Commentary Magazine


Posts For: December 7, 2011

Why Democrats Defend Newt Against Mitt

For months, the Democrats have been hammering Mitt Romney. His inconsistencies, flip-flopping and record in business and politics have all been highlighted in what many observers saw as the Obama campaign’s preparation for a nasty general election campaign against the man they assumed would be the Republican nominee.

But with polls showing Romney losing ground and Newt Gingrich assuming a sizable lead in the Republican presidential race, one has to wonder why the Democrats are still obsessing about Mitt. Even more curious is their latest blast at the former Massachusetts governor that, as Politico reports, attacks him for even thinking about going negative about Gingrich. By doing so at a time when Romney can no longer be considered the inevitable nominee, the Democrats may be betraying their preference in an opponent.

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For months, the Democrats have been hammering Mitt Romney. His inconsistencies, flip-flopping and record in business and politics have all been highlighted in what many observers saw as the Obama campaign’s preparation for a nasty general election campaign against the man they assumed would be the Republican nominee.

But with polls showing Romney losing ground and Newt Gingrich assuming a sizable lead in the Republican presidential race, one has to wonder why the Democrats are still obsessing about Mitt. Even more curious is their latest blast at the former Massachusetts governor that, as Politico reports, attacks him for even thinking about going negative about Gingrich. By doing so at a time when Romney can no longer be considered the inevitable nominee, the Democrats may be betraying their preference in an opponent.

Part of the explanation could be that the Democratic campaign machine has become so used to attacking Romney every time he breathes they haven’t even thought about easing up on him as he starts to lose ground.

It could also be that, like some Republicans and Romney supporters, they don’t believe the Gingrich surge is real, though anyone who has taken a good look at the raft of polls in the last three weeks showing the former Speaker’s steady rise in both national and state surveys must concede this is no bubble.

But it could also be that they don’t want to take any chances. The Democrats have concentrated their attacks on Romney specifically because, like many Republicans, they saw him as the most electable GOP candidate. Romney presented a genuine threat to Obama’s re-election because of his appeal to independents and the center of the spectrum. While the rest of the Republican field presented easy pickings for opposition researchers, Romney was different. That’s why the Obama campaign appeared ready to stoop to anything to besmirch him. Back in the summer, reports emerged of an Obama campaign plan to brand Romney as too “weird” to be president. Given that the squeaky-clean Romney has lived as conventional and square a life as anyone can imagine, that seemed to be a clear attempt to play into anti-Mormon prejudice.

So perhaps, the Democrats want to do their best to ensure that Romney doesn’t overcome Gingrich’s lead. Though Newt’s fans have convinced themselves that his debating skills will vanquish Obama next fall, Democratic strategists are licking their chops at the prospect of running against the man who shut down the federal government in 1995 and who has generated more goofy quotes and positions than anyone else in public life in recent memory. Looked at in that context, the Democrats’ crocodile tears about Romney getting tough with Gingrich must be seen as the ultimate in opportunism.

It’s far from clear Republicans will listen to any attack or attempt to highlight Gingrich’s record. But no matter what the Democrats say, Romney does need to try to remind GOP voters of what they’re in for if Gingrich becomes their nominee. While it is unlikely Republicans will care what the Democrats think, their recent statements about Romney amply illustrate who they prefer as an opponent.

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Gingrich’s Political Fault Lines

Often the most damaging words used against politicians are the ones that are said against them by others. In the case of Newt Gingrich, the most damaging words against him may be those he has said about himself.

Kirsten Powers has written a column amassing examples of what she calls the former Speaker’s self-infatuation. They include this one: “I don’t want my country to collapse. I don’t want my daughter and wife raped and killed,” Gingrich told a reporter in 1994. After all, he said, “People like me are what stand between us and Auschwitz.” And then there’s this (from scribbled notes during a brainstorming sessions):

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Often the most damaging words used against politicians are the ones that are said against them by others. In the case of Newt Gingrich, the most damaging words against him may be those he has said about himself.

Kirsten Powers has written a column amassing examples of what she calls the former Speaker’s self-infatuation. They include this one: “I don’t want my country to collapse. I don’t want my daughter and wife raped and killed,” Gingrich told a reporter in 1994. After all, he said, “People like me are what stand between us and Auschwitz.” And then there’s this (from scribbled notes during a brainstorming sessions):

“Gingrich—primary mission: advocate of civilization, definer of civilization, teacher of the rules of civilization, arouser of those who fan civilization, organizer of the pro-civilization activists, leader (possibly) of the civilizing forces.”

Will these things matter in the primary (and potentially in a presidential) campaign?

By themselves, not so much. They may be worth a chuckle or a roll of the eyes, but it’s unlikely that quotes like these, by themselves, would move people, at least Republican voters, one way or the other as it relates to Gingrich.

On the other hand, if these quotes reinforce a pre-existing impression about Gingrich or contribute to a narrative that can be revived, it will inflict substantial damage on him.

There are several options Gingrich’s opponents have open to them, including focusing attention on his conservative “heresies,” his flip-flops on the issues, and his public and private character. These are not mutually exclusive. But my own instinct is the latter poses the greatest threat to the former Speaker. It’s the sense many people have (including those who have worked with and for Gingrich) that he is chronically undisciplined and narcissistic, erratic and temperamentally unsuited for the presidency. If these concerns are tapped into, reinforced, and fortified by either the other GOP candidates or, in a general election, by President Obama, then it will prove to be politically lethal for Gingrich.

 

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Court Decision Reaffirms Convictions of Muslim Brotherhood’s U.S. Branch

The Dallas Morning News reports the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit has upheld the 2009 convictions of five persons who helped the Holy Land Foundation raise money in this country for the Hamas terrorist group. Andrew McCarthy gives a good summary of the decision at National Review. But, as he demonstrates, the significance of this case goes beyond the question of how Islamists sought to use American Muslims as a cash cow for Hamas. The details of the case, reiterated by the unanimous opinion of the three-member panel of federal judges, provide a history not just of American jihadists but their connections with the Muslim Brotherhood; yes, the same group that just won the Egyptian parliamentary elections.

The main points to be remembered here are that Hamas was founded by the Brotherhood in 1987 as Islamists sought a foothold among Palestinians looking for an alternative to the rival Fatah terrorist movement. The Brotherhood was also behind the founding of support groups for Hamas around the globe, but specifically in the United States. Their American “Palestine Committee” founded the Holy Land Foundation to raise money for Hamas. But it also, as the evidence in the federal trial showed, created other structures. The most important of them was the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), which was to be the political front of the Hamas support group.

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The Dallas Morning News reports the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit has upheld the 2009 convictions of five persons who helped the Holy Land Foundation raise money in this country for the Hamas terrorist group. Andrew McCarthy gives a good summary of the decision at National Review. But, as he demonstrates, the significance of this case goes beyond the question of how Islamists sought to use American Muslims as a cash cow for Hamas. The details of the case, reiterated by the unanimous opinion of the three-member panel of federal judges, provide a history not just of American jihadists but their connections with the Muslim Brotherhood; yes, the same group that just won the Egyptian parliamentary elections.

The main points to be remembered here are that Hamas was founded by the Brotherhood in 1987 as Islamists sought a foothold among Palestinians looking for an alternative to the rival Fatah terrorist movement. The Brotherhood was also behind the founding of support groups for Hamas around the globe, but specifically in the United States. Their American “Palestine Committee” founded the Holy Land Foundation to raise money for Hamas. But it also, as the evidence in the federal trial showed, created other structures. The most important of them was the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), which was to be the political front of the Hamas support group.

