Commentary Magazine


Posts For: December 20, 2011

What the Festival of Freedom Means to Us

For many Americans, the festival of Chanukah, which began at sundown tonight, is a blue-tinseled version of Christmas as they participate in the consumer frenzy of the holiday season in a somewhat futile attempt to compete with the appeal of the latter. Some have even merged the two into a hybrid celebration they call “Chrismakah,” in which both Judaism and Christianity are given short shrift. Equally unappealing is the way that some on the Left have drafted the Festival of Light into the ranks of the environmental movement by attempting to make it a “green” holiday, in which energy conservation and hysteria about global warming are the keynotes.

Though the tension between the parochial aspects of the faith and its more universalist tendencies is as old as Judaism itself, Chanukah is not an empty metaphor into which other narratives or unrelated themes — whether praiseworthy or not — can be poured at will. Far from being a Jewish version of “goodwill toward men” or some trendy contemporary cause, the original story of Chanukah is about something very different: the refusal of a people to bow down to the idols of the popular culture of their day — their resolve to remain separate and faithful to their own traditions.

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For many Americans, the festival of Chanukah, which began at sundown tonight, is a blue-tinseled version of Christmas as they participate in the consumer frenzy of the holiday season in a somewhat futile attempt to compete with the appeal of the latter. Some have even merged the two into a hybrid celebration they call “Chrismakah,” in which both Judaism and Christianity are given short shrift. Equally unappealing is the way that some on the Left have drafted the Festival of Light into the ranks of the environmental movement by attempting to make it a “green” holiday, in which energy conservation and hysteria about global warming are the keynotes.

Though the tension between the parochial aspects of the faith and its more universalist tendencies is as old as Judaism itself, Chanukah is not an empty metaphor into which other narratives or unrelated themes — whether praiseworthy or not — can be poured at will. Far from being a Jewish version of “goodwill toward men” or some trendy contemporary cause, the original story of Chanukah is about something very different: the refusal of a people to bow down to the idols of the popular culture of their day — their resolve to remain separate and faithful to their own traditions.

The miracle of Chanukah is more than a story of oil that lasted for eight days instead of one. The true story of the Festival of Light is one of a particularly bloody Jewish civil war whose outcome has stood ever since as a warning against the perils of discarding faith and freedom in order to conform to the dictates of more popular ideological movements. This is a lesson that applied to the Maccabees, who sought to resist the pull of Hellenism more than 2,000 years ago, as well as to those fighting back against the siren song of totalitarian ideas in the last century. The sacrifices of the sons of Mattathias are a reminder that we too must continue to ensure that the lamp of liberty here and around the globe is never extinguished.

As much as the specific religious message of the holiday ought to resonate with Jews, this element of faithfulness and resistance against the pull of both fashion and conventional wisdom is one that can inspire everyone, no matter their faith or origin. With that in mind, we wish all of our readers a Happy Chanukah!

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Liberal Slurs of Conservative Motives Par for the Course

Greg Sargent is the liberal blogger for the Washington Post. He recently expressed his barely uncontained fury at Republicans, and Mitt Romney in particular, for daring to impugn Barack Obama’s motives. “Republicans react with bloody screams of outrage whenever Dems suggest that they might be trying to sabotage the recovery in order to harm Obama politically and make it easier for them to recapture the White House,” according to Sargent. “Yet here Romney has now made an even broader charge, arguing that Obama is making policy decisions across the board that he ‘knows’ are ‘counter to the interests of the country,’ including major decisions involving war and  national security.”

Sargent concludes this way: “When Romney falsely claims that Obama apologized for America, insinuates that we should find his values suspect, and implies that we should be vaguely suspicious intentions towards the country [sic], it’s routinely treated a ‘part of the game.’ Now that Romney has taken this line of attack to its ultimate conclusion, I’m not expecting the reaction to be any different.”

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Greg Sargent is the liberal blogger for the Washington Post. He recently expressed his barely uncontained fury at Republicans, and Mitt Romney in particular, for daring to impugn Barack Obama’s motives. “Republicans react with bloody screams of outrage whenever Dems suggest that they might be trying to sabotage the recovery in order to harm Obama politically and make it easier for them to recapture the White House,” according to Sargent. “Yet here Romney has now made an even broader charge, arguing that Obama is making policy decisions across the board that he ‘knows’ are ‘counter to the interests of the country,’ including major decisions involving war and  national security.”

Sargent concludes this way: “When Romney falsely claims that Obama apologized for America, insinuates that we should find his values suspect, and implies that we should be vaguely suspicious intentions towards the country [sic], it’s routinely treated a ‘part of the game.’ Now that Romney has taken this line of attack to its ultimate conclusion, I’m not expecting the reaction to be any different.”

I’ve addressed the issue of political discourse and impugning motives before. And people can link to Sargent’s blog to see the case Romney made for his judgments (including the fact that Obama’s decision to withdraw in September 2012 more than 30,000 troops in the midst of the fighting season in Afghanistan, and made contrary to every military commander’s recommendation, makes no military sense). For now I’ll simply say that Sargent’s outrage appears to be – what shall we say? – highly selective. After all, President Obama makes a point of impugning the motives of Republicans in almost every speech and interview he does these days, including his recent “60 Minutes” interview, in which he said of GOP opposition to his tax proposals: “And I could not get Republicans to go ahead and say, ‘You’re right. We’re gonna put country ahead of party.’” (Obama also takes delight in saying that Republicans are eager to have children with autism and Down syndrome “fend for themselves.”)

This is a common Obama refrain – that unlike our high-minded, unstained, pure-of-heart president, Republicans are putting their party ahead of their country and making major policy decisions they know are counter to the interests of the country. But this charge goes uncommented upon by almost everyone in the press, including Sargent.

How curious.

As for Obama’s charge that Republicans want “dirty air and dirty water,” Sargent betrays the arrogance of reactionary liberalism, which assumes that if one opposes their policies one must expect – indeed they must want — the worst possible outcome. So the only way to a healthy environment is to embrace the regulations that Obama’s administration has implemented; to do anything less means you are wishing destruction upon Earth. I recall similar arguments being made about welfare reform in the 1990s. If you embraced reform, you wanted poor people to suffer. Conservatism was a form of sociopathy. Compassion was synonymous with reactionary liberalism.

In fact, welfare reform, by virtually every objective measure, helped the poor. From the high-water mark of 1994, the national welfare caseload declined by more than 60 percent during the course of a decade. Not only did the numbers of people on welfare plunge, but, in the wake of the 1996 welfare-reform bill, overall poverty, child poverty, black child poverty, and child hunger all decreased, while employment figures for single mothers rose. Welfare reform ranks  among the most successful social reforms of the last 50 years. And yet liberals excoriated conservatives for favoring reform, criticizing not only their policies but their motivations.

