Commentary Magazine


Posts For: December 5, 2011

Newt, the Once and Future Counterrevolutionary

Practically every conversation about politics I had during the weekend with friends and associates began with them asking the same question: Isn’t Newt Gingrich the consummate insider, and therefore the antithesis of what Republican primary voters say they want this year? Well, yes and no.

The term “outsider,” which has become both a mantra and a badge of honor for GOP candidates this cycle, certainly evokes geography–distance from Washington, D.C. But it’s not solely a geographical term. Certainly Gingrich has, over the years, become quite comfortable in the district. But Gingrich’s goal was always as counterrevolutionary, not revolutionary–a distinction he felt was important to understand his role in Washington. From Steven M. Gillon’s book on the Gingrich-Bill Clinton rivalry of the ’90s:

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Practically every conversation about politics I had during the weekend with friends and associates began with them asking the same question: Isn’t Newt Gingrich the consummate insider, and therefore the antithesis of what Republican primary voters say they want this year? Well, yes and no.

The term “outsider,” which has become both a mantra and a badge of honor for GOP candidates this cycle, certainly evokes geography–distance from Washington, D.C. But it’s not solely a geographical term. Certainly Gingrich has, over the years, become quite comfortable in the district. But Gingrich’s goal was always as counterrevolutionary, not revolutionary–a distinction he felt was important to understand his role in Washington. From Steven M. Gillon’s book on the Gingrich-Bill Clinton rivalry of the ’90s:

Until the mid-1960s, Gingrich told reporters, “there was an explicit, long-term commitment to creating character. It was the work ethic, it was honesty, right and wrong, it was not harming others, it was being vigilant in the defense of liberty. It was very clear and we taught it.” All that changed beginning in 1965. “The 1960s produced a cultural civil war,” he argued, because it gave birth to a left-liberal elite, including Bill and Hillary Clinton, that espoused “a set of values” that attacked all forms of authority. The results have been obvious and pernicious….

His closest allies shared this agenda. Gingrich ally Robert Walker often served as a pro-Vietnam spokesman on campus rallies and Millersville State College. A student at the University of Houston, Tom DeLay attended antiwar rallies to shout down the protestors. Robert Livingston, whom Gingrich appointed to head the powerful Appropriations Committee, served two years in the Navy and described himself as a “counter-revolutionary.” Majority Leader Dick Armey, who earned a Ph.D. in economics from the University of Oklahoma, summed up the sentiment of the new Republican leadership: “To me,” he said, “all the problems began in the 60s.”

This does not and should not immunize Gingrich from accusations that he has become a creature of Washington. But I think it’s an important corollary to the discussion over why Gingrich, a moderate with shifting political sensibilities, has surged so far ahead in the polls of Mitt Romney, a moderate with shifting political sensibilities. I mentioned last week that Romney lacks a record of fighting side by side with conservatives throughout his career. Gingrich obviously lacks no such experience. Here, for example, is the cover of the first-ever issue of The Weekly Standard:

People remember the battles won and the battles lost. But conservatives remember the cultural threat they saw in the Clinton administration, and a Republican victory so momentous it caused Clinton to carp “the president is relevant here” at a press conference months later. The most charming man in politics, who happened to be the leader of the free world, was all but sidelined by Newt Gingrich.

On the night of the victory, Gingrich called the Clintons “McGovernicks” and “left-wing elitists.” Then he took aim at the welfare state policies these “McGovernicks” were protecting: “They ruined the poor. They created a culture of poverty and a culture of violence which is destructive of this civilization, and they have to be replaced thoroughly, from the ground up.”

Welfare reform was proof he meant it. Gingrich has, surely, become a Washington insider. But Gingrich was, once upon a time, inside Washington the way a bull is inside a china shop. As conservatives prepare to try and turn back the latest expansion of the welfare state, it shouldn’t be too surprising just how many people have found themselves in Newt’s corner one more time.

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Pelosi’s Unethical Gingrich Threat

According to Representative Nancy Pelosi, who served on the ethics committee that investigated Newt Gingrich for tax cheating and campaign finance violations in the late 1990s, “One of these days we’ll have a conversation about Newt Gingrich. When the time is right. … I know a lot about him. I served on the investigative committee that investigated him, four of us locked in a room in an undisclosed location for a year. A thousand pages of his stuff.”

Set aside the fact that (as Gingrich said) Pelosi would be violating House rules and abusing the ethics process if she disclosed anything from the ethics investigation. My question is whether this kind of politics is what Barack Obama had in mind when, in 2008, he preached against “a politics that breeds division and conflict and cynicism.” Or when he told us, “I want us to rediscover our bonds to each other and to get out of the constant petty bickering that’s come to characterize our politics… the tit-for-tat, ‘gotcha’ game that passes for politics right now doesn’t solve problems. I want to get beyond that.” Or when he announced on a stage in Grant Park, on the night of his election, “Let us resist the temptation to fall back on the same partisanship and pettiness and immaturity that has poisoned our politics for so long.”

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According to Representative Nancy Pelosi, who served on the ethics committee that investigated Newt Gingrich for tax cheating and campaign finance violations in the late 1990s, “One of these days we’ll have a conversation about Newt Gingrich. When the time is right. … I know a lot about him. I served on the investigative committee that investigated him, four of us locked in a room in an undisclosed location for a year. A thousand pages of his stuff.”

Set aside the fact that (as Gingrich said) Pelosi would be violating House rules and abusing the ethics process if she disclosed anything from the ethics investigation. My question is whether this kind of politics is what Barack Obama had in mind when, in 2008, he preached against “a politics that breeds division and conflict and cynicism.” Or when he told us, “I want us to rediscover our bonds to each other and to get out of the constant petty bickering that’s come to characterize our politics… the tit-for-tat, ‘gotcha’ game that passes for politics right now doesn’t solve problems. I want to get beyond that.” Or when he announced on a stage in Grant Park, on the night of his election, “Let us resist the temptation to fall back on the same partisanship and pettiness and immaturity that has poisoned our politics for so long.”

I ask because top strategists aligned with President Obama’s campaign have already said that they would “kill” Mitt Romney if he were the nominee and that Obama would engage in what Politico called a “ferocious personal assault” and a “slashing, personal campaign aimed at disqualifying his likeliest opponent.” And now Nancy Pelosi, who obviously has very close ties to Obama, is hinting that she’s willing to violate House rules in order to smear Gingrich.

I rather doubt Obama will rebuke Pelosi.

I’m not naïve enough to believe that a presidential campaign will focus solely on the issues. Nor should it. Character, including personal character, matters when it comes to political leadership. But the thuggish tactics that Democrats are clearly willing (and even eager) to resort to in an effort to win in 2012 is discouraging, if wholly predictable, given the terrible record they have amassed over the last three years. They believe their only choice is destroying the opposition; treating them as enemies rather than opponents. But they should be careful, because playing with TNT can be dangerous not only for the targets, but also for the attackers.

These are serious times; the public is, I think, in an unusually serious mood. And I rather doubt that they’ll have much patience for a political party whose tactics resemble the Corleone family.

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State Department Defense of Gutman Adds to Confusion

The State Department hasn’t posted a link to its daily press briefing yet, but I’ll paste the transcribed text at the bottom of this post so you can get a sense of how much the administration is squirming over this issue. The exchange between State spokesperson Mark Toner and one of the reporters is so incredibly awkward that the AP can’t even begin to capture it in the following write up:

State Department spokesman Mark Toner said Monday that [U.S. Ambassador to Belgium Howard] Gutman would remain in his post.

Toner said Gutman spoke as ambassador, yet expressed his own views. He declined to say if the administration disagreed with those views.

The White House on Saturday condemned anti-Semitism in all forms. Gutman did as well.

Jewish groups expressed outrage. Some Republican presidential candidates have demanded Gutman’s resignation.

Why is Obama sticking by Gutman?

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The State Department hasn’t posted a link to its daily press briefing yet, but I’ll paste the transcribed text at the bottom of this post so you can get a sense of how much the administration is squirming over this issue. The exchange between State spokesperson Mark Toner and one of the reporters is so incredibly awkward that the AP can’t even begin to capture it in the following write up:

State Department spokesman Mark Toner said Monday that [U.S. Ambassador to Belgium Howard] Gutman would remain in his post.

