Commentary Magazine


Posts For: December 29, 2011

Ron Paul: Where Left Meets Right

It has long been apparent that Ron Paul’s isolationist foreign policy has far more to do with the agenda of the anti-American left than anything resembling the ideas conservatives support. But, surprisingly, that confluence of far left and far right may also apply to his domestic concerns. As the Weekly Standard’s John McCormack reports, yesterday Paul threw a bouquet to the Occupy Wall Street movement and even compared it favorably with the Tea Party.

According to Paul, both the Tea Party and the Occupiers are citizens upset with the status quo, seek to overturn the political establishment and have far more in common than they suspect. This is, of course, nonsense. The Tea Party is about individual responsibility (remember, it started over mortgage defaulters having their bills paid by other citizens who pay their way) while Occupy is about entitlement and envy. They only look like the same thing if you are, like Paul, someone who is so obsessed with things like the Federal Reserve and opposing the defense of American interests and values abroad, that you lose perspective about how we can defend the freedom he says he believes in so deeply.

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It has long been apparent that Ron Paul’s isolationist foreign policy has far more to do with the agenda of the anti-American left than anything resembling the ideas conservatives support. But, surprisingly, that confluence of far left and far right may also apply to his domestic concerns. As the Weekly Standard’s John McCormack reports, yesterday Paul threw a bouquet to the Occupy Wall Street movement and even compared it favorably with the Tea Party.

According to Paul, both the Tea Party and the Occupiers are citizens upset with the status quo, seek to overturn the political establishment and have far more in common than they suspect. This is, of course, nonsense. The Tea Party is about individual responsibility (remember, it started over mortgage defaulters having their bills paid by other citizens who pay their way) while Occupy is about entitlement and envy. They only look like the same thing if you are, like Paul, someone who is so obsessed with things like the Federal Reserve and opposing the defense of American interests and values abroad, that you lose perspective about how we can defend the freedom he says he believes in so deeply.

The point here is not just that Paul is far removed from the Republican mainstream though, of course, he is. Every poll shows the group he does most poorly with is registered Republicans. His bow to the Occupy Wall Street crowd makes sense, because left-wingers are far more likely to view him favorably than Republicans, even those with libertarian leanings. While some in the GOP share his instinctive distrust of government, Paul’s all-purpose extremism is easy to understand, because as far as he is concerned, there is really no difference between his rationalizing the Taliban and Iran and his sympathy for the neo-Marxist Occupiers. As Paul said:

I think some people like to paint Occupy left and the Tea Party people right, but I think it makes my point. There’s a lot of people unhappy, and they’re not so happy with the two party system because we have had people go in and out of office, Congress changes, the presidency changes, they run on one thing, they do something else. Nothing ever changes. And I sort of like it because I make the point that if you’re a Republican or Democrat the foreign policy doesn’t really change, even though there’s a strong Republican tradition of the foreign policy I’ve been talking about where we don’t get involved in policing the world. Does the monetary policy change? Do they really care about reining in the Fed? Would the Fed bail out all these countries around the world? More and more people know that now. But monetary policy doesn’t change.

Far from representing the values of conservative Tea Partiers who respect the Constitution, Paul’s obsessive hatred for the institutions of government and America’s place in the world is the antithesis of their world view.

The nexus of the far right and the far left has always been a dangerous place where extremists of all kinds, including racists and anti-Semites, linger. So it’s no surprise that Paul has pandered to these groups with his newsletters as well as his isolationism and conspiracy theories about 9/11. While he may be enjoying a momentary surge in Iowa, his politics of destruction are part of a long-failed tradition of populist extremism that has little appeal to most Republicans or mainstream America.

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Turkey Not Interested in Justice

Turkey has a terrorism problem, though not just the Kurdish one it often claims. The Turkish government, for example, embraces Hamas and Hezbollah and Prime Minister Erdogan himself has offered a character reference to an al-Qaeda financier to which Cuneyt Zapsu, a top advisor, had donated money.