And it continues to this day, as Obama demonstrates at almost every political stop. Now that Obama has taken this line of attack to its ultimate conclusion, I’m not expecting Sargent’s reaction to be any different than it has been in the past: support for Obama or complicit silence. I’ll leave it to others to judge what motivations may be driving Greg Sargent.

 

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House GOP Plays into Obama’s Hands on Payroll Tax Extension

The two-month payroll tax extension the Senate approved and the House voted down today is by no means good policy. In fact, it’s a payroll-processing disaster. But if House Republicans were adamantly dead-set against the two-month extension, they could have made this clear at any point before the Senate vote on Saturday. Now that the Senate has left town for the holidays, demanding lawmakers return to negotiate a year-long payroll tax extension is a bit ridiculous:

Speaking minutes later at a press conference with dozens of GOP members behind him, House Speaker John Boehner said the House has already taken up the Senate bill, which only gives a $166 tax break to Americans, and opted instead for a bill that gives $1,000 to contributors to the Social Security fund.

“We rejected the Senate bill and we moved to go to conference,” he said. “We’ve done our work for the American people, now it’s up to the president and the Senate to do their work as well.”

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The two-month payroll tax extension the Senate approved and the House voted down today is by no means good policy. In fact, it’s a payroll-processing disaster. But if House Republicans were adamantly dead-set against the two-month extension, they could have made this clear at any point before the Senate vote on Saturday. Now that the Senate has left town for the holidays, demanding lawmakers return to negotiate a year-long payroll tax extension is a bit ridiculous:

Speaking minutes later at a press conference with dozens of GOP members behind him, House Speaker John Boehner said the House has already taken up the Senate bill, which only gives a $166 tax break to Americans, and opted instead for a bill that gives $1,000 to contributors to the Social Security fund.

“We rejected the Senate bill and we moved to go to conference,” he said. “We’ve done our work for the American people, now it’s up to the president and the Senate to do their work as well.”

House Republicans are insisting on a year-long extension of the break and want to force the Senate to return to Washington to hammer out a compromise.

Do House Republicans honestly expect Sen. Harry Reid to reconvene the Senate at this point? Especially when the House GOP’s brinkmanship plays completely into President Obama’s hands? If there was any doubt that Obama is thrilled with this development, here he is this afternoon dusting off his class warfare rhetoric to blast the House GOP for risking a middle-class tax hike:

In a surprise visit to the White House briefing room to demand House Republicans compromise on the legislation — a demand that was promptly rejected —  President Obama said Tuesday that the Senate bill “is the only viable way to prevent a tax hike on January 1st.”

“It’s the only one,” Obama said shortly after the House voted to effectively reject a Senate measure to extend the payroll tax cut for two months.

The behavior from House Republicans would be completely understandable — even laudable — if this was a serious ideological battle for conservatives. But it’s not –Speaker John Boehner and others seem to be opposing the two-month payroll tax extension on logistical grounds, arguing that a year-long extension would be easier to implement. House Republicans already won a victory by getting a provision to force Obama’s hand on Keystone XL included in the Senate bill. Aggressiveness is wonderful, but there comes a point when you need to know when to fold ‘em.

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Friedman’s Slur Swap Changes Nothing

Last week, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman let his anger with Israel and its American supporters, including some Republican presidential candidates, get the better of him. In the course of a diatribe in which Friedman falsely claimed increasing numbers of American Jews were turning on Israel, he asserted that the ovations Congress gave Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu were “bought and paid for by the Israel lobby.” This invocation of the Walt-Mearsheimer canard about a Jewish conspiracy manipulating American foreign policy earned him the rebukes of even liberal Jewish groups who normally laud his every utterance. That has caused Friedman to backtrack on his slur, though only just a bit. In an interview with the New York Jewish Week’s Gary Rosenblatt, he said the following:

“In retrospect I probably should have used a more precise term like ‘engineered’ by the Israel lobby — a term that does not suggest grand conspiracy theories that I don’t subscribe to,” Friedman said. “It would have helped people focus on my argument, which I stand by 100 percent.”

But this weasel-worded attempt at walking back his brief foray into anti-Semitism shouldn’t convince anyone. There is no real difference between “engineered” and “bought and paid for.” Both terms seek to describe the across-the-board bi-partisan support for Israel that the ovations Netanyahu received as the result of Jewish manipulation, not a genuine and accurate reflection of American public opinion.

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Last week, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman let his anger with Israel and its American supporters, including some Republican presidential candidates, get the better of him. In the course of a diatribe in which Friedman falsely claimed increasing numbers of American Jews were turning on Israel, he asserted that the ovations Congress gave Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu were “bought and paid for by the Israel lobby.” This invocation of the Walt-Mearsheimer canard about a Jewish conspiracy manipulating American foreign policy earned him the rebukes of even liberal Jewish groups who normally laud his every utterance. That has caused Friedman to backtrack on his slur, though only just a bit. In an interview with the New York Jewish Week’s Gary Rosenblatt, he said the following:

“In retrospect I probably should have used a more precise term like ‘engineered’ by the Israel lobby — a term that does not suggest grand conspiracy theories that I don’t subscribe to,” Friedman said. “It would have helped people focus on my argument, which I stand by 100 percent.”

But this weasel-worded attempt at walking back his brief foray into anti-Semitism shouldn’t convince anyone. There is no real difference between “engineered” and “bought and paid for.” Both terms seek to describe the across-the-board bi-partisan support for Israel that the ovations Netanyahu received as the result of Jewish manipulation, not a genuine and accurate reflection of American public opinion.

The interesting thing about Friedman’s rant and his subsequent clarification is not so much his dim view of the Republicans, Netanyahu or even his litany of Israeli sins that, at least in his view, justify American abandonment of Israel. Rather, it is the easy way in which a person who claims to be an ardent supporter of Israel slipped into the traditional themes of Jew-hatred.

Friedman rightly says that dissent against particular Israeli policies does not make him an enemy of the Jewish state. But what we are talking about here is not political give and take but engaging in rhetoric that seeks to smear the state, undermine its right of self-defense and brand those who do back it as acting against America’s best interests. Such rhetoric is anti-Semitic in nature and purpose.

