Commentary Magazine


Posts For: December 18, 2011

What’s the “Different Story” About Obama and Israel?

As I noted earlier, President Obama’s pitch for the Jewish vote has more to do with his appeal to knee-jerk liberalism on a host of non-Jewish issues than it does with concern for Israel’s welfare. Nevertheless, it is a misnomer to think liberal Jews such as those who cheered Obama Friday at the Reform biennial, don’t care about the Jewish state.

However, their willingness to accept Obama’s claims on the topic says more about their desire not to turn on a Democrat than it says about his virtues. One must ignore much of what has transpired in the last three years in order to believe the president’s claims.

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As I noted earlier, President Obama’s pitch for the Jewish vote has more to do with his appeal to knee-jerk liberalism on a host of non-Jewish issues than it does with concern for Israel’s welfare. Nevertheless, it is a misnomer to think liberal Jews such as those who cheered Obama Friday at the Reform biennial, don’t care about the Jewish state.

However, their willingness to accept Obama’s claims on the topic says more about their desire not to turn on a Democrat than it says about his virtues. One must ignore much of what has transpired in the last three years in order to believe the president’s claims.

The main element of Obama’s claim is that he has done more for Israel’s security than any of his predecessors. It is true he has done nothing to interfere with the security alliance that has grown since it was initiated during the Reagan administration. Military aid has flowed in large amounts, and for that Obama deserves some credit. But to speak, as he does, as if this relationship was invented by him, is absurd. On Friday, he alluded, as his defenders often do, to the Iron Dome missile defense system the two nations have created. But that project was initiated and funded by the Bush administration. The most we can say of Obama’s involvement is that he chose not to prevent it from being deployed.

Obama also bragged of making a phone call to ask Egypt’s military government to prevent Israeli diplomats from being slaughtered and also of providing assistance when forest fires beset Israel. These are praiseworthy acts. But, as with his continuance of existing security cooperation, the failure to act would have been far more noteworthy than a routine willingness to help.

But though the president told his Reform listeners not to “let anybody else tell a different story,” his account of his relations with Israel is, to put it mildly, incomplete.

From his first moments in office, Obama set out to distance the United States from Israel. The intention was both to draw a distinction between the closeness of the Bush administration to the Jewish state but also to create a greater bond between the Arab and Islamic world and the United States. President Obama’s June 2009 Cairo speech drew a moral equivalence between the Holocaust and the plight of the Palestinians. This attempt to reach out to Muslims failed miserably, but the one thing he accomplished was to convince the Palestinians they could avoid negotiating with Israel because Obama was willing to fight the Israelis for them.

In his speech, the president noted his frustration with the lack of progress toward peace but failed to acknowledge that he has chosen to vent that anger solely at Israel by picking damaging and unnecessary fights with the Netanyahu government. No president has done more to undermine Israel’s position on Jerusalem. His stance on the 1967 borders was, like his stance on Jerusalem, a precedent setter that tilted the diplomatic field toward the Palestinians. It is this record that has caused Israelis to regard him with less favor than any other American president in a generation.

Just as troubling is another issue he brought up in order to bolster his questionable pro-Israel bona fides: Iran’s nuclear program. Obama told the Reform gathering the following:

We’ve worked painstakingly from the moment I took office with allies and partners, and we have imposed the most comprehensive, the hardest-hitting sanctions that the Iranian regime has ever faced. We haven’t just talked about it, we have done it.  And we’re going to keep up the pressure. And that’s why, rest assured, we will take no options off the table. We have been clear.

The problem with this pledge is that it is utterly disingenuous.

Having wasted three years on a feckless attempt to “engage” Iran and failed efforts to get the international community to adopt the “crippling sanctions” that Secretary of State Clinton said must be imposed, Obama is forced to pretend the weak sanctions voted by the United Nations have any meaning. They don’t. Even worse is the fact that these “hard-hitting” sanctions are not being enforced–even by the United States, where the Treasury Department has issued thousands of legal exemptions to allow companies to do business with Iran. And when Congress has sought to impose a meaningful sanction — such as the effort to ban transactions with any entity that works with Iran’s Central Bank – the administration has opposed such efforts and fought to include waivers that will allow the president to shelve enforcement of this measure, too.

Though Obama says he will take “no option” off the table — a veiled reference to the use of force — Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta has made it clear that the United States opposes the use of force against Iran and will oppose any effort by Israel to use it either.