CAIR, which has survived and grown in the last two decades, now presents itself as a moderate civil rights group whose aim is to foster good community relations and to push back against the supposed wave of prejudice against Muslims that we are told rose up after 9/11. But despite its ability to scam the mainstream media, its origins as the mouthpiece for Islamist killers responsible for the murder of both Israelis and Americans are clear. The group was named as an unindicted co-conspirator in the Holy Land case.

The affirmation of these federal convictions reminds us of two clear facts that should inform both foreign and domestic policy.

The first is that despite the spin coming out of the White House in recent months as well as some voices in the media, the Muslim Brotherhood is a dangerous organization with strong links to international terrorism. Their rise to power in Egypt is a threat to the region. Any attempt to portray them as moderates or responsible partners in an alliance with the United States illustrates the capacity of Americans to deceive themselves about Islamists.

The second is that the popular portrayal of CAIR as a civil rights group is a sad joke. They remain a front for Islamists, and their efforts to hijack the American Muslim community should not be abetted by a gullible media.

The lesson of the Holy Land Foundation case is that those who seek to whitewash Islamists either here or in Egypt are advancing the cause of a dangerous movement that presents a threat both in the Middle East and at home.

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America Needs a Proactive, Not Reactive Foreign Policy

There has been much discussion at “Contentions” and elsewhere about the Obama administration’s foreign policy, as well as the positions put forward by the Republican contenders. Alas, if there is one common characteristic, it is that almost all the debate centers around reacting to events rather than enunciating a proactive American strategy.

The Obama administration has been reacting on the fly to the Arab Spring, and the embarrassing flip-flops by some of the Republican candidates have done the quality of the debate a disservice. While I am certainly critical of some of Obama’s naïveté regarding American adversaries and believe that his abandonment of Iraq represents a devastating own-goal, it would behoove any successor to recognize that first and foremost the problems we face come from adversaries abroad rather than their predecessors.

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There has been much discussion at “Contentions” and elsewhere about the Obama administration’s foreign policy, as well as the positions put forward by the Republican contenders. Alas, if there is one common characteristic, it is that almost all the debate centers around reacting to events rather than enunciating a proactive American strategy.

The Obama administration has been reacting on the fly to the Arab Spring, and the embarrassing flip-flops by some of the Republican candidates have done the quality of the debate a disservice. While I am certainly critical of some of Obama’s naïveté regarding American adversaries and believe that his abandonment of Iraq represents a devastating own-goal, it would behoove any successor to recognize that first and foremost the problems we face come from adversaries abroad rather than their predecessors.

Being secretary of state shouldn’t simply be about the travel and the perks, but about the strategy. Ask any diplomat or Pentagon official, and they will tell you their time is spent dealing with the next contingency, crisis, or deadline. Perhaps the reason for the weakness of American policy is because too few officials have their eyes on the big picture. There is no coherent policy or comprehensive strategy, one that interweaves the diplomatic, informational, military, and economic components which are essential to success.

Perhaps it is time for the Republicans not only to play backseat driver, but to outline a much more comprehensive vision. For example, they might want to define where they want the Arab states to be in two years, and then work backwards to construct a U.S. strategy which might produce the desired results. Likewise, they might ask the same question about Iran’s nuclear defiance. Set the goal and the timeline, and then work in reverse to craft a proactive strategy.

Pundits like Tom Friedman constantly praise China. While I would never, like Friedman, so glibly discount China’s gross violations of human rights and its dictatorship, there is no question that China has defined a strategy which it works toward. Vladimir Putin also has in Russia, and both countries have advanced their strategic positions because of it. Perhaps it’s time the United States again lead, rather than lazily react and follow.

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Re: It’s Time to Abandon Country Clearances

Michael’s lament about endless bureaucratic hours wasted on totally unnecessary paper pushing is a beautiful example of government’s astonishing inefficiency. Multiply this by tens of thousands of other programs and procedures throughout the federal government empire and you have serious money being wasted.

And, barring a miracle (or a major war), it will continue to be wasted as there is no mechanism to correct it. Monopolies are always inefficient in this way, and governments are always monopolies. In profit-seeking companies in competitive markets, competition forces companies to look endlessly for ways to cut costs, for a penny saved is a penny earned. The corporate executive who finds a way to cut costs by, say, ten percent, is a hero. A government bureaucrat who does that is a goat. Bureaucrats measure their status not by the size of their profits, but by the size of their budgets and their staff. The last thing they want to do is cut out unnecessary procedures and forms that enlarge both budget and staff.

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Michael’s lament about endless bureaucratic hours wasted on totally unnecessary paper pushing is a beautiful example of government’s astonishing inefficiency. Multiply this by tens of thousands of other programs and procedures throughout the federal government empire and you have serious money being wasted.

And, barring a miracle (or a major war), it will continue to be wasted as there is no mechanism to correct it. Monopolies are always inefficient in this way, and governments are always monopolies. In profit-seeking companies in competitive markets, competition forces companies to look endlessly for ways to cut costs, for a penny saved is a penny earned. The corporate executive who finds a way to cut costs by, say, ten percent, is a hero. A government bureaucrat who does that is a goat. Bureaucrats measure their status not by the size of their profits, but by the size of their budgets and their staff. The last thing they want to do is cut out unnecessary procedures and forms that enlarge both budget and staff.

One way to change that culture, of course, would be to make it in the interest of the bureaucrats to change their ways by changing their incentives. If cutting out an outdated procedure would save the government, say, $1 million, why not give the first year’s savings to the personnel in the office who made the reform? A bureaucrat who found a $50,000 bonus showing up in his paycheck would be powerfully motivated to find other ways to save money and so would his colleagues in other offices around the world.

But absent such an incentive, nothing will happen.

 

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It’s Time to Abandon Country Clearances

When I worked at the Pentagon, 90 percent of my job was bureaucratic nonsense, and perhaps ten percent was substantive. My colleagues at the State Department, at least those based in Washington, described their jobs similarly. Within the U.S. government, managing bureaucratic exercises which long ago ceased their relevance involves hundreds of thousands of man-hours and costs the United States tens of millions of dollars.

Case in point: Country clearances. In an age where international travel is easy, visas for many countries are issued at the border if not entirely waived. But for anyone on official American business—even that which doesn’t involve diplomacy or meetings with foreign officials—the situation is unnecessarily complicated and involves getting a country clearance. In short, the U.S. embassy in the country where travel will occur must first be informed in advance that an American is coming, and then formally approve the visit. Earlier this year, for example, I had to get a country clearance for South Korea for a stay that was to be less than 12 hours—just enough to leave a ship and get to the airport—meeting no one along the way. That trip, however, involved endless bureaucracy amongst administrators in both the United States, and then some poor diplomat (or intern) to go through the hassle of formally responding. A 12-hour transit stopover in Lisbon required nearly half that time spent elsewhere on paperwork. Such nonsense happens hundreds of times each day.

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When I worked at the Pentagon, 90 percent of my job was bureaucratic nonsense, and perhaps ten percent was substantive. My colleagues at the State Department, at least those based in Washington, described their jobs similarly. Within the U.S. government, managing bureaucratic exercises which long ago ceased their relevance involves hundreds of thousands of man-hours and costs the United States tens of millions of dollars.

Case in point: Country clearances. In an age where international travel is easy, visas for many countries are issued at the border if not entirely waived. But for anyone on official American business—even that which doesn’t involve diplomacy or meetings with foreign officials—the situation is unnecessarily complicated and involves getting a country clearance. In short, the U.S. embassy in the country where travel will occur must first be informed in advance that an American is coming, and then formally approve the visit. Earlier this year, for example, I had to get a country clearance for South Korea for a stay that was to be less than 12 hours—just enough to leave a ship and get to the airport—meeting no one along the way. That trip, however, involved endless bureaucracy amongst administrators in both the United States, and then some poor diplomat (or intern) to go through the hassle of formally responding. A 12-hour transit stopover in Lisbon required nearly half that time spent elsewhere on paperwork. Such nonsense happens hundreds of times each day.