Friedman may think the use of the offending phrase distracted readers from his argument, but he’s wrong about that. At the core of his piece — which contained the astounding suggestion that a left-wing campus such as the University of Wisconsin at Madison is more representative of American opinion than those elected by the people to Congress — is a belief that Israel must be put in its place and that those Americans who speak up for it are supporting a bad cause. He claims his “deep concerns” about Israel’s future and its democracy are well-intended. However, his resentment of Israel’s democratically elected leaders as well as his frustration with the support they are given by both Republicans and Democrats here is enough to blur the distinctions between such a friend of the Jewish state and its enemies. The applause that he has gotten from leftist foes of Zionism speaks volumes about how his writing has now crossed the line from friendly criticism of Israel to delegitimization.

What really ticks Friedman off is Israel’s decision to ignore his advice. That is something the Times columnist cannot abide. While he may not wish to see it destroyed, he clearly believes it should be punished for its temerity.

It remains to be seen whether his attempt to explain himself will allow Friedman to worm his way back into the good graces of liberal Jewish groups that have been paying him generous honorariums for speaking engagements for the last two decades. I wouldn’t bet against it. If groups do continue to honor Friedman in the future, it will be proof that even dabbling in anti-Semitism isn’t enough to wean some Jews from their worship of the Times and its liberal icons.

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Romney “Undecided” on Pollard and U.S. Embassy Relocation

As much as the pro-Israel community supports moving the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, reality has often gotten in the way. Both President Clinton and President George W. Bush campaigned on relocating the embassy, and both failed to follow through. Not only has this been a major source of disappointment, it has also burned pro-Israel groups that supported these candidates based on that promise.

Both Michele Bachmann and Newt Gingrich have already vowed to move the embassy to Jerusalem, and their stances – while commendable – have inspired an understandable amount of skepticism.

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As much as the pro-Israel community supports moving the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, reality has often gotten in the way. Both President Clinton and President George W. Bush campaigned on relocating the embassy, and both failed to follow through. Not only has this been a major source of disappointment, it has also burned pro-Israel groups that supported these candidates based on that promise.

Both Michele Bachmann and Newt Gingrich have already vowed to move the embassy to Jerusalem, and their stances – while commendable – have inspired an understandable amount of skepticism.

Mitt Romney, in comparison, is making no promises on two of the most contentious issues within the pro-Israel community: the embassy relocation and the release of convicted Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard. Romney told a group of Jewish leaders he was still undecided on both of these issues during an off-the-record meeting organized by the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, according to the Washington Jewish Week’s Adam Kredo:

On the topic of Pollard, Romney said that he “was open to examining” the issue, but stopped short of saying that he would free the spy from federal prison, the source said.

When asked if he would move the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem — a promise that Republican presidential candidates make with ease (but ultimately break once in office) — Romney said that he would “consult with the government of Israel” before he makes a final decision.

“It’s easy for me to promise, but it’s something I would consult with the government [of Israel] on,” Romney said, according to my source.

“He wouldn’t say, ‘I’m going to move it tomorrow,’ ” added the source.

These lines aren’t going to fire up Israel supporters the way Bachmann and Gingrich have, but Romney will likely win some respect for being honest. Obviously the Israeli government needs to be consulted first on the embassy decision. And the Pollard issue is one that has compelling arguments on both sides that need to be carefully examined before a decision is made. These might not be the most exciting answers, but they’re truthful and responsible ones. Romney’s often criticized as a candidate who blindly panders for votes, but he showed a level of restraint here that other candidates have not.

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Has Panetta’s Shift on Iranian Nukes Come Too Late to Do Any Good?

Just weeks after publicly signaling that the United States not only had no interest in using force to stop Iran from gaining nuclear weapons but was also seeking to discourage Israel from acting, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta has shifted his position. Though the United States has consistently sought to throw cold water on the idea that an Iranian nuke was imminent, Panetta sang a different tune in an interview with CBS.

Panetta told Scott Pelley: “It would probably be about a year before they can do it. Perhaps a little less. But one proviso, Scott, is if they have a hidden facility somewhere in Iran that may be enriching fuel.”

Because the likelihood of such a facility’s existence is great, then what the secretary is telling us is that there is every chance Iran will have nuclear capability by the end of 2012. Such an admission puts the administration’s feckless diplomacy on behalf of sanctions on Iran and failure to enforce existing restrictions in a new light. But if Obama and his team have now finally awakened to the imminent nature of this threat, it must leave both Americans and the Iranians confused as to their intentions.

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Just weeks after publicly signaling that the United States not only had no interest in using force to stop Iran from gaining nuclear weapons but was also seeking to discourage Israel from acting, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta has shifted his position. Though the United States has consistently sought to throw cold water on the idea that an Iranian nuke was imminent, Panetta sang a different tune in an interview with CBS.

Panetta told Scott Pelley: “It would probably be about a year before they can do it. Perhaps a little less. But one proviso, Scott, is if they have a hidden facility somewhere in Iran that may be enriching fuel.”

Because the likelihood of such a facility’s existence is great, then what the secretary is telling us is that there is every chance Iran will have nuclear capability by the end of 2012. Such an admission puts the administration’s feckless diplomacy on behalf of sanctions on Iran and failure to enforce existing restrictions in a new light. But if Obama and his team have now finally awakened to the imminent nature of this threat, it must leave both Americans and the Iranians confused as to their intentions.

For three years, President Obama has taken a consistently strong line about stopping Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. But his actions have fallen far short of his rhetoric. American diplomacy has failed in efforts to appease (“engage”) Iran and then in rallying international support for the sort of “crippling sanctions” — to use Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s phrase — that might actually work. In recent weeks, the administration has opposed a ban on transactions with Iran’s Central Bank, a measure that could effectively impose an oil embargo on the Islamist regime, and insisted on Congress providing waivers that would enable the president to avoid enforcing these sanctions.

All this passivity, and Panetta’s very public statements about eschewing the use of force and casting doubt on Israel’s ability to do so, seemed to be based on the idea that an Iranian nuke was a long-term rather than a short-term threat. That is a point of view not shared by Israel. Israeli intelligence tended to see Iran as closer to going nuclear than their American counterpart,s but this was often dismissed as alarmism that was rooted more in the nature of the existential threat an Iranian bomb would pose to Israel than anything else.

The question now arises: What is the source of the new urgency being shown by the administration?

Cynics may see it as a function of next year’s presidential election as Obama attempts to avoid being seen as weak on Iran, especially to Jewish voters. It could also be part of an effort to scare countries like Russia and China (who have heretofore protected the Iranians from tough sanctions), into backing American plans for an oil embargo.

But it could also be that in the wake of last month’s International Atomic Energy Agency report on Iran’s nuclear program, the president and his advisers are finally realizing it is no longer possible for the U.S. to continue to prevaricate about this issue. Though a successful Iranian nuclear test sometime next year would be a blow to Obama’s re-election hopes, that is the least of the country’s worries in the event of such a calamity. An Iranian nuclear weapon would transform the balance of power in the region by, at the very least, strengthening Islamist and terrorist movements and scaring Arab governments into trying to obtain their own nukes. The danger to Israel’s existence is also plain.