Toner said Gutman spoke as ambassador, yet expressed his own views. He declined to say if the administration disagreed with those views.

The White House on Saturday condemned anti-Semitism in all forms. Gutman did as well.

Jewish groups expressed outrage. Some Republican presidential candidates have demanded Gutman’s resignation.

Why is Obama sticking by Gutman?

Beyond Gutman’s fundraising in 2008, Benny Avni writes that Gutman also defended Obama during the Rev. Wright controversy. Maybe the administration expects this debacle to blow over quickly. But in the meantime, they’re putting themselves in a very awkward position.

In the press briefing below, Toner tries to claim that Gutman’s remarks were misinterpreted, but won’t say whether the administration agrees with the idea that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is responsible for anti-Semitism. He also tried to argue that Gutman wasn’t speaking for the administration, while simultaneously acknowledging that the ambassador is always representing the United States in public forums.

The big question that still remains is whether Gutman’s speech was approved by anyone in the administration. Toner said that he was “not aware that [Gutman’s] remarks were cleared back here in Washington.” But if the administration can’t even say that it doesn’t agree with Gutman’s statement, why should we assume that it would have objected to the speech in the first place?

Full briefing below:

   Q:  (Off mic.)

MR. TONER:  Sorry.  I’m really sorry to — it’s a great way to go
into a briefing — remind Matt that his team lost.

Q:  (Off mic.)

MR. TONER:  Yeah.  Well, the Eagles didn’t exactly shroud
themselves in glory.

Welcome, everyone, to the State Department.  Happy Monday.  I
hope you all had a good weekend.

I do want to — you probably just saw we did release a few
minutes ago — and just mention that Special Representative for North
Korea Policy Glyn Davies, who is now back in Washington but getting
ready now to travel to the Republic of Korea, Japan and China from
December 6th through the 15th — the media note detailed some of his
meetings, but obviously he’s there to — the purpose of his trip, his
first to the region as the special representative, is to exchange
views on Korean Peninsula issues.

With that, I’ll take your questions.  Matt, welcome back.

Q:  Thank you.  I’ve got a bunch — well, a few, at least, on
Israel.

MR. TONER:  OK.

Q:  I’ll start with Ambassador Gutman’s speech from last week.
Does the — did the administration sign off on this, or was it vetted
by anyone in EUR or NEA?  And does the administration agree with the
sentiments that he expressed in his speech?

MR. TONER:  I think you saw — actually, let me start again.  I’m
not aware that his remarks were cleared back here in Washington.  He
made very clear in a subsequent statement that they were his thoughts
or his remarks.  He did condemn — he — and was very vocal about
condemning anti-Semitism in all its forms, and I believe he expressed
regret that his words might have been taken out of context.

Q:  Do you — do you think that they were taken out of context?

MR. TONER:  I’m sorry.  In —

Q:  Does the administration agree with the content of the — of
Ambassador Gutman’s speech?

MR. TONER:  I think have to say — and you’ve seen, obviously,
the White House —

Q:  Well, no, actually I had to get those — they were apparently
being only sent to select people.  I wasn’t selected, maybe because I
was gone, but —

MR. TONER:  You’re always selected.

Q:  — I have — I have seen them, however.  I’m — but they
don’t answer the question about whether the administration agrees with
what Ambassador Gutman said in his speech.

MR. TONER:  And the administration and the State Department says
that we condemn anti-Semitism in all its forms.

Q:  That’s great, Mark.  I’m glad that you do.  And I’m sure
everyone is glad that you do.  But do you agree with the content of
Ambassador Gutman’s speech?

MR. TONER:  We —

Q:  I don’t know — it’s a pretty easy question.  Yes or no?

MR. TONER:  It is a — it is — it is — it was his remarks.  It
was his opinion —

Q:  So he wasn’t speaking on — the ambassador to Belgium, he was
not speaking —

MR. TONER:  He was not speaking on behalf — I think he’s said as
much.  He said it was his remarks and he was speaking on his own —

Q:  No, he didn’t.  He did not say that.  He — but he was not
speaking on behalf of the U.S. government?

MR. TONER:  I don’t believe so.

Q:  So the — OK, the ambassador to Belgium shows up at a
conference in Europe, in Belgium, and he is not speaking on behalf of
the U.S. government.  Is that correct?

MR. TONER:  The ambassador was expressing his views on an issue.

Q:  They’re not the view — so these —

MR. TONER:  He subsequently — he subsequently issued a statement
clarifying that he was — and expressing regret if his remarks were
taken out of context.  He then said that he does condemn anti-Semitism
in all its forms and in fact pointed to his own family history as a —
as a testament to that.

Q:  So are you — well, I understand that.  But you’re saying
that he was speaking as a private citizen, not as the U.S. ambassador?

MR. TONER:  Well, of course, when — any time an ambassador
speaks, he is representing the United States.

Q:  So the views that he expressed in his speech do not represent
the views of the administration?

MR. TONER:  Matt, I made it very clear —

Q:  Mark, I understand that you condemn anti-Semitism in all its
forms.  I understand that, OK?  I’m asking you if you agree with the
content of his speech, which he gave as the U.S. ambassador to
Belgium.

MR. TONER:  And I would just say that he was — he was sharing
his views on an issue.  Our commitment to Israel’s security is
ironclad.  The United States — or Israel has no greater friend or
ally than the United States.  And we condemn anti-Semitism in all its
forms.

Q:  OK, that’s fine.  But I don’t — I’m not hearing in there —
unless you’re going to tell me right out he was speaking as a private
citizen not as the ambassador.  Is that — that’s what you’re
saying?

MR. TONER:  What’s that — he — that — I’m sorry, could you
repeat your question again?

Q:  That his comments were delivered as a — as a private
citizen, not as a representative of the U.S. government?

MR. TONER:  Again — (chuckles) — we’ve been very clear that we
condemn anti-Semitism in all its forms regardless of, you know, how
call it or how you characterize it.

Q:  Do you — do you think that — do you — OK, so you do not
agree, then, with the — with the — with the contents of the
ambassador’s speech?

MR. TONER:  I think I’ll just stop there.

Q:  Well — (chuckles) — (inaudible) — this guy, who is the —

MR. TONER:  I think I just said we condemn anti-Semitism in all
of its forms.

Q:  OK, so you don’t draw a distinction between criticism of
Israel —

MR. TONER:  No.

Q:  — and —

MR. TONER:  No, we don’t — we don’t draw any — we don’t —

Q:  All criticism of Israel — all criticism of Israel is anti-
Semitism?  (Laughter.)  Is that what you’re saying?

MR. TONER:  Look, I will leave it to the ambassador to Belgium to
clarify what he meant by his remarks —

Q:  Does the — does the — does the —

MR. TONER:  — to this gathering.  I can only speak on behalf of
this administration, and that is that we condemn anti-Semitism in all
its forms.

Q:  Does the administration think that Israel is above reproach,
in other words, that Israel should not — should not be criticized for
anything?

MR. TONER:  Speaking largely about the issue that was on the
table, which is Middle East peace and the importance of it and,
frankly, the stability that it brings to the region, we’ve been very
clear that, you know, the best way to a lasting peace is through the
negotiating table.  That remains our focus.  We want to get both sides
back into direct negotiations.

Q:  Surely, though, the administration has, with the specific
example of — I’ll use settlements here, you have been —

MR. TONER:  Absolutely.

Q:  The administration has been critical of the Israeli
government, correct?  Yes?

MR. TONER:  If we’re talking now about efforts to get both sides
back to the negotiating table, we have been very clear when either of
the parties, we believe, does actions or takes actions that are not
constructive to that process.

Q:  This administration has been critical of the government of
Israel before, correct?

MR. TONER:  Of course.

Q:  Yes.  Do you — is that criticism anti-Semitic?

MR. TONER:  Of course not.

Q:  So all criticism of Israel is not anti-Semitism?

MR. TONER:  Again, I don’t want to parse this out.  I just simply
want to say —

Q:  I know you don’t want to, because you’re in a very difficult
position.