Against this backdrop, it is tragic that the Obama administration has removed equipment needed by our troops in Afghanistan in order to woo the Turkish government and support its fight against terrorism. Never did the White House or State Department use their leverage to demand that Turkey accept a common definition of terrorism that would not give Palestinian and anti-Israel groups a free pass.

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Turkey has a terrorism problem, though not just the Kurdish one it often claims. The Turkish government, for example, embraces Hamas and Hezbollah and Prime Minister Erdogan himself has offered a character reference to an al-Qaeda financier to which Cuneyt Zapsu, a top advisor, had donated money.

Against this backdrop, it is tragic that the Obama administration has removed equipment needed by our troops in Afghanistan in order to woo the Turkish government and support its fight against terrorism. Never did the White House or State Department use their leverage to demand that Turkey accept a common definition of terrorism that would not give Palestinian and anti-Israel groups a free pass.

Now, in the name of anti-terrorism, it appears that Turkey has massacred nearly three dozen Iraqi Kurdish villagers, none of whom appear to have been Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) members or were involved in any terrorist support. The deputy chairman of Turkey’s ruling party has acknowledged that the murders were in error. The killings come on top of a similar raid in August that killed seven civilians, including toddlers.

It will be interesting to see whether Turkey will discipline those involved in these killings, pay compensation, apologize, or allow international investigations. No one should hold their breath, however. The Turkish government is interested in neither justice nor counter-terrorism; its interests lay instead solely in Israel-bashing and incitement.

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The Nominee Matters, Not the Field

The liberal writer Gene Lyons echoes the conventional wisdom when he says, “What’’s alarming about the GOP contest isn’’t the indecisiveness or poor reasoning processes of Iowa voters. It’’s the dismal quality of the choices they’’re offered. Is this the best that one of America’’s two major political parties can do?”

I’ve argued before that what will matter in this race isn’t the quality of the field (which I concede is comprised of unusually weak candidates) but the quality of the nominee who emerges. This field will be long forgotten not only years from now, but by the GOP convention in the summer.

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The liberal writer Gene Lyons echoes the conventional wisdom when he says, “What’’s alarming about the GOP contest isn’’t the indecisiveness or poor reasoning processes of Iowa voters. It’’s the dismal quality of the choices they’’re offered. Is this the best that one of America’’s two major political parties can do?”

I’ve argued before that what will matter in this race isn’t the quality of the field (which I concede is comprised of unusually weak candidates) but the quality of the nominee who emerges. This field will be long forgotten not only years from now, but by the GOP convention in the summer.

To help illustrate the point: last night C-SPAN broadcast a 2000 Iowa debate which featured GOP presidential candidates Alan Keyes, Gary Bauer, Steve Forbes, and Orrin Hatch. This hardly constituted a political Murderer’s Row. It didn’t matter. George W. Bush emerged as the nominee and defeated Al Gore for the presidency.

The Republican Party simply has to hope that its best candidate wins the nomination and that he is formidable. My guess is both things will happen.

 

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Good Year for Fox News

This past year was another very good one for the Fox News Channel, which continued its dominance of cable news (in January FNC will have been the #1 cable news channel for 10 years in a row).

The Associated Press, in reporting on the most recent Nielsen ratings, points out that FNC’s average viewership exceeded CNN and MSNBC combined, both in prime time and for the entire day. Fox typically had 1.87 million viewers in prime time this year. The top 13 programs in cable news all aired on Fox. And Fox was the only cable news network to place in the top 10 list of cable channels in both prime time and entire day.

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This past year was another very good one for the Fox News Channel, which continued its dominance of cable news (in January FNC will have been the #1 cable news channel for 10 years in a row).

The Associated Press, in reporting on the most recent Nielsen ratings, points out that FNC’s average viewership exceeded CNN and MSNBC combined, both in prime time and for the entire day. Fox typically had 1.87 million viewers in prime time this year. The top 13 programs in cable news all aired on Fox. And Fox was the only cable news network to place in the top 10 list of cable channels in both prime time and entire day.