Panetta is right to sense that time is running out for the West to do something about Iran. Yet if Iran thinks Panetta is, as he has in the past, just blowing smoke, they may not be deterred by the secretary’s words. After years of behavior that convinced the Iranians Obama wasn’t serious about stopping them, it may be that this change of tactics has come too late to do any good.

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Endorsement Bad News for Gingrich

I speculated earlier today that an endorsement from the influential Iowa social conservative group The Family Leader could be Newt Ginrich’s saving grace in the state. But unfortunately for Gingrich, he had no such luck. The Family Leader announced today that it’s staying neutral in the race, but the group’s prominent leaders, Bob Vander Plaats and Chuck Hurley, declared their support for Rick Santorum:

Iowa social conservative leaders Bob Vander Plaats and Chuck Hurley backed Rick Santorum for president Tuesday, giving the Pennsylvania senator’s tortoise-like campaign a nice boost in the run-up to the caucuses.

The Family Leader, the group led by Vander Plaats, is remaining officially neutral, though it suggested in a muddled statement that the endorsement has the implicit support of the group’s board (via Reid Epstein): “The Family Leader will remain neutral in this presidential campaign cycle, though the board has made a unanimous decision to allow Bob Vander Plaats and Chuck Hurley to make personal endorsements which reflect the board’s unanimity.”

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I speculated earlier today that an endorsement from the influential Iowa social conservative group The Family Leader could be Newt Ginrich’s saving grace in the state. But unfortunately for Gingrich, he had no such luck. The Family Leader announced today that it’s staying neutral in the race, but the group’s prominent leaders, Bob Vander Plaats and Chuck Hurley, declared their support for Rick Santorum:

Iowa social conservative leaders Bob Vander Plaats and Chuck Hurley backed Rick Santorum for president Tuesday, giving the Pennsylvania senator’s tortoise-like campaign a nice boost in the run-up to the caucuses.

The Family Leader, the group led by Vander Plaats, is remaining officially neutral, though it suggested in a muddled statement that the endorsement has the implicit support of the group’s board (via Reid Epstein): “The Family Leader will remain neutral in this presidential campaign cycle, though the board has made a unanimous decision to allow Bob Vander Plaats and Chuck Hurley to make personal endorsements which reflect the board’s unanimity.”

This is all the more devastating for Gingrich because Vander Plaats had reportedly been leaning toward endorsing him. By supporting Santorum instead, Vander Plaats is basically acknowledging that it would be too controversial within the evangelical movement for him to publicly back Gingrich.

The endorsement is also something of a rebuke to Rick Perry, who has recently been playing up his social conservative credentials in Iowa with a spate of culture-warrior-themed TV ads.

As for Santorum, the endorsement could be the spark he needs to catch fire in the state and fill the “not-Romney” void left by Gingrich’s ongoing downfall. Voters are hungry for someone to replace Gingrich — only 35 percent of Iowa voters have settled on a candidate, according to the latest CNN poll — and with the caucuses just two weeks away, the timing couldn’t be better for Santorum.

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GOP Shouldn’t Fear a Paul Third-Party Run

Alana’s right when she says there really is no telling what Ron Paul will do once his quixotic run for the Republican presidential nomination is finished. If, as Paul did four years ago, he continues fighting for the GOP nod in primaries across the country long after the race is sewn up by one of the other contenders, he may not have the time or the money to make the transition to a third-party run. But even if he does, I think it is incorrect to consider such an effort as a deadly threat to whichever of the other Republicans gets the nomination. Though Paul has generated some enthusiasm in Iowa, the notion that he could draw off enough GOP voters to re-elect President Obama is based on a misunderstanding about the base of his support.

Were Paul to run next fall as an alternative to the Democratic and Republican nominees, the main focus of his campaign would inevitably be his isolationist approach to foreign policy and libertarian views on social issues. Though some Tea Partiers looking for a “not Romney” may wind up voting for him in Iowa, the bulk of his support comes from disenchanted youmg voters who like his anti-establishment approach, not mainstream conservatives. That means a Paul third party would present far more of a danger to Obama and the Democrats than to the Republicans.

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Alana’s right when she says there really is no telling what Ron Paul will do once his quixotic run for the Republican presidential nomination is finished. If, as Paul did four years ago, he continues fighting for the GOP nod in primaries across the country long after the race is sewn up by one of the other contenders, he may not have the time or the money to make the transition to a third-party run. But even if he does, I think it is incorrect to consider such an effort as a deadly threat to whichever of the other Republicans gets the nomination. Though Paul has generated some enthusiasm in Iowa, the notion that he could draw off enough GOP voters to re-elect President Obama is based on a misunderstanding about the base of his support.

Were Paul to run next fall as an alternative to the Democratic and Republican nominees, the main focus of his campaign would inevitably be his isolationist approach to foreign policy and libertarian views on social issues. Though some Tea Partiers looking for a “not Romney” may wind up voting for him in Iowa, the bulk of his support comes from disenchanted youmg voters who like his anti-establishment approach, not mainstream conservatives. That means a Paul third party would present far more of a danger to Obama and the Democrats than to the Republicans.

Paul’s anti-war isolationism is tailor-made to appeal to exactly the sort of young voter who backed Obama in 2008. As anyone who reads the comments from his supporters on websites that run articles critical of the Texas congressman, many of his backers are extremists who would fit in better at an Occupy Wall Street demonstration than a Tea Party protest let alone a Republican parlor meeting. Like the Libertarian Party that once nominated Paul for president, the Paul movement attracts those who are generally more interested in legalizing marijuana and agree with the candidate’s justification of Iran’s nuclear ambitions and Islamist terror than in opposing higher taxes and spending. Such people didn’t vote for the Republican candidate in 2008 and won’t do so in 2012 either.

An independent run by Paul would most likely attract votes from disaffected youth or libertarians who normally don’t vote at all. But though it might skim off a tiny percentage of Republicans, it is the Democrats who stand to lose the most. Most Republicans deplore his isolationism and lack of interest in social issues. But the Democrats are counting on mobilizing young voters attracted to an anti-war candidate who is also in favor of the legalization of drugs. Paul might also get a boost from Arab and Muslim voters who share his opposition to Israel and who generally go for the Democrats, not the GOP.

While it is difficult to tell whether Paul will run or how well he will ultimately do, the prototypical Ron Paul voter next fall is someone who would, if they voted at all, be more likely to vote for Obama than any Republican. Far from a revenge scenario against the party that will almost certainly reject him in the primaries, an independent candidacy for Paul stands to do real damage to the Democrats.

