Commentary Magazine


Posts For: January 2012

Don’t Count Out Santorum in the Coming Conservative Primary

In the wake of Mitt Romney’s decisive victory in Florida, conservatives are faced with a couple of important choices. One is whether they will at some point in the foreseeable future make their peace with the former Massachusetts governor. The other is which of the remaining conservative candidates in the race will they support before they concede Romney is the nominee.

The answer to the first question is obvious. Though some right-wingers may not be able to reconcile themselves to Romney, after a few more primary wins for him, most conservatives will start getting on Mitt’s bandwagon in order to prevent Barack Obama’s re-election. The answer to the second is not so obvious. Though Newt Gingrich claimed Florida demonstrated that the GOP battle is now a two-person race, the lopsided margin in a state that only Gingrich seriously contested will not inspire much confidence in the former speaker’s standing as the leading “not Romney.” Though Rick Santorum finished far behind him in Florida, the weird and graceless manner with which Gingrich did not concede after losing combined with the wave of sympathy for Santorum due to his refusal to join the Florida mudslinging and his daughter’s illness may make the former Pennsylvania senator the more likely conservative standard bearer going forward.

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In the wake of Mitt Romney’s decisive victory in Florida, conservatives are faced with a couple of important choices. One is whether they will at some point in the foreseeable future make their peace with the former Massachusetts governor. The other is which of the remaining conservative candidates in the race will they support before they concede Romney is the nominee.

The answer to the first question is obvious. Though some right-wingers may not be able to reconcile themselves to Romney, after a few more primary wins for him, most conservatives will start getting on Mitt’s bandwagon in order to prevent Barack Obama’s re-election. The answer to the second is not so obvious. Though Newt Gingrich claimed Florida demonstrated that the GOP battle is now a two-person race, the lopsided margin in a state that only Gingrich seriously contested will not inspire much confidence in the former speaker’s standing as the leading “not Romney.” Though Rick Santorum finished far behind him in Florida, the weird and graceless manner with which Gingrich did not concede after losing combined with the wave of sympathy for Santorum due to his refusal to join the Florida mudslinging and his daughter’s illness may make the former Pennsylvania senator the more likely conservative standard bearer going forward.

The fact that Gingrich chose not to congratulate the winner in an election in which he was shellacked was actually not the most interesting aspect of his post-Florida speech on national television. Gingrich not only did not acknowledge Romney’s victory other than to note he had been outspent, he also spoke as if he had been the winner, giving a laundry list of actions he would take on his first day in the White House. This disconnect from reality illustrated the dogged determination that has kept him in the race when many believed him dead and buried. But it also reflected the palpable anger and bitterness at the core of Gingrich’s approach.

Gingrich’s sour grapes about losing (which he and his supporters blamed solely on the winner’s negative ads) was, of course, the height of hypocrisy given the nasty ads the former speaker used to win in South Carolina. He also adopted a bizarre class warfare theme as the “people’s candidate” which speaks to his personal resentment more than conservative dissatisfaction. He concluded by comparing himself to the signers of the Declaration of Independence in his typical grandiose self-admiring style. While Gingrich is hoping to channel the anger of Tea Party activists and social conservatives who don’t trust Romney, this sort of display isn’t likely to win many hearts.

By contrast, Santorum can argue, as he did on Tuesday night, Florida was Gingrich’s chance and instead of winning, he allowed himself to become the issue, and the result was disaster. While Gingrich’s performance as a candidate has been variable, Santorum has been consistently positive in the last month. Although he lacks the big donors who have kept the former speaker going, if he can continue to raise money on the Internet from the grass roots, he can continue running while hoping Gingrich will implode.

Instead of trying to besmirch Romney’s personal reputation as Gingrich has done, Santorum has concentrated on health care, the frontrunner’s Achilles’ heel. While the odds of Santorum being able to beat Romney are minimal, they aren’t much smaller than those of Gingrich. In the coming weeks, Santorum has a shot of finishing ahead of Gingrich in several states. This might be the moment when he slips ahead of Gingrich in what will be for all intents and purposes the conservative primary.

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Romney Wins Electability Primary

Mitt Romney’s huge win tonight in Florida was sufficiently large that it is not possible to interpret it as anything but a stamp of approval from a broad cross-section of Republican voters in a closed primary. Given that by the last week the primary had become a two-man race, it is also impossible to avoid the conclusion that it was a resounding rejection of Newt Gingrich. Gingrich appears likely to take the sore loser scenario in the coming weeks as he attempts to foul the well for the likely nominee by branding him as not just a relative moderate — which is what Romney actually is — but a liberal. Gingrich may be able to convince his large donors to fund a last ditch and probably futile effort to derail the frontrunner. But he is unlikely to persuade most Republicans they are better off with a crippled nominee simply to vent his personal spleen at Romney for having beaten him at his own game with negative ads.

More importantly, the message Gingrich has been given from Florida Republicans is they consider him less electable than Romney.

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Mitt Romney’s huge win tonight in Florida was sufficiently large that it is not possible to interpret it as anything but a stamp of approval from a broad cross-section of Republican voters in a closed primary. Given that by the last week the primary had become a two-man race, it is also impossible to avoid the conclusion that it was a resounding rejection of Newt Gingrich. Gingrich appears likely to take the sore loser scenario in the coming weeks as he attempts to foul the well for the likely nominee by branding him as not just a relative moderate — which is what Romney actually is — but a liberal. Gingrich may be able to convince his large donors to fund a last ditch and probably futile effort to derail the frontrunner. But he is unlikely to persuade most Republicans they are better off with a crippled nominee simply to vent his personal spleen at Romney for having beaten him at his own game with negative ads.

More importantly, the message Gingrich has been given from Florida Republicans is they consider him less electable than Romney.

Exit polls show electability was the most important issue for primary voters. Gingrich claims repeatedly that his debating skills make him the most likely to beat President Obama in the fall but getting spanked twice last week put a period to his claim to being Mr. “Lincoln-Douglas.” Florida confirmed what most Republicans who are not bitterly opposed to Romney already knew: he is the only GOP candidate with a chance to win the wavering Democrats and independents who will decide who is elected president in November.

Gingrich appears to have no strategy to win the nomination. As Florida demonstrated, he has an unlikely chance of winning the general election if he were to be nominated. The only choice left to him is how much damage he wants to do to the only candidate with the ability to beat Obama.

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Low Jewish Turnout in Florida Doesn’t Help Obama in November

Exit polls in Florida are showing that Jews only made up one percent of the electorate in today’s Republican primary. Since that is down from three percent in the 2008 GOP primary, Nate Silver of the New York Times concludes that this may show a lack of enthusiasm for the Republican field among Jews. That might mean, he writes, there may be reason for Democrats to think Jewish resentment of President Obama’s attitude toward Israel may not be carrying over into the 2012 election. But Democrats would be foolish to seize on such flimsy evidence for proof they are not in trouble with Jewish voters.

It is true that a drop in GOP Jewish registration shows none of the candidates generated enough Jewish buzz to get more voters to switch party affiliation as in 2008. But the comparison is unfair, because the man who drove that mini-surge in Jewish Republican voters was Rudy Giuliani. Though he flopped in the Florida primary four years ago, the former mayor of New York was a big favorite of the Jewish and pro-Israel community. None of this year’s Republican crop can claim that kind of loyalty from Jews, but the ultimate winner of the GOP nomination will have one thing going for him: he’ll be running against an incumbent president who is rightly viewed by many Jews as having distanced himself from Israel.