MR. TONER:  — we condemn — we condemn anti-Semitism in all of
its forms, OK?

Q:  You’re saying, though, that you accept a distinction between
criticism of Israel and — criticism of the government of — the
policies of the government of Israel and anti-Semitism.  You draw a
distinction between the two things, correct?

MR. TONER:  I’d just say that this administration has
consistently stood up against anti-Semitism and efforts to
delegitimize Israel and will continue to do so.

Q:  Does the administration believe that you can be critical of
Israel without being anti-Semitic?

MR. TONER:  I think that when it comes to trying to keep the
parties focused on the peace process and in citing behavior that is
not constructive to that process, we are certainly able to do that and
have done so in the past.

Q:  Does the administration believe that you can be — that one
can be critical of the policies of the government of Israel without
being anti-Semitic?  Yes or no?

MR. TONER:  Well, again, I think I just answered the question,
that we have been critical —

Q:  OK, so you’re saying that there — you do draw a distinction
between criticism — between criticism of the government of Israel, of
policies of the government of Israel, and — in other words, not all
criticism of — when you come out and you say, we think that more
settlements are a bad idea, that doesn’t mean the administration is
anti-Semitic, right?

MR. TONER:  Of course.  Of course.  Of course.

Q:  OK.  So in his speech, Ambassador Gutman draws a distinction
between the classic anti-Semitism and some kind of new form of hatred
toward Jews, which is based — what he said, based on the policies of
the government of Israel.

Do you — do you — it sounds as though you accept that there is a
distinction between the — between the two.

MR. TONER:  What Ambassador Gutman was — I believe what he was
trying to convey is that there are different forms of anti-Semitism.
We condemn them in all their forms.

Q:  All right.

I’ve got another on Israel, but it’s not on this subject.

Q:  Can I just follow up briefly on that?  Some Republicans have
called for the administration to fire Ambassador Gutman.  Is there —
does the administration have a response to that, have a position on —

MR. TONER:  We have full confidence in him.

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Administration: Gutman Won’t Go

In the immediate aftermath of the news about the appalling statements of Howard Gutman, the U.S. ambassador to Belgium, about Israel being to blame for anti-Semitism, there were those who assumed the envoy would soon be packing his bags for home. But a statement issued today by the State Department indicates that Gutman, who purchased his post by bundling more than half a million dollars in campaign contributions for President Obama, has nothing to worry about. State Department spokesman Mark Toner said Monday Gutman would remain in his post and asserted that although Gutman’s appearance was in his official capacity, the views he expressed were his own. He also declined to say if the administration disagreed with those views.

Coming as it did in the same week in which Defense Secretary Leon Panetta blamed Israel for its isolation caused by the rise of Islamist groups in Turkey, Egypt and the refusal of the Palestinians to negotiate, Gutman’s survival sends a clear message about White House thinking about the Jewish state.

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In the immediate aftermath of the news about the appalling statements of Howard Gutman, the U.S. ambassador to Belgium, about Israel being to blame for anti-Semitism, there were those who assumed the envoy would soon be packing his bags for home. But a statement issued today by the State Department indicates that Gutman, who purchased his post by bundling more than half a million dollars in campaign contributions for President Obama, has nothing to worry about. State Department spokesman Mark Toner said Monday Gutman would remain in his post and asserted that although Gutman’s appearance was in his official capacity, the views he expressed were his own. He also declined to say if the administration disagreed with those views.

Coming as it did in the same week in which Defense Secretary Leon Panetta blamed Israel for its isolation caused by the rise of Islamist groups in Turkey, Egypt and the refusal of the Palestinians to negotiate, Gutman’s survival sends a clear message about White House thinking about the Jewish state.

Gutman’s ability to hold onto his post despite a diplomatic gaffe of Olympic proportions that would have surely cost a career foreign service officer his job, may be the result of a number of factors.

First, and most obvious, is the fact that presidents do not like to make enemies out of people who help pay for their campaigns and inaugurations as Gutman did. Humiliating Gutman by sending him home might have made it more difficult for Republicans to make an issue of his remarks. But the president knows  he will still be blamed for the incident and may figure the damage won’t be so bad–while the cost to the Democrats of losing the money contributed by the Washington superlawyer and his friends and family will hurt far more.

Second, is the fact that despite the egregious nature of Gutman’s offense, the mainstream press has largely ignored the story. Days after the news broke when it was first reported by the Israeli news site Ynet, the New York Times has yet to print a word about it. It is to be expected the Grey Lady will wait until it can publish a story leading with a defense of Gutman’s astonishing words and critics of Israel if it does one at all.

Third, the pushback against the obvious meaning of Gutman’s statement has already begun. Their line, that the ambassador did no more than state the obvious when he asserted that European anti-Semitism is being caused by Israel’s actions, is now starting to circulate on the left. Indeed, the leftist site Think Progress is claiming Gutman is being misquoted about saying there was a distinction to be drawn between “traditional” anti-Semitism and that caused by resentment against Israel. Zaid Jilani quotes two paragraphs that he says debunk the notion Gutman saw these two kinds of anti-Semitism as distinct. But immediately after the passage Jilani quotes, Gutman said this:

But this second problem [caused by Israel] is in my opinion different in many respects than the classic bigotry – hatred against those who are different and against minorities generally — the type of anti-Semitism that I discussed above. It is more complex and requiring much more thought and analysis. This second form of what is labeled “growing anti-Semitism” produces strange phenomena and results.

By drawing a distinction between “classic bigotry” and hatred that is supposedly rooted in Israeli policies, and thus, according to Gutman, could be dissipated by Israeli actions, the ambassador is clearly signaling he does see it as distinct and seemingly less serious than previous manifestations of Jew-hatred. But contrary to Gutman’s speech, all forms of hatred directed against Jews are the product, like all bigotry, of the prejudice of the haters, not the conduct of the victims.

Lost in the dispute about anti-Semitism is the fact that Gutman drew a moral equivalence between Israeli measures of self-defense and Palestinian terrorism. That alone would have caused a firestorm and should have resulted in a severe rebuke from Washington.

Finally, the reason why Gutman isn’t losing his job is because his opinion is widely held in this administration and by a president who sees Israel as more of a burden than an ally. Though Republicans rightly condemned Gutman’s views today, they are broadly consonant with Obama’s three years of picking fights with Israel and seeking to pressure it.

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NJDC on Gutman’s Anti-Semitism Remark: “We Have No Comment”

The Republican candidates have been weighing in all day on Belgium Ambassador Howard Gutman’s troubling remarks about anti-Semitism, but Democrats have been conspicuously silent. And it’s not just Democrats on the Hill. I called up the National Jewish Democratic Council to find out whether it would condemn Gutman’s comments. The response from NJDC spokesperson David Streeter: “We have no comment on it.”

That’s it? Let’s be clear about this: Gutman’s comments were indefensible. This isn’t about a policy difference between Democrats and Republicans. Both parties should be able to agree that blaming Israel for anti-Semitism is outrageous. If the NJDC can’t condemn something as cut-and-dry as that, then what can it condemn?

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The Republican candidates have been weighing in all day on Belgium Ambassador Howard Gutman’s troubling remarks about anti-Semitism, but Democrats have been conspicuously silent. And it’s not just Democrats on the Hill. I called up the National Jewish Democratic Council to find out whether it would condemn Gutman’s comments. The response from NJDC spokesperson David Streeter: “We have no comment on it.”

That’s it? Let’s be clear about this: Gutman’s comments were indefensible. This isn’t about a policy difference between Democrats and Republicans. Both parties should be able to agree that blaming Israel for anti-Semitism is outrageous. If the NJDC can’t condemn something as cut-and-dry as that, then what can it condemn?

A pro-Israel Democrat, appalled at the NJDC’s silence, emails me: “Democrats should speak out and remind Ambassador Gutman that anti-Semitism existed long before the modern State of Israel. There is no room in our party for anyone — including ambassadors — who seek to find excuses for anti-Semitism and the deep hatred among some Muslims for the Jewish people and our country. Supposedly intellectual descriptions and justifications for root causes of bigotry and anti-Semitic violence is neither intellectual nor intelligent.”

