Commentary Magazine


Posts For: November 28, 2011

The Janus-Faced Obama

The New York Times, in a story on Team Obama gearing up for the 2012 election, reports that the theme of “hopeful, transcendent politics” has been jettisoned in favor of a combination of excuses and attacks. “If 2008 was about lifting Mr. Obama up,” the story reports, “2012 will have at least some strong element of dragging down his Republican opponent (who the campaign believes will most likely be Mitt Romney). If 2008 was about ‘Yes We Can’ and limitless possibility, 2012 will be to some degree about why we couldn’t (‘Republican intransigence’), and why we shouldn’t, at least when it comes to anything the Republican nominee proposes (‘His party got us here in the first place’). As Mr. Obama recently told a group of supporters in the deflated liberal bastion of San Francisco, ‘The Hope poster is kind of faded and a little dog-eared.’”

It turns out the president has a gift for understatement.

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The New York Times, in a story on Team Obama gearing up for the 2012 election, reports that the theme of “hopeful, transcendent politics” has been jettisoned in favor of a combination of excuses and attacks. “If 2008 was about lifting Mr. Obama up,” the story reports, “2012 will have at least some strong element of dragging down his Republican opponent (who the campaign believes will most likely be Mitt Romney). If 2008 was about ‘Yes We Can’ and limitless possibility, 2012 will be to some degree about why we couldn’t (‘Republican intransigence’), and why we shouldn’t, at least when it comes to anything the Republican nominee proposes (‘His party got us here in the first place’). As Mr. Obama recently told a group of supporters in the deflated liberal bastion of San Francisco, ‘The Hope poster is kind of faded and a little dog-eared.’”

It turns out the president has a gift for understatement.

The “Hope poster” has been exposed, in fact, as a counterfeit. Some people still wonder who the real Obama is: the uplifting, consensus-oriented, post-partisan, non-ideological fellow who took center stage in 2008; or the partisan, divisive, obsessively misleading, scorched-earth president who routinely charges Republicans with putting the interests of their party ahead of the interest of their country, who once referred to Republicans (but never the Iranian regime) as the “enemy,” and who helpfully informed Americans that Republicans want the elderly, autistic and Down syndrome children to fend for themselves and have a plan the president describes this way: “Let’s have dirtier air, dirtier water, [and] less people with health insurance.”

My reluctant answer (reluctant because I was once open to believing in the better Obama) is that the president is a man of unusually cold-blooded insincerity. To be clear: Obama is not habitually dishonest and divisive. It is not as if he can’t control his poisonous rhetoric. He simply uses those things when they’re useful to him. In that sense, Obama is not sociopathic; he’s merely ruthlessly unprincipled. Or to put it another way, he’s thoroughly post-modern, willing to construct his own truth and his own reality in the quest for power. If Obama thinks being conciliatory and civil are the roads to victory, he’ll be conciliatory and civil. If he believes incendiary rhetoric and ludicrous stereotypes are the pathway to success, he’s just as happy to employ them. Six of one, a half-dozen of the other. Whatever works. One way to express this is with references to faded, dog-eared “Hope posters.” Another, less delicate but perhaps more accurate way to express the Obama approach to politics is deeply cynical.

Call it the Chicago Way.

 

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Board Member’s Hamas Flirtation Shows J Street’s Radicalism

The left-wing lobby group J Street has a problem. On the one hand, their leadership has been trying hard to portray itself as just another liberal pro-Israel Jewish group that deserves a place at the communal table. On the other, the radical instincts of much of its leadership and many of its supporters are so alienated from mainstream Jewish opinion about Israel and the Middle East conflict, the organization often finds itself lurching about trying to square two points of view that are incompatible. J Street first condemned Israel’s counter-offensive against Hamas terror in December 2008 and then eventually backed away from that stand when they realized even Israeli leftists disagreed with them. Their positions on Iran sanctions have similarly wavered. And let’s not even get into their bizarre on-again-off-again lying about getting most of their funding from George Soros.

The latest example concerns a trip to Gaza by one of their founders and board members, New York lawyer Kathleen Peratis. Peratis is also co-chair of the Middle East and North Africa Advisory Committee of the viciously anti-Israel group Human Rights Watch. Peratis penned an article for the Forward published earlier this month in which she discussed her meetings with the Hamas terrorist group and tours of the tunnels by which Palestinians have smuggled arms and material into Gaza. In the piece, she not only failed to criticize Hamas or the tyrannical nature of the Islamist group’s reign over Gaza but also made clear her opposition to Israel’s policies and the blockade of the terrorist enclave. As for J Street, they didn’t send her to Gaza but, as the Washington Jewish Week reported, initially distributed copies of her piece to members of the group and the press via their daily news roundup. But a week later, after some criticism of the association with the group and Hamas began to percolate, J Street predictably folded, issuing a statement today distancing itself from Peratis’ conduct.

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The left-wing lobby group J Street has a problem. On the one hand, their leadership has been trying hard to portray itself as just another liberal pro-Israel Jewish group that deserves a place at the communal table. On the other, the radical instincts of much of its leadership and many of its supporters are so alienated from mainstream Jewish opinion about Israel and the Middle East conflict, the organization often finds itself lurching about trying to square two points of view that are incompatible. J Street first condemned Israel’s counter-offensive against Hamas terror in December 2008 and then eventually backed away from that stand when they realized even Israeli leftists disagreed with them. Their positions on Iran sanctions have similarly wavered. And let’s not even get into their bizarre on-again-off-again lying about getting most of their funding from George Soros.

