Commentary Magazine


Posts For: December 1, 2011

The Islamic Emirate of Egypt?

The Muslim Brotherhood appears to be on its way to an election victory and majority representation in Egypt’s parliament, a body which will have as its primary task the drafting of a new constitution for the most populous Arab country. This has created much concern in Israel, and not without reason. Many Israelis and some Americans criticize the American willingness to allow Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to fall. While the United States cannot afford to be seen to abandon allies in the manner that Jimmy Carter cast aside the Shah, the analogy does not hold with Mubarak. Mubarak might not have been the Muslim Brotherhood, but he was hardly the staunch ally that hagiographers depict. In 2009, Egypt voted with the United States at the United Nations with less frequency than did Burma, Cuba, Somalia, Vietnam and Zimbabwe. Mubarak undercut the new Iraqi government after 2003, and while he kept the Suez Canal open, this had everything to do with Cairo’s self-interest and little to do with winning Washington’s favor. Certainly, Mubarak maintained Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel, but that was an event which predated Mubarak. Regardless, octogenarian dictators are seldom stable pillars upon which to ensure lasting security.

Would we be better off had we sought pre-emptive reform in Egypt? Certainly, as more liberal parties might have been better organized. President George W. Bush might have been sincere in his freedom agenda rhetoric, but either National Security Advisor turned Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice never believed it, or she was simply too unskilled to enforce the policy against a recalcitrant diplomatic corps. Sending ambassadors like Frank Ricciardone to Egypt was hemlock for reformers.

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The Muslim Brotherhood appears to be on its way to an election victory and majority representation in Egypt’s parliament, a body which will have as its primary task the drafting of a new constitution for the most populous Arab country. This has created much concern in Israel, and not without reason. Many Israelis and some Americans criticize the American willingness to allow Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to fall. While the United States cannot afford to be seen to abandon allies in the manner that Jimmy Carter cast aside the Shah, the analogy does not hold with Mubarak. Mubarak might not have been the Muslim Brotherhood, but he was hardly the staunch ally that hagiographers depict. In 2009, Egypt voted with the United States at the United Nations with less frequency than did Burma, Cuba, Somalia, Vietnam and Zimbabwe. Mubarak undercut the new Iraqi government after 2003, and while he kept the Suez Canal open, this had everything to do with Cairo’s self-interest and little to do with winning Washington’s favor. Certainly, Mubarak maintained Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel, but that was an event which predated Mubarak. Regardless, octogenarian dictators are seldom stable pillars upon which to ensure lasting security.

Would we be better off had we sought pre-emptive reform in Egypt? Certainly, as more liberal parties might have been better organized. President George W. Bush might have been sincere in his freedom agenda rhetoric, but either National Security Advisor turned Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice never believed it, or she was simply too unskilled to enforce the policy against a recalcitrant diplomatic corps. Sending ambassadors like Frank Ricciardone to Egypt was hemlock for reformers.

If the Muslim Brotherhood cancels the peace treaty, that will be tragic, as it will signal both the waste of billions of U.S. aid money on Egypt, and send a lesson long understood by Israel’s Arab antagonists but which has bypassed Israeli doves: the land-for-peace formula is a failure because the vast majority of Arab citizens are unwilling to recognize Israel regardless of any papers signed by their governments. Perhaps had Western diplomats not turned a blind eye toward Arab incitement, there would be more fertile ground for peace. But we do not live in that fantasy world.

Still, a Muslim Brotherhood victory is not, itself, the end of the world unless the Muslim Brotherhood simply dispenses with checks and balances which underlie democracy. Alas, we might have leveraged our aid to encourage an electoral system in Egypt that would have favored the secularists. Still, when the Muslim Brotherhood swept Jordanian elections years ago, it was not the end of the world: They simply embarrassed themselves, focusing on such things as banning fathers from watching their daughters’ gymnastics competitions—and were decimated in the following elections.

Here’s the danger: Populism is rife in Egypt. Egyptians associate the economic reforms of the Mubarak era with corruption. After all, privatization meant to most Egyptians selling off a state-owned industry to Mubarak’s son or some other crony. Both Islamists and their more liberal counterparts have bent over backwards to embrace illiberal economic formulas. Most Egyptians believe the state should guarantee jobs, housing, education, and prices in the market. This of course is a formula for economic implosion. The real question will then be not how much Islamists win in this vote, but what will happen in the next election after Egyptians get a real taste of poverty. Of course, should the Egyptian economy collapse on the Muslim Brotherhood’s watch, they might provoke an international crisis in order to distract citizens with the nationalist card. The danger is not now; it is two years from now. In order to avert the worst case scenario, the questions for American policymakers should not only be how to respond to this election, but also how to ensure the next one.

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Watch and See: Gingrich Will Dial Up Rhetorical Zeal

Jonathan Chait of New York magazine writes:

It is not that Republicans won’’t vote for Romney. It’’s that Romney does not capture their fundamental attitude toward Obama. He can adopt the positions of the base, but he can’’t seem to ape their feeling of fear and outrage toward the current president. Gingrich may lack money and organization, but he has a real opportunity, and Romney surely knows it.

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Jonathan Chait of New York magazine writes:

It is not that Republicans won’’t vote for Romney. It’’s that Romney does not capture their fundamental attitude toward Obama. He can adopt the positions of the base, but he can’’t seem to ape their feeling of fear and outrage toward the current president. Gingrich may lack money and organization, but he has a real opportunity, and Romney surely knows it.

There’s something to this analysis, both in terms of Gingrich’s chances to win the nomination (which are quite real) and what his appeal is (and what Romney’s appeal is not).

A slice of the conservative movement — the number is impossible to quantify– associates conservatism with a certain style almost as much as they associate it with a certain governing philosophy. That may be why some prominent conservative voices were critical of Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels when he was considering a run for the presidency. Based on his history and governing achievements, one would think that Daniels would have been widely admired and even beloved. But in some circles he was suspect because (it was said) he wouldn’t take the fight to the other side with enough passion. He warned conservatives not to consider political opponents as enemies. And he spoke about appealing to moderates and independents, which for some placed him in a suspect category. One gets the impression that for some on the right, rhetorical zeal can cover a multitude of other sins — and rhetorical restraint is a sign of weakness and the lack of core convictions. Which brings us to Newt Gingrich.

The one thing we know is that Gingrich is capable of rhetorical zeal. In fact, his language can easily drift into territory that is extreme and incendiary. For example, he implicitly blamed liberalism for the slaughter of children at Columbine and the actions of Susan Smith, a South Carolina mother who drowned her children. He asked, “What if [Obama] is so outside our comprehension, that only if you understand Kenyan, anti-colonial behavior, can you begin to piece together [his actions]?” He still defends his characterization of Paul Ryan’s Medicare proposal as an example of “right-wing social engineering” even as he describes the Congressional Budget Office as a “reactionary socialist institution.” And of course Gingrich’s comments are often laced with the word “corrupt” and “corruption.”

My hunch is that in the next few weeks Gingrich will dial up, not dial down, his rhetoric, as a means to shield him against charges he has embraced positions considered too liberal for the Republican Party. He will go places Mitt Romney simply won’t.

Gingrich is a man who possesses undeniable political talents. In my judgment, he’s a much more impressive figure without the apocalyptic rhetoric. But it tells you something about Gingrich that it’s hard to imagine him without it.