The Republican candidates have been clear on this. And yet, not a single Democratic member of Congress has spoken out against Gutman’s comments. Not only does this indicate that President Obama has no plans to recall the ambassador, it’s also a depressing testimonial about the current state of the Democratic Party. If pro-Israel Democrats can’t stand up to Obama on an issue as unambiguous as this, then one wonders what else they would be willing to stay silent on.

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U.S. Shouldn’t Abandon Bahrain to Iran

Last month, a bipartisan group of scholars and former policymakers signed onto a letter expressing opposition to a new arms sale to the Arab island nation of Bahrain given that country’s crackdown this past spring on largely peaceful protesters:

We were pleased to see the delay of the recently proposed sale of arms to Bahrain, and we hope that no sale of items that could be used to repress the Bahraini people will move forward until reforms are agreed to, implementation has begun, and the Bahraini government has clearly ceased using torture and violence against its own people.

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Last month, a bipartisan group of scholars and former policymakers signed onto a letter expressing opposition to a new arms sale to the Arab island nation of Bahrain given that country’s crackdown this past spring on largely peaceful protesters:

We were pleased to see the delay of the recently proposed sale of arms to Bahrain, and we hope that no sale of items that could be used to repress the Bahraini people will move forward until reforms are agreed to, implementation has begun, and the Bahraini government has clearly ceased using torture and violence against its own people.

In response to the violence, the Bahraini government launched the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry which shortly before Thanksgiving released its findings. Rather than whitewash the abuses that occurred as government security forces confronted Bahraini protesters, the Commission took its job seriously and called for real reform, which the King seems intent to implement.

According to a recent Bahraini government press release:

Over recent months, the Government of Bahrain has already taken significant steps to address many of the issues covered in the independent commission’s report by instituting several important reforms. These have included approving legislation to establish a new National Human Rights Institution, which will be truly independent from the Government in accordance with best international practices. It will provide a solid foundation for an effective and internationally recognized way to monitor and strengthen human rights compliance in Bahrain. Amendments made recently to Bahrain’s laws include changes to the country’s penal code, so that all forms of torture will be criminalized. These amendments will be accompanied by stricter sentencing for those who commit torture, together with the lifting of the limitation period for claims of torture. The maximum sentence for torture will be set at life imprisonment. There are also before Parliament amendments to the law that would greatly enhance freedom of expression in accordance with international human rights laws. The Government has meanwhile established a Special fund for Victims to ensure that those who suffered in any way from the violent events of February and March are rightly compensated.

While it is wrong to say the Iranians were responsible for the initial uprising, they did seek to co-opt it, even if they were not fully successful in doing so. That is not to say that Bahrain does not face real security threats, or that elements among the protesters seek to provoke violence or hold allegiance elsewhere. There is a cache of old Bahraini opposition magazines at the Library of Congress which openly discuss training with the Revolutionary Guards and fealty to Ayatollah Khomeini.

While that was then, this is now: On Sunday, there was an explosion near the British embassy in Manama, and Iranian officials still talk about Bahrain as a renegade province in the same manner in which Saddam Hussein once described Kuwait.

Against this backdrop, it would behoove the U.S. administration to demonstrate continued support for Bahrain, and the reforms which the Bahraini government is already implementing. Bahrain faces real threats, and the United States should not hamper its efforts to defend itself against external enemies, even as it accepts no excuse for the use of such weaponry against Bahraini citizens peacefully protesting. Nor should the United States make any move to move the Fifth Fleet headquarters from Bahrain. If anything, the Fleet’s presence in Bahrain represents an important trip wire which will discourage Iran or other external actors from overplaying their hands. Ultimately, reform will strengthen Bahrain, but any country undergoing rapid change and reform temporarily becomes more vulnerable to agitators until the system settles.

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With Gingrich, Be Sure to Read the Fine Print on Medicare Reform

In some circles, Newt Gingrich has the reputation of being a man with unsurpassed mastery of the issues. He is offering the “most substantive campaign in modern history.” He is all about offering “solutions.” And it’s said that one of the appeals of Gingrich is that he wouldn’t simply defeat President Obama; he would “intellectually flatten” him in debates.

Perhaps. But here’s a warning: When it comes to the former Speaker of the House, be sure to read the fine print. Take as one example this recent hour-long interview with Gingrich. At first blush he seems totally in command of the issues. But if you carefully parse what he says, potential weaknesses begin to appear.

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In some circles, Newt Gingrich has the reputation of being a man with unsurpassed mastery of the issues. He is offering the “most substantive campaign in modern history.” He is all about offering “solutions.” And it’s said that one of the appeals of Gingrich is that he wouldn’t simply defeat President Obama; he would “intellectually flatten” him in debates.

Perhaps. But here’s a warning: When it comes to the former Speaker of the House, be sure to read the fine print. Take as one example this recent hour-long interview with Gingrich. At first blush he seems totally in command of the issues. But if you carefully parse what he says, potential weaknesses begin to appear.

To be specific: Representative Paul Ryan’s Medicare reform, released in April, would fundamentally restructure the program by transforming it from a fee-for-services system (FFS) to one that is based on premium support (in which the federal government would give people money, increasing slowly over time, to shop around for their own private insurance plans). According to Gingrich, who earlier this year characterized the Ryan plan as an example of “right-wing social engineering” (a description he defended as accurate in his interview), “I would approach the Medicare differently. I would actually offer [Ryan’s] Medicare choice next year. But I’d offer it as a choice if people could take — if they thought it was better for them, not as an imposition.”

This comment cries out for a clarification. Because if Gingrich means that an individual could stay in today’s (uncapped, fee-for-services) Medicare system without paying anything more, then his plan is not reform in the slightest. Every one of the problems that exist with the current Medicare system would remain, including massive underpayments to providers, shrinking trust funds, and government price setting. Unless federal expenditures are capped — as they are in a defined contribution system — Medicare will continue to grow at unsustainable rates. An uncapped FFS option ignores the largest driver of the country’s fiscal crisis. With government’s price setting and existing Medicare customer base, no private company could possibly compete against today’s uncapped fee-for-service option. There would be no incentive for a private company to enter this market.

It’s no accident that all of the fiscal scorekeepers — including the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) actuaries, the Congressional Budget Office, and more —assume no savings from a plan that keeps an open-ended FFS plan in place. Their (correct) assumption is that no one would ever choose a capped plan over an uncapped plan. In terms of taming our deficit, it would be useless.

This is no small matter. There is simply no way to avert a fiscal catastrophe without fundamentally reforming Medicare’s payment system. It is arguably the single most important domestic issue facing our nation. And Gingrich’s proposal, at least as a fair-minded observer can interpret his comments, would be utterly worthless. The same cannot be said about the proposals of many of the other GOP candidates (see here for more).

But let’s give the former Speaker the benefit of the doubt. Does he embrace moving America away from a defined benefit to a defined contribution system? If so, more power to him. If not, then Gingrich is articulating a proposal that would be a huge substantive and intellectual retreat for conservatives. It would be a solution to nothing at all. And one would think this would matter, to conservatives more than anyone else.

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Does Scholar Think Anti-Israel Animus Justifies Academic Fraud?

Ilan Pappé rode to fame by bashing Israel, repeatedly accusing the Jewish state of war crimes and crying oppression when academics actually looked at his evidence and found it lacking. But, just as with University of Michigan Professor Juan Cole or University of Chicago Professor John Mearsheimer, there is a certain type of person who will cry persecution whenever critics find arguments unpersuasive if not bordering on deranged conspiracies. If, in Cole’s case, Yale and Duke University turn you down, it’s not because he came off as arrogant, did not fit the job description, or gave a sub-par job talk; it’s because the CIA was out to get him. Or, in Mearsheimer’s case, it was just easier to complain that Jews were muzzling him as he took a $750,000 book advance to the bank.  That he subsequently chose to endorse a Holocaust denier’s book certainly shouldn’t reflect on his judgment.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with historical inquiry, but it must be done honestly. When I was working on my Ph.D, one of my faculty advisers quipped that theory was for people who did not have libraries. If there was not archival evidence to support a statement then, simply, that statement could not be made. Ignorance is no excuse for an academic, nor is stubbornness a virtue. When Benny Morris mistreated quotes by David Ben-Gurion and Theodor Herzl, he was rightly pilloried for it. In December 2006, he came clean and acknowledged that the Ben- Gurion quote was fraudulent. Kudos to him for reversing the error.