The latest example concerns a trip to Gaza by one of their founders and board members, New York lawyer Kathleen Peratis. Peratis is also co-chair of the Middle East and North Africa Advisory Committee of the viciously anti-Israel group Human Rights Watch. Peratis penned an article for the Forward published earlier this month in which she discussed her meetings with the Hamas terrorist group and tours of the tunnels by which Palestinians have smuggled arms and material into Gaza. In the piece, she not only failed to criticize Hamas or the tyrannical nature of the Islamist group’s reign over Gaza but also made clear her opposition to Israel’s policies and the blockade of the terrorist enclave. As for J Street, they didn’t send her to Gaza but, as the Washington Jewish Week reported, initially distributed copies of her piece to members of the group and the press via their daily news roundup. But a week later, after some criticism of the association with the group and Hamas began to percolate, J Street predictably folded, issuing a statement today distancing itself from Peratis’ conduct.

While J Street’s statement said a lot of the things you’d expect a normal pro-Israel group to say about Israel’s security and Hamas being the bad guys, you have to wonder about their sudden change of heart about Peratis’ Gaza hijinks. If there was nothing shocking about her conduct and statements a week ago when the group was highlighting her article as if it was a sign of J Street’s impressive public profile, then why are they now acting as if they are, like Captain Renault in the movie “Casablanca,” “shocked” to discover she’s been cozying up to Hamas?

Of course, for those who know little about J Street other than adulatory notices they get in the New York Times, the idea that there are overlapping memberships between the group and Human Rights Watch ought to be just as much of a shocker as Peratis’ sympathetic portrait of Hamas.

J Street wants the Jewish public to think of them as just a more liberal version of AIPAC that is as ardently supportive of Israel as the mainstream umbrella lobby group. But it’s hard to square that notion with the presence of someone like Peratis on their board or the fact that until they started to get hammered for it, they thought there was nothing wrong with someone so closely affiliated with their organization meeting with Hamas and writing of Gaza as an Israeli “prison” (as Peratis did earlier this year after another romp through the Hamas-run statelet).

J Street can’t have it both ways. If it really is “pro-Israel” and “pro-peace” (a distorted formulation based on the false assumption that those who oppose their calls for pressure on Israel to make even more concessions to the Palestinians don’t want peace) then they wouldn’t find themselves on the wrong side of most issues concerning the Jewish state or be forced to try and slink away from the embarrassing behavior of their leaders. A group whose instincts and leadership is as radical as someone like Peratis will never convince anyone they are merely a pro-Obama version of AIPAC.

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Miley Cyrus Dedicates Song to OWS

Click here if you want to punish your eardrums; otherwise, just read on for the general story. Now that celebrities like Disney’s Hannah Montana are getting on board with OWS, how long will it be before the movement gets too “mainstream” for its college hipster base?

Count Miley Cyrus amongst the celebrities supporting Occupy Wall Street.

With her newly released music video, the teenage star joins the ranks of Russell Simmons, Mark Ruffalo, Lupe Fiasco and many others in Hollywood lending their voice to the People’s Microphone. “Liberty Walks,” Cyrus’s latest single, sets the music to images and video from the various protests and activity around the various OWS encampments throughout the nation.

“This is dedicated to the thousands of people who are standing up for what they believe in,” the dedication at the beginning of the video reads.

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Click here if you want to punish your eardrums; otherwise, just read on for the general story. Now that celebrities like Disney’s Hannah Montana are getting on board with OWS, how long will it be before the movement gets too “mainstream” for its college hipster base?

Count Miley Cyrus amongst the celebrities supporting Occupy Wall Street.

With her newly released music video, the teenage star joins the ranks of Russell Simmons, Mark Ruffalo, Lupe Fiasco and many others in Hollywood lending their voice to the People’s Microphone. “Liberty Walks,” Cyrus’s latest single, sets the music to images and video from the various protests and activity around the various OWS encampments throughout the nation.

“This is dedicated to the thousands of people who are standing up for what they believe in,” the dedication at the beginning of the video reads.

Cyrus isn’t the only celebrity shamelessly trying to capitalize off the Occupy Wall Street movement. Jay-Z was even hawking his own OWS t-shirts for a short time, until activists started blasting him for not spreading his profits around. On one hand, this could initially seem like a victory for OWS – from the beginning, the movement’s goal has been to generate mainstream appeal. But the screaming pre-teen girl demographic that’s influenced by pop stars like Cyrus isn’t the group the Occupiers want to win over. OWS is trying to target middle and lower-middle class adults, college activists, people of voting age. The one common thread all these groups share is that they can’t stand Miley Cyrus.

Which may actually be why she’s trying to pin herself to OWS – she probably hopes it will help boost her own fading relevancy. Unfortunately, it’s not going to do her much good.

OWS’s attempt to hijack Black Friday was a bust. Polls show the movement becoming less popular with Americans. And now it’s being endorsed by gratingly annoying child pop stars. If this trend continues, how long before it disappears from the political radar completely?

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Foreign Policy Magazine’s Contemptible Attack on Netanyahu

The editors of Foreign Policy magazine would do well to read Evelyn’s post (and the Haaretz article linked therein), because this year’s installment of the magazine’s Top 100 Global Thinkers list is a bit of a farce. The list is always intended to be provocative, but this year’s reads like a parody of itself.

Clocking in together at No. 28 are the renowned intellectual giants we call Mahmoud Abbas and Salam Fayyad, but who are known around the Middle East as Arafat’s understudy and an unpopular failed reformer. Israel, which is not only an inspiration to actual Arab thinkers and reformers, as Evelyn noted, but which also produces, as it did again this year, Nobel laureates aplenty, also appears on the list. But it’s all the way at No. 63, and the spot belongs to former Mossad director Meir Dagan. He earned his placement for, as the article announces, “being the last man in Israel to stand up to Benjamin Netanyahu.” Where to begin?