 

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“This is the Grave of Someone Who Wanted to Annihilate Israel”

Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Gen. Hassan Tehrani-Moghadam died in a mysterious explosion last month reportedly after having achieved a breakthrough in Iran’s ballistic missile program. While Iran’s apologists repeatedly deny the Islamic Republic has genocidal intent against Israel, the reality is quite different. According to the website of the Student Basij, which earlier this week published Moghadam’s last will and testament, Moghadam had declared in it: “Write on my tombstone: This is the grave of someone who wanted to annihilate Israel.”

In 1990, policymakers dismissed Saddam’s threats against Kuwait as merely rhetorical flourish. With Iran apparently experimenting with nuclear technology that has nothing to do with energy production, and with statements such as Moghadam’s, perhaps it’s time to take Iran at its word when it comes to its leadership’s genocidal intent.

Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Gen. Hassan Tehrani-Moghadam died in a mysterious explosion last month reportedly after having achieved a breakthrough in Iran’s ballistic missile program. While Iran’s apologists repeatedly deny the Islamic Republic has genocidal intent against Israel, the reality is quite different. According to the website of the Student Basij, which earlier this week published Moghadam’s last will and testament, Moghadam had declared in it: “Write on my tombstone: This is the grave of someone who wanted to annihilate Israel.”

In 1990, policymakers dismissed Saddam’s threats against Kuwait as merely rhetorical flourish. With Iran apparently experimenting with nuclear technology that has nothing to do with energy production, and with statements such as Moghadam’s, perhaps it’s time to take Iran at its word when it comes to its leadership’s genocidal intent.

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Menendez Blows Up Over Administration Opposition to Key Iran Sanction

The Obama administration has been portraying itself as a steadfast advocate of “crippling sanctions” against Iran in order to stop its nuclear threat. But it sent officials from both the State and Treasury Departments to a Senate hearing today to argue against the one measure that might actually make an impression on the ayatollahs. The reaction — which you can watch here on YouTube — from one normally loyal Obama supporter, was anger.

During the hearing, New Jersey Democrat Sen. Robert Menendez lectured the administration officials for having the chutzpah to come to Capitol Hill to try and oppose an amendment that would prohibit any American company from taking part in transactions with any foreign government or financial institution that does business with the Central Bank of Iran. Menendez, who co-sponsored the amendment with Illinois Republican Mark Kirk, was especially put out because he had agreed to water down the measure to provide waivers to the president (at the administration’s request) that would allow him to not enforce it. But after having engaged in good faith negotiations with the White House’s envoys, they still sought to torpedo the weaker bill the Senate was prepared to vote on.

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The Obama administration has been portraying itself as a steadfast advocate of “crippling sanctions” against Iran in order to stop its nuclear threat. But it sent officials from both the State and Treasury Departments to a Senate hearing today to argue against the one measure that might actually make an impression on the ayatollahs. The reaction — which you can watch here on YouTube — from one normally loyal Obama supporter, was anger.

During the hearing, New Jersey Democrat Sen. Robert Menendez lectured the administration officials for having the chutzpah to come to Capitol Hill to try and oppose an amendment that would prohibit any American company from taking part in transactions with any foreign government or financial institution that does business with the Central Bank of Iran. Menendez, who co-sponsored the amendment with Illinois Republican Mark Kirk, was especially put out because he had agreed to water down the measure to provide waivers to the president (at the administration’s request) that would allow him to not enforce it. But after having engaged in good faith negotiations with the White House’s envoys, they still sought to torpedo the weaker bill the Senate was prepared to vote on.

The significance of the administration’s stand on this issue cannot be overestimated. Cutting off the flow of oil income is the only way the international community can stop Iran without the use of force. And the only way to do that is to make it illegal for any business to deal with Iran’s Central Bank, the institution that is the clearinghouse for all such transactions. But because they are afraid of the impact of such a ban on the price of oil and the impact that would have on the economy here and elsewhere, the administration won’t go along with it.

Menendez was right to be angry about being snookered into watering down his amendment. The waivers in the bill will give Obama the power to render the intent of Congress null and void. If it passes, and it surely will, as 80 of the Senate’s 100 members are co-sponsors, Obama can simply announce he’s decided the sanction will hurt the economy and use the waiver. Had Menendez rebuffed Obama’s pressure to include the waivers, the bill would have had to be enforced. The stated opposition of the State and Treasury Departments is a certain indicator that once it goes into law, the president will use the waivers to shelve it.

As I wrote yesterday, sanctioning Iran’s Central Bank is something Britain has already undertaken. France has stated its willingness to do so as well. So it’s not as if Obama is being asked to go out on a limb without the support of America’s allies.

The president’s refusal to pull the trigger on this vital sanction gives the lie to his many promises that he will never allow Iran to go nuclear. Menendez, a reliably liberal member of the Democratic caucus, now understands he was double-crossed by an administration that never had any interest in cutting off Iran’s oil income. The question for the rest of the Democratic Party, especially Obama’s Jewish defenders, is when they will wake up and demand the president start acting as if his vows on Iran are more than white lies employed to win their support.

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Afghan President Karzai Pardons Rape Victim to Marry Attacker

An Afghan friend pointed me to this story from the BBC:

Afghan President Hamid Karzai has pardoned a rape victim who was jailed for adultery, after she apparently agreed to marry her attacker. The woman, named as Gulnaz, gave birth in prison to a daughter who has been kept in jail with her… “In my conversations with Gulnaz she told me that if she had the free choice she would not marry the man who raped her,” said [Gulnaz' lawyer] Kimberley Motley. The case has drawn international attention to the plight of many Afghan women 10 years after the overthrow of the Taliban. Earlier this month, Gulnaz told the BBC that after she was raped she was charged with adultery. “At first my sentence was two years,” she said. “When I appealed it became 12 years. I didn’t do anything. Why should I be sentenced for so long?”

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An Afghan friend pointed me to this story from the BBC:

Afghan President Hamid Karzai has pardoned a rape victim who was jailed for adultery, after she apparently agreed to marry her attacker. The woman, named as Gulnaz, gave birth in prison to a daughter who has been kept in jail with her… “In my conversations with Gulnaz she told me that if she had the free choice she would not marry the man who raped her,” said [Gulnaz' lawyer] Kimberley Motley. The case has drawn international attention to the plight of many Afghan women 10 years after the overthrow of the Taliban. Earlier this month, Gulnaz told the BBC that after she was raped she was charged with adultery. “At first my sentence was two years,” she said. “When I appealed it became 12 years. I didn’t do anything. Why should I be sentenced for so long?”

It is time to stop pretending that Hamid Karzai is a democrat, or has any desire to better Afghanistan. He is interested only in his own power, if that means he appeases the Taliban at the expense of women, that is what he will do. At the same time, too many American officials are willing to engage in cultural relativism in order to prepare the way for American withdrawal. Before his death, an Afghan official showed me an email from the late Afghan coordinator Richard Holbrooke in which he argued that the Taliban’s amputation of women’s noses was simply Pashtun cultural practice (it’s not). Holbrooke’s successor, Marc Grossman, has pushed dialogue with the Taliban as the centerpiece of American strategy, regardless of how many Afghans and Americans tell him how unwise such a policy is, and what concessions it would entail.

America must remain a brand name. Building national security upon a regime that is willing to terrorize half its population is neither in our security interest, nor should it be a reflection of our moral position. We should not be tolerating such behavior from even a nominal ally, nor should we subsidize an increasingly paranoid and unstable politician who does so. True security is based on the strength of systems, not on a single personality. Karzai should be more dispensable than Gulnaz.

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Americans Have Endured Enough

At a fundraising event in New York City last night, President Obama told a crowd, “I’m going to need another term to finish the job.”