Fox’s ratings lead may well extend in 2012, given both the forthcoming GOP primary race and presidential election. And one day years from now, when political passions cool and his achievements are put in perspective, Roger Ailes will be seen as one of the most significant journalistic figures of the last half-century. He is the man who is most responsible for shattering the monopoly on television news. It’s little wonder he and his network inspire rage in some liberal quarters. And there’s little doubt it bothers Ailes not at all.

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The Downsides of Drones

Yesterday, I noted that one of the downsides of the Obama administration’s heavy reliance on drone strikes is that it eliminates the option of capturing and interrogating terrorist suspects. Admittedly, that may not be possible in many instances anyway, but the intelligence payoff from interrogation (and also seizure of documents) is much higher than from simple elimination.

Today, the Wall Street Journal notes another potential downside: the possibility of getting played by an allied intelligence service. In this case, the Journal writes, the U.S. government now suspects that the Joint Special Operations Command was being set up by the president of Yemen to eliminate one of his rivals in 2010 when a U.S. missile killed six people, including the deputy governor of one of the country’s provinces. This kind of mishap is a distinct danger when U.S. agencies use lethal force in countries where our intelligence-gathering capacity (especially in terms of human intelligence) is distinctly limited. This sort of thing was all too common in the early days in Afghanistan and Iraq, both places where U.S. troops were inadvertently drawn into local political rivalries.

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Yesterday, I noted that one of the downsides of the Obama administration’s heavy reliance on drone strikes is that it eliminates the option of capturing and interrogating terrorist suspects. Admittedly, that may not be possible in many instances anyway, but the intelligence payoff from interrogation (and also seizure of documents) is much higher than from simple elimination.

Today, the Wall Street Journal notes another potential downside: the possibility of getting played by an allied intelligence service. In this case, the Journal writes, the U.S. government now suspects that the Joint Special Operations Command was being set up by the president of Yemen to eliminate one of his rivals in 2010 when a U.S. missile killed six people, including the deputy governor of one of the country’s provinces. This kind of mishap is a distinct danger when U.S. agencies use lethal force in countries where our intelligence-gathering capacity (especially in terms of human intelligence) is distinctly limited. This sort of thing was all too common in the early days in Afghanistan and Iraq, both places where U.S. troops were inadvertently drawn into local political rivalries.

The answer is to establish deeper ties and deeper understanding. but that takes time and energy. Sometimes drone strikes can be a convenient short-cut for that kind of intensive effort. On the other hand, if done right, and if used as the culmination of an intensive intelligence-generating process rather than a substitute for it, drone strikes can be a highly effective tool in the war against terrorist groups. They should certainly not be discontinued and not even reduced in number, but their downsides should be kept firmly in mind.

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Romney in the Catbird Seat

As we approach the eve of the Iowa caucus, the broad outlines of the GOP race remains what it has been from the beginning: Mitt Romney is doing well among less conservative/non-Tea Party voters while the more conservative voters have not coalesced around any alternative to Romney. And contrary to the  impression of some, Romney is not deeply disliked by most conservative voters. He may not be their first choice, but he’s done more than enough to make him acceptable to most Republicans. Governor Romney may not inspire passionate support on the right, but neither does he inspire passionate opposition.

Beyond that, National Journal’s Ron Brownstein points out that since 1980, no Republican (in a contested race) has won both the Iowa caucus and the New Hampshire primary. In fact, the pattern has been the same: one candidate wins in Iowa, another wins in New Hampshire, and one of those two wins in South Carolina– and, eventually, the nomination.

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As we approach the eve of the Iowa caucus, the broad outlines of the GOP race remains what it has been from the beginning: Mitt Romney is doing well among less conservative/non-Tea Party voters while the more conservative voters have not coalesced around any alternative to Romney. And contrary to the  impression of some, Romney is not deeply disliked by most conservative voters. He may not be their first choice, but he’s done more than enough to make him acceptable to most Republicans. Governor Romney may not inspire passionate support on the right, but neither does he inspire passionate opposition.