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The editors of Foreign Policy magazine would do well to read Evelyn’s post (and the Haaretz article linked therein), because this year’s installment of the magazine’s Top 100 Global Thinkers list is a bit of a farce. The list is always intended to be provocative, but this year’s reads like a parody of itself.

Clocking in together at No. 28 are the renowned intellectual giants we call Mahmoud Abbas and Salam Fayyad, but who are known around the Middle East as Arafat’s understudy and an unpopular failed reformer. Israel, which is not only an inspiration to actual Arab thinkers and reformers, as Evelyn noted, but which also produces, as it did again this year, Nobel laureates aplenty, also appears on the list. But it’s all the way at No. 63, and the spot belongs to former Mossad director Meir Dagan. He earned his placement for, as the article announces, “being the last man in Israel to stand up to Benjamin Netanyahu.” Where to begin?

We can start with Netanyahu, a democratically elected premier of a free country who is spoken about in Foreign Policy as if he were Hugo Chavez. There’s no need to repeat, yet again, just how misguided the media’s caricature of Netanyahu is, but between investment in the West Bank, removal of road blocks, willingness to agree to unprecedented settlement freezes, and willingness to negotiate without preconditions, he’s certainly done far more for the peace process than Abbas. But Dagan as the “last man in Israel to stand up to Benjamin Netanyahu”? Did FP mistakenly publish an article it was holding for its April Fools’ issue?

Though I don’t often recommend this, FP’s editors might want to pick up Haaretz, which is daily “standing up” to Bibi. They can sit in on a session of the Knesset, to watch Israeli legislators say much worse things to Bibi’s face than Foreign Policy does on a regular basis. They can, apparently, just ask President Obama or Nicolas Sarkozy how they feel about Netanyahu, and they will witness some more of the same. They can check in with any of the Israeli human rights organizations, which travel around the world begging for donor cash so they can afford to continue “standing up” to Israel’s prime minister.

They can watch Israel’s television news programs… you get the point. The world, all day every day, is filled with brave men and women, fresh from their morning diet of the New York Times and Guardian editorial pages, “standing up” to Bibi. And by the way, as anyone who has ever followed politics well understands, Meir Dagan is a capable, intelligent public servant who is playing politics no more and no less than the authors of our own 2007 National Intelligence Estimates were when they tried to structure the report in order to influence American policy toward Iran. That doesn’t mean Dagan is wrong (as the NIE authors clearly were). But let’s try to keep our heads out of the clouds on this one.

Additionally, the editors failed to mention Jeffrey Goldberg’s recent article on Iran, in which he expressed the view that Obama (who holds the No. 11 spot on the list) takes the Iranian nuclear program just as seriously as the Netanyahu government does, and is also willing to use force to stop it. Shouldn’t someone, in the opinion of FP’s editors, be standing up to the president on this?

As for Fayyad, the verdict on his reforms came in more than a year ago: they failed in miserable fashion. Nathan Brown of the Carnegie Center went to the West Bank and asked himself the following question: Are the Palestinians any closer to a state thanks to Fayyad’s reforms? “Unfortunately not,” he wrote. “In fact, they are farther.”

One more notable aspect of the list: the “thinkers” on the list were asked, “America or China?” Most of the Arab revolutionaries participating in the Arab Spring chose America. Fayyad politely declined to choose.

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Arab Protests About Jerusalem Renovation Reveal the Real Obstacle to Peace

Those Middle East observers who prefer to focus on Israel’s actions or inactions as the only source of tension in the region generally ignore the greatest obstacle to peace or even coexistence: the deep and abiding hatred for Jews that has become entrenched in Arab political culture. No better example of the utter irrationality of that culture and its obsessive nature exists than how the news of the renovation of a ramp leading to Jerusalem’s Temple Mount has become the subject of intense controversy.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced on Friday that plans to demolish a temporary structure that allowed access to the Temple Mount would be indefinitely postponed due to the threats of violence not only from Palestinians but also from Egypt and Jordan. As with the case of previous efforts to either modernize or create better access for this historic and sacred area, any actions by Israel have been regarded by denizens of the so-called “Arab street” as a conspiratorial plot to destroy the mosques on the Temple Mount or otherwise offend Muslim sensibilities. The fact that even an anti-Israel institution like UNESCO — which has routinely denounced archeological digs in the city by Israelis — regards the ramp demolition as in no way compromising Muslim rights or shrines is meaningless to Israel’s Arab foes. While frustrating for Israel, these threats ought to clearly illustrate to the world the irrational aspect of Arab and Islamic critique of Israel. The resentment the Temple Mount project has generated is rooted in a belief that Jews have no right to be in Jerusalem. It has nothing to do with anything Netanyahu or his government might do.

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Those Middle East observers who prefer to focus on Israel’s actions or inactions as the only source of tension in the region generally ignore the greatest obstacle to peace or even coexistence: the deep and abiding hatred for Jews that has become entrenched in Arab political culture. No better example of the utter irrationality of that culture and its obsessive nature exists than how the news of the renovation of a ramp leading to Jerusalem’s Temple Mount has become the subject of intense controversy.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced on Friday that plans to demolish a temporary structure that allowed access to the Temple Mount would be indefinitely postponed due to the threats of violence not only from Palestinians but also from Egypt and Jordan. As with the case of previous efforts to either modernize or create better access for this historic and sacred area, any actions by Israel have been regarded by denizens of the so-called “Arab street” as a conspiratorial plot to destroy the mosques on the Temple Mount or otherwise offend Muslim sensibilities. The fact that even an anti-Israel institution like UNESCO — which has routinely denounced archeological digs in the city by Israelis — regards the ramp demolition as in no way compromising Muslim rights or shrines is meaningless to Israel’s Arab foes. While frustrating for Israel, these threats ought to clearly illustrate to the world the irrational aspect of Arab and Islamic critique of Israel. The resentment the Temple Mount project has generated is rooted in a belief that Jews have no right to be in Jerusalem. It has nothing to do with anything Netanyahu or his government might do.

