders tell about the Palestinians’ peaceful intentions will never be loved. Sarkozy and Obama don’t resent Netanyahu as much as they do Israel.

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Newt’s Turn? The Votes Just Aren’t There

With the intense search for a conservative alternative to Mitt Romney producing popularity “bubbles” for Rick Perry and Herman Cain, “Who’s next?” has been the recurring question. In an ironic twist, the consensus answer seems to be: Newt Gingrich.

I say “ironic” because the opposition to Romney has been led by conservative grassroots writers and activists, as well as groups like FreedomWorks. Gingrich isn’t much more popular among that contingent than Romney. In May, when Gingrich sharply criticized Paul Ryan’s Medicare reform plan, FreedomWorks Chairman Dick Armey reminded National Review that Gingrich had been a serial offender:

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With the intense search for a conservative alternative to Mitt Romney producing popularity “bubbles” for Rick Perry and Herman Cain, “Who’s next?” has been the recurring question. In an ironic twist, the consensus answer seems to be: Newt Gingrich.

I say “ironic” because the opposition to Romney has been led by conservative grassroots writers and activists, as well as groups like FreedomWorks. Gingrich isn’t much more popular among that contingent than Romney. In May, when Gingrich sharply criticized Paul Ryan’s Medicare reform plan, FreedomWorks Chairman Dick Armey reminded National Review that Gingrich had been a serial offender:

Citing Gingrich’s support of Dede Scozzafava in the 2009 congressional election in New York’s 23rd district, his backing of Medicare Part D and TARP, and his commercial with Nancy Pelosi about climate change, Armey observes that “Newt entered the race with serious ground to make up with these 2 million Tea Party activists.”…

Brendan Steinhauser, director of Federal and State Campaigns for FreedomWorks, reports that the Tea Partiers he’s talked to are “irate” at Gingrich… “I never met a single Tea Party activist that supported Newt Gingrich for president,” he adds.

In June, Steinhauser even tweeted: “Newt Gingrich’s campaign is imploding. Good riddance!” So it’s difficult to imagine what constituency would fuel a Gingrich nomination: he’s not well-liked by Tea Partiers, he’s got far less establishment support than Romney, and memories of his less-than-stellar turn as speaker of the House are still relatively fresh–especially since last spring’s debate over shutting down the federal government drew ubiquitous comparisons to the 1995 shutdown, and history has (fairly or unfairly) awarded Bill Clinton the win and Gingrich the loss in that case.

And yet, here he comes in the polls. Gingrich is far from leading the pack, but if Cain finally begins to hemorrhage his support, as many expect, Gingrich’s climb could pick up speed just in time for the Iowa caucuses. And as the Des Moines Register’s Kathie Obradovich reports, Iowans are gravitating to Gingrich–even if they won’t admit it:

Newt Gingrich is like ABBA for Republican caucusgoers — a guilty pleasure. They don’t want to admit they like him, but they can’t help clapping and cheering when they hear him speak.

And that has been the essence of the Gingrich surge, such as it is. In today’s Wall Street Journal, Dorothy Rabinowitz lays out the case for Gingrich. “The former speaker has stood out at these forums, the debater whose audiences seem to hang on his words and on a flow of thought rich in substance, a world apart from the usual that the political season brings,” she writes.

In keeping with Gingrich’s perfect timing (or just good luck), there’s another candidates’ debate tonight, in Michigan. The debates have been unusually popular this year, and the only three good debaters in the group of candidates are Gingrich, Romney, and Rick Santorum. Santorum, however, comes across as angry and hectoring, even when he makes good points. That leaves Romney and Gingrich.

But even if Gingrich can finally knock Cain out of the lead, there simply doesn’t seem to be a path to the nomination for him. He is less likable than Romney, has less executive experience, and carries several suitcases worth of baggage. Conservative grassroots won’t flock to him, even if Cain exits the race. Gingrich may be an impressive debater, and those debates may be playing a greater role in this year’s contest than ever before. But for Gingrich, the votes simply aren’t there.

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Optimistic or Pessimistic About America: Paul A. Rahe

The following is from our November issue. Forty-one symposium contributors were asked to respond to the question: Are you optimistic or pessimistic about America’s future?

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We live at the end of an era—at a time when the old order can no longer be sustained and a new set of arrangements has yet to emerge. It is a time fraught with discomfort, distress, and anxiety. Millions of Americans are looking for work; millions more have given up the search; and further millions are underemployed. All of them are having trouble making ends meet, and those fortunate enough to have steady work fear that a market collapse, rampant inflation, or a government desperate for revenues will deprive them of their savings.

This is also, however, a time of unparalleled opportunity. It helps that Americans are no longer in denial. They now know that there is no such thing as a free lunch, and that the entitlements regime begun under Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal, vastly expanded under Lyndon Baines Johnson’s Great Society, and expanded again, at least in prospect, under Barack Obama’s New Foundation is unsustainable. It is now possible for a presidential candidate to describe Social Security as a gigantic Ponzi scheme without ruining his prospects, because everyone understands that the money in the so-called trust fund was spent by Congress long ago, and hardly anyone under 50 seriously expects to get Social Security upon retirement in his mid-60s. Everyone is aware, moreover, that Medicare is insolvent, that we cannot pay for Medicaid, and that the cost of health care is soaring; and most Americans recognize that Obama’s attempt to expand the sphere of public provision will, if not repealed, make matters considerably worse. Read More

The following is from our November issue. Forty-one symposium contributors were asked to respond to the question: Are you optimistic or pessimistic about America’s future?

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We live at the end of an era—at a time when the old order can no longer be sustained and a new set of arrangements has yet to emerge. It is a time fraught with discomfort, distress, and anxiety. Millions of Americans are looking for work; millions more have given up the search; and further millions are underemployed. All of them are having trouble making ends meet, and those fortunate enough to have steady work fear that a market collapse, rampant inflation, or a government desperate for revenues will deprive them of their savings.

This is also, however, a time of unparalleled opportunity. It helps that Americans are no longer in denial. They now know that there is no such thing as a free lunch, and that the entitlements regime begun under Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal, vastly expanded under Lyndon Baines Johnson’s Great Society, and expanded again, at least in prospect, under Barack Obama’s New Foundation is unsustainable. It is now possible for a presidential candidate to describe Social Security as a gigantic Ponzi scheme without ruining his prospects, because everyone understands that the money in the so-called trust fund was spent by Congress long ago, and hardly anyone under 50 seriously expects to get Social Security upon retirement in his mid-60s. Everyone is aware, moreover, that Medicare is insolvent, that we cannot pay for Medicaid, and that the cost of health care is soaring; and most Americans recognize that Obama’s attempt to expand the sphere of public provision will, if not repealed, make matters considerably worse.