The “different story” that must be told about Obama is that he has talked incessantly about stopping Iran but has done nothing to achieve that end. He has spoken of his support for Israel’s security but has done much to undermine its diplomatic position and, sometimes unwittingly, to strengthen that of its enemies.

While it would be an exaggeration to speak of this administration’s record on Israel as that of a determined foe, any objective analysis must acknowledge that he is the least friendly president to Israel since the first President George Bush. The Palestinians and other foes of Israel know this. They are openly hoping he will be even less friendly to the Jewish state during his second term if he gets one. Israelis rightly fear for the alliance in the coming years. The only people who don’t seem to get it are liberal American Jews whose devotion to Obama’s domestic agenda is sufficient to allow them to overlook his faults on Israel.

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Obama’s Jewish Pitch: Liberal, Not Israel

On Friday afternoon, President Obama received a hero’s welcome when he spoke to the biennial convention of the Union of Reform Judaism. Approximately 5,000 Reform Jews gave Obama almost as many standing ovations as Congress gave Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu this past spring. But though the coverage of the speech has focused primarily on the president’s repeat of his boasts that he is the most pro-Israel president in history, it should be understood that the bulk of the address did not touch on the Middle East. Rather, the main focus of his remarks was a compendium of liberal positions on domestic issues intended to draw cheers from an audience that, while still concerned with Israel’s security, was far happier hearing talk about higher taxes, defense of entitlements and the class warfare rhetoric Obama has been rehearsing since the start of the debt-ceiling crisis this past summer.

Those seeking to analyze the possibility of a shift in the Jewish vote as Obama seeks re-election know that the president’s often-antagonistic relationship with the State of Israel could cost him next November. Polls and special elections such as the one in New York’s 9th Congressional district last September have showed that there are enough swing Jewish voters who will be influenced by this issue to give Democrats something to worry about. But though the minority of Jews who can be swayed by concerns about Israel is not inconsiderable, it is nonetheless true that Obama is almost certain to win a majority of the Jewish vote in 2012 no matter what happens to Israel on his watch. And the applause Obama garnered on Friday afternoon when speaking to this conclave of the largest Jewish denomination in this country provides the evidence for that conclusion.

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On Friday afternoon, President Obama received a hero’s welcome when he spoke to the biennial convention of the Union of Reform Judaism. Approximately 5,000 Reform Jews gave Obama almost as many standing ovations as Congress gave Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu this past spring. But though the coverage of the speech has focused primarily on the president’s repeat of his boasts that he is the most pro-Israel president in history, it should be understood that the bulk of the address did not touch on the Middle East. Rather, the main focus of his remarks was a compendium of liberal positions on domestic issues intended to draw cheers from an audience that, while still concerned with Israel’s security, was far happier hearing talk about higher taxes, defense of entitlements and the class warfare rhetoric Obama has been rehearsing since the start of the debt-ceiling crisis this past summer.

Those seeking to analyze the possibility of a shift in the Jewish vote as Obama seeks re-election know that the president’s often-antagonistic relationship with the State of Israel could cost him next November. Polls and special elections such as the one in New York’s 9th Congressional district last September have showed that there are enough swing Jewish voters who will be influenced by this issue to give Democrats something to worry about. But though the minority of Jews who can be swayed by concerns about Israel is not inconsiderable, it is nonetheless true that Obama is almost certain to win a majority of the Jewish vote in 2012 no matter what happens to Israel on his watch. And the applause Obama garnered on Friday afternoon when speaking to this conclave of the largest Jewish denomination in this country provides the evidence for that conclusion.

That Obama’s speech followed a lengthy tribute at the event on the 50th anniversary of Reform’s Religious Action Center was not exactly a coincidence. The RAC is the embodiment of the belief by some that the liberal political stands are indistinguishable from Judaism. Much of the RAC’s agenda: support for abortion, Obamacare, “economic justice” (so defined as to encompass support for higher taxes and more entitlement spending) and gay marriage are not Jewish issues even if they are ideas that many Jews support.