To which many Americans will respond: That’s what we’re afraid of.

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At a fundraising event in New York City last night, President Obama told a crowd, “I’m going to need another term to finish the job.”

To which many Americans will respond: That’s what we’re afraid of.

The Republican argument, it seems to me, goes something like this: virtually every economic indicator is worse since Obama took office. That’s true whether we’re talking about unemployment, the deficit, the debt, America’s credit rating, consumer confidence, the housing market, health care costs, poverty, food stamps, and more. We’re setting records we haven’t seen since the Great Depression, and in some instances records worse than the Great Depression.

But if you don’t feel like America has suffered enough — if you are thirsting for more stagnation, less growth, higher unemployment, and more misery — then Barack Obama is your man.

Eleven months from now Americans will have a chance to decide just how much more pain they want inflicted on themselves. My view is they have endured enough.

No mas.

 

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Florida Poll Raises More Electability Concerns for Gingrich

Two bombshell polls out yesterday showed Newt Gingrich with a substantial lead against Mitt Romney among Florida GOP voters. Jonathan wrote about the Florida Times-Union survey, which found Gingrich leading the field with a 24-point advantage over Romney. Another Public Policy Polling poll reported roughly the same numbers.

But that massive lead in the state GOP race hasn’t translated into general election popularity. While Romney continues to tie Obama in a head-to-head matchup, Gingrich trails the president by six points:

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Two bombshell polls out yesterday showed Newt Gingrich with a substantial lead against Mitt Romney among Florida GOP voters. Jonathan wrote about the Florida Times-Union survey, which found Gingrich leading the field with a 24-point advantage over Romney. Another Public Policy Polling poll reported roughly the same numbers.

But that massive lead in the state GOP race hasn’t translated into general election popularity. While Romney continues to tie Obama in a head-to-head matchup, Gingrich trails the president by six points:

If Mitt Romney’s the Republican nominee, Obama’s in a lot of trouble in the Sunshine State. Obama leads Romney only 45-44, and given that the undecideds skew largely Republican he’d probably lose to Romney if the election was today. Obama being stuck in the mid-4os against Romney is par for the course in our Florida polling. In September Obama led 46-45, in June it was 47-43, and in March it was 46-44.  The dial has barely moved all year.

But if Newt Gingrich is the Republican nominee it’s a completely different story.  Obama leads him 50-44 in a head to head. To find the last time a GOP presidential candidate lost Florida by more than that you have to go all the way back to Thomas Dewey in 1948.  Even Barry Goldwater did better in Florida than Gingrich is right now.

Romney has more appeal with independent voters, who are the ones who tend to decide elections in swing states. And while he doesn’t incite as much enthusiasm among Republicans in Florida as Gingrich does, this doesn’t seem to hurt him in a general election match up – for any GOP voters Romney may lose, he gains more than enough in independent voter support to close the gap. One concern about having Gingrich as the nominee has been that he’s a loose cannon who could make comments that alienate voters during a general election. But polls like these raise questions about whether or not he could even attract independent voters in swing states.

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Biden’s Appalling Statement on Iraq

U.S. troops are rushing pell-mell for the exits in Iraq. Time has almost run out on their presence because the Obama administration–either through incompetence, lack of will, or both–did not renew the treaty that would allow a residual force to remain behind in 2012 and beyond. The Iraqis, as they have repeatedly said, would be open to a training mission, but instead of getting the job done, the administration is pulling out.

The sad coda for our involvement may well have come from Vice President Biden, who has just recently visited the country we are abandoning:

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U.S. troops are rushing pell-mell for the exits in Iraq. Time has almost run out on their presence because the Obama administration–either through incompetence, lack of will, or both–did not renew the treaty that would allow a residual force to remain behind in 2012 and beyond. The Iraqis, as they have repeatedly said, would be open to a training mission, but instead of getting the job done, the administration is pulling out.

The sad coda for our involvement may well have come from Vice President Biden, who has just recently visited the country we are abandoning:

“We’re not claiming  victory,’’ he said. “What we’re claiming here is that we’ve done our job — ending the  war we did not start, to end it in a responsible way, (and) to bring Americans home. (We want to) end bleeding both financially and physically that this war has caused, and to leave in place, the prospect of a trained military, a trained security force within democratic institutions. It’s not done yet, but there’s real hope.”

What an amazing and appalling statement. Biden recognizes we have not yet won the war, that the job is “not done yet,” but we’re pulling out anyway. Why?

Because he and Obama want to “end [the] bleeding both financially and physically.” In fact, casualties of U.S. troops have been so low in recent months, troops would probably be in greater danger from training accidents, motorcycle accidents, excessive alcohol consumption, and other mishaps back home. The cost of stationing say 20,000 troops in Iraq–perhaps $20 billion a year–is hardly a gaping wound in a federal budget of a staggering $3.7 trillion that has been grotesquely bloated by this administration’s free-spending ways; it’s more like a rounding  error.

But the most outrageous thing about this statement is Biden’s conceit that he and Obama are “ending the war we did not start.” Obama and Biden are the two most senior elected officials of the U.S. government. The U.S. government as a whole made a decision to intervene in Iraq, and it is the height of irresponsibility for one administration to think it can abandon with impunity the commitments made by its predecessor, whatever it may think of those commitments.

In this case, the irresponsibility of this statement is heightened by the fact that Biden himself was part of the majority in both Houses who voted to go to war. Perhaps he’s simply forgotten that inconvenient bit of history. Whether he remembers it or not, however, Biden and Obama have a responsibility to make sure we do not end our commitment in Iraq as carelessly and chaotically as we began it. So far, they are flunking the test.

 

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Gingrich’s Implicit Challenge to the Media

Alana calls some attention to Newt Gingrich’s attempt to tag President Obama with the “Alinskyite” label. This, Alana notes, did not work for Republicans in 2008. If the argument didn’t work when it was new, why would Gingrich think it would work when it’s stale? It’s a fair question, but rather than believing Gingrich is undisciplined, I think he’s being more coherent than it might seem.

Central to the GOP’s message thus far has been the element of buyer’s remorse. Of course, that argument is used against every sitting president by the opposition, but the argument takes a slightly different form for each of its targets. In Obama’s case, Gingrich is not just offering unsatisfied voters a chance at redemption; he is, in keeping with his overall strategy, issuing a challenge to the media.

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Alana calls some attention to Newt Gingrich’s attempt to tag President Obama with the “Alinskyite” label. This, Alana notes, did not work for Republicans in 2008. If the argument didn’t work when it was new, why would Gingrich think it would work when it’s stale? It’s a fair question, but rather than believing Gingrich is undisciplined, I think he’s being more coherent than it might seem.

Central to the GOP’s message thus far has been the element of buyer’s remorse. Of course, that argument is used against every sitting president by the opposition, but the argument takes a slightly different form for each of its targets. In Obama’s case, Gingrich is not just offering unsatisfied voters a chance at redemption; he is, in keeping with his overall strategy, issuing a challenge to the media.

Could any reporter, no matter how invested in his own sense of self-righteousness, credibly and without shame argue that Obama was properly vetted by the media? Could they argue that the coverage was balanced? We’ve already seen discussion and dissection of Gingrich’s doctoral thesis, and we haven’t even hit the first caucus of the season yet. Obama’s missing college papers and transcripts shouldn’t be the central focus of any campaign, but a year after the election season in which Obama was practically dragged across the finish line in a hazmat suit we had to open the Washington Post every day (well I suppose we didn’t have to) and wade through the gallons of ink spilled over Bob McDonnell’s thesis.