The presumptions that sustained the administrative state have also been exposed as lies. The experts on the President’s Council of Economic Advisors and those in charge at the Department of the Treasury and the Federal Reserve Board have repeatedly been proven wrong. When the president of the United States consulted his advisers and claimed in early September that his “jobs bill” would reduce unemployment and that it could easily be paid for, hardly anyone, even in his own party, believed a word. Distrust in the federal government is at an all-time high.

All of this is a blessing in disguise. As a people we were far worse off when we were prey to the illusion that we would be better off if we outsourced provision for our welfare to an administrative elite empowered to manage every detail of our lives. Our liberation from this illusion means that we can begin to dismantle the administrative entitlements regime; that we can return to the states and the localities the functions that are properly theirs; that we can refocus the federal government on the limited but vitally important tasks that the Constitution reserves for it; and that we can restore to individuals and families the obligations, responsibilities, and liberties that are properly theirs. The transition will be painful, but prosperity and low unemployment will return if we limit the burdens that public provision and administrative regulation place on private initiative and if we create a legal regime favorable to entrepreneurship—and morally, in taking responsibility for our own well-being and those of our families, we will be much better off.

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Paul A. Rahe is a professor of history at Hillsdale College and the author, most recently, of Soft Despotism, Democracy’s Drift (Yale).

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Cain: “There Will Probably Be Others”

Of all the comments Herman Cain has made since the sexual harassment story broke, this one from his press conference last night is the most disconcerting:

“As you know, when you run for the highest office of the land, there are going to be some accusations that are going to come out of the woodwork, they’re going to come from anywhere,” said Cain. “I have said this before: there will probably be others. Not because I’m aware of any, but because the machine to keep a businessman out of the White House is going to be relentless. And if they continue to come, I will continue to respond. I can’t answer why the ones that have already made these [accusations]…I can’t tell you what their motivation is, other than to try to stop Herman Cain.”

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Of all the comments Herman Cain has made since the sexual harassment story broke, this one from his press conference last night is the most disconcerting:

“As you know, when you run for the highest office of the land, there are going to be some accusations that are going to come out of the woodwork, they’re going to come from anywhere,” said Cain. “I have said this before: there will probably be others. Not because I’m aware of any, but because the machine to keep a businessman out of the White House is going to be relentless. And if they continue to come, I will continue to respond. I can’t answer why the ones that have already made these [accusations]…I can’t tell you what their motivation is, other than to try to stop Herman Cain.”

Cain made a similar remark on Fox News the day after the allegations surfaced. And he turned out to be right – just a few days later Sharon Bialek held her press conference accusing him of groping her in 1997.

What would prompt Cain to make these predictions? Maybe it’s cynicism. Maybe he honestly believes he’s such a threat to these powerful anti-business forces — the Democratic Machine, as he called it last night — that they’ll continue to frame him with manufactured sexual harassment allegations (including ones that were filed against him more than a decade ago by some apparently prophetic opponents to Cain’s future White House bid). Maybe that’s it. But the comments come off as a clumsy attempt to preemptively attack specific allegations that he expects to drop sometime soon. And that certainly doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence about how Cain would fare in a general election.

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2011 Shows 2012 Won’t be Easy for GOP

Democrats are doing a little crowing this morning after their defeat of a referendum that would have made it harder for public worker unions to bankrupt the state of Ohio. Other Dem victories in Kentucky and various other spots around the nation have got to encourage the party of Obama as we head into a presidential election year. This is good for Democratic morale, but despite the happy talk that will be coming from the White House and the Democratic National Committee, they know they’re still in trouble for 2012. With a failing economy and the administration’s record of mismanagement, they realize they’re in for a rough time. But the main question today is whether Republicans understand the same thing.

For months, most Republicans and conservative pundits have been talking and writing as if the next presidential election was a foregone conclusion. Obama’s record of failure is such that many in the GOP have acted as if didn’t matter who their candidate was next year or what the party did or said in Congress or elsewhere. If you think every road leads to victory, it can make you overconfident. Yesterday should be a reminder to conservatives the tide of political fortune can change every day, and while Obama is eminently beatable, his defeat is by no means a certainty.

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Democrats are doing a little crowing this morning after their defeat of a referendum that would have made it harder for public worker unions to bankrupt the state of Ohio. Other Dem victories in Kentucky and various other spots around the nation have got to encourage the party of Obama as we head into a presidential election year. This is good for Democratic morale, but despite the happy talk that will be coming from the White House and the Democratic National Committee, they know they’re still in trouble for 2012. With a failing economy and the administration’s record of mismanagement, they realize they’re in for a rough time. But the main question today is whether Republicans understand the same thing.

For months, most Republicans and conservative pundits have been talking and writing as if the next presidential election was a foregone conclusion. Obama’s record of failure is such that many in the GOP have acted as if didn’t matter who their candidate was next year or what the party did or said in Congress or elsewhere. If you think every road leads to victory, it can make you overconfident. Yesterday should be a reminder to conservatives the tide of political fortune can change every day, and while Obama is eminently beatable, his defeat is by no means a certainty.

The Ohio referendum will be noted as an example of a Republican overreach. That’s more than a bit unfair because addressing the looming crisis of state debt caused by out of control state worker contracts was both courageous and necessary. But the verdict of 2010 — when Tea Party activism fueled by widespread disgust with Obamacare and the stimulus created a GOP midterm landslide — was just one moment in time. Democratic policies may have helped deepen the economic downturn, but their skillful use of class warfare is a more potent weapon in times of financial distress.

The dynamic of our political culture is such that the American people are always predisposed to administering a check to either party if it is perceived to have gone too far in pursuit of an ideological agenda. That helps explain the 2010 shellacking administered to Obama. So it’s no surprise that this year’s special congressional and midterm elections were a mixed bag of results for both parties as each in turn have felt the voters’ displeasure.