And it is to those concerns that Obama spoke with passion on Friday as he bragged that “the change we needed and voted for” had satisfied much of the laundry list of the RAC’s political wish list. The old quip that Reform Judaism consists of the Democratic Party platform with holidays thrown in never seemed more true as thousands yelled their approval when Obama let loose with class warfare rhetoric. By casting the political debate as a “moral issue” of the interests of “working people” against “the powerful,” the president played to the desire of liberal Jews to interpret their own partisanship as somehow being part of their religious tradition. Indeed, so deeply entrenched are such attitudes among liberals that it never occurred to the cheering throng that letting a candidate for public office — even an incumbent president — use a religious gathering for partisan political purposes was inappropriate. Though Obama’s pitch certainly appealed to the sensibilities of most Reform Jews, the notion that there was any connection between Judaism and his political agenda is a myth.

I’ll discuss Obama’s defense of his stance on Israel in my next post.

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An Impressive U.S. Military Withdrawal

Say what you will about the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq (and as I have repeatedly argued, I think it is unwise and counterproductive), as a purely military operation, it is an impressive achievement. During the course of the last few months, the U.S. military has withdrawn 50,000 troops from a still-volatile land where plenty of enemies, on both the Shiite and Sunni sides, would like to inflict more casualties on us–and it has done so with almost no casualties.

According to icasualties.org, U.S. forces suffered four fatalities in September, four in October, two in November and none at all in December, the month when the last troops headed for Kuwait. Even that low level of casualties inevitably means heartbreak for some military families; the Washington Post has a moving article today about Specialist David Hickman, who was killed on Nov. 14 when an IED ripped into his armored truck, making him quite possibly the last U.S. serviceman killed in action in Iraq (at least for the time being). We should also keep in mind that even in peacetime, a certain number of service personnel are lost due to training accidents, illness and suicide–but by any reasonable measure the losses suffered in what could be a very dangerous operation (a withdrawal under fire) were remarkably low.

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Say what you will about the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq (and as I have repeatedly argued, I think it is unwise and counterproductive), as a purely military operation, it is an impressive achievement. During the course of the last few months, the U.S. military has withdrawn 50,000 troops from a still-volatile land where plenty of enemies, on both the Shiite and Sunni sides, would like to inflict more casualties on us–and it has done so with almost no casualties.

According to icasualties.org, U.S. forces suffered four fatalities in September, four in October, two in November and none at all in December, the month when the last troops headed for Kuwait. Even that low level of casualties inevitably means heartbreak for some military families; the Washington Post has a moving article today about Specialist David Hickman, who was killed on Nov. 14 when an IED ripped into his armored truck, making him quite possibly the last U.S. serviceman killed in action in Iraq (at least for the time being). We should also keep in mind that even in peacetime, a certain number of service personnel are lost due to training accidents, illness and suicide–but by any reasonable measure the losses suffered in what could be a very dangerous operation (a withdrawal under fire) were remarkably low.

This is a tribute to the professionalism and planning and preparation U.S. military forces put into all of their operations, whether attacks or retreats. There should be a proper appreciation for their achievement, at a purely tactical level, of moving so many personnel and so much equipment–an achievement which bookends their initial success in 2003 in entering Iraq and quickly toppling Saddam Hussein’s regime.

Unfortunately, as we have learned in the intervening years, the U.S. armed forces struggle to achieve strategic and  political gains commensurate with their  tactical accomplishments. They actually made considerable progress in this regard since 2007 as Iraqi politics stabilized. It is a shame their hard-won achievement–which came at the cost of 4,474 lost U.S. personnel, as well as the loss of more than 100,000 Iraqi lives, not to mention perhaps a trillion dollars in American taxpayer funds–will now be undermined by the president’s decision to withdraw them prematurely.

 

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Vaclav Havel Defined Principled Dissent

The death today of Vaclav Havel at the age of 75 reminds us what it truly means to speak up for liberty against tyranny. A playwright who became a symbol of dissent against an evil Soviet empire, Havel spent years in Communist jails for his activities and writings that championed individual freedom. He co-authored the Charter 77 manifesto that gave new life to the cause of human rights in his own country and helped inspire others elsewhere living under the Soviet yoke. Eventually, he helped lead his nation to freedom after the fall of the Berlin Wall and served as the first president of a free Czechoslovakia and then the Czech Republic after the Slovaks left to form their own nation.

But there is more to be learned from recounting the story of Havel’s sacrifices and triumphs than just a tale of individual heroism. What ought to be remembered about Havel and the “Velvet Revolution” that he led to victory is that it was won by an uncompromising defense of the principle of democracy and individual rights when many unenlightened Western “realists” and liberals made it clear they were more interested in accommodating the Soviets than working to free those suffering under their tyranny. Havel’s struggles also gives us a yardstick by which we can measure the worthiness of contemporary protest movements around the world that now claim the mantle of dissent.