Renovation of the ramp, which is a temporary structure put up in 2003 after an earthquake and a severe winter storm caused the old access ramp to collapse, in no way harms the mosques on the Temple Mount or interferes with Muslim rights to worship there. Indeed, the carrying on about anything Israel does with the adjoining Western Wall or the tunnels leading to it have never been about any harm to Arabs or Muslims. After all, in an act of magnanimity that has never been equaled in the annals of war, Israel handed over control of the Temple Mount — which is the most sacred spot in Judaism — to the Muslim Wakf almost immediately after the city was unified in 1967. For the first time in history, one of the contestants for control of the city did not destroy the shrines of other faiths or convert them to other uses as Christian and Muslim conquerors had done. But Israel got no credit for Moshe Dayan’s attempt to appease Islamic sensibilities. In the decades since this gesture, the Wakf has redoubled its efforts to foment violence. Even more to the point, it has conducted excavations on the historic site that resulted in the trashing of antiquities.

The only period when all religions were allowed free access to their holy sites in the city’s history has been the last 44 years of Jewish sovereignty. Yet Muslims still react to any Jewish presence in the Old City much as they did in 1929 when extremists fomented rumors of a Jewish plot to destroy the Temple Mount mosques that resulted in riots that took the lives of many Jews, including the massacre of the ancient Jewish community of Hebron.

It speaks volumes about the way Israel remains the boogeyman of Islamic culture that even in the midst of the convulsions that have racked Egypt in recent weeks, demonstrators in Tahir Square found time to obsess about a harmless ramp renovation project in Jerusalem. Though seemingly a minor affair when compared to the great conflicts over territory and the struggle for democracy, the threats over the ramp allow us to see the deep-seated nature of anti-Israel bias.

If there is to be any hope for peace between Israel and its neighbors it will have to wait until there is a sea change in the political culture of a Muslim world still stuck in their irrational hatred for the Jews.

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Frank’s Retirement Bad Sign for Democrats

Barney Frank just gave an assortment of reasons for his decision to end his 30-year congressional career: his concerns about redistricting, a feeling that he could be more effective outside of politics, a sudden desire to finish his long- abandoned Harvard Ph.D thesis. It’s true that Frank’s reelection campaign would be a challenge, since redistricting would strip him of some of his most liberal constituents. As he mentioned, it will also be difficult for him to campaign in new areas. Frank only won his last race by 11 percent – which suggested the 2012 one could be a toss-up:

Frank’s 2010 campaign manager, Kevin Sowyrda, said a key factor in the congressman’s decision was that the newly drawn up congressional districts strip away New Bedford from Frank. The South Coast, heavily Democratic, pro-union fishing city has long been a prime power base for Frank, but his new district now includes several more moderate suburban towns, such as Walpole, rather than New Bedford.

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Barney Frank just gave an assortment of reasons for his decision to end his 30-year congressional career: his concerns about redistricting, a feeling that he could be more effective outside of politics, a sudden desire to finish his long- abandoned Harvard Ph.D thesis. It’s true that Frank’s reelection campaign would be a challenge, since redistricting would strip him of some of his most liberal constituents. As he mentioned, it will also be difficult for him to campaign in new areas. Frank only won his last race by 11 percent – which suggested the 2012 one could be a toss-up:

Frank’s 2010 campaign manager, Kevin Sowyrda, said a key factor in the congressman’s decision was that the newly drawn up congressional districts strip away New Bedford from Frank. The South Coast, heavily Democratic, pro-union fishing city has long been a prime power base for Frank, but his new district now includes several more moderate suburban towns, such as Walpole, rather than New Bedford.

But is that really the only reason? The race might have been a close one. But would Frank, who would have been in line for head of the Financial Services Committee if the Democrats won back the House, really have walked away from reelection if he thought his party had a chance at regaining the House majority? It seems unlikely. Few people expect the Democrats will win the House in 2012, but they’d undoubtedly have a better shot with Frank running in that seat instead of an unknown candidate.

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Stop Harboring Illusions About Pakistan

The only thing surprising about the latest blow-up between the U.S. and Pakistan is that anyone is surprised about it. It seems that Pakistani soldiers fired on U.S. and Afghan forces operating on the Afghan side of the border. The U.S. forces called in air strikes which reportedly killed two dozen Pakistani soldiers. Pakistan has responded furiously by closing—temporarily one assumes—the supply line from Karachi that carries roughly 40 percent of the non-lethal supplies used by NATO forces in Afghanistan. Pakistan has also curtailed cooperation in the wider war against al-Qaeda, announcing it will kick the CIA out of an airfield that has been used to support drone strikes. In short, instead of cracking down on their own soldiers who are firing on ostensible “allies,” the Pakistani generals are attacking those very “allies” for doing what any other military force in the world would do when fired upon—i.e. return fire.

The use of quotes for the word “allies” should signal how skeptical I am that the Pakistani generals really are our allies. As I have been arguing for a while, the Pakistani military (which effectively controls the state’s security policy) is more our enemy than our friend. The military’s apparent objective—reinstituting Taliban (or possibly Haqqani) rule in Afghanistan—cannot be squared with our objective, which is the institutionalization of representative democracy and the creation of a durable pro-Western state. There are, to be sure, some areas of overlap—neither the Pakistani army nor the U.S. government would like to see the TTP (the Pakistani Taliban) take power in Islamabad. But then even enemies such as the U.S. and Stalin’s Russia or Mao’s China could occasionally cooperate against mutual foes. The same is true with Pakistan—as long as we do not harbor any illusions about the transactional nature of the relationship and do not expect more from our “ally” than it will give.