Start any bureaucratic process and various offices in the government add their own hoops into the process. A few times a year, I will go to Wiesbaden or Grafenwohr in Germany to teach classes. That usually involves a United flight to Frankfurt or Munich, a night or two at a hotel, and then back home in time to feed Neocatservative and change his litter. But because the teaching is for the U.S. Army, country clearance requires ensuring that my online SERE (Survival Evasion Resistance Escape) training is up-to-date. Online SERE training is, of course, a joke and bears no resemblance to reality. Our servicemen go through actual SERE training to survive and resist interrogation should they be stranded behind enemy lines. What in theory is an 18-hour online course that must be taken each year in no way compares nor is it relevant. Does the State Department really think if I get a toothache in Germany, I need to know how to hunt in the forest for the proper herbal remedy? Perhaps I’m going soft, but I’d rather go to the 7-11 and get an aspirin. The real irony, of course, is that thanks to the U.S. European Command, travel to Germany now requires more bureaucratic hassle than travel to Iraq or Afghanistan.

In this day and age when budgets are slim, and fat must be cut, it may be time for the U.S. State Department to reconsider whether procedures that may have been relevant 50 years ago (in an age before international telephone service, let alone internet and 24-hour cable news) are no longer required. Maybe the U.S. embassy in Togo or Benin needs to know when an American is passing through those countries, but diplomats in London, Rome, and Berlin should certainly have better things to do. Perhaps if the State Department did not saddle its men and women with such silliness, the government could save money by downsizing administrators, and more diplomats might actually be able to get out and about to represent the United States.

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The Death of the Middlebrow Novel

Time magazine has published its annual Top 10 lists of “everything” in 2011, but the fiction list is the most conspicuous. Rather than make you click through ten different screens, here is the list in a shorter form:

(  1.) George R. R. Martin, A Dance with Dragons. To quote Kingsley Amis from New Maps of Hell: “I think it better to say straight out that I do not like fantasy.” Speaking for myself: I stand by my earlier assertion that, if a fantasy novel is the best work of fiction this year, then an epochal change occurred in the literary culture while no one was watching.

(  2.) David Foster Wallace, The Pale King. The half-finished manuscript that Wallace left behind when he committed suicide.

(  3.) Ann Patchett, State of Wonder. Patchett is our greatest author of overlong Tendenzromane — romances of political tendentiousness. The politics can’t conceal the sentimentality at the heart of Patchett’s vision.

(  4.) Teju Cole, Open City. About a Nigerian immigrant to New York. Fascinating voice. Nothing happens.

(  5.) Kate Atkinson, Started Early, Took My Dog. Fifth volume in a series of mysteries.

(  6.) Kevin Wilson, The Family Fang. A first novel about performance artists who use their kids as props. Ha, ha.

(  7.) Kate Beaton, Hark! A Vagrant. A collection of cartoons. Don’t ask me what it’s doing on a fiction list. “[I]t ought to be somewhere,” Lev Grossman says, “so let’s put it here.” Um, okay.

(  8.) Lars Kepler, The Hypnotist (trans. Ann Long). You’ve read all of Stieg Larsson? Not to worry. Here’s another grisly Swedish thriller. Better title: Cruelty in a Cold Climate.

(  9.) J. Courtney Sullivan, Maine. An increasingly common genre: the multi-generational saga of women. In Maine this time, for the sake of difference if not originality.

(10.) Daniel Clowes, The Death Ray. A graphic novel about a Chicago boy who acquires a working death ray.

Time magazine, the press secretary for middlebrow thought in America, has now officially abandoned its readers. A fantasy, an unfinished philosophical jawbreaker, two mysteries, a collection of cartoons, a far-fetched debut, and a graphic novel — these are the “best books” it can recommend to readers with limited time for reading and a non-specialist interest in new fiction? Where are the big fat reads? The thick novels, thick with characters and incident, in which readers can lose themselves? Jonathan Franzen tried to write such a novel last year in Freedom, although he insisted that his nearly 600-page book — in the 19th century it would have been called a triple-decker — belonged “solidly in the high-art literary tradition.” (It didn’t.)

My wife’s favorite novel this year was Abraham Verghese’s Cutting for Stone (2009), a book that was recommended to her by another professional who is more interested in people than in literary form. This is a perfectly respectable kind of novel, serious fiction without pretensions to difficulty. That’s pretty much the 19th-century conception of the novel, in fact; and good writers can still do wonderful things with the kind. Jeffrey Eugenides’s The Marriage Plot is the ideal cross-over novel, for example, appealing both to serious part-time readers and those who want to “keep up” with the latest in literary thinking. Its absence from Time’s list says far more about the magazine’s desperate efforts to seem edgy and clever than it does about the best fiction of 2011.

Time magazine has published its annual Top 10 lists of “everything” in 2011, but the fiction list is the most conspicuous. Rather than make you click through ten different screens, here is the list in a shorter form:

(  1.) George R. R. Martin, A Dance with Dragons. To quote Kingsley Amis from New Maps of Hell: “I think it better to say straight out that I do not like fantasy.” Speaking for myself: I stand by my earlier assertion that, if a fantasy novel is the best work of fiction this year, then an epochal change occurred in the literary culture while no one was watching.

(  2.) David Foster Wallace, The Pale King. The half-finished manuscript that Wallace left behind when he committed suicide.

(  3.) Ann Patchett, State of Wonder. Patchett is our greatest author of overlong Tendenzromane — romances of political tendentiousness. The politics can’t conceal the sentimentality at the heart of Patchett’s vision.

(  4.) Teju Cole, Open City. About a Nigerian immigrant to New York. Fascinating voice. Nothing happens.

(  5.) Kate Atkinson, Started Early, Took My Dog. Fifth volume in a series of mysteries.

(  6.) Kevin Wilson, The Family Fang. A first novel about performance artists who use their kids as props. Ha, ha.

(  7.) Kate Beaton, Hark! A Vagrant. A collection of cartoons. Don’t ask me what it’s doing on a fiction list. “[I]t ought to be somewhere,” Lev Grossman says, “so let’s put it here.” Um, okay.

(  8.) Lars Kepler, The Hypnotist (trans. Ann Long). You’ve read all of Stieg Larsson? Not to worry. Here’s another grisly Swedish thriller. Better title: Cruelty in a Cold Climate.

(  9.) J. Courtney Sullivan, Maine. An increasingly common genre: the multi-generational saga of women. In Maine this time, for the sake of difference if not originality.

(10.) Daniel Clowes, The Death Ray. A graphic novel about a Chicago boy who acquires a working death ray.

Time magazine, the press secretary for middlebrow thought in America, has now officially abandoned its readers. A fantasy, an unfinished philosophical jawbreaker, two mysteries, a collection of cartoons, a far-fetched debut, and a graphic novel — these are the “best books” it can recommend to readers with limited time for reading and a non-specialist interest in new fiction? Where are the big fat reads? The thick novels, thick with characters and incident, in which readers can lose themselves? Jonathan Franzen tried to write such a novel last year in Freedom, although he insisted that his nearly 600-page book — in the 19th century it would have been called a triple-decker — belonged “solidly in the high-art literary tradition.” (It didn’t.)

My wife’s favorite novel this year was Abraham Verghese’s Cutting for Stone (2009), a book that was recommended to her by another professional who is more interested in people than in literary form. This is a perfectly respectable kind of novel, serious fiction without pretensions to difficulty. That’s pretty much the 19th-century conception of the novel, in fact; and good writers can still do wonderful things with the kind. Jeffrey Eugenides’s The Marriage Plot is the ideal cross-over novel, for example, appealing both to serious part-time readers and those who want to “keep up” with the latest in literary thinking. Its absence from Time’s list says far more about the magazine’s desperate efforts to seem edgy and clever than it does about the best fiction of 2011.