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The death today of Vaclav Havel at the age of 75 reminds us what it truly means to speak up for liberty against tyranny. A playwright who became a symbol of dissent against an evil Soviet empire, Havel spent years in Communist jails for his activities and writings that championed individual freedom. He co-authored the Charter 77 manifesto that gave new life to the cause of human rights in his own country and helped inspire others elsewhere living under the Soviet yoke. Eventually, he helped lead his nation to freedom after the fall of the Berlin Wall and served as the first president of a free Czechoslovakia and then the Czech Republic after the Slovaks left to form their own nation.

But there is more to be learned from recounting the story of Havel’s sacrifices and triumphs than just a tale of individual heroism. What ought to be remembered about Havel and the “Velvet Revolution” that he led to victory is that it was won by an uncompromising defense of the principle of democracy and individual rights when many unenlightened Western “realists” and liberals made it clear they were more interested in accommodating the Soviets than working to free those suffering under their tyranny. Havel’s struggles also gives us a yardstick by which we can measure the worthiness of contemporary protest movements around the world that now claim the mantle of dissent.

It should be remembered that while those who oppose American efforts to “export” democracy to the Third World now say such values are alien to non-Western nations, “realists” and liberals once said the same thing about Eastern Europe. Western liberals were too busy opposing America’s often-faltering efforts to oppose communism and Soviet expansionism to register much sympathy for Havel’s tireless and perilous fight against the Soviet puppet regime in Prague. Realists were ready to sacrifice him and other dissidents as well as a captive Soviet Jewry in order to preserve a failed policy of détente.

But Havel persevered and kept pushing for human rights. He became the personal embodiment of the Czech people’s desire for freedom. His last arrest and trial for dissent in the waning days of the Communist regime helped generate the movement that brought it down. His election as president set in motion a new wave of democracy across Eastern Europe. Once in power, he helped solidify democracy by working to dissolve the Warsaw Pact by which Russia maintained its hegemony over the region and then paved the way for Eastern European nations to join the NATO alliance.

The point to be gleaned from an analysis of his writing and political career is that he was no dilettante when it came to the cause of freedom. He not only put his own life on the line when opposing the Communists, but he consistently resisted the notion that there was any excuse or justification for the denial of human rights or the right of a people to govern themselves. In an age when public intellectuals often lent their talents to causes that gave short shrift to the principle of democracy so as to bolster the cause of anti-Americanism or other leftist fashions, he was a dissident for democracy. And though he would be bitterly criticized by the left for doing so, he remained loyal to this cause by supporting the United States in its efforts to oppose tyrants like Iraq’s Saddam Hussein.

In the past year, we’ve been hearing a lot about the rise of a new wave of dissent as various groups have taken to the streets to protest in the Arab world, Russia, Israel and even here in the United States, all of whom were collectively named Time Magazine’s “Person of the Year.” Some of these protests have been heroic efforts to speak up against tyranny, as is the case in Russia. Others are less easy to define. The Arab Spring has morphed into a push for Islamist tyranny. The Occupy Wall Street movement in the United States is a leftist attack on economic freedom more than a plea for more democracy.

Vaclav Havel’s career was a reproach to all those who seek to use dissent to diminish freedom rather than to expand it. It speaks volumes about the Nobel Peace Prize that Havel never received one while others less worthy have been so honored. It is also telling that many of those who seek to glorify some of those who took to the streets this year for non-democratic causes had little sympathy for Havel. Nevertheless, he will be remembered as long as the Czech nation and the cause of liberty lives. May his memory be for a blessing.

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Political Breakdown in Iraq

Those of us who had been in favor of a continuing U.S. troop presence in Iraq had warned that these forces were a vital stabilizing force in Iraq’s turbulent politics. It gives me no pleasure to be proven right. For no sooner have U.S. troops been withdrawn (the final convoy crossed the Kuwait border yesterday), then Iraqi politics were plunged into a fresh crisis.

Sunni politicians are accusing the domineering Shiite prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, of sending his security forces to arrest their aides and target them. In protest, the Iraqiya coalition, the top vote getter in Iraq’s last election, has announced a boycott of parliament. As the Iraq analyst Reidar Vissar notes, rumors are rampant the crisis will escalate because of “unprecedented statements by people close to Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki that a move is afoot to withdraw confidence in Deputy Premier Salih al-Mutlak of Iraqiyya (on charges of incompetence) and to bring legal charges against Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi, also of Iraqiyya, for alleged involvement in the recent terror attack against the Iraqi parliament.”