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Where Are Our Pro-Israel Leaders?

This morning, Elliott Abrams calls out both Tom Friedman and Joe Klein for offering up Walt/Mearsheimer conspiracy theories about American Jewry in the place of reasoned analysis. Friedman had said that Benjamin Netanyahu’s standing ovations from members of Congress last May were “bought and paid for by the Israel lobby.”

Klein wrote this: “I don’t meet many neoconservatives outside of Washington and New York. It’s one thing to just adore Israel, as the evangelical Christians do; it’s another thing entirely to send American kids off to war, yet again, to fight for Israel’s national security.” Alarmed, Abrams asks the following:

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This morning, Elliott Abrams calls out both Tom Friedman and Joe Klein for offering up Walt/Mearsheimer conspiracy theories about American Jewry in the place of reasoned analysis. Friedman had said that Benjamin Netanyahu’s standing ovations from members of Congress last May were “bought and paid for by the Israel lobby.”

Klein wrote this: “I don’t meet many neoconservatives outside of Washington and New York. It’s one thing to just adore Israel, as the evangelical Christians do; it’s another thing entirely to send American kids off to war, yet again, to fight for Israel’s national security.” Alarmed, Abrams asks the following:

Once upon a time, William F. Buckley banned Pat Buchanan from the pages of National Review and in essence drummed him out of the conservative movement for such accusations. Today, where are the Anti-Defamation League, and the American Jewish Committee, and all the Jewish “defense” organizations?  Where are all the Jewish groups which have given Klein and Friedman awards, demanding them back? Where are Jewish Democrats in Congress, who have no doubt wined and dined both Klein and Friedman in a thousand dinner parties, and congressional leaders from Nancy Pelosi to Harry Reid? And what about our other supposed moral leaders, religious, intellectual, or political?

It’s a good question. Klein subsequently clarified that he didn’t mean to suggest that Americans have previously been sent to war to protect Israel. He said he thought his commas made that clear. That, however, doesn’t actually answer Abrams’ objection, which was the suggestion that American Jewish neoconservatives want Americans to be sent to war in Iran to protect Israel. Klein also said he wants Jews to uphold our tradition of “tolerance and understanding in a world too often hateful and barbaric.” In the next paragraph, he calls Abrams “a feckless shmuck.”

I’ll leave it to Abrams to decide if the latter comment deserves a response, but in his defense of Tom Friedman, Klein adds: “The reaction from assorted Israel First/Likudnik bloviators to Tom Friedman’s comment has been absurd.” Here are three quotes about the Walt/Mearsheimer thesis of the Israel lobby, which Friedman was echoing:

  • “[P]ortrays the Israel lobby as a nebulous, all-powerful force subverting America’s interests for the sake of Israel.”
  • “But their announced objectives have been badly undermined by the contours of their argument—a prosecutor’s brief that depicts Israel as a singularly pernicious force in world affairs.”
  • “Mearsheimer and Walt are a classic example of pundits hatching a thesis and then hacking away at the facts to make them fit.”

The first was Jonathan Chait, writing in the New Republic. The second was David Remnick, writing in the New Yorker. The third was Daniel Lazare, writing in the Nation. According to Klein, are these fellows “Israel First/Likudnik bloviators”? The fact remains that the mainstream left does not believe in the Walt/Mearsheimer view of the world, and that dissent from Friedman’s and Klein’s nonsense is not evidence of dual loyalties.

But that begs Abrams’ question: Where is everyone? Why would the reaction to this deeply paranoid assault on the loyalty of American Jews be to quibble over the placement of a comma–or worse, silence? Siding with Friedman and Klein just because you share their dislike of pro-Israel conservatives is as yet the clearest example of politicizing the issue and turning Israel into a partisan wedge.

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Ron Paul’s Revenge: A Third-Party Run?

It’s not even worth pretending Ron Paul has any shot at winning the GOP nomination, even if he does manage to pull off a victory in Iowa. As Dave Weigel outlines at Slate, if Paul wins the caucuses it will probably only boost Romney’s chances of wrapping up the nomination.

Because Paul’s such a no-shot, most of his Republican critics are fairly blasé about his steady upward creep in the Iowa polls. But they should consider this nightmare scenario: Paul wins the caucuses. He then uses his heightened visibility – and his substantial cash reserves – to set the stage for a general election third-party run.

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It’s not even worth pretending Ron Paul has any shot at winning the GOP nomination, even if he does manage to pull off a victory in Iowa. As Dave Weigel outlines at Slate, if Paul wins the caucuses it will probably only boost Romney’s chances of wrapping up the nomination.

Because Paul’s such a no-shot, most of his Republican critics are fairly blasé about his steady upward creep in the Iowa polls. But they should consider this nightmare scenario: Paul wins the caucuses. He then uses his heightened visibility – and his substantial cash reserves – to set the stage for a general election third-party run.

If you don’t think he’ll have enough public support to cause serious damage in the general election, you’re fooling yourself. There will be plenty of Republican voters who will be disillusioned enough by Romney’s likely nomination to consider voting third-party, which would severely complicate the GOP’s path to the White House.

Politico reports that this possibility is already causing anxiety in Iowa Republican circles:

The most troubling eventuality that Iowa Republicans are bracing for is that Paul wins the caucuses only to lose the nomination and run as a third-party candidate in November — all but ensuring President Obama is re-elected.

“If we empower somebody who turns around and elects Obama, then that’s a major problem for the caucuses,” said Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa).

Iowa Republicans have reason to be concerned. When Sean Hannity asked Paul, point blank, last week whether he would mount a third-party bid, the candidate said he had “no intention of doing that,” but was careful to keep the door open: “I don’t like absolutes — I don’t like to say: ‘I absolutely will never do such and such,’” Paul added.

Thanks to Republican primary rules that try to discourage exactly this scenario, Paul won’t be able to get on all the state ballots as a third-party candidate. But that may not matter. Paul’s an ideologue first, and the point of his run would be to get his message out to a broad national audience – winning is a secondary concern.

From Paul’s perspective, the time may seem ripe. He’s stated that this will be his final presidential run. And he’s even announced that he won’t run again for the congressional seat he’s held for more than a decade.

Once Republicans reject Paul and choose their nominee, will he cheerfully fade away into retirement and the quieter life of activist politics? Or will Paul – no longer beholden to the Republican Party that has long treated him like a sideshow – seek out third-party vindication at the GOP’s expense?