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Remember When Gingrich Opposed “Radical Change”?

Back in May, Newt Gingrich received a lot of attention for these comments about Rep. Paul Ryan’s entitlement reform plan (emphasis is mine):

“I don’t think right-wing social engineering is any more desirable than left-wing social engineering,” Gingrich said on Meet the Press, when asked about Ryan’s plan. “I don’t think imposing radical change from the right or the left is a very good way for a free society to operate.”

“I’m against Obamacare, which is imposing radical change, and I would be against a conservative imposing radical change,” Gingrich continued.

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Back in May, Newt Gingrich received a lot of attention for these comments about Rep. Paul Ryan’s entitlement reform plan (emphasis is mine):

“I don’t think right-wing social engineering is any more desirable than left-wing social engineering,” Gingrich said on Meet the Press, when asked about Ryan’s plan. “I don’t think imposing radical change from the right or the left is a very good way for a free society to operate.”

“I’m against Obamacare, which is imposing radical change, and I would be against a conservative imposing radical change,” Gingrich continued.

At the time, I wondered where the old Gingrich — the one who supported “radical change” during the ’90s — disappeared to. Fast-forward seven months. Here’s Gingrich speaking at the Republican Jewish Coalition this afternoon:

“We are far enough off the right track that we need fundamental change. Are we in favor of American exceptionalism, or are we in favor of Saul Alinsky radicalism?” Gingrich said. “I don’t feel it is possible to get the scale of change we need just by the president alone.”

Gingrich urged the audience to stand “shoulder to shoulder” with him “to insist on fundamental change.”

Maybe in Gingrich’s mind, “fundamental change” means something vastly different than “radical change.” Maybe something has happened since May that has convinced him drastic change is necessary. Or maybe he’s once again flitted from one conviction to the next, with no real explanation or self-reflection.

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Ending Fatalism About Israel’s Future

The JTA reports today that new population data show that during the past decade the fertility rate of Jews in Israel is on the rise compared to Arabs and other minorities in the country. Contrary to the demographic doom scenarios widely accepted both among Israeli and American elites, the most recent data are part of a growing collection of evidence that points to a stable and potentially growing Jewish majority in Israel proper, and perhaps even with the West Bank included.

Rather than having to make desperate moves in the peace process as a result of demographic trends, Israel may very well be in control of its own destiny, something all who are concerned for the Jewish state’s future should gladly accept.

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The JTA reports today that new population data show that during the past decade the fertility rate of Jews in Israel is on the rise compared to Arabs and other minorities in the country. Contrary to the demographic doom scenarios widely accepted both among Israeli and American elites, the most recent data are part of a growing collection of evidence that points to a stable and potentially growing Jewish majority in Israel proper, and perhaps even with the West Bank included.

Rather than having to make desperate moves in the peace process as a result of demographic trends, Israel may very well be in control of its own destiny, something all who are concerned for the Jewish state’s future should gladly accept.

The trends in the recent data are clear: whereas in 2001 Jewish births accounted for 69 percent of the Israeli total, in 2010 they represented 76 percent. This follows another study last year which found a 50 percent rise in the Jewish birthrate in Israel from 1994. (For those who assume the increase is due only to growth in the haredi sector, the birthrate for secular Jewish women was found to be 2.6 and rising, the highest in the Western world.) These new data points come years into a substantive debate in Israel about the accuracy of commonly cited Palestinian birthrates and population numbers, which are not collected with nearly the same rigor as in Israel, and are largely projections from a 1997 (unrepeated) census. All of which has led some researchers to conclude that the Palestinian population in the West Bank may be overstated by as much as 1 million, which, if true, would of course dramatically change population projections for a territory that already holds more than 300,000 Jews.

None of this “proves” anything one way or another. Political decisions should also, of course, be based on more than demographic considerations.

Acceptance of those basic and (one would hope) uncontroversial propositions, however, points to the essential failure of the more important debate about what Israel must do to secure its future. The common assumption of this debate is that Israel is trapped by overarching trends it cannot control or effectively meet and must instead respond to. This has led to a depressing fatalism in the consideration of the Jewish state’s future–by both friend and foe–that matches in its way a similar fatalism that seems at every turn to grip an ever larger share of the population of the West.

Uncertainties about Israel’s demographics can and should help free us from that. The challenges Israel faces are deep enough without adding on – as a certainty – projections that may never come to pass.

 

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Christie: Obama Has “Been on the Bench”

Yesterday, President Obama gave a speech reminiscent of his 2008 campaign, in which he urged Americans to “meet the moment” and “up our game.” At the Republican Jewish Coalition presidential forum today, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie slammed Obama for not living up to his own standards, and criticized the president for sitting “on the bench” instead:

“I would like to remind the president that today is Dec. 7, 2011, not Jan. 20, 2009, he is way late to the game,” said Christie. “I challenge all of you to search the rest of the speech for any concrete accomplishments that would line up with the words he used. Let’s just use this quote, we need to meet the moment. Mr. President we need a leader who will lead us to the moment…and not be cautious and sit back and wait for someone else to do the hard work but to get out of the chair, and do the hard work yourself to make America a better place.”

“We need to up our game?” Christie continued. “[Obama] has had every opportunity to up his game for the last three years and he has been on the bench.”

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Yesterday, President Obama gave a speech reminiscent of his 2008 campaign, in which he urged Americans to “meet the moment” and “up our game.” At the Republican Jewish Coalition presidential forum today, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie slammed Obama for not living up to his own standards, and criticized the president for sitting “on the bench” instead:

“I would like to remind the president that today is Dec. 7, 2011, not Jan. 20, 2009, he is way late to the game,” said Christie. “I challenge all of you to search the rest of the speech for any concrete accomplishments that would line up with the words he used. Let’s just use this quote, we need to meet the moment. Mr. President we need a leader who will lead us to the moment…and not be cautious and sit back and wait for someone else to do the hard work but to get out of the chair, and do the hard work yourself to make America a better place.”

“We need to up our game?” Christie continued. “[Obama] has had every opportunity to up his game for the last three years and he has been on the bench.”

Christie has been a valuable surrogate for Mitt Romney on the campaign trail, and recently blasted Newt Gingrich as a career politician. He was careful to avoid taking any shots at the other candidates or make any overt reverences to Romney during his keynote. But he did advise the audience to be cautious about choosing a candidate – noting that the GOP needs to hold its politicians to the same standards it expects from the Democrats.

“We as Republicans must not only challenge the president of the United States [to reach] that standard. He has no hope,” said Christie. “We must also challenge each and every person in our party…to meet that same standard.”

Beyond that, the fact that Christie was tapped for the keynote at the RJC also seems to suggest its supporters may be leaning toward Romney. Christie clearly had a great deal of support from the audience, and there’s no doubt his endorsements are taken seriously by this crowd.

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Another UN Failure

More than 30 years ago, the Vietnamese army invaded Cambodia, ending a four-year long genocide that killed up to two million Cambodians. This past July, the first judgment was passed down against a perpetrator of the genocide, the chief jailer of the main torture prison responsible for more than 15,000 deaths. Many Cambodians were disappointed with the 19-year sentence set down by the Khmer Rouge Tribunal, a function of the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC). The Cambodian government wanted that trial to be the only one held by the Tribunal and has done everything in its power to prevent more cases from being heard. Many former cadres in the Khmer Rouge are now occupying high posts in the Cambodian government, and Prime Minister Hun Sen has warned further trials could throw the country back into civil war. The court has nevertheless pushed through with “Case No. 2″ against four senior members of the former Khmer Rouge government.