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Ilan Pappé rode to fame by bashing Israel, repeatedly accusing the Jewish state of war crimes and crying oppression when academics actually looked at his evidence and found it lacking. But, just as with University of Michigan Professor Juan Cole or University of Chicago Professor John Mearsheimer, there is a certain type of person who will cry persecution whenever critics find arguments unpersuasive if not bordering on deranged conspiracies. If, in Cole’s case, Yale and Duke University turn you down, it’s not because he came off as arrogant, did not fit the job description, or gave a sub-par job talk; it’s because the CIA was out to get him. Or, in Mearsheimer’s case, it was just easier to complain that Jews were muzzling him as he took a $750,000 book advance to the bank.  That he subsequently chose to endorse a Holocaust denier’s book certainly shouldn’t reflect on his judgment.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with historical inquiry, but it must be done honestly. When I was working on my Ph.D, one of my faculty advisers quipped that theory was for people who did not have libraries. If there was not archival evidence to support a statement then, simply, that statement could not be made. Ignorance is no excuse for an academic, nor is stubbornness a virtue. When Benny Morris mistreated quotes by David Ben-Gurion and Theodor Herzl, he was rightly pilloried for it. In December 2006, he came clean and acknowledged that the Ben- Gurion quote was fraudulent. Kudos to him for reversing the error.

Alas, to advance his polemic, Pappé has embraced the false Ben-Gurion quote endorsing ethnic cleansing, an outlandish accusation. Some of those who relied on Pappé have issued corrections, or are in the process of doing so. Not Pappé, however. He may believe that tainting Israel with original sin justifies his lies. That is sad, but in the post-modern world of modern academe, too often polemics trump truth. The question posed recently by Dexter Van Zile, a researcher at the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America, is whether his home institution, the University of Exeter, and publisher, agree. Academics embrace free speech and, indeed, free speech should be sacred. Such freedom, however, does not expunge poor research, integrity, and honesty.

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Is Putin’s Grip on Power Slipping?

Yesterday’s elections for the Russian Duma (lower house of the legislature) returned mostly bad news for Vladimir Putin’s party, United Russia. Preliminary results matched exit polls, indicating United Russia would receive just under 50 percent of the votes, down from 64 percent in 2007.

The reason this created such a public relations disaster is because camera phones, blogs, and social media services such as Twitter made it easy for those outside Russia to receive updated and verifiable evidence of widespread election fraud on behalf of Putin’s party–including ballot box stuffing, the distribution of pens with invisible ink to polling places, intimidation of election observers, and vote buying. So the impression left lingering in the air was: Imagine if they didn’t try to rig the vote!

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Yesterday’s elections for the Russian Duma (lower house of the legislature) returned mostly bad news for Vladimir Putin’s party, United Russia. Preliminary results matched exit polls, indicating United Russia would receive just under 50 percent of the votes, down from 64 percent in 2007.

The reason this created such a public relations disaster is because camera phones, blogs, and social media services such as Twitter made it easy for those outside Russia to receive updated and verifiable evidence of widespread election fraud on behalf of Putin’s party–including ballot box stuffing, the distribution of pens with invisible ink to polling places, intimidation of election observers, and vote buying. So the impression left lingering in the air was: Imagine if they didn’t try to rig the vote!

Polls have shown the public generally approves of Putin, and many such polls are reliable. But the objection to those results is that there is no real competition for Putin, so how can Russians truly know they want him to lead them? It’s a fair question, and the presence of other parties, such as the Communist Party and A Just Russia, is an unconvincing response to it. Indeed, many Russians believe that, since Putin changed the party registration rules to make it impossible to participate without Kremlin approval, most of the parties are there to prop up the Putin administration, not to challenge it.

I asked Garry Kasparov recently about his contention that voters shouldn’t vote for any of the existing parties, and he said, in a nutshell: in Russia, the liberals aren’t liberals, the Communists aren’t communists, and the nationalists aren’t truly nationalists. He didn’t hesitate to point out that some of these parties, such as the Communist Party and Yabloko, feature the same people who led them when they formed in the wake of the dissolution of the Soviet Union twenty years ago.

This doesn’t mean that democracy is completely absent in Russia; indeed, the results of yesterday’s election show that Russians have been able, despite the barriers, to register their disapproval of the governing party. But the inability of ordinary Russians to stand for election without a party, and the impossibility of registering a party without Putin’s express imprimatur, means Russians are unable to choose their leaders. The elections essentially serve as a nationwide poll.

But with Russia’s economy reliant on the oil market, and with the tidal wave of anti-authoritarian movements sweeping through the Middle East, Putin may view these elections as an indication that his grip on power is less secure than he once thought. Whether that inspires him to liberalize the country’s politics or crack down further on the political participation of opposition groups remains to be seen, but his record—not to mention his party’s behavior yesterday—isn’t particularly encouraging.

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Biden and the Arrogance of Power

Back in 1993, it was Bill Clinton’s haircut tying up air traffic at Los Angeles International Airport. Just last week, President Obama appeared oblivious to how poorly-timed fundraising events could tie Manhattan traffic in knots. If Obama can cause a traffic jam, though, it seems that Vice President Biden wants to one up him. Buried in a Turkish news story about Biden’s visit to Istanbul, was this nugget:

Enjoying the Bosporus view underneath with a speed of around 10 kilometers per hour, he [Biden] did possibly not get the goodwill wishes from all those driving in Saturday lunchtime traffic of the city inhabited by 14 million people.

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Back in 1993, it was Bill Clinton’s haircut tying up air traffic at Los Angeles International Airport. Just last week, President Obama appeared oblivious to how poorly-timed fundraising events could tie Manhattan traffic in knots. If Obama can cause a traffic jam, though, it seems that Vice President Biden wants to one up him. Buried in a Turkish news story about Biden’s visit to Istanbul, was this nugget:

Enjoying the Bosporus view underneath with a speed of around 10 kilometers per hour, he [Biden] did possibly not get the goodwill wishes from all those driving in Saturday lunchtime traffic of the city inhabited by 14 million people.

There are two cross-strait bridges in Istanbul. How wonderful it was for Biden to decide to crawl over one at 6 miles per hour. Perhaps there’s a teachable moment in there somewhere.

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Saddam’s Media Water-Carrier to Produce GOP Debate

It’s bad enough that Newsmax is giving Donald Trump an opening to once again infuse the GOP race with his toxic, self-promoting nonsense by naming him as the moderator of the magazine’s upcoming Republican debate. But Michelle Malkin points out that Trump isn’t the only noxious character associated with the debate. Former CNN head Eason Jordan – the disgraced journalist who admitted to flacking for Saddam’s regime for years in an effort to keep CNN’s Baghdad bureau open – was also given a prominent role as an executive producer:

On Sunday, Newsmax and ION Television announced several key staff for their debate:

Eason Jordan, executive producer — Jordan worked for 23 years with CNN, where he served as chief news executive and president of news gathering and international networks. Jordan’s journalistic honors include Emmy Awards, Peabody Awards Edward R. Murrow Awards, Headliner Awards, ACE Awards, the Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award, the Vanguard Award, and the Livingston Award. He is the founder and CEO of Poll Position, a news, polling, and social media company. He is also a member of the Council of Foreign Relations.

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It’s bad enough that Newsmax is giving Donald Trump an opening to once again infuse the GOP race with his toxic, self-promoting nonsense by naming him as the moderator of the magazine’s upcoming Republican debate. But Michelle Malkin points out that Trump isn’t the only noxious character associated with the debate. Former CNN head Eason Jordan – the disgraced journalist who admitted to flacking for Saddam’s regime for years in an effort to keep CNN’s Baghdad bureau open – was also given a prominent role as an executive producer:

On Sunday, Newsmax and ION Television announced several key staff for their debate:

Eason Jordan, executive producer — Jordan worked for 23 years with CNN, where he served as chief news executive and president of news gathering and international networks. Jordan’s journalistic honors include Emmy Awards, Peabody Awards Edward R. Murrow Awards, Headliner Awards, ACE Awards, the Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award, the Vanguard Award, and the Livingston Award. He is the founder and CEO of Poll Position, a news, polling, and social media company. He is also a member of the Council of Foreign Relations.