The liberal case for more government and spending is a poor one, and the dismal economic statistics that show the country heading into a double dip recession are proof of the poor job Obama has done. Being the incumbent gives Obama a record to defend, and that is a huge problem for the Democrats. Conservatives have come to believe it means he cannot be re-elected, but that isn’t true. The power of incumbency is real. The president gets to set the national agenda and control events in a way no challenger can. Obama also has certain advantages that can’t be erased even by his mistakes. He will always be the first African-American president and receive more sympathetic and at times adulatory coverage from a liberal media than any conservative will ever get. He has raised a huge campaign war chest and will recklessly spend it attacking his foes.

The coming presidential election is a tremendous opportunity for Republicans. Obama’s missteps have, in effect, made it the GOP’s race to lose. But no matter how bad the economy gets or how foolish Obama’s policies are proven to be, if all Republicans do in the next year is attack each other for deviations from conservative orthodoxy on various issues or play to the base, Obama may be re-elected.

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Will We Endanger Troops in Afghanistan to Help Turkey?

Turkey’s behavior has been atrocious in recent years. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) has presided over a regime which, according to the Pew Global Attitudes Survey, is now the world’s most anti-American. Statistics released by Turkey’s Justice Ministry to Turkey’s own parliament show that, under AKP tutelage, the murder rate of women in Turkey has increased 1,400 percent. Erdoğan has placed more than five dozen journalists in prison; many have never had the opportunity to defend themselves in court. Turkey now ranks alongside Russia among the worst offenders of press freedom in the industrialized world. Namik Tan, the Turkish ambassador in Washington, has marred his tenure by facilitating the threatening of critics of Erdoğan in the United States. In recent months, Turkish ministers have even threatened Israel and Cyprus with military force.

So what does President Obama propose to do? Send Super Cobra helicopters and perhaps even armed Predators to Turkey to fight Kurdish insurgents. Granted, Turkey has been fighting a Kurdish insurgency for almost 30 years, and the United States already provides real time intelligence to support Turkish forces.

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Turkey’s behavior has been atrocious in recent years. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) has presided over a regime which, according to the Pew Global Attitudes Survey, is now the world’s most anti-American. Statistics released by Turkey’s Justice Ministry to Turkey’s own parliament show that, under AKP tutelage, the murder rate of women in Turkey has increased 1,400 percent. Erdoğan has placed more than five dozen journalists in prison; many have never had the opportunity to defend themselves in court. Turkey now ranks alongside Russia among the worst offenders of press freedom in the industrialized world. Namik Tan, the Turkish ambassador in Washington, has marred his tenure by facilitating the threatening of critics of Erdoğan in the United States. In recent months, Turkish ministers have even threatened Israel and Cyprus with military force.

So what does President Obama propose to do? Send Super Cobra helicopters and perhaps even armed Predators to Turkey to fight Kurdish insurgents. Granted, Turkey has been fighting a Kurdish insurgency for almost 30 years, and the United States already provides real time intelligence to support Turkish forces.

In the past, the Pentagon has declined to send Super Cobra helicopters and additional Predators to Turkey because they were needed in Afghanistan. Defense officials have not explained to Congress why the Super Cobras and Predators are no longer needed to support our troops who are putting their lives on the line to secure Afghanistan and, with it, American national interests.

Privately, administration officials will say the sale of Super Cobras and Predators is part of a quid pro quo in exchange for Turkey hosting an early warning radar. There are three problems with this. First, other countries offered to host the facility without any conditionality. Second, Turkey’s Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu has said Turkey will only abide by its agreement for two years, and might annul it at any time. And, third, the United States already provides Turkey with a great amount of weaponry, albeit platforms not needed in Afghanistan at this moment in time. So, in sum, the Obama administration seeks to take weaponry crucial for Afghanistan out of the arsenal of American troops, transfer them to an anti-American regime in Turkey and, in exchange, get little if anything.

On October 28, the Defense Security Cooperation Agency formally notified Congress of its intent to transfer the Super Cobras to Turkey; Congress has 15 days to object. Senator John McCain, the ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, has remained silent. A bipartisan group of representatives, however, have voiced objections. It’s time for McCain to explain why he believes it is in America’s interest to supply our adversaries at the expense of our troops.

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Stopping Iran: Why the Case for Military Action Still Stands

Editor’s note: The latest IAEA report, confirming that Iran has been researching and developing technologies used specifically in the production of nuclear weapons, has sharpened public awareness of the Iranian nuclear threat. But the incriminating facts of Iran’s nuclear aspirations and capabilities were clear three years ago. In February 2008, COMMENTARY published Norman Podhoretz’s “Stopping Iran: Why the Case for Military Action Still Stands.” Podhoretz explained how proof of Iranian intentions and actions was hidden in plain sight by those eager to stave off an American response. In light of the new report, we’ve made this important article available on Contentions.  

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Up until a fairly short time ago, scarcely anyone dissented from the assessment offered with “high confidence” by the National Intelligence Estimate [NIE] of 2005 that Iran was “determined to develop nuclear weapons.” Correlatively, no one believed the protestations of the mullahs ruling Iran that their nuclear program was designed strictly for peaceful uses.

The reason for this near-universal consensus was that Iran, with its vast reserves of oil and natural gas, had no need for nuclear energy, and that in any case, the very nature of its program contradicted the protestations.

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Editor’s note: The latest IAEA report, confirming that Iran has been researching and developing technologies used specifically in the production of nuclear weapons, has sharpened public awareness of the Iranian nuclear threat. But the incriminating facts of Iran’s nuclear aspirations and capabilities were clear three years ago. In February 2008, COMMENTARY published Norman Podhoretz’s “Stopping Iran: Why the Case for Military Action Still Stands.” Podhoretz explained how proof of Iranian intentions and actions was hidden in plain sight by those eager to stave off an American response. In light of the new report, we’ve made this important article available on Contentions.  

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Up until a fairly short time ago, scarcely anyone dissented from the assessment offered with “high confidence” by the National Intelligence Estimate [NIE] of 2005 that Iran was “determined to develop nuclear weapons.” Correlatively, no one believed the protestations of the mullahs ruling Iran that their nuclear program was designed strictly for peaceful uses.

The reason for this near-universal consensus was that Iran, with its vast reserves of oil and natural gas, had no need for nuclear energy, and that in any case, the very nature of its program contradicted the protestations.

Here is how Time magazine put it as early as March 2003—long before, be it noted, the radical Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had replaced the putatively moderate Mohamed Khatami as president:

On a visit last month to Tehran, International Atomic Energy Agency [IAEA] director Mohamed ElBaradei announced he had discovered that Iran was constructing a facility to enrich uranium—a key component of advanced nuclear weapons—near Natanz. But diplomatic sources tell Time the plant is much further along than previously revealed. The sources say work on the plant is “extremely advanced” and involves “hundreds” of gas centrifuges ready to produce enriched uranium and “the parts for a thousand others ready to be assembled.”