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Denying Palestinian Hate Won’t Bring Peace

Ever since the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993, Americans and Israelis who were trying to make peace in the Middle East have had one insoluble problem: how to explain the fact that Palestinian leaders say one thing to the Western media and quite another to their own people in Arabic. The answer for the peace processers was to either ignore or rationalize the consistent incitement and hatred coming from Palestinian sources lest the truth about their intentions dampen enthusiasm for Israeli concessions or for pressure on the Jewish state to surrender territory.

A counterweight to this inclination to deny the truth about the Palestinians has come from the work of Palestine Media Watch, an organization that was founded in 1996 and since then has produced translations of Arab print and broadcast media. PMW has just published a new book titled Deception: Betraying the Peace Process that is filled with translated quotes of Palestinians from 2010 to 2011. The cumulative effect of the depth of the hatred and delegitimization for Jews and Israel that is mainstream opinion among Palestinians is devastating. But, as an article about the topic in today’s New York Times demonstrates, it is also something many Americans and Israelis have trouble dealing with.

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Ever since the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993, Americans and Israelis who were trying to make peace in the Middle East have had one insoluble problem: how to explain the fact that Palestinian leaders say one thing to the Western media and quite another to their own people in Arabic. The answer for the peace processers was to either ignore or rationalize the consistent incitement and hatred coming from Palestinian sources lest the truth about their intentions dampen enthusiasm for Israeli concessions or for pressure on the Jewish state to surrender territory.

A counterweight to this inclination to deny the truth about the Palestinians has come from the work of Palestine Media Watch, an organization that was founded in 1996 and since then has produced translations of Arab print and broadcast media. PMW has just published a new book titled Deception: Betraying the Peace Process that is filled with translated quotes of Palestinians from 2010 to 2011. The cumulative effect of the depth of the hatred and delegitimization for Jews and Israel that is mainstream opinion among Palestinians is devastating. But, as an article about the topic in today’s New York Times demonstrates, it is also something many Americans and Israelis have trouble dealing with.

The problem for those who wish to portray the Palestinian approach to peace as morally equivalent to that of the Israelis is that the substance of Deception is incontrovertible. The litany of outrage is lengthy. It runs the gamut from Palestinian television’s children programs that inculcate rejection of Israel and support for terror in its audience to the translations of adult programs that regard all of pre-1967 Israel as territory to be liberated from the Jews. Damning quotes from Palestinian Authority officials and official honors for terrorist murderers also demonstrate the unpleasant facts. As the Times reports:

“There is no doubt in my mind that in the mainstream of the Palestinian national movement, Israel is not considered legitimate,” said Shlomo Avineri, an Israeli professor of political science at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, reflecting a widespread sense of disillusionment. “This is the inner truth of the Palestinians,” he said. “They really mean it. It is not what they say on CNN, but it is what they teach their children.”

Yet for some on the left, it is easier to doubt the motives of those behind PMW or to claim Israelis are guilty of similar offenses, even though there isn’t the slightest comparison between the official Palestinian attitude and that of the State of Israel, where peace education is part of the official curriculum in the schools.

Far from being an esoteric issue, ignoring the truth about the Palestinians has consequences. Both the Clinton administration and Israel’s Labor Party governments during the 1990s chose to try and whitewash the Palestinians, and the result was to encourage their intransigence. Only later, after the complete collapse of the process after Yasir Arafat refused an Israeli offer of a Palestinian state at Camp David and answered it with a terror war of attrition, did many in Washington and on the political left start to understand there were consequences. But even now, some of those who condoned this deception don’t seem to get it.

Itamar Rabinovich, a scholar who served as the Rabin government’s ambassador to Washington, told the Times about his decision to try and rationalize Yasir Arafat’s comments in a South African mosque just months after signing the Oslo Accords when he invited Muslims  “to come and to fight and to start the jihad to liberate Jerusalem.” Though Rabinovich acknowledges there has been a failure to build peace on the Palestinian side, he does not back away from his comments at the time that Arafat was merely talking of a spiritual struggle rather than telling his true intentions toward Israel. Yet Rabinovich still seems to deplore efforts to allow the West to see what Palestinians say to each other as the effort of “rightist groups” who seek “ammunition” to derail negotiations.

For those who see the peace process as if it were a religious belief rather than a policy that can be judged by its results, the only possible response to PMW is denial or to cast aspersions on Deception’s authors. But doing so merely serves the purposes of those Palestinians who don’t want peace. What is needed is a sea change in Palestinian political culture that will enable their leaders to build a consensus around the idea of peaceful coexistence with a Jewish state. But that will never happen until the West puts the Palestinians on notice they cannot go on propagating hatred with impunity.

Ignoring or seeking to marginalize the truths that PMW has uncovered will only lead to more bloodshed, not peace.

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The Most Important Political Development of 2011

As we move toward the end of the year, it’s worth putting the state of politics in America today in perspective, starting with this observation: Barack Obama is, right now, in a perilous situation, quite apart from what the GOP field does and does not do to one another. That is, I think, the most important political development of 2011.

There are several year-end polls that illustrate Obama’s problems. One of them comes to us courtesy of the latest Allstate/National Journal Heartland Monitor poll. Having sliced and diced the data, the analysis of one of America’s best political reporters, Ron Brownstein of National Journal, is thus: On the nation’s immediate circumstances, “the verdict in the survey remains overwhelmingly negative.”

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As we move toward the end of the year, it’s worth putting the state of politics in America today in perspective, starting with this observation: Barack Obama is, right now, in a perilous situation, quite apart from what the GOP field does and does not do to one another. That is, I think, the most important political development of 2011.

There are several year-end polls that illustrate Obama’s problems. One of them comes to us courtesy of the latest Allstate/National Journal Heartland Monitor poll. Having sliced and diced the data, the analysis of one of America’s best political reporters, Ron Brownstein of National Journal, is thus: On the nation’s immediate circumstances, “the verdict in the survey remains overwhelmingly negative.”

Fully 70 percent of those polled say the United States is on the wrong track, while only 20 percent say it is moving in the right direction. That ties the Heartland Monitor survey last October for the most pessimistic finding on that reading in any of the polls dating back to April 2009.

In the new survey, only 44 percent of those polled say they approve of Obama’s performance while 49 percent disapprove. (In eight Heartland Monitor surveys
since January 2010, Obama’s approval rating has exceeded 50 percent only last May, when it reached 51 percent).

In the new poll, just 35 percent of whites say they approve of Obama’s performance. Among whites without a college education, less than one-third of them approve of his performance. And among college-educated white voters, who have generally been favorably disposed to Obama, just 39 percent of them say they approve. Even among college-educated white women, who gave Obama 52 percent of their votes in 2008, his approval rating has dropped to 42 percent.