As Michelle Malkin explains:

Former CNN head Eason Jordan is the disgraced journalist who admitted in a 2003 New York Times op-ed piece titled “The News We Kept to Ourselves” that he deliberately and intentionally whitewashed Saddam Hussein’s atrocities and regurgitated Hussein propaganda for a decade in exchange for access. Let me underscore that: In 2003, after the U.S.-led Coalition invasion of Iraq and the fall of Saddam Hussein, Jordan confessed that CNN had deliberately reported Baathist propaganda during the Saddam era because it was more urgent to keep their Baghdad bureaus than to tell the truth about that brutal regime.

And Jordan’s weak mea culpa in 2003 hardly makes up for the fact that he systematically carried water for a vile regime in exchange for access. He’s a disgrace to the profession of journalism and to his country. Here’s an example of one atrocity he helped cover up while working at CNN, which he revealed in his New York Times op-ed, “The News We Kept to Ourselves”:

Then there were the events that were not unreported but that nonetheless still haunt me. A 31-year-old Kuwaiti woman, Asrar Qabandi, was captured by Iraqi secret police occupying her country in 1990 for ”crimes,” one of which included speaking with CNN on the phone. They beat her daily for two months, forcing her father to watch. In January 1991, on the eve of the American-led offensive, they smashed her skull and tore her body apart limb by limb. A plastic bag containing her body parts was left on the doorstep of her family’s home.

I felt awful having these stories bottled up inside me. Now that Saddam Hussein’s regime is gone, I suspect we will hear many, many more gut-wrenching tales from Iraqis about the decades of torment. At last, these stories can be told freely.

“At last” these stories can be told freely? In other words, “at last” now that Jordan no longer needed access and acceptance from Saddam’s regime. This man should never again be given the privilege of working in media, much less as a producer for a Republican debate.

There are few times when Ron Paul does something worthy of praise. But both he and Jon Huntsman should be lauded for refusing to attend the Newsmax debate because of Donald Trump’s involvement. The other candidates may not mind that Trump is moderating. But they should seriously reconsider whether they want to be involved in an event produced by one of Saddam’s former water-carriers in the media.

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Will Voice of America’s Persian Service Survive?

During the past several months, I have criticized Voice of America’s Persian Service which, even at the best of times, has been aimless and ill managed. Rather than unite around a particular mission—for example, voicing the news which Iranian journalists are unable to because of censorship and oppression—VOA- Persian’s management has allowed its staff to become partisan in the American context. Its head, Ramin Asgard, appears to have adopted the State Department’s goal of promoting diplomacy with Tehran, without concern for its place in a broader, comprehensive strategy. In recent weeks, the service has been in free-fall with firings, lawsuits, and figurative knife fights among factions. It is never a good thing for American broadcast strategy when, having lost sight of the forest through the trees and having no sense of mission, employees leak the latest gossip to the Islamic Republic’s state press.

Alas, in speaking to others working for American broadcasting overseas, it appears others have taken notice of VOA-Persian’s weakness and may indeed be hastening its demise.

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During the past several months, I have criticized Voice of America’s Persian Service which, even at the best of times, has been aimless and ill managed. Rather than unite around a particular mission—for example, voicing the news which Iranian journalists are unable to because of censorship and oppression—VOA- Persian’s management has allowed its staff to become partisan in the American context. Its head, Ramin Asgard, appears to have adopted the State Department’s goal of promoting diplomacy with Tehran, without concern for its place in a broader, comprehensive strategy. In recent weeks, the service has been in free-fall with firings, lawsuits, and figurative knife fights among factions. It is never a good thing for American broadcast strategy when, having lost sight of the forest through the trees and having no sense of mission, employees leak the latest gossip to the Islamic Republic’s state press.

Alas, in speaking to others working for American broadcasting overseas, it appears others have taken notice of VOA-Persian’s weakness and may indeed be hastening its demise.

Unable to maintain ratings among Iranians inside Iran, a merger between VOA and the Prague-based Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) may be in the works, with VOA-Persian ultimately being closed down in Washington, and folding its operations completely into the RFE/RL. If that’s the case, fine: The duplication of efforts was a drain on limited budgets. A reorganized and rejuvenated Persian service might provide hope, wherever it is based, so long as it has a clear mission and operates as part of a coherent American strategy. Nevertheless, rather than setting VOA- Persian and Asgard up to fail in order to enable a back-door reorganization, the Obama administration and Broadcasting Board of Governors should be upfront and proactive: The damage VOA-Persian’s death throes can cause in the interim are simply too great.

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Report: Cain to Endorse Gingrich

Beyond helping cement Newt Gingrich as the “true conservative” in the field, what impact would Herman Cain’s reported endorsement have on the race?

Cain’s support has dwindled too much to really matter in New Hampshire and Iowa, but he still remains strong in Florida and South Carolina – two states where Gingrich already has a wide lead on Romney. But certainly this endorsement would still be a nice get for Gingrich:

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Beyond helping cement Newt Gingrich as the “true conservative” in the field, what impact would Herman Cain’s reported endorsement have on the race?

Cain’s support has dwindled too much to really matter in New Hampshire and Iowa, but he still remains strong in Florida and South Carolina – two states where Gingrich already has a wide lead on Romney. But certainly this endorsement would still be a nice get for Gingrich:

Speculation is focused on Newt Gingrich, who like Cain hails from Georgia and who was the most effusive of all the Republican hopefuls in praising Cain after the announcement Saturday that he was suspending his campaign. …

A Gingrich spokesman said no endorsement from Cain is expected Monday — despite a report by an Atlanta television station Sunday night saying that one was forthcoming.

A Cain aide described Gingrich and Cain as “good friends,” dating back to Gingrich’s days as Speaker of the House and Cain’s time at the helm of the National Restaurant Association. The aide said an “endorsement announcement is coming soon,” but also declined to say precisely when — or to discuss who Cain, the former CEO of Godfather’s Pizza, might back.

That’s also assuming Cain’s supporters will still respect him enough to be influenced by the endorsement. It’s easy to see how the circumstances of Cain’s exit could disillusion his supporters: Not only did he drag out his wife to defend him against sexual harassment charges, he also fundraised off of the whole debacle. If he knew a story like Ginger White’s could come out and torpedo his campaign, why would he ask supporters to send him money after the Politico allegations broke? And why would Cain push his wife out into the media to defend his integrity, when he knew full well he was keeping secrets from her?

Now that Cain’s suspending his campaign, Rich Lowry rightfully calls on him to return the money to backers who gave it in good faith. If he wants any chance of holding onto the respect of his supporters, he should do so immediately.

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Clinton’s Anti-Israel Broadside Misreads Both Democracy and the Facts

In the Obama administration’s latest salvo against Israel (see here and here for previous rounds), Secretary of State Hillary Clinton reportedly accused Israel of behaving like undemocratic regimes, even comparing it directly to Iran.

This is so outrageous it shouldn’t need refuting. But since the secretary of state is clearly confused about what distinguishes democracies from non-democracies, allow me to help: Democracies, like non-democracies, consist of human beings, and human beings everywhere sometimes produce bad ideas. But unlike non-democracies, democracies have numerous self-correcting mechanisms to keep such bad ideas in check. And nothing better proves this than the very examples she cited.

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In the Obama administration’s latest salvo against Israel (see here and here for previous rounds), Secretary of State Hillary Clinton reportedly accused Israel of behaving like undemocratic regimes, even comparing it directly to Iran.

This is so outrageous it shouldn’t need refuting. But since the secretary of state is clearly confused about what distinguishes democracies from non-democracies, allow me to help: Democracies, like non-democracies, consist of human beings, and human beings everywhere sometimes produce bad ideas. But unlike non-democracies, democracies have numerous self-correcting mechanisms to keep such bad ideas in check. And nothing better proves this than the very examples she cited.