Beyond that, National Journal’s Ron Brownstein points out that since 1980, no Republican (in a contested race) has won both the Iowa caucus and the New Hampshire primary. In fact, the pattern has been the same: one candidate wins in Iowa, another wins in New Hampshire, and one of those two wins in South Carolina– and, eventually, the nomination.

To briefly review the history: In 1980, Ronald Reagan lost in Iowa (to George H.W. Bush), won in New Hampshire, and won in South Carolina. In 1988, George H.W. Bush lost in Iowa (to Robert Dole), won in New Hampshire, and won in South Carolina. In 1996, Bob Dole won in Iowa, lost in New Hampshire (to Pat Buchanan), and won in South Carolina. In 2000, George W. Bush won in Iowa, lost in New  Hampshire (to John McCain), and won in South Carolina. And in 2008, John McCain lost in Iowa (to Mike Huckabee and Mitt Romney), won in New Hampshire, and won in South Carolina. All of which means that if Romney wins in Iowa and New Hampshire, where he has a significant lead right now (nearly 20 points, according to the RealClearPolitics average), it’s hard to see how he would lose the nomination, particularly given his enormous advantages in money and organization.

The board can still be scrambled, of course. It was only two weeks ago, after all, when Newt Gingrich was ahead by double digits in Iowa, South Carolina, and Florida and was closing in on Romney in New Hampshire. This led Gingrich to tell ABC’s Jake Tapper, “”It’’s very hard not to look at the recent polls and think that the odds are very high I’’m going to be the nominee.”” But Gingrich’s support in Iowa and New Hampshire looks to be collapsing (by some counts he’s lost 20 points in 20 days). Romney’s team surely knows if the former Massachusetts governor can win in Iowa– and right now he leads Ron Paul in some polls and trails him in others –the outcome of this race may be decided almost as soon as it began. If so, it would be a remarkable achievement by Romney.

Caveats are important to insert. There are a dozen other scenarios one can imagine. Not a single vote has yet been cast in this election. There are huge numbers of undecided voters. And proportional representation can string things out. But this much is clear: only five days away from the Iowa caucus, Mitt Romney is in the catbird seat.

 

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Whither Israeli Democracy?

In recent months, a new theme has replaced the media’s past obsession with Israel’s alleged mistreatment of the Palestinians. While abuse of Israel on this count is by no means over, with no humanitarian crisis in Hamas-ruled Gaza to trumpet and the Palestinians’ obvious disinterest in peace, the Israel-bashers have turned to a different theme: the imminent end of Israeli democracy.

Stories about proposed laws seeking to regulate non-governmental organizations, press disputes, clashes with the ultra-Orthodox and the treatment of women have often been combined to put forward the idea that the Jewish state is in the grips of a neo-fascist right-wing that is fast on its way to ending democracy and installing a theocracy that would no longer be seen as sharing values with the United States. But though Israel is beset, as is any democracy, with serious social problems and partisan clashes over a host of issues, the idea that democracy there is in any danger is a figment of the imagination of the country’s left-wing critics. Rather than being in decline, it is, if anything, more vibrant than ever.

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In recent months, a new theme has replaced the media’s past obsession with Israel’s alleged mistreatment of the Palestinians. While abuse of Israel on this count is by no means over, with no humanitarian crisis in Hamas-ruled Gaza to trumpet and the Palestinians’ obvious disinterest in peace, the Israel-bashers have turned to a different theme: the imminent end of Israeli democracy.

Stories about proposed laws seeking to regulate non-governmental organizations, press disputes, clashes with the ultra-Orthodox and the treatment of women have often been combined to put forward the idea that the Jewish state is in the grips of a neo-fascist right-wing that is fast on its way to ending democracy and installing a theocracy that would no longer be seen as sharing values with the United States. But though Israel is beset, as is any democracy, with serious social problems and partisan clashes over a host of issues, the idea that democracy there is in any danger is a figment of the imagination of the country’s left-wing critics. Rather than being in decline, it is, if anything, more vibrant than ever.