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Exit polls in Florida are showing that Jews only made up one percent of the electorate in today’s Republican primary. Since that is down from three percent in the 2008 GOP primary, Nate Silver of the New York Times concludes that this may show a lack of enthusiasm for the Republican field among Jews. That might mean, he writes, there may be reason for Democrats to think Jewish resentment of President Obama’s attitude toward Israel may not be carrying over into the 2012 election. But Democrats would be foolish to seize on such flimsy evidence for proof they are not in trouble with Jewish voters.

It is true that a drop in GOP Jewish registration shows none of the candidates generated enough Jewish buzz to get more voters to switch party affiliation as in 2008. But the comparison is unfair, because the man who drove that mini-surge in Jewish Republican voters was Rudy Giuliani. Though he flopped in the Florida primary four years ago, the former mayor of New York was a big favorite of the Jewish and pro-Israel community. None of this year’s Republican crop can claim that kind of loyalty from Jews, but the ultimate winner of the GOP nomination will have one thing going for him: he’ll be running against an incumbent president who is rightly viewed by many Jews as having distanced himself from Israel.

Florida is a state where Jewish swing voters could affect the outcome in November. That’s why Obama is trying so hard to make Jews forget his record of non-stop quarrels with Israel’s government in the last three years. Any Republican, especially a relative moderate like Mitt Romney, will be well-placed to take advantage of this Democratic problem.

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America’s Lost Decade Continues

According to a new report by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), “In part because of the dampening effect of the higher tax rates and curbs on spending scheduled to occur this year and next, CBO expects that the economy will continue to recover slowly, with real GDP growing by 2.0 percent this year and 1.1 percent next year (as measured by the change from the fourth quarter of the previous calendar year). CBO expects economic activity to quicken after 2013 but to remain below the economy’’s potential until 2018.”

America’s Lost Decade continues.

 

 

According to a new report by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), “In part because of the dampening effect of the higher tax rates and curbs on spending scheduled to occur this year and next, CBO expects that the economy will continue to recover slowly, with real GDP growing by 2.0 percent this year and 1.1 percent next year (as measured by the change from the fourth quarter of the previous calendar year). CBO expects economic activity to quicken after 2013 but to remain below the economy’’s potential until 2018.”

America’s Lost Decade continues.

 

 

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Adelsonphobia Strikes in Nevada Caucus

How radioactive is Sheldon Adelson these days? It’s gotten to the point where the casino mogul and Gingrich campaign mega-contributor is vulnerable to criticism in some quarters even when he does something non-controversial. That’s the only way to look at the issue of whether he had any involvement in the creation of a special post-Sabbath Republican caucus meeting in Nevada’s Clark County.

Accommodating Jews who observe the Sabbath and might otherwise be deprived of participation in a caucus scheduled on a Saturday seems like just the right thing to do, especially in a city like Las Vegas with a not inconsiderable Jewish population. But after the publicity that has attached to his decision to pump $10 million into the Gingrich campaign, Adelson is so sensitive about the notion he is manipulating the Republican Party that his spokesman denied today he had any involvement in the decision to set up a Saturday night caucus that will take place at a Jewish religious school he and his wife helped fund. But according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, he does deserve some credit for the effort to help Orthodox Jews vote.

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How radioactive is Sheldon Adelson these days? It’s gotten to the point where the casino mogul and Gingrich campaign mega-contributor is vulnerable to criticism in some quarters even when he does something non-controversial. That’s the only way to look at the issue of whether he had any involvement in the creation of a special post-Sabbath Republican caucus meeting in Nevada’s Clark County.

Accommodating Jews who observe the Sabbath and might otherwise be deprived of participation in a caucus scheduled on a Saturday seems like just the right thing to do, especially in a city like Las Vegas with a not inconsiderable Jewish population. But after the publicity that has attached to his decision to pump $10 million into the Gingrich campaign, Adelson is so sensitive about the notion he is manipulating the Republican Party that his spokesman denied today he had any involvement in the decision to set up a Saturday night caucus that will take place at a Jewish religious school he and his wife helped fund. But according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, he does deserve some credit for the effort to help Orthodox Jews vote.

The paper reports Adelson was approached by a member of the Orthodox community in Las Vegas (the city where his hotel/casino business is headquartered), and asked him to intervene with the state GOP. Adelson asked the GOP state chair to allow absentee ballots but was turned down because caucuses are predicated on voters showing up in person at these events that can start meeting at 9 a.m. that day. Apparently, the idea for a special post-Sabbath caucus site was an initiative of the Clark County GOP.

But no matter whose idea it was, providing a reasonable accommodation for observant Jews (among whose number Adelson and his wife apparently don’t number themselves) was entirely correct. It will be interesting to see if the estimated 500 Jews and Seventh Day Adventists who show up at the special 7 p.m. caucus at the Dr. Miriam and Sheldon G. Adelson Educational Campus will back their patron’s favorite candidate, Newt Gingrich. But whether they do or not, no one should criticize the GOP or Adelson for letting them have their say.

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Georgia’s Exclusion from NATO: Is the West Out of Excuses?

President Obama and Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili were all smiles after their meeting at the White House earlier today. Obama reportedly told Saakashvili he wants a U.S.-Georgia free trade agreement, and the two leaders discussed security cooperation as well.

Obama also made a verbal gesture toward Georgia that everyone pretends to be reassured by even though it’s usually utterly meaningless: He reaffirmed American support for Georgia’s acceptance into NATO. But in this case, Obama’s NATO comments are actually important, whether the NATO bid goes anywhere or not. That’s because the reasons to keep Georgia out of NATO have disappeared, and we’ll find out whether the West’s commitment to its allies and to global security are all, as Obama might say, “just words.”

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President Obama and Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili were all smiles after their meeting at the White House earlier today. Obama reportedly told Saakashvili he wants a U.S.-Georgia free trade agreement, and the two leaders discussed security cooperation as well.

Obama also made a verbal gesture toward Georgia that everyone pretends to be reassured by even though it’s usually utterly meaningless: He reaffirmed American support for Georgia’s acceptance into NATO. But in this case, Obama’s NATO comments are actually important, whether the NATO bid goes anywhere or not. That’s because the reasons to keep Georgia out of NATO have disappeared, and we’ll find out whether the West’s commitment to its allies and to global security are all, as Obama might say, “just words.”

To backtrack a few years, when George W. Bush used his last NATO conference in 2008 to argue forcefully for granting Georgia and Ukraine membership action plans (MAP), the first step toward NATO accession, he was rebuffed by France and Germany who found Bush’s defense of America’s allies to be, according to the New York Times, “annoying.”

Germany’s official reason for selling Georgia out to Moscow was that the periodic Russian invasions of Georgia’s breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia were “frozen conflicts,” and until such matters were settled it would be dangerous to pledge to protect Georgia. What the Germans were doing–unintentionally but still reprehensibly–was signaling to Russia that as long as they continued to attack sovereign Georgian territory every so often, Germany would continue to keep Georgia out of NATO. Unsurprisingly, four months after that conference, Russia invaded.