So, too, the Federation of American Scientists about a year later:

It is generally believed that Iran’s efforts are focused on uranium enrichment, though there are some indications of work on a parallel plutonium effort. Iran claims it is trying to establish a complete nuclear-fuel cycle to support a civilian energy program, but this same fuel cycle would be applicable to a nuclear-weapons development program. Iran appears to have spread their nuclear activities around a number of sites to reduce the risk of detection or attack.

And just as everyone agreed with the American intelligence community that Iran was “determined to develop nuclear weapons,” everyone also agreed with President George W. Bush that it must not be permitted to succeed. Here, the reasons were many and various.

To begin with, Iran was (as certified even by the doves of the State Department) the leading sponsor of terrorism in the world, and it was therefore reasonable to fear that it would transfer nuclear technology to terrorists who would be only too happy to use it against us. Moreover, since Iran evidently aspired to become the hegemon of the Middle East, its drive for a nuclear capability could result (as, according to the New York Times, no fewer than 21 governments in and around the region were warning) in “a grave and destructive nuclear-arms race.” This meant a nightmarish increase in the chances of a nuclear war. An even greater increase in those chances would result from the power that nuclear weapons—and the missiles capable of delivering them, which Iran was also developing and/or buying—would give the mullahs to realize their evil dream of (in the words of Ahmadinejad) “wiping Israel off the map.”

Nor, as almost everyone also agreed, were the dangers of a nuclear Iran confined to the Middle East. Dedicated as the mullahs clearly were to furthering the transformation of Europe into a continent where Muslim law and practice would more and more prevail, they were bound to use nuclear intimidation and blackmail in pursuit of this goal as well. Beyond that, nuclear weapons would even serve the purposes of a far more ambitious aim: the creation of what Ahmadinejad called “a world without America.” Although, to be sure, no one imagined that Iran would acquire the capability to destroy the United States, it was easy to imagine that the United States would be deterred from standing in Iran’s way by the fear of triggering a nuclear war.

Running alongside the near-universal consensus on Iran’s nuclear intentions was a commensurately broad agreement that the regime could be stopped from realizing those intentions by a judicious combination of carrots and sticks. The carrots, offered through diplomacy, consisted of promises that if Iran were (in the words of the Security Council) to “suspend all enrichment-related and reprocessing activities, including research and development, to be verified by the IAEA,” it would find itself on the receiving end of many benefits. If, however, Iran remained obdurate in refusing to comply with these demands, sticks would come into play in the form of sanctions.

And indeed, in response to continued Iranian defiance, a round of sanctions was approved by the Security Council in December 2006. When these (watered down to buy the support of the Russians and the Chinese) predictably failed to bite, a tougher round was unanimously authorized three months later, in March 2007. When these in turn failed, the United States, realizing that the Russians and the Chinese would veto stronger medicine, unilaterally imposed a new series of economic sanctions—which fared no better than the multilateral measures that had preceded them.

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What then to do? President Bush kept declaring that Iran must not be permitted to get the bomb, and he kept warning that the “military option”—by which he meant air strikes, not an invasion on the ground—was still on the table as a last resort. On this issue our Western European allies were divided. To the surprise of many who had ceased thinking of France as an ally because of Jacques Chirac’s relentless opposition to the policies of the Bush administration, Nicholas Sarkozy, Chirac’s successor as president, echoed Bush’s warning in equally unequivocal terms. If, Sarkozy announced, the Iranians pressed on with their nuclear program, the world would be left with a choice between “an Iranian bomb and bombing Iran”—and he left no doubt as to where his own choice would fall. On the other hand, Gordon Brown, who had followed Tony Blair as prime minister of the UK, seemed less willing than Sarkozy to contemplate military action against Iran’s nuclear installations, even as a last resort. Like the new chancellor of Germany, Angela Merkel, Brown remained—or professed to remain—persuaded that more diplomacy and tougher sanctions would eventually work.

This left a great question hanging in the air: when, if ever, would Bush (and/or Sarkozy) conclude that the time had come to resort to the last resort?

Obviously the answer to that question depended on how long it would take for Iran itself to reach the point of no return. According to the NIE of 2005, it was “unlikely . . . that Iran would be able to make a nuclear weapon . . . before early-to-mid next decade”—that is, between 2010 and 2015. If that assessment, offered with “moderate confidence,” was correct, Bush would be off the hook, since he would be out of office for two years at the very least by the time the decision on whether or not to order air strikes would have to be made. That being the case, for the remainder of his term he could continue along the carrot-and-stick path, while striving to ratchet up the pressure on Iran with stronger and stronger measures that he could hope against hope might finally do the trick. If he could get these through the Security Council, so much the better; if not, the United States could try to assemble a coalition outside the UN that would be willing to impose really tough sanctions.

Under these circumstances, there would also be enough time to add another arrow to this nonmilitary quiver: a serious program of covert aid to dissident Iranians who dreamed of overthrowing the mullocracy and replacing it with a democratic regime. Those who had been urging Bush to launch such a program, and who were confident that it would succeed, pointed to polls showing great dissatisfaction with the mullocracy among the Iranian young, and to the demonstrations against it that kept breaking out all over the country. They also contended that even if a new democratic regime were to be as intent as the old one on developing nuclear weapons, neither it nor they would pose anything like the same kind of threat.

All well and good. The trouble was this: only by relying on the accuracy of the 2005 NIE would Bush be able in all good conscience to pass on to his successor the decision of whether or when to bomb the Iranian nuclear facilities. But that estimate, as he could hardly help knowing from the CIA’s not exactly brilliant track record, might easily be too optimistic.

To start with the most spectacular recent instance, the CIA had failed to anticipate 9/11. It then turned out to be wrong in 2002 about Saddam Hussein’s possession of weapons of mass destruction, very likely because it was bending over backward to compensate for having been wrong in exactly the opposite direction in 1991, when at the end of the first Gulf war the IAEA discovered that the Iraqi nuclear program was far more advanced than the CIA had estimated. Regarding that by now notorious lapse, Jeffrey T. Richelson, a leading (and devoutly nonpartisan) authority on the American intelligence community, writes in Spying on the Bomb:

The extent that the United States and its allies underestimated and misunderstood the Iraqi program [before 1991] constituted a “colossal international intelligence failure,” according to one Israeli expert. [IAEA’s chief weapons inspector] Hans Blixacknowledged “that there was suspicion certainly,” but “to see the enormity of it is a shock.”