Briefly, and in order:

First, proposed laws that would either place curbs on foreign funding for non-governmental organizations or allow Israelis to sue those groups that support boycotts of the country may be badly conceived. But they are in no way a threat to democratic rule. For many years, leftists have poured money into Israeli groups that seek to slander the country as an apartheid state or to fund those who seek to undermine its status as a Jewish state. It is understandable that most Israelis would resent this activity, even if placing burdens on the funders seems unreasonable to Americans who have a very different conception of free speech rights than inhabitants of other democracies (including those in Europe).

Second, the idea that the current Israeli government is trying to muscle the press was mooted in a New York Times article this week that purported to show that Prime Minister Netanyahu was retaliating against an independent television station that gave him critical coverage. But the story glossed over two things. First is the fact that this government actually supports expanding the number of broadcast options the Israeli people currently have. Second is the fact that, like the United States, in Israel the vast majority of the mainstream media is in the grips of the left. Only someone with no conception of how Israeli society and politics actually works would possibly imagine there was any scarcity of anti-Netanyahu voices in the media there. Israel has a free press, and there is no danger it will cease to exist even if most of it is run by incorrigible left-wingers.

Third, and in many ways, most troubling is the reporting about clashes between the majority of Israelis and a small minority of ultra-Orthodox hoodlums who have been accused of abusing women in public places. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was wrong to compare the situation with what is going on in Iran–not because some of the Haredi thugs would not like to have the power to oppress women that the Islamists in Tehran would like–but because these hooligans are conducting themselves in a manner that contradicts Jewish religious law as well as the will of the secular majority and the government.

Clashes between the ultra-Orthodox and secular Jews make most Israelis especially angry because the Haredim often wield political power out of proportion to their numbers due to the quirks of the Israel’s proportional electoral system. Efforts by some Haredi outliers to defend what they wrongly see as their turf have resulted in egregious incidents such as the insults aimed at a small Modern Orthodox girl in the town of Beit Shemesh. Other efforts to enforce an appalling “back of the bus” policy for women or segregated sidewalks in religious neighborhoods are pressure points for a culture war in which the Orthodox are seen as trying to impose their will on the majority.

Peaceful coexistence between the Haredi community and the rest of the country is an ongoing challenge, especially because of the issues of avoidance of military service and abuse of the welfare state. Incidents such as the treatment of the Beit Shemesh girl are symbols of the rest of the country’s resentment against the Haredim, even if the offenders there are operating outside the consensus of even their own community.

But as contemptible as such episodes may be, they are not a sign of the end of democracy but proof that democracy is alive and well in Israel. Each episode has gotten a robust response from both the people and the government. Some Americans may not like the politics of the current Israeli government or the fact that it seems likely to be re-elected when it next faces the electorate there. But nothing that is happening in Israel or is likely to happen should persuade anyone that it is not the same lively and combative democratic culture it always has been.

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Iran Would Lose if They Close Hormuz

The Washington Post is right to note that Iran’s threats to close the Strait of Hormuz in retaliation for possible new sanctions on its oil exports are in all probability empty posturing. Iran, after all, needs to send its own oil exports (for example to China) through the Strait. Closing it would hurt Tehran above all, while the UAE, Saudi Arabia, and other Gulf states could reroute some of their exports via pipelines.

There is also the fact that Iranian military action is unlikely to succeed–it would meet a devastating response from the U.S. Fifth Fleet and potentially from the armed forces of the Gulf Cooperation Council. In fact, the last time Iran tried this trick–that would be in the 1980s–it lost a “tanker war” against the United States. Tehran has certainly developed some fresh capabilities since, especially in terms of mines, cruise missiles, and speed boats–including probably suicide boats. All of that would make Iran a serious nuisance and might allow the Iranians to close the Strait temporarily. But there is little doubt that the Iranians
ultimately would come out on the losing end of any ensuing conflict. Moreover, by initiating military action, they would provide the U.S. just the excuse we need to bomb Iran’s nuclear installations.