In case anyone thought that wasn’t the reason for it, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev recently gave two speeches in which he plainly said the 2008 invasion was carried out specifically to keep Georgia out of NATO. That Bush tried valiantly but unsuccessfully to stop Germany from encouraging a Russia-Georgia war seems to be water under the bridge. But so is the “frozen conflict” the Germans were so worried about. Last month, Russia was finally admitted to the World Trade Organization. Georgia had been holding up Russia’s admission into the group over Russia’s refusal to agree to a reasonable border-security arrangement, but the two sides finally did come to such an agreement, so that should remove Germany’s excuse.

That Times story from the 2008 conference also suggests that Bush’s attempt to get Georgia and Ukraine into NATO risked upsetting Russia over missile defense sites in Eastern Europe. But early on in his administration, Obama helpfully took care of that by scrapping the missile defense anyway (and in the most offensive manner possible–this was an early indicator of “smart” power).

So, Russia’s concerns have been tended to. Germany’s excuses have dissipated. Georgia’s good-faith gestures, however, thus far have been unilateral. Unless Barack Obama’s gift for diplomacy cannot even convince our allies to support our other allies, what’s the holdup?

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Getting Serious About the Jewishness of the Jewish State

A thoughtful post by Donniel Hartman published yesterday on the Shalom Hartman Institute’s blog and eJewishPhilanthropy deserves serious consideration by all concerned about the impact of Haredi extremism in Israel.

Rather than casting all the blame on the Haredi minority or imagining there are facile solutions to the current problems, Hartman rightly casts his eye on the Israeli Jewish majority’s inability to articulate a coherent and compelling idea of Jewishness.

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A thoughtful post by Donniel Hartman published yesterday on the Shalom Hartman Institute’s blog and eJewishPhilanthropy deserves serious consideration by all concerned about the impact of Haredi extremism in Israel.

Rather than casting all the blame on the Haredi minority or imagining there are facile solutions to the current problems, Hartman rightly casts his eye on the Israeli Jewish majority’s inability to articulate a coherent and compelling idea of Jewishness.

He writes:

“The source of the challenge posed by Haredim to Israel as a Jewish and democratic state lies first and foremost in the failure of the larger Israeli society to define for itself the meaning and limits of the Jewishness of the Jewish state…We must recognize that being a Jewish and democratic state will not be the result of a declaration but the consequence of a well thought-out policy and public discourse. Being a sovereign people means that instead of ascribing blame one takes responsibility.”

The Haredi challenge to the standards of the Israeli public square seems so fierce today when they are still a relatively small minority of the population precisely because the Jewishness of that public square is so ill-defined. Israelis may declare Israel’s Jewish character in 1,000 different ways, but the state’s true Jewish content continues to derive mostly from the public authority granted to rabbinic bodies. Maintaining the state’s Jewish identity while simultaneously freeing the public square for greater expressions of religious pluralism (to say nothing of what is to happen for major life-cycle events like birth and death) is therefore a far more difficult problem than many would like it to be.

This, however, as Hartman points to, is one stirring reason why it is so extraordinary to live in a world with a reborn Jewish state. For the question of what it means to be a Jew is now fully in the hands of the Jewish people living as a free people in their homeland for the first time in 2,000 years.

Rather than capitulating to the Haredi positions on these matters or avoiding the question with an embrace of every possible contemporary definition of Jewishness so large that it is empty, we should finally grasp the opportunity to articulate a new standard broad enough to encompass the wide center of the Jewish people but that nevertheless resonates deeply with the tradition.

Efforts of this nature are afoot, perhaps most notably in the work of Haim Amsalem, who, among other things, is attempting to promote a solution to the conversion crisis of hundreds of thousands Russian-speaking Jews in Israel that is both moderate and firmly rooted in traditional halachah. The Jewish world desperately needs more rabbinic leaders of this kind who are able to stand against the most extreme interpretations of halachah in a way that nevertheless is authentic to Jewish tradition.

Some might claim the Jewish people has today simply grown too diffuse, with too many mutually exclusive definitions of Jewishness for there to be any chance to today unify them around a single idea. But that again is just another articulation of the importance of the Jewish state, for if a majority of its people are able to find a public discourse about Judaism they can all subscribe to, “the spirit of Judaism,” as Ahad Ha’am wrote long ago, “will radiate to the great circumference, to all the communities of the Diaspora, to inspire them with new life and to preserve the overall unity of our people.”

 

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Pro-Newt Robocall Says Romney Forced Holocaust Survivors “to Eat Non-Kosher”

The Huffington Post picks up on Alana’s earlier post about the kosher food controversy while Mitt Romney was governor of Massachusetts, and adds a new wrinkle: a robocall “paid for by Newt 2012” is telling voters that “Holocaust survivors, who for the first time, were forced to eat non-kosher, because Romney thought $5 was too much to pay for our grandparents to eat kosher.”

Alana ably debunked the notion that anyone had to eat non-kosher food. Rather than move on, however, Gingrich seems to be upping the ante. “Newt 2012” is the name Gingrich’s campaign has been using, so I’m not sure how he’ll avoid owning up to this particular robocall. And unlike with regard to a Super PAC, there is no legal barrier preventing Gingrich from controlling the content and distribution of the robocall.

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The Huffington Post picks up on Alana’s earlier post about the kosher food controversy while Mitt Romney was governor of Massachusetts, and adds a new wrinkle: a robocall “paid for by Newt 2012” is telling voters that “Holocaust survivors, who for the first time, were forced to eat non-kosher, because Romney thought $5 was too much to pay for our grandparents to eat kosher.”

Alana ably debunked the notion that anyone had to eat non-kosher food. Rather than move on, however, Gingrich seems to be upping the ante. “Newt 2012” is the name Gingrich’s campaign has been using, so I’m not sure how he’ll avoid owning up to this particular robocall. And unlike with regard to a Super PAC, there is no legal barrier preventing Gingrich from controlling the content and distribution of the robocall.

Gingrich may be misreading the appetite of Florida’s Jewish voters; politicizing the Holocaust, especially when it’s this transparent and forced, is not traditionally the way to Jewish voters’ hearts. There has been a lot of mud slung so far in this campaign, but hopefully Gingrich can still recognize a line when he’s crossed it.

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Still Time to Shape a Better Future for Egypt

Developments in Egypt continue to take an ominous turn a year after the widely hailed revolution which ousted Hosni Mubarak. Not only have Islamist parties won two-thirds of the seats in the new parliament, but the military, which still retains a dominant voice in government, is intent on blaming foreign agitators for the discontent that continues to be felt in the streets. In particular, it has turned on non-governmental organizations which receive U.S. funding, forcing three employees of the International Republican Institute to seek refuge at the U.S. embassy in Cairo for fear they will be arrested. The fact that one of the refugees is Sam LaHood, son of the U.S. transportation secretary, shows how little the current Egyptian regime seems to fear offending even senior members of the U.S. government.

In response, I imagine there will be some “I told you so’s” from conservatives—including many in Israel—who thought the Obama administration should have stuck with Mubarak through thick and thin. My Council on Foreign Relations colleague Elliott Abrams effectively debunks that argument in this compelling Foreign Policy article.

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Developments in Egypt continue to take an ominous turn a year after the widely hailed revolution which ousted Hosni Mubarak. Not only have Islamist parties won two-thirds of the seats in the new parliament, but the military, which still retains a dominant voice in government, is intent on blaming foreign agitators for the discontent that continues to be felt in the streets. In particular, it has turned on non-governmental organizations which receive U.S. funding, forcing three employees of the International Republican Institute to seek refuge at the U.S. embassy in Cairo for fear they will be arrested. The fact that one of the refugees is Sam LaHood, son of the U.S. transportation secretary, shows how little the current Egyptian regime seems to fear offending even senior members of the U.S. government.