Similarly, Obama was mostly protected from his close professional and personal relationship with domestic terrorist Bill Ayers (Ben Smith being a commendable exception), and this week video confirmation seems to have surfaced that proves conservatives right and liberals very, very wrong about the connection. This, too, will not be the central focus of the campaign. But Gingrich has no qualms about reminding the media that their behavior, by and large, during the 2008 campaign was the collective equivalent of Jon Stewart’s infamous interview with John Kerry in 2004. (Actual question from Stewart to Kerry: “How are you holding up?”)

There are much stronger arguments–as Alana points out–to use against Obama than “Alinskyite,” especially since he has a record now that includes historic deficits and unemployment hitting 10 percent. But this seems like Gingrich’s way of reminding the media how they behaved in 2008 without directly challenging them on it or sounding whiny. It’s a bit subliminal, but Gingrich obviously thinks it’s worth a shot.

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PA Official: Israelis Fooled About the Difference Between Fatah and Hamas

Some denizens of the Jewish left have become obsessed with the idea that those who speak of Palestinian rejectionism or the lack of a genuine peace partner for Israel are falsifying the record. Palestinian leaders have frequently mocked the idea of accepting the legitimacy of a Jewish state, no matter where its borders might be drawn, and their media has spewed forth hatred for Jews and Zionism on a consistent basis. But we are still told by groups such as J Street that the Palestinian Authority has embraced the concept of peace and that it is Israel — which has spent the last 18 years making a steady stream of concessions to keep a dying peace process alive — that must be prodded and pressured into giving even more to appease the Arabs.

One of the best antidotes to such distorted reasoning is to read the output of Palestine Media Watch, the website that monitors broadcasts and utterances of the Palestinian leadership. Their translations of articles and videos have provided a sobering dose of reality for Americans whose mainstream media sources have ignored this material. The latest is particularly insightful because in it, a Palestinian diplomat explains in the PA’s official daily newspaper Al-Hayat Al-Jadida something the Jewish left can’t wrap their heads around: the difference between accepting the reality of Israel and accepting its right to exist and legitimacy.

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Some denizens of the Jewish left have become obsessed with the idea that those who speak of Palestinian rejectionism or the lack of a genuine peace partner for Israel are falsifying the record. Palestinian leaders have frequently mocked the idea of accepting the legitimacy of a Jewish state, no matter where its borders might be drawn, and their media has spewed forth hatred for Jews and Zionism on a consistent basis. But we are still told by groups such as J Street that the Palestinian Authority has embraced the concept of peace and that it is Israel — which has spent the last 18 years making a steady stream of concessions to keep a dying peace process alive — that must be prodded and pressured into giving even more to appease the Arabs.

One of the best antidotes to such distorted reasoning is to read the output of Palestine Media Watch, the website that monitors broadcasts and utterances of the Palestinian leadership. Their translations of articles and videos have provided a sobering dose of reality for Americans whose mainstream media sources have ignored this material. The latest is particularly insightful because in it, a Palestinian diplomat explains in the PA’s official daily newspaper Al-Hayat Al-Jadida something the Jewish left can’t wrap their heads around: the difference between accepting the reality of Israel and accepting its right to exist and legitimacy.

In the piece, Adli Sadeq, the PA’s ambassador to India, notes the Palestinian Authority and its Fatah movement are willing to bow to the fact of Israel’s existence but never to its right to exist:

They [Israelis] have a common mistake, or misconception by which they fool themselves, assuming that Fatah accepts them and recognizes the right of their state to exist, and that it is Hamas alone that loathes them and does not recognize the right of this state to exist. They ignore the fact that this state, based on a fabricated [Zionist] enterprise, never had any shred of a right to exist… Hamas, Fatah and the others are not waging war against Israel right now for reasons related to balance of power. There are no two Palestinians who disagree over the fact that Israel exists, and recognition of it is restating the obvious, but recognition of its right to exist is something else, different from recognition of its [physical] existence.

The distinction between these two concepts is not theoretical. Until the Palestinians accept the Jews have a right to be there and they are entitled to their own homeland alongside a Palestinian state, then any two-state solution is merely a truce until the next round of fighting begins and not a genuine peace.

Sadeq’s candid expression of contempt seems aimed mainly at Jewish leftists who have twisted themselves into pretzels over the years trying to maintain faith in the existence of a Palestinian consensus in favor of peace. He’s dead wrong about the justice of Israel’s cause and the legal right of the Jewish people to live in sovereignty and peace in their historical homeland. But Sadeq is right that many Israelis and Americans have been deceived about the fact that there is no difference between members of both Fatah and Hamas about Israel’s legitimacy or permanence.

This is just one more piece of evidence that peace will require a sea change in Palestinian political culture that is nowhere currently in sight. Of course, PA officials have been quite open about this for many years. It remains to be seen whether a Jewish left blinded by their ideology will ever acknowledge what Sadeq states so plainly.

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Everything Old Is New Again

Yesterday’s New York Times carried a story on “invitation-only” book clubs among “young and attractive” New Yorkers with “impressive degrees” and the “angst that comes with being young and unmoored,” who, unable to find work in publishing or academe, “huddle” together in book-filled apartments to “trade heady banter” on great (or merely fashionable) writers and hoot at ideas their high-priced educations have taught them to hoot at. I defy anyone to read the story and not to conclude that the collapse of the high-end literary market is a very good thing, and not a moment too soon.

The Times reports the plight of the young literary enthusiast as if her discontent were new. Two and a half centuries ago, in “The Vanity of Human Wishes,” Samuel Johnson gave someone in her position some good advice: if you are able to keep your virtue while pursuing truth; if you are able to sustain your passion while studying long and hard to gain a full and comprehensive knowledge; if you are able to follow reason without wandering off even once into “tempting novelty”; if you are able to resist praise and overcome difficulty; if you do not fall prey to laziness, gloom, or disease; then and only then you should “pause awhile from letters” to consider this:

There mark what ills the scholar’s life assail,
Toil, envy, want, the patron, and the jail.

The literary market, with a publishing trade as a source of employment for laboring writers, is only about as old as Johnson’s satire. Before the mid-18th century, the poet and the scholar (the term writer was not yet common) depended upon patronage or inherited wealth. These and the debtors’ prison were gradually replaced by publishers and bankruptcy. Toil, envy, and want remained untouched.

For two hundred years writers wrote for money, and the institutions of the literary life — cash-paying publications and publishing houses — shaped their literary ambitions and achievements. The living (and the literature) were precarious. After the Second World War, the literary market began to dwindle (television is the usual suspect, although the expansion of university education under first the G.I. Bill and then the guaranteed student loan program is a more likely cause). A new form of patronage arose to shield writers from market forces: namely, the national system of creative writing — the Writers’ Workshops — that spread from coast to coast.

What is happening now is the revenge of the market. A high literary culture, utterly divorced from economic realities, was artificially propped up for fifty years. In rather more technical terms, American literary culture is an inefficient market; its products are overpriced, and there aren’t many buyers for them at any rate. As the air goes out of the higher education bubble, the literary life as fantasized by the New York Times’s attractive young literary cubs is deflating along with it.

Which is not to say that literature will disappear. Young writers’ expectations of a good-paying job (with benefits) fiddling all day on overwritten and unsaleable manuscripts — that will disappear. Most everything else will remain the same. Toil, envy, and want will still be the writer’s lot in life. The old economic conditions will be new again. And writers (and maybe even critics) will have to pay attention to them. That’s the only real change. Deal with it, clubbers.