And these were only the most recent cases. Gabriel Schoenfeld, a close student of the intelligence community, offers a partial list of earlier mistakes and failures:

The CIA was established in 1947 in large measure to avoid another surprise attack like the one the U.S. had suffered on December 7, 1941 at Pearl Harbor. But only three years after its founding, the fledgling agency missed the outbreak of the Korean war. It then failed to understand that the Chinese would come to the aid of the North Koreans if American forces crossed the Yalu river. It missed the outbreak of the Suez war in 1956. In September 1962, the CIA issued an NIE which stated that the “Soviets would not introduce offensive missiles in Cuba”; in short order, the USSR did precisely that. In 1968 it failed to foresee the Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia. . . . It did not inform Jimmy Carter that the Soviet Union would invade Afghanistan in 1979.

Richelson adds a few more examples of hotly debated issues during the cold war that were wrongly resolved, including “the existence of a missile gap, the capabilities of the Soviet SS-9 intercontinental ballistic missile, [and] Soviet compliance with the test-ban and antiballistic missile treaties.” This is not to mention perhaps the most notorious case of all: the fiasco, known as the Bay of Pigs, produced by the CIA’s wildly misplaced confidence that an invasion of Cuba by the army of exiles it had assembled and trained would set off a popular uprising against the Castro regime.

On Bush’s part, then, deep skepticism was warranted concerning the CIA’s estimate of how much time we had before Iran reached the point of no return. As we have seen, Mohamed ElBaradei, the head of the IAEA, had “discovered” in 2003 that the Iranians were constructing facilities to enrich uranium. Still, as late as April 2007 the same ElBaradei was pooh-poohing the claims made by Ahmadinejad that Iran already had 3,000 centrifuges in operation. A month later, we learn from Richelson, ElBaradei changed his mind after a few spot inspections. “We believe,” ElBaradei now said, that the Iranians “pretty much have the knowledge about how to enrich. From now on, it is simply a question of perfecting that knowledge.”

We also learn from Richelson that another expert, Matthew Bunn of Harvard’s Center for Science and International Affairs, interpreted the new information the IAEA came up with in April 2007 as meaning that “whether they’re six months or a year away, one can debate. But it’s not ten years.” This chilling estimate of how little time we had to prevent Iran from getting the bomb was similar to the conclusion reached by several Israeli experts (though the official Israeli estimate put the point of no return in 2009).

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Then, in a trice, everything changed. Even as Bush must surely have been wrestling with the question of whether it would be on his watch that the decision on bombing the Iranian nuclear facilities would have to be made, the world was hit with a different kind of bomb. This took the form of an unclassified summary of a new NIE, published early last December. Entitled “Iran: Nuclear Intentions and Capabilities,” this new document was obviously designed to blow up the near-universal consensus that had flowed from the conclusions reached by the intelligence community in its 2005 NIE.1 In brief, whereas the NIE of 2005 had assessed “with high confidence that Iran currently is determined to develop nuclear weapons,” the new NIE of 2007 did “not know whether [Iran] currently intends to develop nuclear weapons.”

This startling 180-degree turn was arrived at from new intelligence, offered by the new NIE with “high confidence”: namely, that “in fall 2003 Tehran halted its nuclear-weapons program.” The new NIE was also confident—though only moderately so—that “Tehran had not restarted its nuclear-weapons program as of mid-2007.” And in the most sweeping of its new conclusions, it was even “moderately confident” that “the halt to those activities represents a halt to Iran’s entire nuclear-weapons program.”

Whatever else one might say about the new NIE, one point can be made with “high confidence”: that by leading with the sensational news that Iran had suspended its nuclear-weapons program in 2003, its authors ensured that their entire document would be interpreted as meaning that there was no longer anything to worry about. Of course, being experienced bureaucrats, they took care to protect themselves from this very accusation. For example, after dropping their own bomb on the fear that Iran was hell-bent on getting the bomb, they immediately added “with moderate-to-high confidence that Tehran at a minimum is keeping open the option to develop nuclear weapons.” But as they must have expected, scarcely anyone paid attention to this caveat. And as they must also have expected, even less attention was paid to another self-protective caveat, which—making doubly sure it would pass unnoticed—they relegated to a footnote appended to the lead sentence about the halt:

For the purposes of this Estimate, by “nuclear-weapons program” we mean Iran’s nuclear-weapon design and weaponization work and covert uranium conversion-related and uranium enrichment-related work; we do not mean Iran’s declared civil work related to uranium conversion and enrichment.

Since only an expert could grasp the significance of this cunning little masterpiece of incomprehensible jargon, the damage had been done by the time its dishonesty was exposed.

The first such exposure came from John Bolton, who before becoming our ambassador to the UN had served as Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security, with a special responsibility for preventing the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Donning this hat once again, Bolton charged that the dishonesty of the footnote lay most egregiously in the sharp distinction it drew between military and civilian programs. For, he said,

the enrichment of uranium, which all agree Iran is continuing, is critical to civilian and military uses [emphasis added]. Indeed, it has always been Iran’s “civilian” program that posed the main risk of a nuclear “breakout.”

Two other experts, Valerie Lincy, the editor of Iranwatch.org, writing in collaboration with Gary Milhollin, the director of the Wisconsin Project on Nuclear Arms Control, followed up with an explanation of why the halt of 2003 was much less significant than a layman would inevitably be led to think:

[T]he new report defines “nuclear-weapons program” in a ludicrously narrow way: it confines it to enriching uranium at secret sites or working on a nuclear-weapon design. But the halting of its secret enrichment and weapon-design efforts in 2003 proves only that Iran made a tactical move. It suspended work that, if discovered, would unambiguously reveal intent to build a weapon. It has continued other work, crucial to the ability to make a bomb, that it can pass off as having civilian applications.

Thus, as Lincy and Milhollin went on to write, the main point obfuscated by the footnote was that once Iran accumulated a stockpile of the kind of uranium fit for civilian use, it would “in a matter of months” be able “to convert that uranium . . . to weapons grade.”