The ECCC is a UN-backed court, comprised of both Western and Cambodian judges. Without experience trying a case of this magnitude, the United Nations insisted upon having Western judges involved in every aspect of the case – from investigations to sentencing. Predictably, the court has fallen apart under the mixed supervision of both local and international judges and administrators. Less predictably, the UN-appointed Western judges have been the ones to have their impartiality and effectiveness questioned by observers and even co-workers. In what many on the ground describe as a mutiny, a team of UN lawyers wrote to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to report that the actions of a German judge “[breached] international standards of justice, fairness and due process of law.”

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More than 30 years ago, the Vietnamese army invaded Cambodia, ending a four-year long genocide that killed up to two million Cambodians. This past July, the first judgment was passed down against a perpetrator of the genocide, the chief jailer of the main torture prison responsible for more than 15,000 deaths. Many Cambodians were disappointed with the 19-year sentence set down by the Khmer Rouge Tribunal, a function of the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC). The Cambodian government wanted that trial to be the only one held by the Tribunal and has done everything in its power to prevent more cases from being heard. Many former cadres in the Khmer Rouge are now occupying high posts in the Cambodian government, and Prime Minister Hun Sen has warned further trials could throw the country back into civil war. The court has nevertheless pushed through with “Case No. 2″ against four senior members of the former Khmer Rouge government.

The ECCC is a UN-backed court, comprised of both Western and Cambodian judges. Without experience trying a case of this magnitude, the United Nations insisted upon having Western judges involved in every aspect of the case – from investigations to sentencing. Predictably, the court has fallen apart under the mixed supervision of both local and international judges and administrators. Less predictably, the UN-appointed Western judges have been the ones to have their impartiality and effectiveness questioned by observers and even co-workers. In what many on the ground describe as a mutiny, a team of UN lawyers wrote to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to report that the actions of a German judge “[breached] international standards of justice, fairness and due process of law.”

Douglas Gillison writes for Foreign Policy: “In the seven months since the letter was written, the United Nations has not offered a substantive answer to these problems. Indeed, as matters continued to worsen, officials at headquarters in New York determined that their hands were tied, leaving matters to deteriorate to the point of scandal.”

The ECCC was established in 2003 after six years of negotiations with the UN about the scope of Western countries’ involvement in the trials. Western powers were convinced the Cambodians were unable to convict Cambodians of crimes against other Cambodians, and thus had to step in. The court was constructed in such a way that there would be safeguards against Cambodian judges’ improper behavior, but none for Western judges’ abuse of power. In Foreign Policy, Gillison writes in depth about the shocking details that finally, after months, brought the resignation of the German judge. Since 2009, when the UN appointed an Australian academic and a self-proclaimed Marxist to be a liaison for Cambodian victims of the Marxist Khmer Rouge, the United States has contributed more than $10 million to the court. Despite reports from New York and Phnom Penh about the court’s dysfunction and wasteful spending, the UN, United States and other leading Western governments continue to silently watch the court daily crumble into total anarchy, all the while pouring millions of dollars into its operations.

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Don’t Abandon Democracy Efforts in Middle East; Redouble Them

With the Islamist wave rolling through the Middle East—and Egypt’s disturbing turn toward more radical elements dismissive of democracy, tolerance, and liberalism—it is easy to dismiss democratization as foolish, and instead long for the days of the Arab strongman. This would be short-sighted.

Islamist strength is less a reflection of their ideology, and more a reaction to the hatred of the dictators who preceded them. As Egyptian-American sociologist Saad Eddin Ibrahim has said, the Middle East’s autocrats and theocrats are mirror images of each other; both recruit off hatred of the other and target the liberals in between. Perhaps one of the reasons why the disorganized secular opposition did so poorly in Egypt is simply because they never had sustained support to enable them to organize. Even as George W. Bush spoke of the need for reform, the U.S. embassy in Egypt actually went so far as to offer the Mubarak regime veto power over which independent civil society projects it funded.

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With the Islamist wave rolling through the Middle East—and Egypt’s disturbing turn toward more radical elements dismissive of democracy, tolerance, and liberalism—it is easy to dismiss democratization as foolish, and instead long for the days of the Arab strongman. This would be short-sighted.

Islamist strength is less a reflection of their ideology, and more a reaction to the hatred of the dictators who preceded them. As Egyptian-American sociologist Saad Eddin Ibrahim has said, the Middle East’s autocrats and theocrats are mirror images of each other; both recruit off hatred of the other and target the liberals in between. Perhaps one of the reasons why the disorganized secular opposition did so poorly in Egypt is simply because they never had sustained support to enable them to organize. Even as George W. Bush spoke of the need for reform, the U.S. embassy in Egypt actually went so far as to offer the Mubarak regime veto power over which independent civil society projects it funded.

Nor is the problem just Islamism. Rather, it is the tendency of some Islamists to eschew both democracy and tolerance. Citizens should be equal regardless of their religion or degree of religiosity. That said, not every Islamist party appears as intolerant or insincere with regard to the precepts of democracy as those in Egypt. Jordan has weathered Muslim Brotherhood surges in the past, and allowed them to dissipate when voters held the Islamists to account for disturbing antics and unpopular social interference. Morocco too will weather its Islamist government. The King in Morocco heads religious practice, and so ensures moderation. Moroccan Islamists also appear serious about real reform rather than simply religious populism. Ahead of Morocco’s recent elections, Morocco’s Islamists campaigned on education reform and alleviating the unemployment, and not hatred of non-Muslims. The strength of Jordan and Morocco lies in confidence that Islamists will subordinate themselves to future elections, and thus the public can hold them to account. While policymakers wring their hands over Egypt’s election result, there appears to be very little discussion about how to ensure there will be an election to follow, and the Egyptian radicals simply won’t write a constitution to disadvantage their opponents.

There are three lessons the United States should draw from the Islamist wave:

The first is that the United States must have a proactive strategy to encourage liberalism and ensure the Arab Spring does not turn into a situation of one man, one vote, one time. Alas, while Secretary of State Clinton reacts to events, she has not enunciated her approach to ensure the permanence of the democratic process.

The second is that incitement matters. Many Egyptians truly hate Jews, Americans, and more broadly, Western liberalism. That is because for decades, American officials and diplomats have ignored state-sanctioned incitement, or brushed it off as mere Arab rhetorical flourish. Incitement works, however. Radicals’ indoctrination becomes all the easier if the United States is afraid to engage in the war of ideas on a daily basis. Alas, the State Department may not be up to the task.

Another lesson of the Egyptian election—and one applicable to Libya and Syria as well—is that leading from behind has a cost. The Obama administration has embraced Qatar and even some of Governor Romney’s aides seem high on the Persian Gulf emirate. They seem not to recognize that Qatar has its own agenda and exclusively funds Islamist groups. American diplomats might believe that U.S. inaction enables an even playing field, but sadly they are incorrect: If the Americans are the only ones who do not favor any group, they are in effect throwing what few liberals there are to the wolves, because those whom we work through are not shy about ensuring the Islamists have the means to triumph.

Simply giving up on reform, however, will radicalize the region further and ensure the eventual outcome of the Middle East’s transformation is so much worse.

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Will There Be a “Slavic Spring”?

In a full interview to air tonight, Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad tells Barbara Walters that his conscience is clear: “You feel sorry for the life that has been lost, but you don’t feel guilty when you don’t kill people.” Since misery loves company and there is strength in numbers, Assad is probably a bit relieved that the recent Russian elections have inspired some in the media to talk about a “Slavic Spring.”