In response, I imagine there will be some “I told you so’s” from conservatives—including many in Israel—who thought the Obama administration should have stuck with Mubarak through thick and thin. My Council on Foreign Relations colleague Elliott Abrams effectively debunks that argument in this compelling Foreign Policy article.

He points out that the Mubarak regime and other stalwarts of the Middle East’s Old Guard “were not overthrown because Bush criticized them or President Barack Obama failed to shore them up, but because they lacked a coherent defense of their own rule. Thus the neocons, democrats, and others who applauded the Arab uprisings were right, for what was the alternative? To applaud continued oppression? To instruct the rulers on better tactics, the way Iran is presumably lecturing (and arming) Syria’s Bashar al-Assad? Such a stance would have made a mockery of American ideals, would have failed to keep these hated regimes in place for very long, and would have left behind a deep, almost ineradicable anti-Americanism.”

I think Abrams is right, but even if he is wrong, we cannot roll back history. We have to deal with the new Middle East on its own terms. Luckily, we still have a lot of leverage we can use to shape events in the right direction—as another Council colleague, Ed Husain, argues in this Wall Street Journal op-ed. In the case of Egypt, we control $1.3 billion in annual aid which is one of the country’s biggest sources of foreign income. Egypt also needs our backing for a $3.2 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund it is seeking to prop up its stalled economy. Apparently, the Egyptian generals do not think we would dare cut them off. Unless they relent and quickly lift the threat of prosecution from LaHood and the others—and let the NGOs get back to their work of promoting democracy and civil society—Congress and the administration will have no choice but to show we mean business by holding up the money. That threat should also be employed to pressure the new regime from breaking its peace treaty with Israel or violating minority rights and the emerging norms of democracy.

There is still a chance to shape a better future for Egypt, and we should not hesitate to grab it for fear of being seen as pushy or overbearing. That’s better than being seen as a pushover.

 

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Gingrich: Santorum’s to Blame if I Lose

The Gingrich campaign is preemptively blaming his potential loss in Florida on former ally Rick Santorum. Last Saturday, Newt Gingrich noted that Santorum was “young enough” to run in a later election, joking that “next time around is a good battle cry.” And his campaign co-chairman told CNN yesterday that “if [Santorum] weren’t in it, we would clearly be beating Romney right now.”

Today, the former Speaker continued to hammer this message on “Fox and Friends” (via HotAir):

“The longer conservatives stay split, the harder it’s going to be for us to [beat Romney],” Gingrich said on “Fox and Friends” on Tuesday. “And I think that we risk not being able to beat Obama unless we get a conservative. I have to win the nomination.”

Santorum is sapping conservative votes from Gingrich, the former House Speaker said. Santorum, appearing just moments after Gingrich, countered.

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The Gingrich campaign is preemptively blaming his potential loss in Florida on former ally Rick Santorum. Last Saturday, Newt Gingrich noted that Santorum was “young enough” to run in a later election, joking that “next time around is a good battle cry.” And his campaign co-chairman told CNN yesterday that “if [Santorum] weren’t in it, we would clearly be beating Romney right now.”

Today, the former Speaker continued to hammer this message on “Fox and Friends” (via HotAir):

“The longer conservatives stay split, the harder it’s going to be for us to [beat Romney],” Gingrich said on “Fox and Friends” on Tuesday. “And I think that we risk not being able to beat Obama unless we get a conservative. I have to win the nomination.”

Santorum is sapping conservative votes from Gingrich, the former House Speaker said. Santorum, appearing just moments after Gingrich, countered.

Would Gingrich actually be winning Florida if Santorum wasn’t in the race? Anything’s possible, but based on the latest PPP poll, it’s far from certain. Santorum is polling at 15 percent, Gingrich is polling at 31 percent, and Romney is polling at 39 percent. If Santorum disappeared and all of his supporters went to Gingrich, the former Speaker would lead Romney by seven percent.

But that’s not likely to happen. According to the poll, just 25 percent of Santorum’s supporters choose Gingrich as their second choice, which would still leave him a few points short of beating Romney. Couple that with the fact that 33 percent of Santorum’s supporters chose Romney as their second option, and that leaves Gingrich with pretty much the same gap he has now.

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NYT: “Axelrod Clearly Does a Lot of Personal Thinking About Mr. Romney”

The New York Times has an entertaining post about David Axelrod’s bizarre fixation with tweeting the Romney campaign an incessant amount just to let them know he’s always thinking of the former Massachusetts governor. It’s one indication that the Obama administration and their allies see Romney as their most formidable general-election opponent. But it’s also a sign that even the Times thinks Axelrod may need to find a way to distract himself from this particularly off-putting obsession:

Mr. Axelrod has only posted on Twitter 248 times. But a great number of them have been about Mr. Romney. And many have been just as snarky….

Mr. Axelrod clearly does a lot of personal thinking about Mr. Romney.

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The New York Times has an entertaining post about David Axelrod’s bizarre fixation with tweeting the Romney campaign an incessant amount just to let them know he’s always thinking of the former Massachusetts governor. It’s one indication that the Obama administration and their allies see Romney as their most formidable general-election opponent. But it’s also a sign that even the Times thinks Axelrod may need to find a way to distract himself from this particularly off-putting obsession:

Mr. Axelrod has only posted on Twitter 248 times. But a great number of them have been about Mr. Romney. And many have been just as snarky….

Mr. Axelrod clearly does a lot of personal thinking about Mr. Romney.

The Times reposts a few of the tweets, noting that not even hanging out with his kids can divert Axelrod from his need to taunt Romney. Axelrod once tweeted: “At Bulls game with my daughter, Lauren, thinking about how turnovers late in game can kill you. Must be thinking same over at Romney HQ!”

The Times also recounts one incident in which Axelrod goaded Romney adviser Eric Fehrnstrom into a Twitter conversation and then chided Fehrnstrom for wasting his time talking to him when he ostensibly should have been prepping Romney for an upcoming debate. Fehrnstrom replied that, essentially, he had the good fortune to work for a candidate who actually understood the economy and didn’t need it explained to him over and over.

The popularity of social media has clearly left its mark on recent events, from the Arab Spring to the current presidential election. But Twitter rewards and encourages snark, and as such presents a certain amount of risk, especially to someone like Axelrod who is known to the political world because of his association with Barack Obama. The Times story was basically the paper’s way of putting an arm around Axelrod, thanking him for all the good work he’s done, and suggesting that perhaps he should take up golf or spend some more time with family and friends, away from the Internet for a while.

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Occupiers Beg Oaklanders for “Bail Money” After Violent Riots

After hundreds of Occupy Oakland protesters were arrested Saturday night for attempting to violently seize control of a convention center, Mayor Jean Quan once again avoided criticizing the Occupy movement directly, instead blaming the violence on so-called “splinter groups.”

“This splinter group inside Occupy Oakland – the ones who advocate violence – are not in sync with the rest of the movement,” said Sue Piper, Quan’s spokeswoman. “People who have been involved with the national movement – and a lot of people who live in Oakland – are really fed up with this splinter group. This is not what Occupy is supposed to be about.”