The most recent two surveys also place Obama near a low point with independents: 38 percent of them in the new poll approve of his performance; each of those mark the first time in the Heartland Monitor polling that fewer than 40 percent of independents have approved.

Only 28 percent said they expect his policies to increase opportunity for them to get ahead; 37 percent say his agenda will diminish their opportunities. “That’s the biggest tilt toward the negative that the poll has ever recorded on this question,” according to Brownstein. He adds that an incumbent’s approval rating historically has been the most revealing gauge of his reelection prospects – and “the numbers are even gloomier for Obama on a reelection question.”

When asked if they intend to vote for Obama, 39 percent said they were now inclined to, while 54 percent said they will definitely or probably back someone else.

Brownstein also provides this useful comparison. Compared to his 2008 total

  • Obama’s approval rating has dropped 14 percentage points among independents;
  • 12 percentage points lower among young adults (aged 18-29);
  • 11 points lower among African-Americans;
  • 10 points lower among college-educated white women; and
  • 7 points among upper middle-income families earning between $75,000 and $100,000 annually (Obama has dropped from 51 percent of the vote with them to 44 percent approval).

Remember: Each of those groups provided him a majority of their votes last time; among none of them does he command anything like majority support right now. And while Brownstein notes that there is evidence of some increasing optimism among the public, it’s “hardly the stuff of clouds parting.”

If Barack Obama is going to be re-elected, he will have to climb a steep political mountain. He could do it, of course. But he ends this year even more  vulnerable than he began it. By any reasonable measure, President Obama is now the underdog. The presidential race is the GOP’s to lose.

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Farewell to Two Men Who Shaped History–But in Different Directions

The nearly simultaneous deaths of Vaclav Havel and Kim Jong Il serve as a useful reminder that history is more than impersonal forces. It is also the accumulated actions of individuals–and “great men” (that anachronistic phrase) have an outsize role in shaping the direction history takes.

There were many reasons, of course, why Czechoslovakia had such a smooth transition from Communist role and then managed to break apart so peacefully into two new countries–the Czech Republic and Slovakia–while avoiding the bloodshed that characterized the breakup of Yugoslavia. But surely part of the explanation can be found in the moral authority and democratic vision of Vaclav Havel. He dedicated his life to fighting for liberal principles and then, once he had made the startling transition from prison to president, he showed himself to be an exemplar of those values by leaving office at the end of his term–an action we take for granted but is hardly guaranteed in any country undergoing a democratic transition. A playwright and intellectual, he was an exemplary man of letters who used his prestige to further the freedom of his people–rather than, as is the case with so many of his counterparts in the West, to champion despots and deluded fanatics.

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The nearly simultaneous deaths of Vaclav Havel and Kim Jong Il serve as a useful reminder that history is more than impersonal forces. It is also the accumulated actions of individuals–and “great men” (that anachronistic phrase) have an outsize role in shaping the direction history takes.

There were many reasons, of course, why Czechoslovakia had such a smooth transition from Communist role and then managed to break apart so peacefully into two new countries–the Czech Republic and Slovakia–while avoiding the bloodshed that characterized the breakup of Yugoslavia. But surely part of the explanation can be found in the moral authority and democratic vision of Vaclav Havel. He dedicated his life to fighting for liberal principles and then, once he had made the startling transition from prison to president, he showed himself to be an exemplar of those values by leaving office at the end of his term–an action we take for granted but is hardly guaranteed in any country undergoing a democratic transition. A playwright and intellectual, he was an exemplary man of letters who used his prestige to further the freedom of his people–rather than, as is the case with so many of his counterparts in the West, to champion despots and deluded fanatics.

Kim Jong Il was one of those despots and fanatics who are inexplicably attractive to a few Westerners. He came to power at nearly the same time, in 1994, but aside from the accident of timing, the differences between the two could not have been more pronounced. Kim had no record of independent achievement as Havel had; he had neither produced significant works of art, nor spent time in jail for his beliefs. He had done little other than toady up to his father, Kim Il-sung.

When the elder Kim died, his son could have overseen a transition to democratic or at least less autocratic rule. Far from it, the junior Kim maintained the Stalinist dictatorship intact. He presided over the deaths of millions of his own people in a needless famine, even while channeling the scarce resources of the state into procuring luxury goods for himself (French cognac, Japanese actresses) and nuclear weapons for his state.

Kim was a canny survivor who used North Korea’s only assets–its nukes–to outmaneuver the U.S. and to maintain his iron grip on power. But all that means is that in the long run he will be remembered as a junior varsity Stalin, Mao, or Hitler: someone who in his own way embodied evil. Havel, by contrast, was far from perfect–he would never have claimed otherwise. But he was as transparently idealistic and well-intentioned as a statesman can get–on a par with only a  few other dissidents-turned-leaders such as Nelson Mandela and Lech Walesa.

Both Havel and Kim left their marks on history. Havel’s may be found in a flourishing, peaceful, democratic state in central Europe. Kim’s may be found in a destitute prison-camp of a state in Northeast Asia.

 

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Could a “Family Leader” Endorsement Save Gingrich in Iowa?

Attack ads have been eating away at Newt Gingrich’s support in Iowa, and the former Speaker blasted his fellow candidates yesterday for “going negative” in Davenport:

“If they run into one of these candidates, tell them they ought to be ashamed of themselves,” Gingrich said before roughly 150 people just outside of Cedar Rapids. “They ought to take this junk off the air.”

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Attack ads have been eating away at Newt Gingrich’s support in Iowa, and the former Speaker blasted his fellow candidates yesterday for “going negative” in Davenport:

“If they run into one of these candidates, tell them they ought to be ashamed of themselves,” Gingrich said before roughly 150 people just outside of Cedar Rapids. “They ought to take this junk off the air.”

And it is these negative attacks that are perhaps causing the recent drop in polls.

“Watch TV here for 2 days. You had all sorts of people, all sorts of these Super PACs who have been consistently running negative ads,” Gingrich admitted to a couple hundred people early Tuesday at an event in Davenport.

While the attack ads have certainly hurt him in the polls, Gingrich probably wouldn’t be losing steam so quickly if he had devoted more effort to building up his organization in Iowa and spent more time on retail politics. Leaving Iowa shortly after the last debate was a mistake – in fact, every day between now and the caucuses that Gingrich doesn’t spend in Iowa is a day wasted.

This isn’t necessarily a matter of money, either. As the Iowa Republican‘s Craig Robinson told The Hill, Gingrich has enough star power to draw a crowd in Iowa based on his name alone. And the lack of campaign cash hasn’t stopped Gingrich’s lesser-known opponents from doing the legwork in the state:

“How much money does it really take to campaign in Iowa?” Robinson said. “Even though it was bad right out the gate, Newt Gingrich drew crowds and could connect with voters. Rick Santorum is doing it without money, Michele Bachmann is doing it now. It’s not luxurious, it’s not necessarily fun, but it’s how you build lasting support. I think they’ve taken a really lazy approach.”