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The only thing surprising about the latest blow-up between the U.S. and Pakistan is that anyone is surprised about it. It seems that Pakistani soldiers fired on U.S. and Afghan forces operating on the Afghan side of the border. The U.S. forces called in air strikes which reportedly killed two dozen Pakistani soldiers. Pakistan has responded furiously by closing—temporarily one assumes—the supply line from Karachi that carries roughly 40 percent of the non-lethal supplies used by NATO forces in Afghanistan. Pakistan has also curtailed cooperation in the wider war against al-Qaeda, announcing it will kick the CIA out of an airfield that has been used to support drone strikes. In short, instead of cracking down on their own soldiers who are firing on ostensible “allies,” the Pakistani generals are attacking those very “allies” for doing what any other military force in the world would do when fired upon—i.e. return fire.

The use of quotes for the word “allies” should signal how skeptical I am that the Pakistani generals really are our allies. As I have been arguing for a while, the Pakistani military (which effectively controls the state’s security policy) is more our enemy than our friend. The military’s apparent objective—reinstituting Taliban (or possibly Haqqani) rule in Afghanistan—cannot be squared with our objective, which is the institutionalization of representative democracy and the creation of a durable pro-Western state. There are, to be sure, some areas of overlap—neither the Pakistani army nor the U.S. government would like to see the TTP (the Pakistani Taliban) take power in Islamabad. But then even enemies such as the U.S. and Stalin’s Russia or Mao’s China could occasionally cooperate against mutual foes. The same is true with Pakistan—as long as we do not harbor any illusions about the transactional nature of the relationship and do not expect more from our “ally” than it will give.

Yet, we have been operating with illusions about Pakistan for years. Even after Admiral Mike Mullen blew the whistle on the close relationship between the Pakistani army and the Haqqani Network—one of the world’s worst terrorist groups, which is directly responsible for killing Americans in Afghanistan—Secretary of State Hillary Clinton journeyed to Islamabad to seek Pakistan’s help in brokering a peace deal in Afghanistan. This is like asking the arsonist to put out the fire. It’s not going to happen unless you place overwhelming pressure on the arsonist, and that’s something we haven’t done to date. We have been treating Pakistan as a wayward friend which can be brought about with some tough love—rather than grasping that Pakistan is actually an inveterate enemy which can occasionally be coerced into doing our bidding.

There are no easy answers in our difficult relationship with Pakistan, but as a start, we should at least grasp the situation accurately and cease to be surprised when this purported “ally” operates in the most hostile fashion.

 

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Leaked Emails Raise Questions About NYT’s ClimateGate Coverage

A new batch of stolen emails from the East Anglia climate research center was released last week. Anthony Watts and JunkScience are doing some of the best up-to-the-minute blog coverage, and if you feel like digging through the 5,000+ emails, EcoWho has compiled them into a handy search engine.

The most striking take-away from the emails is how obsessed the climatologists seemed to be with media coverage – almost as if they were public relations associates as opposed to scientists. The extent of cooperation between the climate researchers and some friendly news outlets is also fascinating. (David Rose has an excellent article exploring the connections between East Anglia and the BBC.)

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A new batch of stolen emails from the East Anglia climate research center was released last week. Anthony Watts and JunkScience are doing some of the best up-to-the-minute blog coverage, and if you feel like digging through the 5,000+ emails, EcoWho has compiled them into a handy search engine.

The most striking take-away from the emails is how obsessed the climatologists seemed to be with media coverage – almost as if they were public relations associates as opposed to scientists. The extent of cooperation between the climate researchers and some friendly news outlets is also fascinating. (David Rose has an excellent article exploring the connections between East Anglia and the BBC.)

One New York Times writer, Andy Revkin, pops up numerous times in the emails. During the time the conversations took place, Revkin was a supposedly objective reporter on the environmental beat for the Times. He became an opinion blogger for the paper after leaving the news section at the end of 2009, which seems to be a better fit after reading some of his emails.

In one 2006 exchange between Revkin and the scientists, the reporter makes his disdain for Sen. James Inhofe – and “a big chunk” of the American public – clear, while promoting his book on the Arctic:

[Sen. Inhofe] still speaks to and for a big chunk of America — people whose understanding of science and engagement with such issues is so slight that they happily sit in pre-conceived positions. [T]hat might be one reason he doesn’t like [my] book, which is devoid of easily-attacked spin and scare tactics and lets the science point the way itself. [I]’m just trying to be sure that folks like all of you take an extra couple seconds to use Inhofe against himself and forward the blog/book link to a few people who might not be aware of this book — the first on Arctic and global climate change for all readers 10 and up — and of Inhofe’s moves.

At the time, Inhofe had been critical of Revkin’s book, which promoted the theory of human-caused climate change, and said it undermined his objectivity as a reporter. Revkin responded to the senator publicly, though in a much less condescending manner. But the snideness in this private email isn’t nearly as bad as the fact that Revkin – at the time, an allegedly objective, neutral environmental reporter for the New York Times – seemed to be asking his highly ideological sources to back him up in this fight against Inhofe and other skeptics.

In another email, Revkin and climate scientist Michael Schlesinger appear to muse about how much better the world would be if only Al Gore had won the 2000 election.

“[H]ad the 5-to-4 ‘hanging-chad’ decision of the U.S. Supreme Court swung the other way, the U.S. would have confronted the challenges of human-induced climate change these past 6 years, rather than deny and avoid them,” Schlessinger wrote to Revkin in the 2007 email. “And, we would not now be mired in Iraq.”