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After hundreds of Occupy Oakland protesters were arrested Saturday night for attempting to violently seize control of a convention center, Mayor Jean Quan once again avoided criticizing the Occupy movement directly, instead blaming the violence on so-called “splinter groups.”

“This splinter group inside Occupy Oakland – the ones who advocate violence – are not in sync with the rest of the movement,” said Sue Piper, Quan’s spokeswoman. “People who have been involved with the national movement – and a lot of people who live in Oakland – are really fed up with this splinter group. This is not what Occupy is supposed to be about.”

It’s nice of the Oakland mayor’s office to inform the public this “is not what Occupy is supposed to be about.” But a slightly more trusted source – Occupy Oakland’s official website – begs to differ. Far from condemning the behavior, the organization is now soliciting bail money for the activists arrested during the botched building takeover, and organizing solidarity events.

Here’s what the Occupy Oakland’s media committee had to say about Quan’s claim the arrestees were part of an outside “splinter group,” in a statement charmingly titled “OPD Before and After: Seriously, F— the Pigs.”

Quan also wants the public to believe that Occupy Oakland is made up of outsiders, and there are few Oakland natives and people of color in the movement. This is definitively not true, and many of our most impassioned members, those organizing marches and occupations, are native Oaklanders who know all about the Oakland police’s tactics. Occupy Oakland says “F[---] THE POLICE” because OPD has for too long been allowed to brutalize Oakland’s communities, and now they are being used to stamp out our right to protest against the complex systems that allow, even encourage, that brutalization.

Some Occupy Oakland organizers may publicly condemn the general idea of violent tactics. But you’d be hard-pressed to find them condemning the specific actions of those arrested at Saturday’s riot. To the Occupiers, how could these actions possibly be criminal? When you honestly believe you’re living under an imperialist, oppressive system that uses institutionalized violence and discrimination to keep the 99 percent down, it becomes remarkably easy to excuse or gloss over instances of violent radical activism. As one radical student activist remarked after the Weather Underground’s U.S. Capitol Building bombing in 1971, “we didn’t do it, but we dug it.”

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Romney Needs to Win Big in Florida

With a bevy of polls showing Mitt Romney with healthy leads of anywhere from 8 to 20 points over Newt Gingrich in Florida, there seems little doubt he will win today’s Republican primary there. But with both Romney and Gingrich campaigning hard down to the last day, both camps are aware the margin of victory for the former Massachusetts governor will have an impact on the rest of the GOP race. Romney needs to meet or exceed the high expectations that have been set for him in Florida, because any slippage significantly below a double-digit margin will allow Gingrich to claim a moral victory of sorts that will encourage conservatives to believe the frontrunner can be slowed if not stopped.

While a decisive Romney victory tonight will not force Gingrich or Santorum out of the race, it will make it harder on them to argue they still have a viable chance to be the nominee. With no states on the horizon where either “non-Romney” has much hope of winning and with no debates scheduled for weeks, the aftermath of a Romney romp in Florida could be challenging. In particular, if Gingrich fails to keep it close, it could make it more difficult for him to persuade the major donors who have kept his campaign alive to go on pouring millions down the sinkhole of his campaign. Absent some signs of a rebound from his poor debate performances last week, it will make it appear as if the only point of Gingrich’s candidacy is to cripple Romney, something that will help President Obama in the fall more than it will advance the cause of conservatism he claims to champion.

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With a bevy of polls showing Mitt Romney with healthy leads of anywhere from 8 to 20 points over Newt Gingrich in Florida, there seems little doubt he will win today’s Republican primary there. But with both Romney and Gingrich campaigning hard down to the last day, both camps are aware the margin of victory for the former Massachusetts governor will have an impact on the rest of the GOP race. Romney needs to meet or exceed the high expectations that have been set for him in Florida, because any slippage significantly below a double-digit margin will allow Gingrich to claim a moral victory of sorts that will encourage conservatives to believe the frontrunner can be slowed if not stopped.

While a decisive Romney victory tonight will not force Gingrich or Santorum out of the race, it will make it harder on them to argue they still have a viable chance to be the nominee. With no states on the horizon where either “non-Romney” has much hope of winning and with no debates scheduled for weeks, the aftermath of a Romney romp in Florida could be challenging. In particular, if Gingrich fails to keep it close, it could make it more difficult for him to persuade the major donors who have kept his campaign alive to go on pouring millions down the sinkhole of his campaign. Absent some signs of a rebound from his poor debate performances last week, it will make it appear as if the only point of Gingrich’s candidacy is to cripple Romney, something that will help President Obama in the fall more than it will advance the cause of conservatism he claims to champion.

It should be stipulated that if there is anything the first month of caucus and primary voting in 2012 has shown it is that momentum in politics is a meaningless term. The winners in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina all fell flat the next time out. But Florida will be a slightly different proposition mainly because it is the first big state to hold an election and also because of the lull that will follow.

The caucuses in Nevada, Maine, Colorado and Minnesota (and the non-binding primary in Missouri) that will take place in the following weeks are important. But they will not get the same attention as the first states with primaries. The next major test will come on Feb. 28 when Arizona and Michigan voters head to the polls, and though a month can be a lifetime in politics, both states look to be favorable for Romney. That will leave the challengers needing to hang on until Super Tuesday on March 6, where Gingrich must win a majority of the southern states in order to have any shred of hope he can win the nomination.

By lowering Romney’s margin of victory in Florida, Gingrich can make the long wait until Super Tuesday bearable. But if he is beaten decisively, it will make Romney all the more formidable in the weeks to come. It might also encourage Rick Santorum to stay in the race in the hope that a Gingrich implosion will leave him, and not the former House Speaker, as the last “non-Romney” left standing other than libertarian extremist Ron Paul.

But leaving aside the impact of Florida on the likely losers, a big win for Romney in a big state will lock in the perception he is the most electable Republican. In the past week, Romney has bested Gingrich in debates and shown that he can land as well as take a punch in the form of negative advertising. If he follows that up with a big Florida win, the idea of his inevitability will become more than merely a talking point for his supporters.

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How “Evil Israeli Soldiers” Saved an Anti-Israel Filmmaker’s Life

“Five Broken Cameras” didn’t win the World Documentary competition at last week’s Sundance Film Festival, losing out to another anti-Israel film. But it has garnered plenty of international attention, including two awards at Amsterdam’s International Documentary Film Festival and a glowing write-up in the New York Times. The film, according to the Sundance synopsis, documents what happened after the West Bank village of Bil’in “famously chose nonviolent resistance” against Israel’s security fence: “an escalating struggle as olive trees are bulldozed, lives are lost, and a wall is built to segregate burgeoning Israeli settlements,” in which a child’s “loss of innocence and the destruction of each camera are potent metaphors.” In short, another tale of good Palestinians versus evil Israelis.

You have to persevere to the end of the Times piece to find another angle to Palestinian filmmaker Emad Burnat’s story:

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“Five Broken Cameras” didn’t win the World Documentary competition at last week’s Sundance Film Festival, losing out to another anti-Israel film. But it has garnered plenty of international attention, including two awards at Amsterdam’s International Documentary Film Festival and a glowing write-up in the New York Times. The film, according to the Sundance synopsis, documents what happened after the West Bank village of Bil’in “famously chose nonviolent resistance” against Israel’s security fence: “an escalating struggle as olive trees are bulldozed, lives are lost, and a wall is built to segregate burgeoning Israeli settlements,” in which a child’s “loss of innocence and the destruction of each camera are potent metaphors.” In short, another tale of good Palestinians versus evil Israelis.