Take, for instance, the segregated buses. Some years ago, a few extremist ultra-Orthodox communities decided that buses should be segregated, with men sitting in front and women in back. Shockingly, the public bus company serving these communities complied. Like Clinton, I find this outrageous, as did most Israelis when they learned of it. But here’s the part of the story Clinton didn’t tell:

Israel’s vibrant free press reported on the issue, creating a public outcry. The issue was taken up by Israel’s democratically elected government. Ordinary individuals joined with some of Israel’s numerous civil-society organizations to petition Israel’s independent High Court of Justice, which unsurprisingly ruled the segregation illegal. Now, civil-society activists are monitoring the ruling’s enforcement.  The verdict so far, as per one activist’s account in Haaretz last month: Some ultra-Orthodox passengers are palpably hostile, but women can sit in the front of the bus without suffering harassment.

In short, the self-correcting mechanisms of Israel’s democracy worked exactly the way they were supposed to: Instead of receiving official sanction, as it does in, say, Saudi Arabia, gender segregation was legally quashed.

Or take the proposals to restrict foreign governments’ funding of left-wing NGOs. As I explain here, these bills sought to address a real problem, but were indeed undemocratic as originally worded.

But here’s the part of the story Clinton didn’t tell: The bills sparked an outcry, both in Israel’s free press and its democratically elected parliament, and the swelling opposition caused Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to ice the legislation even before it reached the Knesset. Once again, the self-correcting mechanisms of Israel’s democracy worked exactly as they were supposed to. Now, a revised version of the bill has been submitted, but it, too, has sparked fierce opposition and will likely be killed unless it undergoes further substantial changes.

Granted, the NGOs America supports in Israel are generally worthy apolitical ones, engaged in causes (like empowering Bedouin women) to which Clinton justly sees no reason for Israel to object. But that isn’t true of European governments — which, for instance, actively fund efforts to get Israeli soldiers indicted in international courts. Try imagining America’s reaction if supposedly friendly governments were funding NGOs that sought to haul American soldiers before the International Criminal Court, and the Israeli bills look much more justifiable.

Clinton’s behavior, in contrast, has no justification whatsoever. After all, she is the secretary of state. Shouldn’t she at least bother to check the facts before launching broadsides.

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“Medvedev Gets Caught Telling the Truth” About Russian Invasion of Georgia

In August 2008, Russian forces invaded Georgia. Sen. John McCain reacted strongly, but then-Sen. Barack Obama’s reaction was limp-wristed at best until Michael McFaul, perhaps Obama’s most able adviser and certainly the shining star of Obama’s National Security Council, shored it up.

Nevertheless, the atmosphere among the American media was poisonous. Obama was promising to embrace all enemies, and Nancy Pelosi and John Kerry were repeatedly thumbing their nose at the Bush administration (and Lebanon) by sitting down to engage with Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad. When Russia invaded Georgia, the blame-the-victim mentality was rife, with even The New York Times suggesting that tiny, democratic Georgia was responsible for provoking Russia. European fact-finders went so far as to blame George W. Bush for provoking Russia by celebrating Georgia’s democracy, and its efforts to promote freedom and liberty.

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In August 2008, Russian forces invaded Georgia. Sen. John McCain reacted strongly, but then-Sen. Barack Obama’s reaction was limp-wristed at best until Michael McFaul, perhaps Obama’s most able adviser and certainly the shining star of Obama’s National Security Council, shored it up.

Nevertheless, the atmosphere among the American media was poisonous. Obama was promising to embrace all enemies, and Nancy Pelosi and John Kerry were repeatedly thumbing their nose at the Bush administration (and Lebanon) by sitting down to engage with Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad. When Russia invaded Georgia, the blame-the-victim mentality was rife, with even The New York Times suggesting that tiny, democratic Georgia was responsible for provoking Russia. European fact-finders went so far as to blame George W. Bush for provoking Russia by celebrating Georgia’s democracy, and its efforts to promote freedom and liberty.

In November, however, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, in a rare moment of honesty, revealed the real reason why Russia invaded tiny Georgia. According to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, from which I’ve borrowed the title of this post, Medvedev suggested to officers in Vladikavkaz, that Russia’s goal was not countering Georgia “aggression” or “genocide” but rather was to prevent Georgia from joining NATO:

“Today I already spoke with the army officers and I will tell it to you too, that it was of course a very difficult page in our recent history, but, unfortunately, it was absolutely necessary [decision]. And the fact that Russia’s actions at the time were so tough has eventually secured a situation for us, which, despite of all the difficulties, is now quieter than it was.”

“We have simply calmed some of our neighbors down by showing them that they should behave correctly in respect of Russia and in respect of neighboring small states. And for some of our partners, including for the North Atlantic Alliance, it was a signal that before taking a decision about expansion of the Alliance, one should at first think about the geopolitical stability. I deem these [issues] to be the major lessons of those developments in 2008.”

The United States should stick by its allies, no matter how tiny, and stand for the principles of liberty and democracy. Sacrificing Georgia to satiate Russia’s desire for overwhelming influence in any area it considers is near is not in the United States’ interest. Given how many commentators and diplomats were willing to throw tiny Georgia under the bus, perhaps it’s time for some real reflection in Washington, given Medvedev’s candor.

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Romney’s New Hampshire Lead Shrinks

Newt Gingrich is closing in on Mitt Romney in New Hampshire, but the former Massachusetts governor still leads the former House Speaker by 16 points, according to the latest Marist poll:

Here is how the contest stands among likely Republican primary voters including those who are undecided yet leaning toward a candidate in New Hampshire:

  • 39% for Mitt Romney
  • 23% for Newt Gingrich
  • 16% for Ron Paul
  • 9% for Jon Huntsman
  • 3% for Michele Bachmann
  • 3% for Rick Perry
  • 2% for Herman Cain
  • 1% for Rick Santorum
  • 4% are undecided

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Newt Gingrich is closing in on Mitt Romney in New Hampshire, but the former Massachusetts governor still leads the former House Speaker by 16 points, according to the latest Marist poll:

Here is how the contest stands among likely Republican primary voters including those who are undecided yet leaning toward a candidate in New Hampshire:

  • 39% for Mitt Romney
  • 23% for Newt Gingrich
  • 16% for Ron Paul
  • 9% for Jon Huntsman
  • 3% for Michele Bachmann
  • 3% for Rick Perry
  • 2% for Herman Cain
  • 1% for Rick Santorum
  • 4% are undecided

As you can see from the poll, Herman Cain’s decision to suspend his campaign (and his reported decision to endorse Gingrich today) probably won’t have much of an impact on the New Hampshire race, since Cain is only at 2 percent. But some undecided voters may be influenced by the Union-Leader, which recently endorsed Gingrich and has been taking regular shots at Romney from its editorial page.

But with just one month until the Iowa caucus, one obstacle Gingrich will have to tackle is his lack of organization. While Romney has been carefully crafting his cross-country operation for over a year, Gingrich is only now rushing to put one into place. the New York Times reports:

Where volunteers for Mr. Romney have gathered voters’ signatures to be on the ballots of Alabama, Illinois, Indiana, Vermont and Virginia, Mr. Gingrich’s campaign is only beginning to activate volunteers in those states.

And adding to the specter of a drawn-out battle is a change in the delegate selection process, which could make the contest a Republican version of the protracted 2008 Democratic primary fight between Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton, which was not resolved until all states had voted.

A drawn-out primary race would almost certainly favor Romney, who has the strength and organization on his side. Gingrich’s long political background and history of chattiness could also work against his favor in a long primary season, because it will give his opponents and the media a huge amount of fodder to attack him with during the race.

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Gutman’s Defense of Arab Jew-Hatred Wasn’t “Taken the Wrong Way”

The firestorm over the assertion made last week by Howard Gutman, the U.S. ambassador to Belgium, that one must draw a distinction between Arab Jew-hatred and “traditional” anti-Semitism won’t be put out by his disingenuous attempt to explain himself. Gutman distinguished Arab anti-Semitism from other variants of this prejudice because it is caused by Israeli policies rather than stemming from the demons of the Muslim world that have given rise to extremist and terrorist groups.