Yesterday’s New York Times carried a story on “invitation-only” book clubs among “young and attractive” New Yorkers with “impressive degrees” and the “angst that comes with being young and unmoored,” who, unable to find work in publishing or academe, “huddle” together in book-filled apartments to “trade heady banter” on great (or merely fashionable) writers and hoot at ideas their high-priced educations have taught them to hoot at. I defy anyone to read the story and not to conclude that the collapse of the high-end literary market is a very good thing, and not a moment too soon.

The Times reports the plight of the young literary enthusiast as if her discontent were new. Two and a half centuries ago, in “The Vanity of Human Wishes,” Samuel Johnson gave someone in her position some good advice: if you are able to keep your virtue while pursuing truth; if you are able to sustain your passion while studying long and hard to gain a full and comprehensive knowledge; if you are able to follow reason without wandering off even once into “tempting novelty”; if you are able to resist praise and overcome difficulty; if you do not fall prey to laziness, gloom, or disease; then and only then you should “pause awhile from letters” to consider this:

There mark what ills the scholar’s life assail,
Toil, envy, want, the patron, and the jail.

The literary market, with a publishing trade as a source of employment for laboring writers, is only about as old as Johnson’s satire. Before the mid-18th century, the poet and the scholar (the term writer was not yet common) depended upon patronage or inherited wealth. These and the debtors’ prison were gradually replaced by publishers and bankruptcy. Toil, envy, and want remained untouched.

For two hundred years writers wrote for money, and the institutions of the literary life — cash-paying publications and publishing houses — shaped their literary ambitions and achievements. The living (and the literature) were precarious. After the Second World War, the literary market began to dwindle (television is the usual suspect, although the expansion of university education under first the G.I. Bill and then the guaranteed student loan program is a more likely cause). A new form of patronage arose to shield writers from market forces: namely, the national system of creative writing — the Writers’ Workshops — that spread from coast to coast.

What is happening now is the revenge of the market. A high literary culture, utterly divorced from economic realities, was artificially propped up for fifty years. In rather more technical terms, American literary culture is an inefficient market; its products are overpriced, and there aren’t many buyers for them at any rate. As the air goes out of the higher education bubble, the literary life as fantasized by the New York Times’s attractive young literary cubs is deflating along with it.

Which is not to say that literature will disappear. Young writers’ expectations of a good-paying job (with benefits) fiddling all day on overwritten and unsaleable manuscripts — that will disappear. Most everything else will remain the same. Toil, envy, and want will still be the writer’s lot in life. The old economic conditions will be new again. And writers (and maybe even critics) will have to pay attention to them. That’s the only real change. Deal with it, clubbers.

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GOP to Force Obama’s Hand on Keystone

Obama says he wants to talk about jobs? Senate Republicans are more than happy to oblige him:

A bill introduced Wednesday by 37 GOP senators, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, would require the administration to approve the Keystone XL pipeline within 60 days, unless the president declares the project is not in the national interest.…

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Obama says he wants to talk about jobs? Senate Republicans are more than happy to oblige him:

A bill introduced Wednesday by 37 GOP senators, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, would require the administration to approve the Keystone XL pipeline within 60 days, unless the president declares the project is not in the national interest.…

McConnell (R-Ky.), called the $7 billion pipeline the ultimate “shovel-ready” project and said it could create as many as 20,000 jobs.

He and other Republicans called Obama’s decision to delay the project transparently political and said Obama had put his reelection above job creation.

If you remember, the State Department recently was supposed to decide whether or not the Keystone XL was in the national interest, but the administration decided to postpone this until after 2012, seemingly because the issue was politically sensitive.

Now Senate Republicans are trying to force Senate Democrats to choose between the job-creating pipeline (which has union backing) and supporting the president’s decision. For Democrats in the states where Keystone XL would add jobs, the choice will obviously be difficult. So far, no Democrats have publicly come out in support of the GOP bill, but several have expressed support for expediting the State Department’s decision-making process.

Republicans also seem to be hoping the bill will hold the president accountable for his job-creation rhetoric. Sen. McConnell said in a floor speech this morning:

“Here’s the bottom line: the president has said time and again that his top priority is jobs. Yet here we’ve got the single largest shovel-ready project in the country, ready to go, and he’s delaying its approval until after the election. He’s saying he doesn’t care so much about jobs in states like Nebraska that he doesn’t think he’ll carry next year so he can keep the enthusiasm up in states he hopes to carry. So I think it’s pretty clear the president cares less about this particular boon for job creation than in his own job preservation. And it’s wrong.”

Obama will have to explain how he reconciles the Keystone XL delay with his efforts to curb unemployment.

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One Apology Obama Won’t Make

One of the keystones of Barack Obama’s foreign policy has been his willingness to apologize for America’s role in the world and what he sees as its sinful past. It is all part of his worldview which disdains the notion of American exceptionalism and the nation’s unique role as a bulwark of freedom. Three years of this kind of thinking has alienated allies and done nothing to ameliorate the animus of foes he has attempted to appease. But there are, apparently, some things for which Obama won’t apologize, and we should be grateful for that.

According to the New York Times, the president has refused to accede to the requests of the State Department that the United States formally apologize for the recent incident in which two dozen Pakistani soldiers were killed by U.S. airstrikes during a skirmish between American forces and the Taliban along the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan. With anger at the U.S. rising in Pakistan, American diplomats have pleaded for the president to admit our troops were wrong and apologize. But Obama, fearing the political fallout if he should be seen bowing down to a country that is actively helping our enemies, has gone along with the Defense Department’s refusal to issue an apology. Even if was politics rather than principle that motivated the president, he is to be applauded for not listening to Foggy Bottom.

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One of the keystones of Barack Obama’s foreign policy has been his willingness to apologize for America’s role in the world and what he sees as its sinful past. It is all part of his worldview which disdains the notion of American exceptionalism and the nation’s unique role as a bulwark of freedom. Three years of this kind of thinking has alienated allies and done nothing to ameliorate the animus of foes he has attempted to appease. But there are, apparently, some things for which Obama won’t apologize, and we should be grateful for that.

According to the New York Times, the president has refused to accede to the requests of the State Department that the United States formally apologize for the recent incident in which two dozen Pakistani soldiers were killed by U.S. airstrikes during a skirmish between American forces and the Taliban along the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan. With anger at the U.S. rising in Pakistan, American diplomats have pleaded for the president to admit our troops were wrong and apologize. But Obama, fearing the political fallout if he should be seen bowing down to a country that is actively helping our enemies, has gone along with the Defense Department’s refusal to issue an apology. Even if was politics rather than principle that motivated the president, he is to be applauded for not listening to Foggy Bottom.

The Pakistanis, who have been allies of the Taliban even while they have worked with the U.S., have blocked NATO’s supply route to Afghanistan in retaliation for the killings and demanded the CIA leave an airbase in that country from which drone strikes have been conducted. But while the United States needs Pakistan as much if not more than the Pakistanis need it, there have to be clear limits as to how far American leaders must go to assuage Islamabad’s sensibilities. In particular, Pakistan’s military and its intelligence establishment have unclean hands with regards to the Taliban. The idea that Washington should apologize for an incident in which Pakistan’s role as a sponsor of the Afghan Islamists was revealed is an affront to the troops Obama sent there to fight them and their al-Qaeda allies. Unless an investigation reveals genuine wrongdoing on the part of the Americans who fired, the Pakistanis need to be satisfied with the more amorphous expression of regret already issued.