“[A] very very very poignant and true point, [M]ichael,” responded Revkin. “[I] have a song called “a very fine line” that explores all those facets of life like that.” (In addition to his journalistic talents, Revkin is also a musician.)

In other emails, Revkin is dismissive of climate change skeptics, people who probably should have been an integral part of his beat. “[W]hat’s amusing, in a way, is how the ‘skeptics’ jump on a cold patch as evidence of global cooling but attack enviros for highlighting warming trends,” he wrote in February 2008.

In another message, he informed the scientists:

Because the ‘Average Joe’ out there is only hearing radio soundbites about the sun turning off, or cable-news coverage or some stray TV image of snow in Baghdad (and particularly with a big ‘skeptics conference’ coming next week), I think it’s important to do a story putting a cold stretch in context against the evidence for the long-term warming trajectory from greenhouse forcing. Would need input from you by end of Thursday ideally.

Revkin’s view of climate change skeptics at the time couldn’t be clearer: he thought they were uneducated morons, and took it as his mission to enlighten them with the facts as determined by himself and his fellow global warming advocates. Revkin speaks even more candidly about how he views his “job” in a 2007 email to NASA scientist Jim Hansen and others (emphasis added):

[A] key take-home point, please, is that this story was written mainly for the benefit of the 10s of millions of disengaged or doubtful or simply under-educated Americans out there for whom it is NEWS that the only discourse now is among folks who believe human-forced climate change is a huge problem. (as Jim Hansen said in my story, exclamation point included!)

the ‘hotter’ voices are doing their job well. i’m doing mine.

Which may explain why the scientists seem to view Revkin as more of an ally than a reporter in some of the emails among themselves. “I’ll let all of you know if there are any other reasonable interview requests from folks we trust (e.g. Andy Revkin, etc.),” wrote climate scientist David Thompson to his colleague Phil Jones in one message.

Some may argue that it’s unfair to criticize Revkin for his private comments, and point out that none of these emails on its own could be characterized as an egregious ethical lapse. Maybe. But combined, they point to a pattern. There’s also this: Revkin was the same Times reporter who refused to publish the first trove of ClimateGate emails in 2009, claiming they were off-limits because they were “private” conversations (a standard the paper evidently hasn’t applied to other leaked documents). He also dismissed the scandal as meritless.

As one of the leading national environmental reporters, Revkin had a huge amount of influence over whether the ClimateGate controversy went anywhere. He ended up doing all he could to snuff it out. Should the fact that he wasn’t just involved in the emails, but also seemed to portray himself as an ideological ally to the scientists, raise ethical questions about the Times’ coverage of the first ClimateGate? I’d say so. And maybe Revkin’s departure from the news section one month after the emails leaked in 2009 means that, internally, the Times thought so as well.

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Editorials Do Not a President Make

As we wrote yesterday, the Union Leader’s endorsement of Newt Gingrich for president was good news for the former’s speaker’s campaign but said even more about the animus that hard line conservatives (such as the paper’s publisher Joseph W. McQuaid), have for Mitt Romney. It also changed the conversation about Gingrich from the debate about his controversial endorsement of a complicated scheme of amnesty for illegal immigrants to speculation about whether or not his growing support means Romney’s frontrunner status is in jeopardy.

McQuaid’s vow to hammer Romney on a regular basis in the pages of his paper until the New Hampshire primary is no empty threat. But aside from the signal the front-page editorial sent about antipathy for the former Massachusetts governor, it’s worth asking just how important any endorsement or editorial from a print newspaper is these days. Though the Union Leader’s positions on the candidates are an important element of the history of that first-in-the-nation primary, we need to remember the journalistic landscape has changed enormously even in the four years since McQuaid backed John McCain. Though Gingrich is right to be pleased, the Union Leader’s impact on the race will probably turn out to be minimal.

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As we wrote yesterday, the Union Leader’s endorsement of Newt Gingrich for president was good news for the former’s speaker’s campaign but said even more about the animus that hard line conservatives (such as the paper’s publisher Joseph W. McQuaid), have for Mitt Romney. It also changed the conversation about Gingrich from the debate about his controversial endorsement of a complicated scheme of amnesty for illegal immigrants to speculation about whether or not his growing support means Romney’s frontrunner status is in jeopardy.

McQuaid’s vow to hammer Romney on a regular basis in the pages of his paper until the New Hampshire primary is no empty threat. But aside from the signal the front-page editorial sent about antipathy for the former Massachusetts governor, it’s worth asking just how important any endorsement or editorial from a print newspaper is these days. Though the Union Leader’s positions on the candidates are an important element of the history of that first-in-the-nation primary, we need to remember the journalistic landscape has changed enormously even in the four years since McQuaid backed John McCain. Though Gingrich is right to be pleased, the Union Leader’s impact on the race will probably turn out to be minimal.

First, let’s remember that although the paper got a good deal of the credit for giving McCain a crucial leg up on his way to both a victory in New Hampshire and the nomination in 2008, the Union Leader has backed more losers than winners in GOP primaries. The only candidates it backed who actually won the nomination were McCain and Ronald Reagan in 1980. Anyone who thinks it can hand anyone the New Hampshire Republican primary, let alone the GOP nomination, should ask Presidents John Ashbrook (1972 over incumbent President Richard Nixon), Pete Dupont (1988), Pat Buchanan (1992 and 1996) and Steve Forbes (2000) about it. Though it is considered a bellwether of conservative opinion, it was never, even at the height of the importance of print journalism, the decisive or even primary factor in any election result.