 

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Yet, in spite of these efforts to demonstrate that the new NIE did not prove that Iran had given up its pursuit of nuclear weapons, just about everyone in the world immediately concluded otherwise, and further concluded that this meant the military option was off the table. George Bush may or may not have been planning to order air strikes before leaving office, but now that the justification for doing so had been discredited by his own intelligence agencies, it would be politically impossible for him to go on threatening military action, let alone to take it.

But what about sanctions? In the weeks and months before the new NIE was made public, Bush had been working very hard to get a third and tougher round of sanctions approved by the Security Council. In trying to persuade the Russians and the Chinese to sign on, Bush argued that the failure to enact such sanctions would leave war as the only alternative. Yet if war was now out of the question, and if in any case Iran had for all practical purposes given up its pursuit of nuclear weapons for the foreseeable future, what need was there of sanctions?

Anticipating that this objection would be raised, the White House desperately set out to interpret the new NIE as, precisely, offering “grounds for hope that the problem can be solved diplomatically—without the use of force.” These words by Stephen Hadley, Bush’s National Security Adviser, represented the very first comment on the new NIE to emanate from the White House, and some version of them would be endlessly repeated in the days to come. Joining this campaign of damage control, Sarkozy and Brown issued similar statements, and even Merkel (who had been very reluctant to go along with Bush’s push for another round of sanctions) now declared that it was

dangerous and still grounds for great concern that Iran, in the face of the UN Security Council’s resolutions, continues to refuse to suspend uranium enrichment. . . . The Iranian president’s intolerable agitation against Israel also speaks volumes. . . . It remains a vital interest of the whole world community to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran.

As it happened, Hadley was right about the new NIE, which executed another 180-degree turn—this one, away from the judgment of the 2005 NIE concerning the ineffectiveness of international pressure. Flatly contradicting its “high confidence” in 2005 that Iran was forging ahead “despite its international obligations and international pressure,” the new NIE concluded that the nuclear-weapons program had been halted in 2003 “primarily in response to international pressure.” This indicated that “Tehran’s decisions are guided by a cost-benefit approach rather than a rush to a weapon irrespective of the political, economic, and military costs.”

Never mind that no international pressure to speak of was being exerted on Iran in 2003, and that at that point the mullahs were more likely acting out of fear that the Americans, having just invaded Iraq, might come after them next. Never mind, too, that religious and/or ideological passions, which the new NIE pointedly neglected to mention, have over and over again throughout history proved themselves a more powerful driving force than any “cost-benefit approach.” Blithely sweeping aside such considerations, the new NIE was confident that just as the carrot-and-stick approach had allegedly sufficed in the past, so it would suffice in the future to “prompt Tehran to extend the current halt to its nuclear-weapons program.”

The worldview implicit here has been described by Richelson (mainly with North Korea in mind) as the idea that “moral suasion and sustained bargaining are the proven mechanisms of nuclear restraint.” Such a worldview “may be ill-equipped,” he observes delicately,

to accept the idea that certain regimes are incorrigible and negotiate only as a stalling tactic until they have attained a nuclear capability against the United States and other nations that might act against their nuclear programs.

True, the new NIE did at least acknowledge that it would not be easy to induce Iran to extend the halt, “given the linkage many within the leadership probably see between nuclear-weapons development and Iran’s key national-security and foreign-policy objectives.” But it still put its money on a

combination of threats of intensified international scrutiny and pressures, along with opportunities for Iran to achieve its security, prestige, and goals for regional influence in other ways.

It was this pronouncement, and a few others like it, that gave Stephen Hadley “grounds for hope that the problem can be solved diplomatically.” But that it was a false hope was demonstrated by the NIE itself. For if Iran was pursuing nuclear weapons in order to achieve its “key national-security and foreign-policy objectives,” and if those objectives explicitly included (for a start) hegemony in the Middle East and the destruction of the state of Israel, what possible “opportunities” could Tehran be offered to achieve them “in other ways”?

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So much for the carrot. As for the stick, it was no longer big enough to matter, what with the threat of military action ruled out, and what with the case for a third round of sanctions undermined by the impression stemming from the NIE’s main finding that there was nothing left to worry about. Why worry when it was four years since Iran had done any work toward developing the bomb, when the moratorium remained in effect, and when there was no reason to believe that the program would be resumed in the near future?2

What is more, in continuing to insist that the Iranians must be stopped from developing the bomb and that this could be done by nonmilitary means, the Bush administration and its European allies were lagging behind a new consensus within the American foreign-policy establishment that had already been forming even before the publication of the new NIE. Whereas the old consensus was based on the proposition that (in Senator John McCain’s pungent formulation) “the only thing worse than bombing Iran was letting Iran get the bomb,” the emerging new consensus held the opposite—that the only thing worse than letting Iran get the bomb was bombing Iran.

What led to this reversal was a gradual loss of faith in the carrot-and-stick approach. As one who had long since rejected this faith and who had been excoriated for my apostasy by more than one member of the foreign-policy elites, I never thought I would live to see the day when these very elites would come to admit that diplomacy and sanctions had been given a fair chance and that they had accomplished nothing but to buy Iran more time.3 The lesson drawn from this new revelation was, however, a different matter.

It was in the course of a public debate with one of the younger members of the foreign-policy establishment that I first chanced upon the change in view. Knowing that he never deviated by so much as an inch from the conventional wisdom of the moment within places like the Council on Foreign Relations and the Brookings Institution, I had expected him to defend the carrot-and-stick approach and to attack me as a warmonger for contending that bombing was the only way to stop the mullahs from getting the bomb. Instead, to my great surprise, he took the position that there was really no need to stop them in the first place, since even if they had the bomb they could be deterred from using it, just as effectively as the Soviets and the Chinese had been deterred during the cold war.

Without saying so in so many words, then, my opponent was acknowledging that diplomacy and sanctions had proved to be a failure, and that there was no point in pursuing them any further. But so as to avoid drawing the logical conclusion—namely, that military action had now become necessary—he simply abandoned the old establishment assumption that Iran must at all costs be prevented from developing nuclear weapons, adopting in its place the complacent idea that we could learn to live with an Iranian bomb.

In response, I argued that deterrence could not be relied upon with a regime ruled by Islamofascist revolutionaries who not only were ready to die for their beliefs but cared less about protecting their people than about the spread of their ideology and their power. If the mullahs got the bomb, I said, it was not they who would be deterred, but we.