As for the political implications of this decision, there will be those who will regret the president’s choice and worry he is merely looking to avoid giving the Republicans ammunition. But the question of standing up for the American military goes far deeper than politics. Were Obama to revert to a policy of apologies in this case, it would damage far more than his political prospects. Such an apology would be an affront to our troops and send a dangerous signal to both friends and foes in Afghanistan. If Obama won’t stand up for his own soldiers, why would they believe the U.S. will stand by its allies? At least for the moment, Obama has properly answered that question.

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Occupiers Protest Obama Fundraiser

The hypocrisy of Obama playing the class warfare card in public and then wooing wealthy donors in private isn’t lost on the Occupy Wall Street crowd. Around 100 protesters showed up to picket the president’s fundraising blitz in New York last night:

Demonstrators held signs that leveled some of the Occupy protest’s most pointed criticism to date of the president. “Obama is a corporate puppet,” one said. “War crimes must be stopped, no matter who does them,” read another, beside headshots of President George W. Bush and President Obama.

One man, wearing a mask of the president’s face and holding a cigar, carried a sign that read, “I sold out!”

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The hypocrisy of Obama playing the class warfare card in public and then wooing wealthy donors in private isn’t lost on the Occupy Wall Street crowd. Around 100 protesters showed up to picket the president’s fundraising blitz in New York last night:

Demonstrators held signs that leveled some of the Occupy protest’s most pointed criticism to date of the president. “Obama is a corporate puppet,” one said. “War crimes must be stopped, no matter who does them,” read another, beside headshots of President George W. Bush and President Obama.

One man, wearing a mask of the president’s face and holding a cigar, carried a sign that read, “I sold out!”

It’s interesting that some of the protesters were attacking Obama on foreign policy, especially since the anti-war movement has died down so much since the Bush administration. Will there be a resurgence of the movement if Obama starts highlighting his foreign policy record on the campaign trail? Maybe – but if last night was any indication, Obama has a lot more than that to worry about. It illustrated that the OWS movement is both willing and able to mobilize against Obama, which could end up putting him in a difficult position when he starts moving toward the center in preparation for the election.

The Democrats brought this problem on themselves. By supporting and praising OWS at the beginning of the movement, they legitimized and granted power to a whole host of radical ideologues: anarchists, socialists, and so on. These fringe activists can now pressure Obama under the banner of the Occupy Wall Street movement – which the president himself said had legitimate concerns. It’s easy to see how this could blow up in his face during the election.

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Gingrich Revives Old Attack on Obama

Legal Insurrection flags this unsettling piece from the National Journal:

On the campaign trail, Newt Gingrich is trying to make some new inroads on President Obama by reviving an old charge, suggesting that the president’s past as a community organizer ties him to a “radical” tradition.

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Legal Insurrection flags this unsettling piece from the National Journal:

On the campaign trail, Newt Gingrich is trying to make some new inroads on President Obama by reviving an old charge, suggesting that the president’s past as a community organizer ties him to a “radical” tradition.

“Obama believes in a Saul Alinsky radicalism which the press corps was never willing to look at,” Gingrich told a standing room-only crowd at Tommy’s Country Ham House here. “When he said he was a community organizer, it wasn’t Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts. It was radicalism taught on the south side of Chicago by Saul Alinsky.” …

Nonetheless, Gingrich has begun to make an issue of Alinsky on the campaign, suggesting that he influenced Obama when the future president was working as a community organizer in Chicago. At a town hall in Newberry, S.C., on Tuesday, Gingrich tied Obama to “Saul Alinsky radicalism” four times.

Isn’t this the same attack conservatives tried to push in 2008 – and it failed to stick? Even if Gingrich is right, and the only reason the Obama campaign was never scathed by the “Alinsky radicalism” was because the press corps was too far in the tank for Obama to report on it, what makes Gingrich think this time would be any different? More importantly, if attacking Obama’s “radical roots” was a losing strategy in ’08 – before the public knew anything about the guy – how could it possibly catch on after four years of his presidency?

Gingrich has veered off in this direction before, with his musings on Obama’s “Kenyan, anticolonial behavior.” This may rile up certain elements of the GOP base, but it’s not an effective message for a general audience. In fact, it’s almost certain to backfire in a general election. Back in ’08, going after Obama’s community organizing background was understandable, because he was so new to politics that he’d barely developed a political record. Now the Republican Party actually has four years of his failed policies to run against. And the Democrats would love nothing more than to spend the next two years arguing over Obama’s radical Chicago ties – for them, any minute not spent talking about the economy and Obama’s track record in office is a victory.

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Obama Pats Himself on the Back for “Supporting” Israel

Though Barack Obama has been picking fights with the government of the State of Israel since his first day in office, the flip side of that relationship is his desperate desire to convince American Jews he’s the Jewish state’s best friend. That’s been an even tougher sell in the last year, and polls have consistently shown Obama’s support among American Jews declining. But at a fundraiser last night at the home of Jack Rosen, president of the largely defunct American Jewish Congress, Obama was tooting his own horn again, in a way that reflects not only his political agenda but his well-known high opinion of himself:

And as Jack alluded to, this administration — I try not to pat myself too much on the back, but this administration has done more in terms of the security of the state of Israel than any previous administration. And that’s not just our opinion, that’s the opinion of the Israeli government. Whether it’s making sure that our intelligence cooperation is effective, to making sure that we’re able to construct something like an Iron Dome so that we don’t have missiles raining down on Tel Aviv, we have been consistent in insisting that we don’t compromise when it comes to Israel’s security. And that’s not just something I say privately, that’s something that I said in the U.N. General Assembly. And that will continue.

As I wrote in the July issue of COMMENTARY, while Obama has maintained the security cooperation between the two nations that has been established by his predecessors, the idea that a president who has done more to undermine Israel’s position on its capital Jerusalem or to heighten tension over the peace process and territorial issues and has utterly failed to deal with the greatest threat to Israel’s security — Iran — should be patting himself on the back is more than political hyperbole, it is satire.

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Though Barack Obama has been picking fights with the government of the State of Israel since his first day in office, the flip side of that relationship is his desperate desire to convince American Jews he’s the Jewish state’s best friend. That’s been an even tougher sell in the last year, and polls have consistently shown Obama’s support among American Jews declining. But at a fundraiser last night at the home of Jack Rosen, president of the largely defunct American Jewish Congress, Obama was tooting his own horn again, in a way that reflects not only his political agenda but his well-known high opinion of himself:

And as Jack alluded to, this administration — I try not to pat myself too much on the back, but this administration has done more in terms of the security of the state of Israel than any previous administration. And that’s not just our opinion, that’s the opinion of the Israeli government. Whether it’s making sure that our intelligence cooperation is effective, to making sure that we’re able to construct something like an Iron Dome so that we don’t have missiles raining down on Tel Aviv, we have been consistent in insisting that we don’t compromise when it comes to Israel’s security. And that’s not just something I say privately, that’s something that I said in the U.N. General Assembly. And that will continue.

As I wrote in the July issue of COMMENTARY, while Obama has maintained the security cooperation between the two nations that has been established by his predecessors, the idea that a president who has done more to undermine Israel’s position on its capital Jerusalem or to heighten tension over the peace process and territorial issues and has utterly failed to deal with the greatest threat to Israel’s security — Iran — should be patting himself on the back is more than political hyperbole, it is satire.