If the former not-Romney frontrunners have taught us anything in this race, it’s that it’s nearly impossible to make up the lost ground once your support starts dropping. Bachmann, Perry and Cain weren’t able to pull it off, and it wasn’t for lack of trying. Gingrich has just started to see his numbers fall off, and while he may not get back to the position he once was in, he may be able to do something to stop the bleeding.

An endorsement from an influential Iowa social conservative group – like the Family Leader, which will announce its endorsement decision today – could reinvigorate Gingrich’s campaign. Of course, he would have had a much better shot at winning the group’s support before his poll numbers started dropping. Now that Gingrich is no longer leading the field, it actually frees up the Family Leader to pick a candidate who’s less controversial with social conservatives, like Michele Bachmann or Rick Santorum.

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Merkel Sends the Wrong Message to Abbas

With the Israeli-Palestinian “peace process” currently mired in the worst impasse of the last 18 years, one might think Western diplomats would reconsider their approach rather than mindlessly adhering to the same failed tactics. But one would be wrong, as Germany’s response to Israel’s latest announcement of new construction makes clear: Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesman said the announcement sent “a devastating message with regard to the current efforts to resume peace negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians” and urged Israel not to issue the tenders.

Merkel evidently didn’t consider what message she sent via that statement, but in fact, it’s a message far more devastating to “efforts to resume negotiations” than the new housing is. What she effectively said is Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas should be rewarded for steadfastly refusing to negotiate with Israel by being granted the very construction freeze even he demanded only as a quid pro quo for agreeing to negotiate.

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With the Israeli-Palestinian “peace process” currently mired in the worst impasse of the last 18 years, one might think Western diplomats would reconsider their approach rather than mindlessly adhering to the same failed tactics. But one would be wrong, as Germany’s response to Israel’s latest announcement of new construction makes clear: Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesman said the announcement sent “a devastating message with regard to the current efforts to resume peace negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians” and urged Israel not to issue the tenders.

Merkel evidently didn’t consider what message she sent via that statement, but in fact, it’s a message far more devastating to “efforts to resume negotiations” than the new housing is. What she effectively said is Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas should be rewarded for steadfastly refusing to negotiate with Israel by being granted the very construction freeze even he demanded only as a quid pro quo for agreeing to negotiate.

But if refusing to talk leads the West to demand more Israeli concessions in an effort to lure him back to the table, then Abbas has no incentive ever to negotiate. After all, in negotiations, both sides usually have to give something. If by refusing to negotiate, he can instead get the world to extract unilateral concessions from Israel, that is obviously his best move.

Perhaps even more disturbing, however, is that all the new construction is planned for existing Jewish neighborhoods of Jerusalem or major Jerusalem-area settlements that virtually every peace plan ever proposed has Israel retaining. By treating Israeli construction in these areas as no less problematic than construction in isolated settlements that everyone agrees would be dismantled under any agreement, Merkel feeds the Palestinian fantasy that it really is possible to turn back the clock, because the world will support Palestinian demands for a full Israeli retreat to the 1949 armistice lines.

This is crucial, because contrary to the accepted wisdom that borders are an “easy” issue to resolve, they have proven a major sticking point in every previous round of talks. The most generous Israeli offer to date, in 2008, had Israel keeping about 7 percent of the West Bank in exchange for land swaps. But Palestinians have repeatedly insisted that Israel keep no more than 2 percent of the territory, even with 1:1 territorial swaps. According to leaked negotiating documents known as the Palestine Papers, for instance, they demanded that Israel cede both the Jerusalem neighborhood of Har Homa and the Jerusalem-area settlement of Ma’aleh Adumim, with populations of about 20,000 and 36,000, respectively. In short, they insist on throwing tens of thousands of additional Israelis out of their homes, thereby making it much harder for any Israeli leader to sign a deal.

Thus, if Western leaders really wanted to advance the peace process, they should instead be striving to get Abbas to accept that these areas are never going to
be Palestinian. And supporting continued Israeli construction there would be one of the best ways to do so.

But if the West still hasn’t figured that out after 18 years, I wouldn’t hold my breath.

 

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Is Iraq Spinning Out of Control?

The political situation in Iraq continues to deteriorate at an alarming rate. Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki already stands accused of ordering the arrest and torture of aides to the Sunni vice president, Tariq al Hashimi. Now an arrest warrant has been issued for Hashimi himself based on the coerced confessions which were aired on television, in the best Stalinist show-trial tradition.

Hashimi is hiding out in the Kurdish region to avoid government security forces. Maliki has also asked the parliament to adopt a no-confidence motion in the Sunni deputy prime minister, Salah al Mutlaq, who has publicly accused Maliki of becoming a dictator.

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The political situation in Iraq continues to deteriorate at an alarming rate. Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki already stands accused of ordering the arrest and torture of aides to the Sunni vice president, Tariq al Hashimi. Now an arrest warrant has been issued for Hashimi himself based on the coerced confessions which were aired on television, in the best Stalinist show-trial tradition.

Hashimi is hiding out in the Kurdish region to avoid government security forces. Maliki has also asked the parliament to adopt a no-confidence motion in the Sunni deputy prime minister, Salah al Mutlaq, who has publicly accused Maliki of becoming a dictator.

In response, the Iraqiya bloc, the major secular party which includes many Sunnis, is boycotting parliament and threatening to quit the government. Two Sunni provinces, Salahuddin and Diyala, have declared their intention to form an autonomous region, a move Maliki vows to block. Most ominously of all, Sunnis are openly talking about re-starting armed resistance which most of them had given up in 2007-2008.

Is it just a coincidence that this–the worst crisis Iraq has seen since 2007–has unfolded just as U.S. troops have left the country? Hardly. U.S. forces performed a vital role as peacekeepers and stabilizers and honest brokers. With the Americans gone, a tenuous peace may not last much longer.

What we are seeing is a terrible tragedy: the Obama administration, by prematurely withdrawing, risks undoing all that U.S., Iraqi, and allied troops have fought so hard to achieve. Does President Obama care? Does he even notice what is happening as he continues to thump his chest about his success in “ending” the war? He should.

The polls may show wide approval of the withdrawal now, but if Iraq spins out of control, the verdict of voters–and historians–will not be so charitable. Indeed, history may conclude that the only blunder greater than the manner in which the U.S. entered Iraq was the manner in which we left it.

 

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