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The Washington Post is right to note that Iran’s threats to close the Strait of Hormuz in retaliation for possible new sanctions on its oil exports are in all probability empty posturing. Iran, after all, needs to send its own oil exports (for example to China) through the Strait. Closing it would hurt Tehran above all, while the UAE, Saudi Arabia, and other Gulf states could reroute some of their exports via pipelines.

There is also the fact that Iranian military action is unlikely to succeed–it would meet a devastating response from the U.S. Fifth Fleet and potentially from the armed forces of the Gulf Cooperation Council. In fact, the last time Iran tried this trick–that would be in the 1980s–it lost a “tanker war” against the United States. Tehran has certainly developed some fresh capabilities since, especially in terms of mines, cruise missiles, and speed boats–including probably suicide boats. All of that would make Iran a serious nuisance and might allow the Iranians to close the Strait temporarily. But there is little doubt that the Iranians
ultimately would come out on the losing end of any ensuing conflict. Moreover, by initiating military action, they would provide the U.S. just the excuse we need to bomb Iran’s nuclear installations.

In sum, Iran would be acting suicidally if it tried to close the Strait. That doesn’t mean that such action is out of the question; the Iranian Revolution has often harnessed suicidal impulses. But it is unlikely and should not deter the Europeans from proceeding with their plans to embargo Iranian oil.

 

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Obama’s Iran Promises: Security or Votes?

A month ago, Jeffrey Goldberg provoked a fair amount of scorn for proclaiming his belief that Barack Obama would “save Israel” from a nuclear Iran. But though Goldberg’s faith in the president’s willingness to use force to stop the Iranian nuclear program goes against everything we’ve learned about Obama in the last three years, Washington appears to be trying to sell the same bill of goods to the Israelis. As Eli Lake reported yesterday in the Daily Beast, “the Obama administration is trying to assure Israel privately that it would strike Iran militarily if Tehran’s nuclear program crosses certain ‘red lines,’ while attempting to dissuade the Israelis from acting unilaterally.”

Given the problems a unilateral Israeli attack on Iran would entail, these assurances might be enough to dissuade the Netanyahu government from acting on its own. But given the contradictory signals the administration has been sending about the use of force on Iran and the differences between the two countries over intelligence on the threat that Lake reports, there is little reason for Jerusalem to be comforted by Obama’s promises. Israel’s leaders would be well advised to see this latest shift on Iran as intended more to convince American voters of the president’s good intentions than to make Tehran step back from the brink.

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A month ago, Jeffrey Goldberg provoked a fair amount of scorn for proclaiming his belief that Barack Obama would “save Israel” from a nuclear Iran. But though Goldberg’s faith in the president’s willingness to use force to stop the Iranian nuclear program goes against everything we’ve learned about Obama in the last three years, Washington appears to be trying to sell the same bill of goods to the Israelis. As Eli Lake reported yesterday in the Daily Beast, “the Obama administration is trying to assure Israel privately that it would strike Iran militarily if Tehran’s nuclear program crosses certain ‘red lines,’ while attempting to dissuade the Israelis from acting unilaterally.”

Given the problems a unilateral Israeli attack on Iran would entail, these assurances might be enough to dissuade the Netanyahu government from acting on its own. But given the contradictory signals the administration has been sending about the use of force on Iran and the differences between the two countries over intelligence on the threat that Lake reports, there is little reason for Jerusalem to be comforted by Obama’s promises. Israel’s leaders would be well advised to see this latest shift on Iran as intended more to convince American voters of the president’s good intentions than to make Tehran step back from the brink.

Obama’s pledges to Israel lack credibility for a number of reasons.

First, is the fact that up until this month, every statement coming out of Washington was intended to pour cold water on the idea of an American attack on Iran even as a last resort. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta’s statements to this effect just a few weeks ago could only have been interpreted by Iran as a clear indication of this administration’s lack of interest in another Middle East conflict even over as serious a threat as a nuclear weapon in the hands of the Islamist regime.