You have to persevere to the end of the Times piece to find another angle to Palestinian filmmaker Emad Burnat’s story:

“In late 2008, he accidently drove a truck into the separation barrier and was badly injured. A Palestinian ambulance arrived at the same time as Israeli soldiers, who saw what bad shape he was in and took him to an Israeli hospital.

“‘If I had been taken to a Palestinian hospital,’ Mr. Burnat said, “’I probably wouldn’t have survived.’ He was unconscious for 20 days. Three months later he was back filming.”

In short, Burnat is alive today to win prizes for a film about evil Israeli soldiers suppressing “nonviolent resistance” in Bil’in because those same evil Israeli soldiers saved his life four years earlier. And this is not an irrelevancy; it epitomizes the flaw in the “good Palestinians versus evil Israelis” trope: As anyone who makes any effort to discover the facts quickly learns, Israelis all too often refuse to play the part assigned to them.

And for that matter, so do Palestinians – with Bil’in being a classic example. For contrary to the prevailing wisdom encapsulated in that Sundance synopsis, Bil’in residents certainly weren’t practicing “nonviolent resistance.” Here, for instance, is Haaretz’s report on a major demonstration in Bil’in to mark five years of protests against the fence:

“The activists maintain that their demonstrations are peaceful. However, youths were preparing slingshots, and took up positions in front of an IDF checkpoint on the other side of the fence, throwing stones. IDF statistics claim that since the start of the demonstrations 110 members of the security forces suffered injuries, and one officer lost an eye as a result of projectiles fired with slingshots.”

Slingshots have been lethal weapons since biblical times (remember David and Goliath?). And it’s hardly unusual for soldiers attacked with lethal weapons to respond with deadly force. What’s unusual about Bil’in is that the Israelis generally didn’t: While Palestinians have been killed, most of the deaths were accidental. Burnat’s friend Phil, for instance, was killed when a tear gas canister – not usually a lethal weapon – happened to hit him in the chest.

Reasonable people of goodwill can certainly disagree about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But no reasonable person of goodwill can view it as a “good Palestinians versus evil Israelis” morality play. And anyone tempted to think otherwise should remember Emad Burnat.

 

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Did Romney Eliminate Kosher Nursing Home Food as Governor?

During the weekend, the New York Post reported that Mitt Romney vetoed a bill to help fund kosher food at Massachusetts nursing homes in 2003. Newt Gingrich, who happens to be courting Jewish and elderly voters in Florida, immediately jumped on the story – and got it very, very wrong in the process:

“[Romney] eliminated serving kosher food for elderly Jewish residents under Medicare,” Gingrich said. “I did not know this, it just came out yesterday. The more we dig in, I understand why George Soros in Europe yesterday said it makes no difference if it’s Romney or Obama, we can live with either one.”

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During the weekend, the New York Post reported that Mitt Romney vetoed a bill to help fund kosher food at Massachusetts nursing homes in 2003. Newt Gingrich, who happens to be courting Jewish and elderly voters in Florida, immediately jumped on the story – and got it very, very wrong in the process:

“[Romney] eliminated serving kosher food for elderly Jewish residents under Medicare,” Gingrich said. “I did not know this, it just came out yesterday. The more we dig in, I understand why George Soros in Europe yesterday said it makes no difference if it’s Romney or Obama, we can live with either one.”

It’s a great campaign line for the former speaker, and the addition about George Soros is a nice touch. The problem is, Romney never actually “eliminated serving kosher food” to Jewish residents at state nursing homes, especially not in the way Gingrich describes.

In 2002, cuts in both federal and state subsidies to assisted living facilities, combined with the rising costs of maintaining the facilities, caused a couple of Massachusetts nursing homes to consider closing their kosher kitchens. It was an unfortunate decision, but there was never actually a concern that kosher residents would be forced to eat non-kosher food – the facilities were weighing several options, including busing in the food from other nursing homes or hiring catering services. The Jewish Advocate reported in January 2003:

[Nursing home owner Genesis ElderCare] decided in November to discontinue operating the Coolidge House’s kosher kitchen due to rising costs and decreased state and federal reimbursements. Management said although the kitchen would close, Coolidge House would continue to provide kosher meals either by serving pre-packaged food, contracting with a caterer to prepare and deliver meals, or bringing food over from the Heritage House, GEC’s nursing home at Cleveland Circle. Coolidge House officials say the kitchen will remain open at least through Passover, which starts in mid-April.

The issue was the nursing home had to maintain the kosher kitchen for everyone living there, even though reportedly just a small percentage of its residents actually kept kosher:

For administrators at the Coolidge House, it comes down to the math: Only 30 percent of the 200 residents are Jewish, they say, and only 8 percent now keep kosher. By preparing meat and dairy foods in the same kitchen, administrators say, they would save about $200,000, or 14 percent of annual dining costs.

“We understand the community’s sensitivities, but this is what we have to do to stay in business,” said Larry Lencz, executive director of Coolidge House. “The bottom line comes down to simple economics and changing demographics.”

Some Jewish community groups opposed the plans to bus in food, and instead requested additional state government funding in 2003 to help the kitchens operate. At the time, Massachusetts was struggling with a budget crisis, and Romney was trying to rein in costs by blocking additional spending. The kosher food bill that he vetoed would have provided an additional $600,000 in funding to nursing homes. Whether you believe he was right or wrong to veto it, this was clearly a position that made Romney appear insensitive to the elderly and Jewish communities.

In the end, the veto was overridden by the Massachusetts state legislature, and the facilities kept their kosher kitchens after all. But Romney’s decision was not, as Gingrich claims, a choice to “eliminate kosher food for elderly Jewish residents under Medicare.” First of all, it was a choice made by the nursing homes themselves, not the Massachusetts government. Second, it was never actually going to prevent kosher residents from accessing kosher food. And third, Romney’s decision wouldn’t have cut anything – he simply vetoed additional funds, keeping funding at the status quo during a budget crisis year. Which means Gingrich’s comments have little basis in reality.

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Breaking Up is Hard to Do

A few weeks ago, I joked that the Obama White House is “the Hotel California of presidential administrations.” It looks like we can add another name to the list of advisers who can never leave. Last week, Haaretz reported that longtime Mideast hand Dennis Ross was still advising President Obama on the Middle East, though no one was quite sure to what extent.

Today, Haaretz follows up by noting the White House took the “unusual” step of installing a direct phone line from Ross’s office at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy to the White House. The State Department says Ross is an unpaid adviser, but Haaretz says Ross has been conducting some pretty important meetings on the president’s behalf:

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A few weeks ago, I joked that the Obama White House is “the Hotel California of presidential administrations.” It looks like we can add another name to the list of advisers who can never leave. Last week, Haaretz reported that longtime Mideast hand Dennis Ross was still advising President Obama on the Middle East, though no one was quite sure to what extent.

Today, Haaretz follows up by noting the White House took the “unusual” step of installing a direct phone line from Ross’s office at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy to the White House. The State Department says Ross is an unpaid adviser, but Haaretz says Ross has been conducting some pretty important meetings on the president’s behalf:

During his visit to Israel last week, Ross met secretly with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as well as with his adviser Yitzhak Molho. American officials estimated that Ross’ talks with Netanyahu are on behalf of President Obama, and part of a channel of communication that bypasses the government.