Even more important, it needs to be understood that the importance of daily newspaper endorsements is greatly diminished in the age of the Internet. Just as the national broadcast media used to be a function of only three networks, each publishing market was once the sole domain of the mighty daily newspapers that dominated their regions often without much competition. Online journalism with its multiplicity of outlets and opinions has made a daily like the Union Leader just one voice among many competing for readers and influence. Even in the four years since 2008, the importance of blogs and online publications has been greatly enhanced. That is especially true of politics. That makes the Union Leader’s claim of unique influence over New Hampshire conservatives a bit overblown, as readers there are just as likely to be reading other non-local online outlets as they are to be hanging on every word published by McQuaid.

Though the daily pounding Romney takes from the Union Leader will be an irritant to his campaign, it can’t transform Gingrich into a credible presidential contender if the voters decide it is time for his bubble to burst. We can expect it to claim the lion’s share of the credit if Gingrich does well in New Hampshire and ultimately upsets Romney, but it’s more likely than not its endorsement will wind up as much of a footnote to political history as many of its other losing bets.

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A Light Unto the Nations

One of the most popular motifs among the anti-Israel crowd these days is that “the only democracy in the Middle East” isn’t actually a democracy at all: It’s an “apartheid state,” a “democracy for Jews only,” or at the very least, a state that’s constantly passing “anti-democratic” laws. So it’s worth considering what people who actually live in undemocratic states think of this claim. Anshel Pfeffer of Haaretz opened one of his reports from Cairo last Friday as follows:

“We want a democracy like in Israel.” I heard this sentence twice in January, once in a shopping center in Tunis and a second time on a street near Tahrir Square in Cairo. When I tell people that neither of the men who said this to me were aware of my being a reporter for an Israeli newspaper, I am usually greeted with disbelief.

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One of the most popular motifs among the anti-Israel crowd these days is that “the only democracy in the Middle East” isn’t actually a democracy at all: It’s an “apartheid state,” a “democracy for Jews only,” or at the very least, a state that’s constantly passing “anti-democratic” laws. So it’s worth considering what people who actually live in undemocratic states think of this claim. Anshel Pfeffer of Haaretz opened one of his reports from Cairo last Friday as follows:

“We want a democracy like in Israel.” I heard this sentence twice in January, once in a shopping center in Tunis and a second time on a street near Tahrir Square in Cairo. When I tell people that neither of the men who said this to me were aware of my being a reporter for an Israeli newspaper, I am usually greeted with disbelief.

As Pfeffer noted, it may seem “strange at first that Arab demonstrators are using the hated Zionist entity as their democratic ideal, rather than say Sweden or
Holland,” but that’s a natural side effect of the Arab media’s obsession with Israel: Because the Arab media reports constantly on Israel, Arab demonstrators
know more about the Zionist enemy than they do about other democracies.

And while most of what they broadcast is soldiers shooting at Palestinians, over the last few years they have also seen the Katsav and Olmert trials [of an ex-president and an ex-prime minister], generals and ministers being hauled in front of civilian commissions of inquiry following military failures, and the wave of social protest on Rothschild Boulevard last summer…

Arabs see a state where a president and prime minister are held to account for their crimes and failures, and hundreds of thousands can take to the streets calling for their removal without fearing they will not return home alive. And while the Arab broadcasters do not work in Israel totally unhindered … their offices have not been shut down and their employees targeted and attacked in the way they have been in just about every Arab country.

Liberal American Jews often voice profound discomfort and disappointment with Israel, and one of their most common complaints, as a fellow immigrant to Israel once told me in explaining her decision to return to America, is that Israel was supposed to be “a light unto the nations,” and it isn’t.

Certainly, Israel isn’t perfect; no state is. Like most Israelis, I could fill reams with all the flaws I’d like to see corrected. But it’s easy to get so focused on the flaws that you miss the big picture: Israel is a shining beacon of democracy in a region where democracy is otherwise unknown, an example so powerful that even citizens of countries where Israel is overwhelmingly hated cite it as the model of what they would like their own countries to become.

If that isn’t being “a light unto the nations,” I don’t know what is.

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DNC Attacks Romney as Flip-Flopper

The video ad was created by the DNC, but it could just as easily have been put together by Newt Gingrich, Herman Cain, Freedomworks, or any of Mitt Romney’s other opponents on the right. It’s not really a general election attack, but one designed to wound Romney in the primaries, and potentially help buoy a less electable Republican candidate to the nomination:

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The video ad was created by the DNC, but it could just as easily have been put together by Newt Gingrich, Herman Cain, Freedomworks, or any of Mitt Romney’s other opponents on the right. It’s not really a general election attack, but one designed to wound Romney in the primaries, and potentially help buoy a less electable Republican candidate to the nomination:

Mike Allen calls the ad “brutal,” and he’s right. But I wonder how Republicans will react to seeing a lot of their own arguments against Romney coming out of the DNC’s mouth? Will the attack be just as effective? Or will it cause some conservatives to want to jump to Romney’s defense? After all, some of the “flip-flop” instances that the DNC mentions – i.e. the idea he knowingly hired illegal immigrants – are just downright unfair.

The ad will reportedly be airing in six battleground states. But the DNC is also holding viewing events in key GOP primary states, including New Hampshire, Iowa and Florida. And they’ve created a website, called MittVMitt.com, to reach out to voters online. If the DNC wants to go all-out with this attack, now is the time to do it. Once the general election rolls around, attacking any GOP candidate as a flip-flopper will be risky, since Obama has plenty of his own unfulfilled promises and inconsistencies from his 2008 campaign.

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B’Tselem to Share Award with Terrorist

If there was ever a moment that captured the moral rot at the core of the human rights community, surely it is this new development: the Danish PL Foundation has awarded its annual human rights prize jointly to the Israeli group B’Tselem and to the Palestinian group Al Haq.