Thousands of protesters have taken to the streets in Russia to protest this week’s Duma elections, in which Vladimir Putin’s administration was caught engaging in widespread election fraud and still managed to gain only 50 percent of the vote, down 14 percent from 2007. But the Russian protests differ from the Arab Spring in at least one significant way: the Russian version is not leaderless. That is a near-term strength of the movement, but it may be its long-term undoing.

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In a full interview to air tonight, Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad tells Barbara Walters that his conscience is clear: “You feel sorry for the life that has been lost, but you don’t feel guilty when you don’t kill people.” Since misery loves company and there is strength in numbers, Assad is probably a bit relieved that the recent Russian elections have inspired some in the media to talk about a “Slavic Spring.”

Thousands of protesters have taken to the streets in Russia to protest this week’s Duma elections, in which Vladimir Putin’s administration was caught engaging in widespread election fraud and still managed to gain only 50 percent of the vote, down 14 percent from 2007. But the Russian protests differ from the Arab Spring in at least one significant way: the Russian version is not leaderless. That is a near-term strength of the movement, but it may be its long-term undoing.

The Russian public’s most effective anti-corruption tactic has been engineered by a blogger who has become a cult hero: Aleksei Navalny. It’s important to note just how significant a role the raucous Russian blogosphere plays in the country’s opposition politics. Russian television stations are both overloaded with pro-government programming and also largely ignored for that reason. The network of Russian LiveJournal blogs is where the action is.

But Navalny is no ordinary blogger. He crafted a way to fight Russian corruption that is both creative and somewhat effective: He purchased shares in large Russian companies and confronted executives at shareholder meetings to publicize corruption and poor management. He also engineered a crowd sourcing system to involve Russians in finding corruption elsewhere.

In addition, Navalny played a role in the ruling party’s disappointing showing in this week’s election. Amid a debate about what tactic voting Russians should utilize to express their displeasure of the Putin administration, the “Navalny option” won out. Navalny advocated voting for any party or candidate not affiliated with Putin’s United Russia party, so that opposition to Putin could not be ignored (the way it could if Russians refused to vote, since that option would not have made the same dent in United Russia’s election returns).

So Navalny has earned his place as a well-respected activist and perhaps de facto leader of the protesters. The lack of such leadership in the Arab Spring has been the source of much tension, confusion, and apprehension about what the various revolutions, if successful, would implement to replace the autocrats against whom they had risen up. This confusion has, at least in some ways, benefited people like Assad, because he has made the argument (however specious) that what will rise in his place is worse than his regime (doubtful).

But Navalny also threatens to hold back the Russian opposition with his casual association with, and his movement’s possible co-option by, the country’s vicious nationalists. Navalny’s own nationalism was the subject of his expulsion from the liberal Yabloko party several years ago (though it is surely not the only reason), and he has cooperated with, marched with, and defended ultranationalist leaders. Russia’s ultranationalists are openly racist and have a troubling history with anti-Semitism as well. Navalny himself, at a recent nationalist rally, caught some flak for saying, in reference to Russian oligarchs who also happened to be Jewish, “This is our country, and we have to eradicate the crooks who suck our blood and eat our liver.” The historical weight of those terms with regard to Jewish “outsiders,” combined with the throngs of neo-Nazis cheering him on, made many wonder if Navalny’s opposition movement was taking a dark turn.

Of course, Putin himself is far from blameless. The Kremlin has long used suspicion of outsiders as a way to scapegoat obnoxious “meddlers” and rally the public around the flag. Both United Russia and Navalny are playing a dangerous game, but only one of them is in power. Navalny, and Russia’s many brave opposition figures, can ill afford to be discredited by ugly associations. This week may prove to be a turning point, and the spotlight is on Navalny–as is the pressure for him to offer an attractive, compelling alternative for those who want to see Putin’s virtual monopoly on political power challenged.

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Gutman: Palestinians “Understandably” Abandoned Bilateral Negotiations

U.S. Ambassador Howard Gutman’s specific line, coming in the midst of a long apology about how Obama had to follow congressional instructions and defund UNESCO, comes in at about 3:38 on the video. Keep in mind that what he anodynely describes as a “short-term tactical victory” – which he finds “understandable” in light of Israeli policy – was in fact a full-scale Palestinian nullification of the Oslo Accords. Quote-unquote:

Now we are all frustrated by the lack of progress in the Middle East, and by the continued settlement efforts by Israel. So we needed to press harder to resume the negotiations; we needed to press harder to stop the settlements. But that frustration has understandably led to Palestinians pursuing short-term tactical victories.

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U.S. Ambassador Howard Gutman’s specific line, coming in the midst of a long apology about how Obama had to follow congressional instructions and defund UNESCO, comes in at about 3:38 on the video. Keep in mind that what he anodynely describes as a “short-term tactical victory” – which he finds “understandable” in light of Israeli policy – was in fact a full-scale Palestinian nullification of the Oslo Accords. Quote-unquote:

Now we are all frustrated by the lack of progress in the Middle East, and by the continued settlement efforts by Israel. So we needed to press harder to resume the negotiations; we needed to press harder to stop the settlements. But that frustration has understandably led to Palestinians pursuing short-term tactical victories.

The rest of the speech had more complaints about those pesky congressional mandates, which are known elsewhere as “laws” and which American ambassadors have traditionally been charged with articulating in a favorable light. Gutman’s comments were coupled with one particularly clanking Banana Republic-style aside, where he meditated on how “… if my country’s case is just, as I believe it’s always been under President Obama …” There was a time when ambassadors didn’t go out of their way to rhetorically imply that past American presidents had pursued unjust policies.

There’s a reason we want ambassadors to completely avoid any impression of partisanship. Otherwise, allies and enemies will anticipate discontinuity across administrations, which would erode the faith they have in our commitments and pledges, which would in turn weaken lame duck presidents and those who have to deal with opposition-controlled Congresses. That said, the president himself began the administration dispensing anti-Bush payback to stalwart War on Terror allies – including hanging New Europe out to dry after they had taken the huge risk of siding with us and against Russia on missile defense – so that damage has mostly been done.

In any case, here’s the video of Obama’s ambassador to Belgium blaming Israel for Palestinian unilateralism. Because if there’s anything we’ve learned from Ambassador Gutman, it’s that there’s nothing that’s not Israel’s fault:

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Romney: Obama Not Easily Defeated

Mitt Romney is making the case against Newt Gingrich, but subtly here. Republican voters have been barraged with so much evidence of President Obama’s failures – his plummeting approval ratings, his failure to boost the economy – that it’s easy to believe any GOP candidate can defeat him. Some see this as the reason for Gingrich’s rise. During Romney’s speech at the Republican Jewish Coalition forum today, he urges caution:

“Many think because of his staggering failures, Obama will be easily defeated,” said Romney, adding that this wasn’t necessarily true. “[H]e will resort to anything. As you know, class warfare and demagoguery are powerful weapons.”

“It will be a choice between entitlement and merit; between appeasement and resolve,” Romney continued. “Our nominee must offer Americans more than just a choice to vote against President Obama.”

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Mitt Romney is making the case against Newt Gingrich, but subtly here. Republican voters have been barraged with so much evidence of President Obama’s failures – his plummeting approval ratings, his failure to boost the economy – that it’s easy to believe any GOP candidate can defeat him. Some see this as the reason for Gingrich’s rise. During Romney’s speech at the Republican Jewish Coalition forum today, he urges caution:

“Many think because of his staggering failures, Obama will be easily defeated,” said Romney, adding that this wasn’t necessarily true. “[H]e will resort to anything. As you know, class warfare and demagoguery are powerful weapons.”

“It will be a choice between entitlement and merit; between appeasement and resolve,” Romney continued. “Our nominee must offer Americans more than just a choice to vote against President Obama.”