Let’s remember this is the same president who came into office determined to establish greater distance between the United States and Israel on the assumption that getting tough with the Jews would lead to peace with the Palestinians. Obama’s demands on Israel even exceeded those previously articulated by the Arabs who had never, before he took office, said that peace talks could not proceed without a settlement freeze, let alone a freeze on building in Jerusalem. Obama has picked quarrels with Netanyahu — including attempts to personally humiliate him — about building in existing Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem whose existence had never been protested by any previous presidents, including those known to be less sympathetic to the Jewish state, such as Jimmy Carter or the first George Bush. Nor had any president prior to Obama explicitly stated that negotiations must begin on the basis of the 1949 armistice lines, tilting the diplomatic playing field in favor of the Palestinians.

It is true the security relationship between the two countries has continued to grow in the last three years, and for that, Obama deserves some credit. But it must be pointed out that this alliance is now part of the diplomatic infrastructure that could only be dismantled at great political cost. The Iron Dome project, which Obama bragged about to Rosen and his guests, was started and funded under George W. Bush, not the current administration. Had Obama chosen not to continue these policies — which date back to the Reagan administration — then Congress would have quickly acted to bring him to heel. Maintaining the alliance is praiseworthy, but at this point in time that is the baseline for support for Israel, not something for which Obama should be considered exceptional.

But when we speak of Israel’s security, Obama’s disastrous policies toward Iran and its nuclear threat cannot be forgotten. He began his administration wasting a year on a foolish policy of appeasement of the ayatollahs which he labeled “engagement.” When even the president realized it was a failure, he followed up with two years of feckless diplomacy aimed at creating international sanctions that have been a bust. On Obama’s watch not only has the U.S. failed to match Britain’s record on the issue (they have sanctioned Iran’s Central Bank, a measure Obama has not undertaken), but it has not even enforced the mild sanctions already in place.

Even worse, the United States continues to send Iran signals it will not consider the use of force and it is attempting to stop Israel from striking their nuclear facilities. Though Obama has continued to say he will stop Iran, nothing he has actually done appears to validate those promises.

As for Israel’s government validating Obama’s support, it must be said that despite numerous provocations by the president, Netanyahu and his ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren, have been too clever to be goaded into an open feud. They have swallowed Obama’s insults and diplomatic attacks with good grace while continuing to shore up support in Congress. With only one superpower ally, Israel has no choice but to keep its complaints as quiet as possible, especially because Obama might be president for another five years.

But no one, not Netanyahu nor most American Jews, is fooled by Obama’s boasting. Though Jews who are not Obama partisans like Rosen (who once even defended Bill Clinton during the Lewinsky affair on the grounds that silencing criticism of his actions was a Jewish issue) will support him, many understand that this is a president who has a problem with Israel. He can pat himself on the back as much as he likes, but few doubt a second Obama term will be even rougher for Israel than his first.

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Gingrich v. Romney Battle Has Begun

I wanted to build on Jonathan’s insightful post regarding Newt Gingrich’s surge, which threatens to capsize the Romney campaign.

What seems to be happening is that an increasing number of GOP voters, at least right now, are making their own inner peace with Gingrich’s past failures and weaknesses. One senses a growing disposition to give Gingrich the benefit of the doubt, including on his past infidelities, indiscipline, and his deviations from current GOP orthodoxy. For Romney and his campaign, then, it’s not enough to hope Gingrich implodes (which could well happen).

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I wanted to build on Jonathan’s insightful post regarding Newt Gingrich’s surge, which threatens to capsize the Romney campaign.

What seems to be happening is that an increasing number of GOP voters, at least right now, are making their own inner peace with Gingrich’s past failures and weaknesses. One senses a growing disposition to give Gingrich the benefit of the doubt, including on his past infidelities, indiscipline, and his deviations from current GOP orthodoxy. For Romney and his campaign, then, it’s not enough to hope Gingrich implodes (which could well happen).

Romney now has to take steps to stop Gingrich’s rise. The former Massachusetts governor has to change the political dynamic, which is starting to get away from him. Romney’s task is obvious: to skillfully apply pressure to Gingrich’s fault lines even as Romney finds a way to inspire Republican voters (especially working class voters). Whatever limitations Gingrich has, he does possess the ability to bring a Republican audience to its feet, to give them a sense that they are part of a great cause.

It’s impossible to know whether Gingrich’s surge will be sustained. He’s a man with obvious strengths and obvious weaknesses. Newt watchers have seen both in spades over the years.

The fact that Gingrich is in this position at all is a testimony to his political skills. He was given up for dead by many (including by me) in the summer. But his own abilities, combined with an exceptionally weak GOP field, created an opening for the former Speaker, and he has seized it with a vengeance.

We’re now entering a different phase. The heat is about to be turned up, way up, on Gingrich (see this tough new ad by Ron Paul). And bear in mind that Governor Romney is a much better candidate than he was four years ago. He is, like Gingrich, quite bright and has mastered the issues. He’s an excellent debater and has put in place a first-rate team.

And unlike Gingrich, Romney is disciplined and has, by every account, lived an admirable personal life. He may not inspire voters, but he doesn’t frighten them, either. He is also less of a target-rich environment than Gingrich.

The niceties we’ve seen during the last few months are being pushed aside; the battle is being joined. Gingrich v. Romney is, in boxing terms, like Frazier v. Ali, at least in this respect: you have two men who have completely different styles and completely different strengths going against each other.

Whoever emerges with the nomination will be better for having faced the other.

 

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Why is the U.S. Subsidizing Hamas?

Israel’s government predictably capitulated to international pressure yesterday and resumed tax transfers to the Palestinian Authority. But American funding for the PA remains under attack, with the latest salvo coming from two congressmen who asked Comptroller General Gene Dodaro to investigate PA President Mahmoud Abbas’s various plans to give cash to terrorists.

There’s another question Congress ought to be asking, however: Why is the U.S. subsidizing Hamas – which, if one believes the data supplied by no less a personage than Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Store, chairman of the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee for international assistance to the PA, is de facto what international aid is doing?

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Israel’s government predictably capitulated to international pressure yesterday and resumed tax transfers to the Palestinian Authority. But American funding for the PA remains under attack, with the latest salvo coming from two congressmen who asked Comptroller General Gene Dodaro to investigate PA President Mahmoud Abbas’s various plans to give cash to terrorists.

There’s another question Congress ought to be asking, however: Why is the U.S. subsidizing Hamas – which, if one believes the data supplied by no less a personage than Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Store, chairman of the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee for international assistance to the PA, is de facto what international aid is doing?

In their letter to Dodaro last week, Congressmen Ted Deutch (D-FL) and Steve Israel (D-NY) voiced concern over Abbas’s recently announced plans to build new homes for each of the 1,027 terrorists freed in exchange for kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit and to give them $5,000 cash grants. As the letter correctly noted, many of those freed were convicted of attacks that collectively killed hundreds of Israeli civilians, and paying terrorists is an inappropriate use of U.S. funds.

Nor are the sums involved chump change. The cash grants alone would cost $5.1 million, and the housing would cost much more: If we assume a price of some $40,300 per house (based on the average Palestinian monthly rent of $210 multiplied by Moody’s long-term average ratio of sale prices to annual rent), it would total $41 million.

Moreover, the congressmen neglected to mention Abbas’s third cash-for-terrorists program: monthly salaries for convicted terrorists still in prison, ranging from roughly $400 to $3,450 depending on the length of the sentence (the longer the sentence –meaning the more heinous the crime – the higher the salary). Multiplying the midpoint of this sliding scale ($1,925) by some 4,200 prisoners (B’Tselem’s figure from the end of August minus those included in the Shalit deal), this comes to $8.1 million a month, or $97 million a year – without including the program’s additional costly benefits, such as free health insurance and university tuition for released prisoners who served at least five years (three for women). Altogether, therefore, Abbas plans to lavish hundreds of millions of dollars in aid money on terrorists.