The award will be presented in Copenhagen a few days from now, but only Jessica Montell, the head of B’Tselem, will be on hand to receive it. The head of Al Haq, Shawan Jabarin, cannot fly to Europe, or in fact anywhere — because he is banned from travel by both Israel and Jordan owing to his extensive involvement with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, an infamous Palestinian terrorist group.

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If there was ever a moment that captured the moral rot at the core of the human rights community, surely it is this new development: the Danish PL Foundation has awarded its annual human rights prize jointly to the Israeli group B’Tselem and to the Palestinian group Al Haq.

The award will be presented in Copenhagen a few days from now, but only Jessica Montell, the head of B’Tselem, will be on hand to receive it. The head of Al Haq, Shawan Jabarin, cannot fly to Europe, or in fact anywhere — because he is banned from travel by both Israel and Jordan owing to his extensive involvement with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, an infamous Palestinian terrorist group.

Remarkably, Montell will accept the award, and so proud is she to be sharing a prize with a terrorist that B’Tselem sent out a press release announcing it.

Al Haq, for its part, barely pretends to be interested in human rights. It advances spurious war crimes allegations against the Jewish state, promotes the worst kinds of anti-Israel (and anti-Semitic) activism, such as the Russell Tribunal and the Durban Conference, is deeply involved in the BDS and lawfare movements, and seeks the indictment of Israeli officials in European courts — goals, of course, often shared by Montell and B’Tselem.

The willingness of Montell to share an award with a terrorist is but a small window into the perverse world of the “human rights” community in Israel. The Palestinian groups specialize not in promoting peace and tolerance, but in attacking the legitimacy of Zionism and tarnishing Israel’s image in the world. Greatly enamored of international prosecutions of Israelis, I cannot recall a single instance in which one of the groups recommended the same treatment for a Palestinian. Tellingly, none of them takes a prominent stand against Palestinian terrorism or defends the human rights of Israelis not to be victims of attacks — and in the case of Al Haq, terrorism is in fact endorsed as legitimate “resistance.”

And they are joined, sadly, by groups such as B’Tselem, which call themselves Israeli, but cannot seem to find any actual Israelis willing to support them. They thus depend for their livelihood on donations from foreign governments and foundations. It is a profitable arrangement for everyone involved: the Europeans get a fig leaf of Israeli cover for the advancement of an anti-Israel agenda, and radicals such as Montell enjoy prominence they would never achieve without their careers being underwritten by foreign benefactors.

It is this state of affairs that the Knesset sought to begin addressing through recently-proposed NGO legislation. No other democracy would tolerate the flourishing of a foreign-funded political war against its legitimacy from within its own borders, and while the new bills have their shortcomings — and some do not deserve passage in their present form — the reasons they have been proposed are legitimate and serious. The Washington Post editorial page, normally a sober source of commentary on Israel, editorialized against these anti-NGO bills last week, specifically citing B’Tselem as an example of a foreign-funded group that only has Israel’s best interests at heart. The editorialists at the Post would do well to pay closer attention. Something has gone horribly wrong when the head of a human rights organization is proud to share a prize with a leader of a terrorist group.

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The Gathering Storm

Last week was full of bad financial news coming out of Europe.

* Belgium’s debt was downgraded from AA+ to AA with a negative outlook.

* Italy had to pay 6.5 percent to sell six-month bills and 7.8 percent on two-year notes.

* Germany–with the best credit in Europe–was able to sell only 3.6 billion euros in ten-year bonds out of 6 billion euro’s worth offered. German interest rates shot up afterwards from 1.98 percent to 2.09.

* Britain’s Foreign Office is preparing contingency plans for aiding British subjects abroad if the euro collapses and riots erupt.

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Last week was full of bad financial news coming out of Europe.

* Belgium’s debt was downgraded from AA+ to AA with a negative outlook.

* Italy had to pay 6.5 percent to sell six-month bills and 7.8 percent on two-year notes.

* Germany–with the best credit in Europe–was able to sell only 3.6 billion euros in ten-year bonds out of 6 billion euro’s worth offered. German interest rates shot up afterwards from 1.98 percent to 2.09.

* Britain’s Foreign Office is preparing contingency plans for aiding British subjects abroad if the euro collapses and riots erupt.

In response, European stock markets tanked and Wall Street had its worst Thanksgiving week since 1932–not exactly a banner year for the stock market–and the Dow has given back the lion’s share of its October gains.

If there is much more of this, we could have another global financial panic on our hands only three years since the last one. That would be devastating. As Holman Jenkins of the Wall Street Journal points out, the key is Germany. Germany has by far the largest economy in Europe and is indispensable to any bail-out plan. But, deeply scared by the hyperinflation of 1923 that wiped out the financial assets of the middle class, it has long been the best-behaved of all the major powers when it comes to fiscal matters and has been talking tough about the current crisis. However, as Jenkins points out, there are signs it is quietly preparing to change its tune:

Europe today is militarily toothless as well as compulsively compliant. Wait for it: When it’s everybody against the Germans over money-printing, the Germans will not merely cave but bustle officiously to the front of the parade for money-printing.

A month ago, as far as the eye could see, Germany was to be the last good credit in Europe, able to bail out all the others. Well, that illusion has liquidated itself in a hurry. Investors sent a message at Berlin’s Wednesday bond sale, sitting on their hands for $3 billion being offered. The message: Markets are getting ready to punish Germany for the sin of its neighbors’ overborrowing, unless Germany allows the sin of money-printing to paper over those sins in the short term.

It’s going to be an interesting few weeks. We are a long way from being out of the woods that the world economy entered in 2008.

 

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