Second, is Obama’s obvious reluctance to use the one economic weapon at his disposal that might actually have an impact on Iran: an oil embargo. In order to make an embargo work, the United States would have to enact a ban on dealing with any company that did business with Iran’s Central Bank. But Obama has so far refused to do so for fear of raising oil prices in an election year. There is also the fact that this administration, like its predecessor, has refused to enforce the existing weak sanctions on Iran. Since Obama has so far been unable to muster the will to enact crippling sanctions that might convince the ayatollahs to back down, how are we, or the Israelis, to believe he would go even farther and order a strike on Iran?

More persuasive is the thesis that this sudden desire to look tough on Iran is all about the 2012 presidential election. While the last three years have resulted in no action on Iran (unless, that is, you count, empty promises to do something about the problem), the president knows he is vulnerable to charges that his “engagement” policy and subsequent years of feckless diplomacy shows his indifference to the nature of the Iranian threat. He may believe that if he can convince the Israelis not to act in the next year he can get away with more tough talk while diplomacy and weak sanctions continue to fail. Even if, as seems likely, his foreign policy team would rather find a way to live with an Iranian nuke than use force to stop them, that’s not a stand he would prefer to campaign on next fall.

The nightmare scenario for Obama is an Iranian nuclear breakthrough in the next ten months. Having solemnly promised that such an event would never be allowed to happen on his watch, he would be forced to either act or back down and then be judged by the voters. Selling the American people on “containment” of Iranian nukes is something he may think he can get away with in a second term, not a re-election campaign.

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Maybe Ron Paul Should Have Been Nicer to the Trilateral Commission

Some of the die-hard Ron Paul supporters have come up with a few imaginative ideas about the origins of the ongoing “anti-Paul smear campaign” (their term for the totally legitimate investigation into Paul’s racist newsletters). Take, for example, this comically delusional “oppo” file on Jamie Kirchick, the journalist who broke the newsletter story in 2008, that’s apparently being emailed to reporters. I won’t give it all away, but the thesis is that Kirchick and Newt Gingrich orchestrated the scandal at the behest of the military industrial complex (there are charts).

But Paul himself may have come up with an even more convoluted theory about why some presidential candidates get bad press. On Feb. 18, 2001, Paul reportedly appeared on the now-defunct Radio Free America, a talk show created by prolific Holocaust denier Willis Carto. Here’s part of the transcript of the show, which was published in Carto’s anti-Semitic newsletter in March of 2001:

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Some of the die-hard Ron Paul supporters have come up with a few imaginative ideas about the origins of the ongoing “anti-Paul smear campaign” (their term for the totally legitimate investigation into Paul’s racist newsletters). Take, for example, this comically delusional “oppo” file on Jamie Kirchick, the journalist who broke the newsletter story in 2008, that’s apparently being emailed to reporters. I won’t give it all away, but the thesis is that Kirchick and Newt Gingrich orchestrated the scandal at the behest of the military industrial complex (there are charts).

But Paul himself may have come up with an even more convoluted theory about why some presidential candidates get bad press. On Feb. 18, 2001, Paul reportedly appeared on the now-defunct Radio Free America, a talk show created by prolific Holocaust denier Willis Carto. Here’s part of the transcript of the show, which was published in Carto’s anti-Semitic newsletter in March of 2001:

Radio Free America host Tom Valentine: Here’s Mack calling from Georgia.

Mack (Caller): The Trilateral Commission and the Council on Foreign Relations have a lot of power in choosing the American president. Do you think our elections are just a fraud on the people?

Ron Paul: Almost no one gets elected who isn’t friendly with the Trilateral Commission and the Council on Foreign Relations. If you are not in tune with them, the national media would crucify you. So you wouldn’t win. I think the people allow themselves to be deceived.

I asked Paul’s campaign press secretary whether the congressman currently believes that presidential candidates need support from the Trilateral Commission and CFR in order to get elected, but haven’t received a response yet.