In a subsequent statement, Gutman failed to apologize and merely claimed his remarks were “taken the wrong way.” He then said his status as the son of a Holocaust survivor gives him impunity on the subject. But there was no misunderstanding here. He directly blamed Israel for anti-Semitism in Europe and said Arab hate of Jews was different from that of previous generations of haters. Gutman also explicitly said “every new settlement announced in Israel” and “every retaliatory military strike” undertaken by the Israelis “provides a setback for those fighting hatred and bigotry in here in Europe.” That he coupled his condemnation of Israel along with swipes at Palestinians doesn’t get him off the hook. By doing so, he treated Israeli home building with murder and its right of self-defense with terrorism.

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The firestorm over the assertion made last week by Howard Gutman, the U.S. ambassador to Belgium, that one must draw a distinction between Arab Jew-hatred and “traditional” anti-Semitism won’t be put out by his disingenuous attempt to explain himself. Gutman distinguished Arab anti-Semitism from other variants of this prejudice because it is caused by Israeli policies rather than stemming from the demons of the Muslim world that have given rise to extremist and terrorist groups.

In a subsequent statement, Gutman failed to apologize and merely claimed his remarks were “taken the wrong way.” He then said his status as the son of a Holocaust survivor gives him impunity on the subject. But there was no misunderstanding here. He directly blamed Israel for anti-Semitism in Europe and said Arab hate of Jews was different from that of previous generations of haters. Gutman also explicitly said “every new settlement announced in Israel” and “every retaliatory military strike” undertaken by the Israelis “provides a setback for those fighting hatred and bigotry in here in Europe.” That he coupled his condemnation of Israel along with swipes at Palestinians doesn’t get him off the hook. By doing so, he treated Israeli home building with murder and its right of self-defense with terrorism.

Gutman’s placing blame on Israel for European anti-Semitism was not a matter of interpretation or even an off the cuff remark. He opened his remarks last Wednesday to the European Jewish Congress announcing he was going to say things they might not like. He was not wrong. According to the original account of the speech published by Ynet, the “audience was visibly stunned.”

It should also be pointed out that Gutman is not an ingénue when it comes to expressing his views. A Washington “superlawyer” who bought his title of ambassador with massive contributions to President Obama’s campaign, he is an experienced and highly successful litigator. His smear of Israel was a considered opinion that was part of his prepared remarks.

It also bears mentioning that Gutman’s “credentials” as the son of a survivor cannot be allowed to excuse his egregious smear of the Jewish state. Any attempt to try and differentiate the hate that took the lives of six million European Jews during the Holocaust from the current vision that seeks the murder of six million Israeli Jews provides a rationale for Islamist extremism. Attempts to blame Israel for the ideological anti-Semitism that has found a new home in the Arab and Muslim worlds in the last century is no more justified than those who sought to blame European Jews for their victimization. That Gutman would not point out that those who wish to deny Israel’s right to exist or self-defense are bigots pure and simple shows how out of touch he is with the nature of this hatred. But it is consistent with Obama’s record of treating Israeli policies as the cause for the continuance of the Middle East conflict.

If the administration is paying attention, Gutman will be quickly recalled. A failure to do so will provide fodder to Republicans who are already poised to exploit the ongoing tension between Obama and Israel in next year’s presidential election.

But, as I wrote yesterday, coming as it did only a couple of days before the secretary of defense made it clear he blamed Israel for its isolation as Islamist parties grew in influence in the Arab world, it is impossible to avoid the conclusion that Gutman’s comments represent the opinion of this White House. Just as the president’s off-hand comments insulting Prime Minister Netanyahu in an open microphone exchange with French President Sarkozy revealed the depth of his animosity, so too do Gutman and Panetta’s blasts demonstrate that this administration instinctively blames Israel for the hatred of those who seek to destroy it.

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Why Obama Can’t Play Teddy Roosevelt

Last week, liberal author and Obama supporter Doris Kearns Goodwin told “Meet the Press” that the president ought to stop playing the post-partisan and emulate Theodore Roosevelt by initiating a re-election effort aimed at rekindling the 26th president’s appeal for a “Square Deal.” Kearns Goodwin hoped Obama might capture the fervor of TR’s unsuccessful Bull Moose Party campaign for president in 1912 during which he called for more fairness in the economic system of the time and railed against untrammeled corporate greed. And, as Ben Smith notes in Politico, it appears the White House is taking her advice by going to Osawatomie, Kansas, to deliver remarks on the economy which will seek to identify Obama’s views with those of the hero of San Juan Hill.

The superficial link between Roosevelt’s version of progressivism and contemporary liberalism was enough to send Glenn Beck off the deep end last year, but it appears the famous historian Kearns Goodwin and Obama himself seem to agree with the conservative talker. But they are all equally off the mark. Comparisons between TR’s attempt to introduce some notion of fairness into a financial system that had none at the time and in which even the most minimal government regulation of market excesses was controversial simply cannot be compared to Obama’s desire to expand the size and reach of government to an extent Roosevelt never dreamed of.

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Last week, liberal author and Obama supporter Doris Kearns Goodwin told “Meet the Press” that the president ought to stop playing the post-partisan and emulate Theodore Roosevelt by initiating a re-election effort aimed at rekindling the 26th president’s appeal for a “Square Deal.” Kearns Goodwin hoped Obama might capture the fervor of TR’s unsuccessful Bull Moose Party campaign for president in 1912 during which he called for more fairness in the economic system of the time and railed against untrammeled corporate greed. And, as Ben Smith notes in Politico, it appears the White House is taking her advice by going to Osawatomie, Kansas, to deliver remarks on the economy which will seek to identify Obama’s views with those of the hero of San Juan Hill.

The superficial link between Roosevelt’s version of progressivism and contemporary liberalism was enough to send Glenn Beck off the deep end last year, but it appears the famous historian Kearns Goodwin and Obama himself seem to agree with the conservative talker. But they are all equally off the mark. Comparisons between TR’s attempt to introduce some notion of fairness into a financial system that had none at the time and in which even the most minimal government regulation of market excesses was controversial simply cannot be compared to Obama’s desire to expand the size and reach of government to an extent Roosevelt never dreamed of.

Like most historical analogies, the effort to compare the cool Obama to the Rough Rider is a contrivance driven more by the desire of Democrats to seize any popular theme to save a failing presidency than a reasonable comparison of the two men’s ideas. Roosevelt’s career and interests were so varied that it is possible to interpret his career in a number of different contexts. He was a soldier and a believer in a vision of America as a burgeoning great power as well as an environmentalist, a progressive as well as devout believer in individualism and the genius of the American entrepreneur and the free market in which he excelled. To focus on one aspect to the exclusion of the others is to create a distorted image neither he nor his contemporaries would have recognized. That is why the recent focus on TR’s progressive period by both elements of the right and the left doesn’t shed much light on either the politics of his time or our own.

To call for restraints on Wall Street greed in 1907 or 1912 at a time when there was no federal income tax or much of a government regulatory scheme is a very different thing from doing so today. The role of the federal government in the market as well as its powers are simply not comparable to those of a century ago. For all of our worries today about the economy and the plight of the poor, they are not to be compared to the situation then–when there was no safety net of any kind for the impoverished as TR thought there should be. One may trace the beginnings of American liberalism to the progressives of that era and Roosevelt’s desire for justice for all Americans, but it is just as silly to appropriate TR as an icon for the Democrats next year as it would be for the GOP to use him. Roosevelt hated J.P. Morgan, but as a firm believer in capitalism it isn’t likely he would find much to like in the rhetoric of Occupy Wall Street with which Obama sympathizes. Nor, I might add, would he have been likely to have much use for Barack Obama’s disdain for American exceptionalism. As biographer Kearns Goodwin should know, TR was no socialist. He distanced himself from the progressives after 1912 for the very reason that he saw their evolving political movement diverging from his own principles.

Obama and TR are polar opposites in just about every aspect of their characters and presidencies. Obama hasn’t the personality or the political convictions to credibly play Harry Truman to recreate the Democrats’ victory of 1948, and the idea that he can channel the spirit of Theodore Roosevelt is ridiculous.

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