So little did any of this shake my opponent that I came away from our debate with the grim realization that the President’s continued insistence on the dangers posed by an Iranian bomb would more and more fall on deaf ears—ears that would soon be made even deafer by the new NIE’s assurance that Iran was no longer hell-bent on acquiring nuclear weapons after all. There might be two different ideas competing here—one, that we could live with an Iranian bomb; the other, that there would be no Iranian bomb to live with—but the widespread acceptance of either would not only preclude the military option but would sooner or later put an end even to the effort to stop the mullahs by nonmilitary means.

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And yet there remained something else, or rather someone else, to factor into the equation: the perennially “misunderestimated” George W. Bush, a man who knew evil when he saw it and who had the courage and the determination to do battle against it. This was also a man who, far more than most politicians, said what he meant and meant what he said. And what he had said at least twice before was that if we permitted Iran to build a nuclear arsenal, people fifty years from now would look back and wonder how we of this generation could have allowed such a thing to happen, and they would rightly judge us as harshly as we today judge the British and the French for what they did at Munich in 1938. It was because I had found it hard to understand why Bush would put himself so squarely in the dock of history on this issue if he were resigned to an Iran in possession of nuclear weapons, or even of the ability to build them, that I predicted in these pages, and went on predicting elsewhere, that he would not retire from office before resorting to the military option.

But then came the new NIE. To me it seemed obvious that it represented another ambush by an intelligence community that had consistently tried to sabotage Bush’s policies through a series of damaging leaks and was now trying to prevent him from ever taking military action against Iran. To others, however, it seemed equally obvious that Bush, far from being ambushed, had welcomed the new NIE precisely because it provided him with a perfect opportunity to begin distancing himself from the military option.4

But I could not for the life of me believe that Bush intended to fly in the face of the solemn promise he had made in his 2002 State of the Union address:

We’ll be deliberate, yet time is not on our side. I will not wait on events, while dangers gather. I will not stand by, as peril draws closer and closer. The United States of America will not permit the world’s most dangerous regimes to threaten us with the world’s most destructive weapons.

To which he had added shortly afterward in a speech at West Point: “If we wait for threats to fully materialize, we will have waited too long.”

How, I wondered, could Bush not know that in the case of Iran he was running a very great risk of waiting too long? And if he was truly ready to run that risk, why, in a press conference the day after the new NIE came out, did he put himself in the historical dock yet again by repeating what he had said several times before about the judgment that would be passed on this generation in the future if Iran were to acquire a nuclear weapon?

If Iran shows up with a nuclear weapon at some point in time, the world is going to say, what happened to them in 2007? How come they couldn’t see the impending danger? What caused them not to understand that a country that once had a weapons program could reconstitute the weapons program? How come they couldn’t see that the important first step in developing a weapon is the capacity to be able to enrich uranium? How come they didn’t know that with that capacity, that knowledge could be passed on to a covert program? What blinded them to the realities of the world? And it’s not going to happen on my watch.

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“It’s not going to happen on my watch.” What else could this mean if not that Bush was preparing to meet “the impending danger” in what he must by now have concluded was the only way it could be averted?

The only alternative that seemed even remotely plausible to me was that he might be fixing to outsource the job to the Israelis. After all, even if, by now, it might have become politically impossible for us to take military action, the Israelis could not afford to sit by while a regime pledged to wipe them off the map was equipping itself with nuclear weapons and the missiles to deliver them. For unless Iran could be stopped before acquiring a nuclear capability, the Israelis would be faced with only two choices: either strike first, or pray that the fear of retaliation would deter the Iranians from beating them to the punch. Yet a former president of Iran, Hashemi Rafsanjani, had served notice that his country would not be deterred by the fear of retaliation:

If a day comes when the world of Islam is duly equipped with the arms Israel has in its possession, . . . application of an atomic bomb would not leave anything in Israel, but the same thing would just produce damages in the Muslim world.

If this was the view of even a supposed moderate like Rafsanjani, how could the Israelis depend upon the mullahs to refrain from launching a first strike? The answer was that they could not. Bernard Lewis, the leading contemporary authority on the culture of the Islamic world, has explained why:

MAD, mutual assured destruction, [was effective] right through the cold war. Both sides had nuclear weapons. Neither side used them, because both sides knew the other would retaliate in kind. This will not work with a religious fanatic [like Ahmadinejad]. For him, mutual assured destruction is not a deterrent, it is an inducement. We know already that [the mullahs ruling Iran] do not give a damn about killing their own people in great numbers. We have seen it again and again. In the final scenario, and this applies all the more strongly if they kill large numbers of their own people, they are doing them a favor. They are giving them a quick free pass to heaven and all its delights.

Under the aegis of such an attitude, even in the less extreme variant that may have been held by some of Ahmadinejad’s colleagues among the regime’s rulers, mutual assured destruction would turn into a very weak reed. Understanding that, the Israelis would be presented with an irresistible incentive to preempt—and so, too, would the Iranians. Either way, a nuclear exchange would become inevitable.

What would happen then? In a recently released study, Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies argues that Rafsanjani had it wrong. In the grisly scenario Cordesman draws, tens of millions would indeed die, but Israel—despite the decimation of its civilian population and the destruction of its major cities—would survive, even if just barely, as a functioning society. Not so Iran, and not its “key Arab neighbors,” particularly Egypt and Syria, which Cordesman thinks Israel would also have to target in order “to ensure that no other power can capitalize on an Iranian strike.” Furthermore, Israel might be driven in desperation to go after the oil wells, refineries, and ports in the Gulf.

“Being contained within the region,” writes Martin Walker of UPI in his summary of Cordesman’s study, “such a nuclear exchange might not be Armageddon for the human race.” To me it seems doubtful that it could be confined to the Middle East. But even if it were, the resulting horrors would still be far greater than even the direst consequences that might follow from bombing Iran before it reaches the point of no return.

In the worst case of this latter scenario, Iran would retaliate by increasing the trouble it is already making for us in Iraq and by attacking Israel with missiles armed with non-nuclear warheads but possibly containing biological and/or chemical weapons. There would also be a vast increase in the price of oil, with catastrophic consequences for every economy in the world, very much including our own. And there would be a deafening outcry from one end of the earth to the other against the inescapable civilian casualties. Yet, bad as all this would be, it does not begin to compare with the gruesome consequences of a nuclear exchange between Israel and Iran, even if those consequences were to be far less extensive than Cordesman anticipates.

Which is to say that, as between bombing Iran to prevent it from getting the bomb and letting Iran get the bomb, there is simply no contest.