The choice that Romney outlines for Jewish Republicans? He pits his support for Israel versus Obama’s support for Palestinian hardliners:

“[Obama’s] actions have emboldened Palestinian hardliners, and they’re now poised to form a unity government with the terrorist group Hamas. President Obama has immeasurably set back the prospect of peace in the Middle East….

I would not meet with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. He should be excluded from diplomatic society. In fact he should be indicted for the crime of incitement of genocide…On my watch Iran’s ayatollahs will not be permitted to obtain nuclear weapons. A nuclear armed Iran is not only a threat of Israel, it’s a threat to the entire world.”

Romney, who spoke after Jon Huntsman and Rick Santorum, got by far the most supportive reception from the RJC crowd. With two standing ovations at the beginning and end of his speech, it looks like the RJC may have settled on its candidate. After Newt Gingrich’s speech later this afternoon, we should have a better idea of who the coalition is leaning toward.

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Blaming Israel “Almost Entirely”

Jeffrey Goldberg writes the Obama administration seems to be arguing Israel is “almost entirely” to blame for the stalled peace process, which “clearly isn’t true.” Goldberg’s own suggestion is Israel should do things it has either already done or would have no effect if it did them now:

“The Palestinian Authority of Mahmoud Abbas seems uninterested in even sharing its ideas for compromise with Israel. Yet this doesn’t excuse the Netanyahu government’s inability to curtail the settlements or the settlers, some of whom behave despicably toward their Palestinian neighbors. The occupation will come to an end only through direct negotiation. The West Bank settlers should, if nothing else, be brought under the rule of law, and be encouraged to come home.”

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Jeffrey Goldberg writes the Obama administration seems to be arguing Israel is “almost entirely” to blame for the stalled peace process, which “clearly isn’t true.” Goldberg’s own suggestion is Israel should do things it has either already done or would have no effect if it did them now:

“The Palestinian Authority of Mahmoud Abbas seems uninterested in even sharing its ideas for compromise with Israel. Yet this doesn’t excuse the Netanyahu government’s inability to curtail the settlements or the settlers, some of whom behave despicably toward their Palestinian neighbors. The occupation will come to an end only through direct negotiation. The West Bank settlers should, if nothing else, be brought under the rule of law, and be encouraged to come home.”

Let’s see: Israel withdrew every settler and soldier from Gaza; it had no effect. Then Netanyahu instituted a ten-month construction freeze throughout the West Bank; it had no effect. There is currently an unannounced freeze except in areas Israel will keep in any conceivable peace agreement — no effect. Netanyahu formally endorsed a Palestinian state — Abbas says he will never recognize a Jewish one. The PA has unelected leaders with no authority to negotiate — even if they were interested in negotiating — and cannot implement any agreement even if one were negotiated, since half the putative state is held by the terrorist group Abbas pledged in the last agreement to dismantle but did not. Abbas was previously offered a Judenrein state on substantially all the West Bank (with a swap for the rest) and walked away.

And it is unclear in the first place why Arabs can live in a Jewish state but Jews cannot live in a Palestinian one.

Apply the Israeli law to the supposedly uncurtailed settlers. But do not think they are the reason there is no peace process, or that encouraging them to leave their homes would have any effect at all. A better peace plan is the one put forward yesterday by the Israeli foreign minister. In the meantime, the settlements should stay put.

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Think Just Israel is Worried? Saudis Want Their Own Nuke if Iran Has One

The Obama administration continues to talk about the necessity of stopping Iran’s quest for nuclear weapons but is doing very little. Its efforts at “engagement” with the ayatollahs flopped. So did their feeble attempt to craft an international coalition in favor of “crippling sanctions” on Iran to force them to halt their nuclear program. The president opposes a ban on transactions with Iran’s Central Bank that would halt the flow of crucial oil income into the Islamist republic that pays for their nuclear adventures. He will probably use waivers to avoid enforcing a bill just passed by Congress that would be the boldest sanction yet on Iran. So can we be surprised that America’s allies are wondering what they should do about the situation?

In the case of Israel, their only option is the use of force. But Saudi Arabia, which is just as worried about a nuclear Iran as the Jewish state, is thinking about its own nuke. That’s the hint dropped yesterday by an influential Saudi prince, and it ought to scare the Obama administration. If the thought of an Iranian bomb isn’t enough to shake them out of their complacence, then how about a Middle East nuclear arms race in which the Saudi monarchy adds its resources to the problem?

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The Obama administration continues to talk about the necessity of stopping Iran’s quest for nuclear weapons but is doing very little. Its efforts at “engagement” with the ayatollahs flopped. So did their feeble attempt to craft an international coalition in favor of “crippling sanctions” on Iran to force them to halt their nuclear program. The president opposes a ban on transactions with Iran’s Central Bank that would halt the flow of crucial oil income into the Islamist republic that pays for their nuclear adventures. He will probably use waivers to avoid enforcing a bill just passed by Congress that would be the boldest sanction yet on Iran. So can we be surprised that America’s allies are wondering what they should do about the situation?

In the case of Israel, their only option is the use of force. But Saudi Arabia, which is just as worried about a nuclear Iran as the Jewish state, is thinking about its own nuke. That’s the hint dropped yesterday by an influential Saudi prince, and it ought to scare the Obama administration. If the thought of an Iranian bomb isn’t enough to shake them out of their complacence, then how about a Middle East nuclear arms race in which the Saudi monarchy adds its resources to the problem?

Prince Turki al-Faisal’s comments about the Saudis needing to think about getting their own weapon if they found themselves confronted by a nuclear Iran and a nuclear Israel illustrates the shift in thinking among Gulf States that has been necessitated by the Obama administration’s failures. Though many in Washington are acting as if an Iranian bomb is something they can contain or at least live with, the Saudis and the other Arab countries in the region understand that it is something that will fundamentally alter the balance of power. Were the ayatollahs allowed to get such a weapon, it would place them in a position to put a stranglehold on the flow of oil from the Gulf as well as place the future of the Saudi monarchy — and those of the other principalities and emirates there — in jeopardy.

Though al-Faisal mentioned being between Israel’s bomb and an Iranian one, there should be no misunderstanding about the different nature of the two programs. The purpose of Israel’s nuclear arms is to provide a deterrent against the Muslim world’s 63-year-old war against the Jewish state’s existence. The Saudis know the Israeli nukes are no threat to them or any other Arab state so long as they don’t join in any attack on Israel. But Iran’s weapons would not only allow it to make good on its threats to annihilate the Jewish state. They would serve to provide a nuclear umbrella for their terrorist allies Hamas and Hezbollah as well as any Shia groups that might operate in the Arabian Peninsula. It would be a dagger pointed at the heart of Saudi Arabia and also enhance the ability of Iran to choke off the flow of oil despite the presence of the U.S. Navy in the Gulf.

Under such circumstances, the Saudis would have no choice but to do whatever they could to arm themselves. Though fears are real that a U.S. or Israeli strike on Iranian nuclear facilities might set off a regional war, the Saudis have made no secret about the fact that they would prefer that scenario to one in which the Iranians achieved hegemony in the Gulf.

The Saudi statement ought to provide the administration with yet another wake-up call on the peril from Iran. While the president may hope covert operations such as sabotage or assassinations of Iranian scientists — which may or may not be the work of American and Israeli intelligence — will stop Iran, that might be a trifle optimistic. The Israelis and the Saudis know it will take more than that to avert this danger. As Prince al-Faisal reminded us yesterday, if you think the Israelis are paranoid about Iran, just listen to the Saudis.