One journalist insistently asked [spokesperson Victoria] Nuland whether Ross is bypassing the State Department in his talks with Netanyahu. “With regard to this specific mission and how much of it is Dennis’s private travel and how much of it is in this role as an uncompensated adviser, you need to talk to the White House about that. I don’t have those details. But frankly, Dennis has been a good partner to administrations of all kinds, whether he was in government or out of government, and always remains in close touch.”

In other words, yes, Ross is bypassing the State Department, which probably knows as much about Ross’s ghost diplomacy as Haaretz does. This is important for two reasons: first, those expecting any diplomatic adjustment from the Obama White House can now forget it. They’re running with the same all-star team that has pummeled the peace process to within an inch of its life in only three years. But second, the president is signaling he not only can accept failure, but prefers the failure he knows to the possibility of failure he doesn’t know.

Jonathan offered a good eulogy of the Dennis Ross era in which he acknowledged the fact that Ross’s streak of bungling Mideast affairs for the White House was about to begin its third decade. The interesting part of Ross’s inability to be fired is that neither side in the negotiations trusts him. Israel, however, probably trusts him more than they trust Obama or the president’s judgment in choosing a successor to Ross. But more importantly, the American Jewish community tends to trust Ross. (Though at this point, there is probably more of a perceived trust where there used to be an actual trust, and few are willing to say this out loud and bring down the house of cards on which Ross’s reputation, such as it is, rests.)

But if the Obama administration thinks the American Jewish community trusts Ross, why would they keep Ross’s continued involvement in the administration’s Mideast shenanigans a secret? Perhaps Obama was actually trying to keep it a secret from those still working as official, paid advisers to the president whose advice is being summarily ignored in favor of Ross’s but who didn’t know it. They will no doubt be encouraged to learn that not only is their advice being ignored, but when Ross’s next failure comes–and if history is any guide, it will be sooner rather than later–it will have their names but not their fingerprints on it, the most insulting possible combination.

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Obama Should Make More Tough Decisions

Give Vice President Biden kudos for honesty, if not for good judgment. Apparently, he said in a recent speech that he had advised President Obama against launching the raid that killed Osama bin Laden. As reported by the Daily Caller:

The president “went around the table with all the senior people, including the chiefs of staff,” Biden explained. “And he said, ‘I have to make this decision. What is your opinion?’ He started with the national security adviser and the secretary of state, and he ended with me. Every single person in that room hedged their bet except [Secretary of Defense] Leon Panetta. Leon said go. Everyone else said 49, 51, this got to be, ‘Joe, what do you think?’

“And I said, ‘You know, I didn’t know we had so many economists around the table.’ I said, ‘We owe the man a direct answer. Mr. President, my suggestion is don’t go. We have to do two more things to see if he’s there.’”

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Give Vice President Biden kudos for honesty, if not for good judgment. Apparently, he said in a recent speech that he had advised President Obama against launching the raid that killed Osama bin Laden. As reported by the Daily Caller:

The president “went around the table with all the senior people, including the chiefs of staff,” Biden explained. “And he said, ‘I have to make this decision. What is your opinion?’ He started with the national security adviser and the secretary of state, and he ended with me. Every single person in that room hedged their bet except [Secretary of Defense] Leon Panetta. Leon said go. Everyone else said 49, 51, this got to be, ‘Joe, what do you think?’

“And I said, ‘You know, I didn’t know we had so many economists around the table.’ I said, ‘We owe the man a direct answer. Mr. President, my suggestion is don’t go. We have to do two more things to see if he’s there.’”

This does little to increase faith in the judgment of a vice president who, based on his track record, does not inspire much faith anyway–he was, after all, the senator who was for the war in Iraq but against the surge and called instead for breaking that country into three. But it reiterates that Obama is able to make tough decisions–sometimes. The president deserves, and will take, all the credit in the world for such gutsy calls as the bin Laden raid or the more recent SEAL mission in Somalia to rescue two hostages. I only wish he were wiling to make equally tough decisions by finding a way to keep troops in Iraq or avoid a premature drawdown in Afghanistan–or for that matter tackle the runaway entitlement spending which is bankrupting us.

 

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The Real Reasons Conservatives Oppose Gingrich

In an intense primary battle, a lot of silly things are said. (Many of them, it turns out, are said by Sarah Palin, who seems intent on confirming every negative thing her critics have said about her.) Among them is the charge, repeated like rounds fired from a machine gun, that opposition to Newt Gingrich is based on those in the “establishment” who fear the scale of change he would bring to Washington. If you’re for Gingrich, so goes this story line, you’re for “genuine” and “fundamental” change. If you oppose Gingrich, on the other hand, you’re for “managing the decay” of America.

Except for this. The single most important idea, when it comes to fundamentally changing Washington, is the budget plan put forward by Representative Paul Ryan last April. When most massive-scale-of-change conservatives were defending Ryan’s plan against scorching criticisms from the left, Gingrich described the plan as an example of “right-wing social engineering.” It was Gingrich, not the rest of us, who was counseling caution, timidity, and an unwillingness to shape (rather than follow) public opinion. (The Medicare reform plan Gingrich eventually put out wasn’t nearly as bold and far-reaching as the one put out by Governor Romney.)

So much for Mr. Fundamental Change.

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In an intense primary battle, a lot of silly things are said. (Many of them, it turns out, are said by Sarah Palin, who seems intent on confirming every negative thing her critics have said about her.) Among them is the charge, repeated like rounds fired from a machine gun, that opposition to Newt Gingrich is based on those in the “establishment” who fear the scale of change he would bring to Washington. If you’re for Gingrich, so goes this story line, you’re for “genuine” and “fundamental” change. If you oppose Gingrich, on the other hand, you’re for “managing the decay” of America.

Except for this. The single most important idea, when it comes to fundamentally changing Washington, is the budget plan put forward by Representative Paul Ryan last April. When most massive-scale-of-change conservatives were defending Ryan’s plan against scorching criticisms from the left, Gingrich described the plan as an example of “right-wing social engineering.” It was Gingrich, not the rest of us, who was counseling caution, timidity, and an unwillingness to shape (rather than follow) public opinion. (The Medicare reform plan Gingrich eventually put out wasn’t nearly as bold and far-reaching as the one put out by Governor Romney.)

So much for Mr. Fundamental Change.

The reality is that conservative/”establishment” opposition to Gingrich generally falls into three categories. One is that if he won the nomination, he would not only lose to Barack Obama, but he would sink the rest of the GOP fleet in the process. A second area of concern is that Gingrich is temperamentally unfit to be president –he’s too erratic, undisciplined, and rhetorically self-destructive. A third area of concern is the suspicion that the former House speaker is not, in fact, a terribly reliable conservative, that he is not philosophically well-grounded (see his attachment to Alvin Toffler for more).

Some of these criticisms may be appropriate and some of them may be overstated or miss the mark. But to pretend the criticisms of Gingrich — expressed in varying degrees by commentators like George Will, Charles Krauthammer, Charles Murray, Michael Gerson, Ann Coulter, Michelle Malkin, Bob Tyrrell, Pat Buchanan, Mona Charen, Mark Steyn, Michael Medved, Hugh Hewitt, Bill Bennett, Karl Rove, Ramesh Ponnuru, Rich Lowry, Elliott Abrams, John Podhoretz, John Hinderaker, Jennifer Rubin, Ross Douthat, David Brooks, Yuval Levin, and the editorial writers at the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Examiner, to say nothing of a slew of conservative members/former members of Congress who worked with Gingrich in the 1990s –are rooted in their fear of “genuine change” is simply not credible.