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But this still does not answer the question of who should do the bombing. Tempting as it must be for George Bush to sit back and let the Israelis do the job, there are considerations that should give him pause. One is that no matter what he would say, the whole world would regard the Israelis as a surrogate for the United States, and we would become as much the target of the ensuing recriminations both at home and abroad as we would if we had done the job ourselves.

To make matters worse, the indications are that it would be very hard for the Israeli air force, superb though it is, to pull the mission off. Thus, an analysis by two members of the Security Studies Program at MIT concluded that while “the Israeli air force now possesses the capability to destroy even well-hardened targets in Iran with some degree of confidence,” the problem is that for the mission to succeed, all of the many contingencies involved would have to go right. Hence an Israeli attempt could end with the worst of all possible outcomes: retaliatory measures by the Iranians even as their nuclear program remained unscathed. We, on the other hand, would have a much bigger margin of error and a much better chance of setting their program back by a minimum of five or ten years and at best wiping it out altogether.

The upshot is that if Iran is to be prevented from becoming a nuclear power, it is the United States that will have to do the preventing, to do it by means of a bombing campaign, and (because “If we wait for threats to fully materialize, we will have waited too long”) to do it soon.

When I first predicted a year or so ago that Bush would bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities once he had played out the futile diplomatic string, the obstacles that stood in his way were great but they did not strike me as insurmountable. Now, thanks in large part to the new NIE, they have grown so formidable that I can only stick by my prediction with what the NIE itself would describe as “low-to-moderate confidence.” For Bush is right about the resemblance between 2008 and 1938. In 1938, as Winston Churchill later said, Hitler could still have been stopped at a relatively low price and many millions of lives could have been saved if England and France had not deceived themselves about the realities of their situation. Mutatis mutandis, it is the same in 2008, when Iran can still be stopped from getting the bomb and even more millions of lives can be saved—but only provided that we summon up the courage to see what is staring us in the face and then act on what we see.

Unless we do, the forces that are blindly working to ensure that Iran will get the bomb are likely to prevail even against the clear-sighted determination of George W. Bush, just as the forces of appeasement did against Churchill in 1938. In which case, we had all better pray that there will be enough time for the next President to discharge the responsibility that Bush will have been forced to pass on, and that this successor will also have the clarity and the courage to discharge it. If not—God help us all—the stage will have been set for the outbreak of a nuclear war that will become as inescapable then as it is avoidable now.


Footnotes

1 Among the principal authors of the new NIE, an editorial in the Wall Street Journalreported, were “three former State Department officials with previous reputations as ‘hyper-partisan anti-Bush officials,’ according to an intelligence source.” Even without knowing this, a careful reader of the new NIE summary could easily tell that it had been written by opponents of the military option who, moreover, were not so sure that Iran was all that dangerous.

2 It is worth noting that a number of Israeli experts—including Ephraim Halevy, the former (and very dovish) director of the Mossad—were convinced that the halt had lasted only about two years, that the program had been resumed, probably in 2005, and that it was still up and running.

3 That negotiation was merely a tactic used by Iran to buy time was not idle speculation. As we learn from Richelson: “Iranian nuclear negotiator Hassan Rouhani told his nation’s Supreme Cultural Revolution Council in September 2005 that Iran, in dealing with the IAEA, had agreed to suspend activities only in areas where it was not experiencing technical problems, and that the Isfahan uranium-conversion facility was completed while negotiating with the [European Union]. Rouhan informed the council that ‘while we were talking with the Europeans in Tehran, we were installing equipment in parts of the facility. . . . [B]y creating a calm environment, we were able to complete the work.’”

4 A typically conspiratorial version of this view, circulating through the Middle East, holds that Bush actually arranged for the new NIE, as a cover for capitulating to Iran. Evidently acting on this interpretation, the Sunni regimes (including Saudi Arabia and Egypt) that were expected by Condoleezza Rice to form a coalition against Shiite Iran once the U.S. got the “peace process” going between Israel and the Palestinians (hence the meeting she arranged at Annapolis) have instead been scrambling in various ways to come to terms with Tehran. As Gerald Steinberg of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs pointed out: “Within two weeks following publication of the NIE report, . . . Egypt moved to improve relations with Iran.” What was even more extraordinary, “Saudi Arabia welcomed Iranian President Ahmadinejad to Mecca.” The effects of the NIE were also manifest in China, which “signed a major contract on energy development and supply with Iran,” as well as in Russia, which, after stalling on a long-promised delivery, “quickly dispatched two shipments of nuclear fuel for the Bushehr nuclear reactor.”

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Letting Obama Be Obama

A new Gallup poll shows self-professed conservatives now outnumber self-professed liberals in the United States, 42 percent to 21 percent. Another 37 percent described themselves as moderates. Since early 2008, the number of people identifying themselves as conservative has increased while the number of people identifying themselves as moderate and liberal have decreased. This isn’t surprising. The United States is a center-right country – and living under a liberal president and a liberal Congress for most of the last three years has nudged us in a more conservative, less liberal direction.

All of which makes Obama’s re-election strategy puzzling. He’s talking and acting in a way that fortifies his liberal credentials, essentially rejecting the (successful) Clinton 1995-1996 model. Perhaps Obama has decided that unlike Clinton, a former Southern, “New Democrat” governor, the clothes of moderation simply don’t fit very well.

Read More

A new Gallup poll shows self-professed conservatives now outnumber self-professed liberals in the United States, 42 percent to 21 percent. Another 37 percent described themselves as moderates. Since early 2008, the number of people identifying themselves as conservative has increased while the number of people identifying themselves as moderate and liberal have decreased. This isn’t surprising. The United States is a center-right country – and living under a liberal president and a liberal Congress for most of the last three years has nudged us in a more conservative, less liberal direction.

All of which makes Obama’s re-election strategy puzzling. He’s talking and acting in a way that fortifies his liberal credentials, essentially rejecting the (successful) Clinton 1995-1996 model. Perhaps Obama has decided that unlike Clinton, a former Southern, “New Democrat” governor, the clothes of moderation simply don’t fit very well.

Obama — by history, disposition, and ideology – is a deeply liberal man. He has absorbed many of the assumptions and attitudes of the academy. And so in his effort to win re-election, he’s running as his most authentic self: a class warrior, a divider, a man keen to stoke resentments and caricature and slander his opponents. It isn’t pretty, it’s certainly not consistent with the Obama of 2008, and I rather doubt it will be successful. But perhaps the last refuge of a desperate campaign is to let Obama be Obama.

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