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Rep. King Releases Muslim American Military Statistics

House Homeland Security Chair Peter King is holding a joint hearing today with Senate Homeland Security Chair Joe Lieberman on the threat of homegrown terrorism in the U.S. military. Opponents like the ACLU are already claiming the hearing will “do a disservice to American Muslims serving our country.” But while King’s critics often talk about honoring Muslim Americans in the military, nobody has ever actually released the actual number of those who serve and have been killed in action in the War on Terror – and even the U.S. military has stayed mum on it.

It might surprise them that these statistics are included in King’s report:

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House Homeland Security Chair Peter King is holding a joint hearing today with Senate Homeland Security Chair Joe Lieberman on the threat of homegrown terrorism in the U.S. military. Opponents like the ACLU are already claiming the hearing will “do a disservice to American Muslims serving our country.” But while King’s critics often talk about honoring Muslim Americans in the military, nobody has ever actually released the actual number of those who serve and have been killed in action in the War on Terror – and even the U.S. military has stayed mum on it.

It might surprise them that these statistics are included in King’s report:

At least 6,024 U.S. service members who declared Islam as their faith have served honorably in overseas war deployments since the 9/11 attacks, and 14 Muslim-American troops have been killed in action, all in Iraq, the Pentagon informed the Committee’s Majority Staff. We honor these American heroes, four of whom are buried in nearby Arlington National Cemetery, for making the ultimate sacrifice in service of our nation.

Of course, while we should honor the thousands of Muslim Americans who have served honorably – and the 14 who have made the ultimate sacrifice for their country – that doesn’t mean we can ignore the very real threat of homegrown terror in the military. As Fort Hood shooter Nidal Hasan and Army Pvt. Naser Abdo have shown, radicalization puts all of our troops at risk – including Muslim American service members. According to the committee report, “The  Committee’s Majority Staff has reason to believe that the actual number of radicalized troops is far more than publicly realized or acknowledged.”

They write:

But a particularly insidious aspect of the homegrown terror threat remains radicalized troops who target their fellow brothers and sisters in arms, without regard to their faith. The Committee’s Majority Staff has determined that nine or more  Muslim-Americans who are current, former or would-be military insiders have been convicted since 2001 or stand charged with national security crimes. An additional  two Muslim-Americans convicted of planning terrorist attacks against military targets inside the U.S. had earlier tried and failed to join police departments or the FBI and CIA.

Honoring our troops also means keeping them safe from internal attacks. Today’s hearing is a crucial step toward doing that.

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Tilt of Institutions Show Erosion of Support for Israel Among Democrats

Politico has published a fascinating feature this morning discussing a trend that is well known among political observers but rarely discussed: the anti-Israel tilt of many of the key Washington groups that serve to promote Democratic Party interests and ideas. As Ben Smith tells it:

The Center for American Progress, the party’s key hub of ideas and strategy, and Media Matters, a central messaging organization, have emerged as vocal critics of their party’s staunchly pro-Israel congressional leadership and have been at odds, at times, with Barack Obama’s White House, which has acted as a reluctant ally to Benjamin Netanyahu’s Israeli government.

While the vast majority of congressional Democrats and much of its rank and file remain part of the national pro-Israel consensus, the fact that important elements in the party are seeking to undermine that coalition and replace it with an anti-Israel point of view should be deeply troubling to Jewish Democrats and others who care about the alliance with the Jewish state. It also illustrates that the willingness of the Obama administration to pick fights with and to unfairly blame it for the persistence of the Middle East conflict has an influential constituency within the party’s Washington elite.

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Politico has published a fascinating feature this morning discussing a trend that is well known among political observers but rarely discussed: the anti-Israel tilt of many of the key Washington groups that serve to promote Democratic Party interests and ideas. As Ben Smith tells it:

The Center for American Progress, the party’s key hub of ideas and strategy, and Media Matters, a central messaging organization, have emerged as vocal critics of their party’s staunchly pro-Israel congressional leadership and have been at odds, at times, with Barack Obama’s White House, which has acted as a reluctant ally to Benjamin Netanyahu’s Israeli government.

While the vast majority of congressional Democrats and much of its rank and file remain part of the national pro-Israel consensus, the fact that important elements in the party are seeking to undermine that coalition and replace it with an anti-Israel point of view should be deeply troubling to Jewish Democrats and others who care about the alliance with the Jewish state. It also illustrates that the willingness of the Obama administration to pick fights with and to unfairly blame it for the persistence of the Middle East conflict has an influential constituency within the party’s Washington elite.

Smith details the vicious invective that the Center for American Progress and Media Matters routinely spew at anyone they consider an advocate for Israel, even an Obama acolyte like Jeffrey Goldberg, who writes for the Atlantic and Bloomberg News. The websites of both groups can often be found wrongly smearing Israeli policy and putting forth misleading information about the Hamas terror state in Gaza. Both are also apologists for the Islamist regime in Iran and have sought to undermine the campaign to enact sanctions against the ayatollahs. Even worse, they have attempted to brand as “warmongers” those who believe the use of force must remain an option to remove the existential nuclear threat that hangs over Israel. In particular, they have sought to hang that tag on AIPAC in language reminiscent of the Israel Lobby smears and conspiracy theories of Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer.

The significance of this goes far beyond the minimal impact the two groups have had in Washington on this issue to this point. The story demonstrates the growing divide within the party on Israel by highlighting the fact that two key Democratic groups in Washington have now allied themselves with the Palestinian lobby.

This is something about which many Jewish Democrats are clearly in denial. But instead of boldly confronting these anti-Israel elements within their own camp, Jewish Democrats prefer to blame the messengers. Even to mention the fact that the influential left-wing of the party has left the pro-Israel consensus is enough to provoke screams of anger from Jews who act as if stating this is tantamount to accusing them of being against the Jewish state.

Jewish Democrats should not be surprised when the administration they support has incidents such as President Obama’s ambush of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu last May, or the recent statements from Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton or U.S. Ambassador to Belgium Howard Gutman. They are the product of the growing influence of anti-Israel elements within their party. This is not to say the party or the administration has utterly abandoned the alliance with Israel. As I wrote yesterday, the political constraints that exist to prevent a full break are still too strong for even an administration that has a problem with the Jewish state to contemplate.

This does provide Republicans with an opportunity to make limited inroads on the Jewish vote as they contrast their record on the issue with the division inside the Democrats. But as Smith writes, the drumbeat of anti-Israel incitement from key Democratic Party institutions is doing something even more important: giving the Arab lobby hope they can destroy the bipartisan pro-Israel consensus in Washington.

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A Match Made in Heaven

Yesterday, Mitt Romney announced he would not attend a December 27 debate hosted by Donald Trump, joining both Ron Paul and Jon Huntsman in the boycott. In response, Newt Gingrich wondered aloud why these candidates were “afraid” of Trump and said it would be taken as a sign they are “weak.”

That’s quite a silly statement. Romney, Paul, and Huntsman aren’t afraid of Donald Trump; they simply have enough wisdom to stay away from an event hosted by a publicity-obsessed buffoon. Nor is their absence from the debate a sign of weakness; it is, in fact, a sign they have a sense of propriety. That cannot always be said of Gingrich.

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Yesterday, Mitt Romney announced he would not attend a December 27 debate hosted by Donald Trump, joining both Ron Paul and Jon Huntsman in the boycott. In response, Newt Gingrich wondered aloud why these candidates were “afraid” of Trump and said it would be taken as a sign they are “weak.”

That’s quite a silly statement. Romney, Paul, and Huntsman aren’t afraid of Donald Trump; they simply have enough wisdom to stay away from an event hosted by a publicity-obsessed buffoon. Nor is their absence from the debate a sign of weakness; it is, in fact, a sign they have a sense of propriety. That cannot always be said of Gingrich.

I will say this: if there’s one GOP presidential candidate who probably does belong in the company of Donald Trump, it’s Newt Gingrich. They do share several traits in common. Not all of them are good.

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