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Those of us who had been in favor of a continuing U.S. troop presence in Iraq had warned that these forces were a vital stabilizing force in Iraq’s turbulent politics. It gives me no pleasure to be proven right. For no sooner have U.S. troops been withdrawn (the final convoy crossed the Kuwait border yesterday), then Iraqi politics were plunged into a fresh crisis.

Sunni politicians are accusing the domineering Shiite prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, of sending his security forces to arrest their aides and target them. In protest, the Iraqiya coalition, the top vote getter in Iraq’s last election, has announced a boycott of parliament. As the Iraq analyst Reidar Vissar notes, rumors are rampant the crisis will escalate because of “unprecedented statements by people close to Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki that a move is afoot to withdraw confidence in Deputy Premier Salih al-Mutlak of Iraqiyya (on charges of incompetence) and to bring legal charges against Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi, also of Iraqiyya, for alleged involvement in the recent terror attack against the Iraqi parliament.”

Meanwhile, the Sunni-dominated provincial council in Diyala province is demanding autonomy from Baghdad. Other provinces are threatening to follow suit–demands that have already resulted in clashes between police and Shiite demonstrators in Diyala and could well result in the use of deadly force.

American leaders including Ambassador Jim Jeffrey and Vice President Biden are reportedly making phone calls to try to mediate the conflict and avert a complete breakdown of politics. But the odds of a breakdown, and a reversion to civil war, are going up by the day–and all because of the premature and irresponsible withdrawal of American military forces.

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Obama’s Political Problems Mount

A new Associated Press-GfK poll found the following:

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A new Associated Press-GfK poll found the following:

* President Obama’s overall job approval stands at a new low, with 44 percent approving and 54 percent disapproving.

* The president’s standing among independents is worse: 38 percent approve while 59 percent disapprove.

* For the first time, the poll found that a majority of adults, 52 percent, said Obama should be voted out of office while 43 percent said he deserves another term.

* About two-thirds of white voters without college degrees say Obama should be a one-term president, while 33 percent of those voters say he should get another four years. Among white voters with a college degree, 57 percent said Obama should be voted out of office.

* Obama’s approval rating on the handling of the economy is 39 percent approve while 60 percent disapprove.

* Only 26 percent said the United States is headed in the right direction while 70 percent said the country is moving in the wrong direction.

*About half of the respondents oppose the health care law and support for it dipped to 29 percent from 36 percent in June. Just 15 percent said the federal government should have the power to require all Americans to buy health insurance. Only 50 percent of Democrats support the health care law, compared with 59 percent of Democrats last June. And only about a quarter of independents back the law.

What all this means is while the attention of the political world continues to focus on the Republican primary race, President Obama’s political problems continue to mount.

The situation we find ourselves in is analogous to 1979-1980, at least in this respect: The country has made the judgment, at least for now, that the current occupant of the White House is a failure, inept and in over his head. Americans are certainly disposed to vote against Obama; the question is whether the Republican nominee provides sufficient reassurance to the majority of the public who believe the president should be voted out of office. Ronald Reagan did that in 1980; but only in the last few weeks of the election – and due in large part to his debate performance in Cleveland (held on October 28). As Craig Shirley points out in his excellent book Rendezvous with Destiny: Ronald Reagan and the Campaign That Changed America, the morning of the debate a Washington Post story featured this headline: “Carter Goes Into Debate With Lead in New Poll.”

Even with an unpopular president, the opposition party has to nominate someone who can make the sale. That’s what Republicans did in 1980; as a result, Reagan won 44 states and many Democratic “old bulls” in Congress (like Washington State’s Warren Magnuson) were washed away. There’s a lesson to be learned for Republicans in 2012. Regardless of how unpopular Obama becomes, the GOP nominee has to be able to close the deal. That’s what the primary process–as long and brutal as it is–is meant to determine.

 

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Britain’s “Isolation”

One of the minor mysteries of the Euro crisis is why markets have been so eager to be taken in by the latest European effort to kick the can down the road. Every time it gets harder to kick the can a reasonable distance, and every time the interval between kicks gets shorter. This time, the interval between the creation of a so-called fiscal union in Europe and a renewed loss of market confidence was barely 72 hours. It’s like a Godzilla movie where the army steadily deploys bigger and bigger weapons, only to find that even an atomic bomb barely slows the monster down. And at some point, you can’t escalate any further.