But all this, outrageous though it is, isn’t where the real money lies. The real money, according to Store’s data, is what the PA spends on subsidizing Hamas. Specifically, the PA has spent more than $4 billion since 2008 – over half the international aid it received – to pay salaries for government employees in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip and cover Gaza’s water and electricity bills.

Of course, paying teachers and doctors and providing water and electricity are worthy humanitarian goals. But money is fungible. Thus, by relieving the Hamas government of any need to provide such services itself, this international aid enables it to use the tax revenues it collects for less benign purposes, like acquiring the latest high-tech weapons looted from Libya.

In short, U.S. aid to the PA is effectively subsidizing Hamas, a designated terrorist organization. Is that really how Americans want to spend their hard-earned cash?

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Is Gingrich the Tea Party Candidate?

Dan Foster is understandably baffled by the emerging Romney-Gingrich race, and he presents an interesting thought experiment to demonstrate the strangeness of the contest. But the thought experiment illustrates, to me, why this race may be a long-term boon for the Tea Party. First, here’s the hypothetical:

Imagine that Newt had spent the last six years running for president; fundraising, (re)building (burnt) bridges inside the party, establishing robust campaign infrastructure in key states, using the media to stay on the average American’s radar in an anodyne way. Imagine that, due to a combination of political acuity, dogged determination, and the GOP’s “it’s your turn next” tendency, Newt had emerged by the summer of 2011 as the ‘inevitable’ nominee. Now imagine Mitt Romney had left the governorship of Massachusetts for the private sector, and spent the last six years leveraging his political connections to pad out his net worth — not as a lobbyist, mind you, but as a managerial expert. Imagine he jumped into the 2012 race fairly early, but failed to make a major impact.

All other things being equal, does the Republican base spend these past few months looking for an anti-Newt? After the fizzling of the Bachmann, Perry, and Cain insurgencies, does Romney, being the last to find a chair when the music stops, take on this mantle and surge in the polls?

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Dan Foster is understandably baffled by the emerging Romney-Gingrich race, and he presents an interesting thought experiment to demonstrate the strangeness of the contest. But the thought experiment illustrates, to me, why this race may be a long-term boon for the Tea Party. First, here’s the hypothetical:

Imagine that Newt had spent the last six years running for president; fundraising, (re)building (burnt) bridges inside the party, establishing robust campaign infrastructure in key states, using the media to stay on the average American’s radar in an anodyne way. Imagine that, due to a combination of political acuity, dogged determination, and the GOP’s “it’s your turn next” tendency, Newt had emerged by the summer of 2011 as the ‘inevitable’ nominee. Now imagine Mitt Romney had left the governorship of Massachusetts for the private sector, and spent the last six years leveraging his political connections to pad out his net worth — not as a lobbyist, mind you, but as a managerial expert. Imagine he jumped into the 2012 race fairly early, but failed to make a major impact.

All other things being equal, does the Republican base spend these past few months looking for an anti-Newt? After the fizzling of the Bachmann, Perry, and Cain insurgencies, does Romney, being the last to find a chair when the music stops, take on this mantle and surge in the polls?

Part of Gingrich’s appeal, of course, is the fact that he spent so much of the Clinton administration fighting for conservative causes, and in some cases he won tremendous victories for the movement (and the Republican Party in general). Which is to say that in Gingrich’s case, being an insider isn’t the liability it would be for other “insiders.”

Doug Mataconis and Jazz Shaw debated what the conservative movement’s response would be to a general election Romney loss and its response to a general election Not Romney loss. They both seem to agree that if the Not Romney candidate wins the nomination and loses the general, there will be an anti-Tea Party backlash that will strengthen the Republican establishment. But this part is not really a thought experiment anymore. The Gingrich “surge” seems to have some staying power, which means the nominee will likely be Gingrich or Romney.

Will Gingrich get more Tea Party support than Romney? I would imagine so. But I don’t think that quite makes him the Tea Party candidate. Gingrich isn’t a grassroots conservative, and it doesn’t look like the nominee will be someone who really fits that profile. If Gingrich wins the nomination and loses to Obama, I think it will be quite difficult for people to blame the Tea Party. Gingrich isn’t what they ordered. And in fact, with Rick Perry at least, the Tea Partiers had their hearts in the right place, since Perry, on paper, was a strong candidate who simply didn’t pan out. He has a great resume and has exhibited plenty of ideological consistency.

Of course, he turned out to be a poor debater (though he has been better recently) in a race in which the debates were far more important than anyone expected them to be. If the GOP somehow nominates Perry, and then he loses to Obama, I think the Tea Partiers will endure the lion’s share of the backlash.

If, however, the party loses next year with Gingrich, I’m not sure how grassroots conservatives and Tea Partiers will get stuck with the bill, unless you argue that their anti-Romney vehemence consumed the party. But as the “establishment” calls for Chris Christie, Mitch Daniels, and Paul Ryan to enter the race showed us, the anti-Romney atmosphere wasn’t completely a Tea Party construct.

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Future of U.S. Armed Forces Could Turn on 2012 Election Outcome

Robert Kaplan has a typically trenchant op-ed in the Financial Times today about the need for the U.S. to build up its air and naval forces in the western Pacific to counter China and other states that are rapidly building up their own arsenals. He notes: “There is a big difference between a 346-ship U.S. Navy and a 250-ship Navy – the difference between one kind of world order and another.”

Unfortunately, our Navy is already at 284 ships and even without further budget cuts is likely to fall in size. That decline could accelerate and become catastrophic if Congress and the White House go ahead with plans to cut a further $600 billion from the defense budget as a result of the failure of the super-committee. There is already talk in Washington that the entire F-35 program—designed to provide the fifth-generation fighter for all of the military services for decades ahead—could be scrapped. If we do that, we will accelerate a dangerous power shift, leading to the rise of China and the decline of American power.

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Robert Kaplan has a typically trenchant op-ed in the Financial Times today about the need for the U.S. to build up its air and naval forces in the western Pacific to counter China and other states that are rapidly building up their own arsenals. He notes: “There is a big difference between a 346-ship U.S. Navy and a 250-ship Navy – the difference between one kind of world order and another.”

Unfortunately, our Navy is already at 284 ships and even without further budget cuts is likely to fall in size. That decline could accelerate and become catastrophic if Congress and the White House go ahead with plans to cut a further $600 billion from the defense budget as a result of the failure of the super-committee. There is already talk in Washington that the entire F-35 program—designed to provide the fifth-generation fighter for all of the military services for decades ahead—could be scrapped. If we do that, we will accelerate a dangerous power shift, leading to the rise of China and the decline of American power.

But there is nothing inevitable about that outcome. President Obama has threatened to veto any bill that tries to exempt the defense budget from sequestration. He appears sanguine about defense cuts. On the other hand, Mitt Romney, his leading challenger (full disclosure: I am a campaign adviser), has vowed to maintain robust spending on defense that would allow the expansion of the Navy without the evisceration of the ground forces. Rick Perry has called on Leon Panetta to resign rather than accept massive cuts. Even Newt Gingrich, who seemed open to defense cuts during the AEI/Heritage debate, has now said  sequestration would be “totally destructive” and “very dangerous to the survival of the country.”

It is commonly said about every election that it is a potential turning point with major implications for the country’s future. In many cases that’s just partisan hype. In the case of the 2012 election, it’s true: the future of the U.S. armed forces, and of American power in general, could turn on the outcome.

 

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