I understand campaigns need to create narratives that reflect well on their candidate. But the job of the rest of us is to point out, when necessary, just how ludicrous some of those narratives can be.

 

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Echoes of 1967 in Israel’s Iran Dilemma

One of the interesting aspects of yesterday’s New York Times Magazine cover story about Israel’s decision whether or not to strike at Iran’s nuclear program came from a passage in which author Ronen Bergman describes his meeting with former Mossad chief Meir Amit. Amit, who headed Israel’s intelligence agency at the time of the 1967 Six-Day War, described a meeting with the CIA station chief in Tel Aviv during the lead up to that conflict. According to the transcript of the meeting, which was given to Bergman, the American spy threatened Israel and did all in his power to prevent the Jewish state from acting to forestall the threat to its existence from Egypt and other Arab states that were poised to strike.

The lessons of this confrontation certainly put Israel’s current dilemma about attempting to pre-empt Iran’s ability to threaten the Jewish state with extinction via a nuclear weapon in perspective. Bergman provides no firm answer to the question of whether or not Israel will go ahead and strike Iran even if, as was initially the case in 1967, it must happen over the objections of the United States. But he does attempt to give a coherent framework for how the decision can be made as well as providing a bit more background on the chief Israeli critic of a strike on Iran.

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One of the interesting aspects of yesterday’s New York Times Magazine cover story about Israel’s decision whether or not to strike at Iran’s nuclear program came from a passage in which author Ronen Bergman describes his meeting with former Mossad chief Meir Amit. Amit, who headed Israel’s intelligence agency at the time of the 1967 Six-Day War, described a meeting with the CIA station chief in Tel Aviv during the lead up to that conflict. According to the transcript of the meeting, which was given to Bergman, the American spy threatened Israel and did all in his power to prevent the Jewish state from acting to forestall the threat to its existence from Egypt and other Arab states that were poised to strike.

The lessons of this confrontation certainly put Israel’s current dilemma about attempting to pre-empt Iran’s ability to threaten the Jewish state with extinction via a nuclear weapon in perspective. Bergman provides no firm answer to the question of whether or not Israel will go ahead and strike Iran even if, as was initially the case in 1967, it must happen over the objections of the United States. But he does attempt to give a coherent framework for how the decision can be made as well as providing a bit more background on the chief Israeli critic of a strike on Iran.

According to Bergman, Israel has three criteria for deciding to act on their own on Iran:

 1. Does Israel have the ability to cause severe damage to Iran’s nuclear sites and bring about a major delay in the Iranian nuclear project? And can the military and the Israeli people withstand the inevitable counterattack?

2. Does Israel have overt or tacit support, particularly from America, for carrying out an attack?

3. Have all other possibilities for the containment of Iran’s nuclear threat been exhausted, bringing Israel to the point of last resort? If so, is this the last opportunity for an attack?

For the first time since the Iranian nuclear threat emerged in the mid-1990s, at least some of Israel’s most powerful leaders believe the response to all of these questions is yes.

I’m not sure he’s right about that, especially when it comes to the first two points. While Israel can inflict serious damage on Iran, there’s no question that to do the job properly it will require American involvement. And though it may well be that ultimately the Obama administration will give Israel the same blinking green light it got in 1967, a close read of most of the statements coming out of Washington lately on the subject may lead to a different answer. It remains to be seen whether Obama is more afraid of the terrible consequences of an Iranian nuclear device for the world as well as Israel as he is of the fallout from an Israeli attack. Elsewhere in the piece, Bergman presents an Israeli assessment of what many believe is a feckless American stand on the issue that seems more the product of magical thinking than an analytic process:

“I fail to grasp the Americans’ logic,” a senior Israeli intelligence source told me. “If someone says we’ll stop them from getting there by praying for more glitches in the centrifuges, I understand. If someone says we must attack soon to stop them, I get it. But if someone says we’ll stop them after they are already there, that I do not understand.”

Just as fascinating is his account of the activities of Meir Dagan, another former Mossad chief who has been quoted incessantly in the American press largely because he is a vocal critic of the idea of an Israeli strike on Iran.

Bergman allows Dagan his say on the matter in which he bitterly criticizes both Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as well as Defense Minister Ehud Barak. But his is one of the rare accounts in the U.S. press to also note the spymaster carries a political grudge against the two because they did not reappoint him to his position after the fiasco in which Mossad personnel were exposed while carrying out a hit on a Hamas terrorist in Dubai.

Though he is often represented in the Western press as someone who minimizes the danger from Iran, Bergman also corrects this impression. Dagan seems as intent on stopping Iran as Netanyahu and Barak, but he thinks it can be better achieved by Mossad’s cloak-and-dagger assassinations of Iranian scientists and/or sabotage of Iranian facilities. But it’s far from clear the Iranians haven’t already overcome those tactics.

The other Israeli critic of a strike on Iran that he cites is Rafi Eitan, the 85-year-old former spook whose most famous achievement in his field was the Jonathan Pollard disaster (something Bergman fails to note). He believes it is a foregone conclusion that Iran will go nuclear and thinks the only way to avert the danger is to promote regime change. While the replacement of the Islamist dictatorship with a democratic government would be an improvement, waiting around for that to happen doesn’t seem particularly prudent, especially when you consider the consequences.

Bergman’s conclusion is Israel will attack Iran sometime this year because of a growing consensus it has no choice but to do so. If Barack Obama wishes to avert that outcome, he is going to have to prove to the Israelis he means business about sanctions that will bring the Iranian economy to its knees. But given the ambivalent signals emanating from Washington on that subject, everything Netanyahu and Barak are hearing is more likely to be hardening their conviction that, as Bergman writes, “only the Israelis can ultimately defend themselves.”

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Unfair Attacks on Gingrich

Readers of “Contentions” know I have significant concerns when it comes to Newt Gingrich’s presidential candidacy. But even critics of the former House speaker should insist that the charges leveled against him be accurate rather than fictional. And so I agree with this editorial in the Wall Street Journal, which asserts that Mitt Romney’s attacks on Gingrich’s ethics case in the 1990s are misleading.

It’s clear the charges against Gingrich were trumped up; the IRS exonerated him after a multi-year investigation (see this CNN report at the time). For Governor Romney to now say, as he repeatedly does, that Gingrich “resigned in disgrace,” simply isn’t fair. Gingrich’s resignation was not connected to the ethics charges made against him. He was, in fact, the victim of a smear. And to give that smear new life is wrong. It really ought to stop.

 

Readers of “Contentions” know I have significant concerns when it comes to Newt Gingrich’s presidential candidacy. But even critics of the former House speaker should insist that the charges leveled against him be accurate rather than fictional. And so I agree with this editorial in the Wall Street Journal, which asserts that Mitt Romney’s attacks on Gingrich’s ethics case in the 1990s are misleading.

It’s clear the charges against Gingrich were trumped up; the IRS exonerated him after a multi-year investigation (see this CNN report at the time). For Governor Romney to now say, as he repeatedly does, that Gingrich “resigned in disgrace,” simply isn’t fair. Gingrich’s resignation was not connected to the ethics charges made against him. He was, in fact, the victim of a smear. And to give that smear new life is wrong. It really ought to stop.

 

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