I understand why the Europeans keep on kicking – as long as they’re alive, they’re not dead, and giving up on the Euro means giving up on the European project and the world view that goes along with it. What I don’t understand is why markets buy for a moment the idea that manipulation of EU structures can solve the underlying economic, monetary, and fiscal problems that have created the crisis. Similarly, the argument that the ECB or Germany should step in and settle everyone else’s tab ignores the minor but possibly relevant fact that neither actually have the resources to do so, and the further relevant fact that the ECB’s legal authorities are as limited as the German people’s patience.

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One of the minor mysteries of the Euro crisis is why markets have been so eager to be taken in by the latest European effort to kick the can down the road. Every time it gets harder to kick the can a reasonable distance, and every time the interval between kicks gets shorter. This time, the interval between the creation of a so-called fiscal union in Europe and a renewed loss of market confidence was barely 72 hours. It’s like a Godzilla movie where the army steadily deploys bigger and bigger weapons, only to find that even an atomic bomb barely slows the monster down. And at some point, you can’t escalate any further.

I understand why the Europeans keep on kicking – as long as they’re alive, they’re not dead, and giving up on the Euro means giving up on the European project and the world view that goes along with it. What I don’t understand is why markets buy for a moment the idea that manipulation of EU structures can solve the underlying economic, monetary, and fiscal problems that have created the crisis. Similarly, the argument that the ECB or Germany should step in and settle everyone else’s tab ignores the minor but possibly relevant fact that neither actually have the resources to do so, and the further relevant fact that the ECB’s legal authorities are as limited as the German people’s patience.

Another small mystery is why David Cameron’s rejection of the fiscal union has touched off such a firestorm of contempt among the intelligentsia. “Britain isolated!” shriek the FT, the New York Times, and virtually ever other organ of the wise and the great, who in their smug wisdom declared the Euro a sure thing a decade ago. These claims about isolation are, frankly, nonsense. Britain is no more isolated than Canada. Britain is a member of the world’s foremost security alliance, NATO, and of its foremost trading organization, the WTO, as well as a myriad of other institutions. It is obviously less “isolated” than Norway or Switzerland. The only way Britain is isolated is if the EU is the world, which gives you a pretty clear sense of how Europhiles think about Brussels. What’s less clear is why anyone else should adopt that delusion.

The paradox of David Cameron is that, having devoted the better part of a decade to trying to get the Tory Party to shut up about Europe, at the cost of considerable unhappiness among a lot of Tory MPs, he now finds his popularity soaring because he stood up to Europe. The bounce in the YouGov polling from December 7 to December 13 is a nine point swing, about the same as Obama got when bin Laden was killed. There’s a slogan for you: “The EU: Now as popular in Britain as Osama!” Unfortunately, Cameron has never understood that Europe is not an issue merely because crazy Tories talk about it. It’s an issue because Europe is, actually, an issue. It’s not frequently a salient issue, and there is something to be said for Cameron’s belief that rambling on about Europe at all times is not the way to win elections, but if there was ever a moment for Cameron to tack right and hold a referendum repatriating powers from Brussels, this is that moment.

To me, the funniest – and most revealing – part of the entire affair is the argument that Britain will suffer for its “isolation.” The nicer version of the argument holds that the EU is about to make a lot of rules – or, to be more exact, about to make even more rules – that will be bad for Britain, and Britain needs to be at the table to mitigate the damage they’ll do. The less nice version of the argument is that the EU, long generous and forbearing towards an ever-wayward Britain, will now lose patience and wreak a mighty vengeance upon it. Given the EU’s current difficulties, this makes me chuckle. No matter which version of the argument is proffered, though, it comes down to the underlying assumption that the EU is akin to a hostage-taker who punishes disobedience by his captives. That may be so. But if it is so, why stick around at all?

Because Britain needs to keep on contributing a net billions of pounds to the EU? Because, in a WTO world, it fears trade discrimination? Because Europe, desperate to sell its debt and attract investment, is going to shut out the City of London? Because Britain needs the regulatory burden the EU imposes, or wants to be part of Europe’s mini-reset with Russia? The problem with the semi-disguised threats the EU’s self-proclaimed friends in Britain (and the U.S.) are now dispensing is they tend to suggest that Cameron has not yet gone nearly far enough.

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