Conspiracy theories aside, it’s hard to imagine why Paul would ever agree to go on Radio Free America in the first place. The show was a division of Carto’s Liberty Lobby, a group that often came under fire from the Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee (Carto, by the way, also founded the Institute for Historical Review, an infamous Holocaust denial organization). The ADL wrote that Radio Free America’s “skin-deep populism covered vintage Carto-ite anti-Semitism, paranoid-style politics, Holocaust denial and anti-Israel conspiracy theories.” Probably not the best crowd to associate with if you have presidential aspirations.

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Santorum’s Moment Finally Arrives

Two months ago, just as Herman Cain’s campaign was about to start to unravel, I wrote that perhaps it was Rick Santorum’s turn for a surge. I was, of course, wrong. It was Newt Gingrich’s turn back at the end of October and the beginning of November to take off and to be, at least for a few weeks, something of a frontrunner. But with only days to go before voters in Iowa cast the first actual votes of the caucus/primary season, it looks like Santorum’s moment has arrived. A CNN/Time/ORC poll released on Wednesday shows Santorum surging ahead of his competitors for the social conservative vote into third place among likely caucus goers with 16 percent.

Santorum’s timing is impeccable. With Gingrich collapsing (the poll shows him fading to fourth place with only 14 percent, which is down from 33 percent less than a month ago) and Michele Bachmann’s campaign in chaos as her Iowa chairman defected to Ron Paul yesterday, the former Pennsylvania senator looks to be in excellent shape to win what he called the “conservative primary” over Bachmann and Rick Perry.

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Two months ago, just as Herman Cain’s campaign was about to start to unravel, I wrote that perhaps it was Rick Santorum’s turn for a surge. I was, of course, wrong. It was Newt Gingrich’s turn back at the end of October and the beginning of November to take off and to be, at least for a few weeks, something of a frontrunner. But with only days to go before voters in Iowa cast the first actual votes of the caucus/primary season, it looks like Santorum’s moment has arrived. A CNN/Time/ORC poll released on Wednesday shows Santorum surging ahead of his competitors for the social conservative vote into third place among likely caucus goers with 16 percent.

Santorum’s timing is impeccable. With Gingrich collapsing (the poll shows him fading to fourth place with only 14 percent, which is down from 33 percent less than a month ago) and Michele Bachmann’s campaign in chaos as her Iowa chairman defected to Ron Paul yesterday, the former Pennsylvania senator looks to be in excellent shape to win what he called the “conservative primary” over Bachmann and Rick Perry.

Though it is probably a reach to think Santorum could overtake Mitt Romney, who finds himself in first with 25 percent, it is not out of the question in such a volatile environment. Just as possible is for him to leap over Paul, who is currently in second with 22 percent.

While the long term impact of a result next Tuesday that would mirror these poll numbers would probably mean Romney was the inevitable nominee, just by getting himself into third, Santorum ensures his campaign will not end on Jan. 4. Having concentrated all of his meager resources on Iowa, it’s not clear what his next step will be other than that he will have one.

The same can’t be said for Bachmann, who has also gone all in on Iowa. She was already slipping even further back in the polls before this latest setback, but this stab in the back from Kent Sorenson, her state chairman, must be considered the coup de grace for her hopes of getting back into the race. While Rick Perry’s deep pockets will enable him to keep at it for at least a few more weeks even if he has little chance, Bachmann is toast.

An Iowa result that left Romney on top, Paul with considerable support and Santorum as top social conservative left with a chance would set up an interesting three-way battle as the race progresses to Super Tuesday and the later primaries. As was the case in 2008, Paul will not go away. Indeed, despite his extremism and the fact that he has no chance to be the nominee, he will again hang around for as long as he wants even if his chances of winning a primary after Iowa are slim.

As for Santorum, he can put himself in position to be the Mike Huckabee of 2012, giving social conservatives and Tea Partiers a more responsible protest vote against the inevitability of Romney than Paul would provide. The proportional delegate vote in most states is set up to avoid an early sweep for the frontrunner, so there will be no reason for him to drop out, especially since a good showing in Iowa will help him raise money. It probably won’t be enough to stop Romney in the end, but it will give him hope and help keep the race interesting.

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