Much of the buzz about Jodi Kantor’s new book, The Obamas, has centered on the gossipy angles of First Lady Michelle Obama’s adjustment to the White House and open conflict with top Obama advisers. But there are also less inside-baseball anecdotes of interest.
One such example in the book–which is, by the way, so relentlessly positive toward President Obama that it reads like a series of letters the president wrote to himself to buck up his spirits–comes when the president realizes his campaign promises on Guantanamo and detainee policy were foolhardy now that he has all the information. One day, the president brought in a group of law professors and civil liberties activists to meet with him, in the hope they would criticize him there in private and not do so publicly:
With presidential elections looming in Taiwan, Dan Twining of the German Marshall Fund has a trenchant article in Foreign Policy about why it’s important for the U.S. to remain committed to Taiwan’s defense even at the cost of alienating the far-bigger and richer People’s Republic of China. He argues:
First, cutting off an old U.S. ally at a time of rising tensions with an assertive China might do less to appease Beijing than to encourage its hopes to bully the United States into a further retreat from its commitments in East Asia. Second, it would transform the calculus of old American allies, like South Korea and Australia, who might plausibly wonder whether the U.S. commitment to their security is as flexible as it was towards Taiwan.
For a time, conservatives who were critical of Newt Gingrich were dismissed as the GOP “establishment,” the “ruling class,” and inauthentic conservatives. The argument was that opposition to Gingrich wasn’t a good faith one; it was instead based on a desire of people living “inside the Beltway” to ingratiate themselves with the liberal political class. Oh, and they also wanted to be invited to – check that, they desperately wanted to be invited to — Georgetown cocktail parties.
But lo and behold, what do you know? Some of those who once attacked the establishment for being critical of Gingrich are now finding themselves leveling sharp attacks on, you guessed it, Newt Gingrich (for Gingrich’s attacks on Bain Capital). I guess that makes them card-carrying members of the much-maligned GOP establishment.
Justin Elliott has the scoop on a new Occupy Wall Street documentary currently being produced by Citizens United. The filming is reportedly wrapping up this week, which means this could be released fairly soon. Just in time for the Conservative Political Action Conference in early February, maybe?
The new film is to be called “Mic Check: The Untold Story of the Occupy Movement.” A participant at Occupy Wall Street recently received an interview request from a Citizens United producer that included this description of the film:
“…In Mic Check: The Untold Story of the Occupy Movement, we’ll look at the roots of the Occupy movement and hear from its undeclared ‘leaders.’ We’ll go inside the still existing encampments in Los Angeles and Washington, D.C., into the frequently contentious street rallies and hear from participants about their protest, their goals and their vision for the future.”
After a week of increasingly harsh attacks on Mitt Romney’s business record, Newt Gingrich may have finally recognized he has gone too far. According to Politico, when asked to reconsider his attempt to brand the Republican frontrunner as a “predatory capitalist” by a Rick Santorum supporter at a South Carolina event, Gingrich admitted it was a mistake:
“I’m here to implore one thing of you. I think you’ve missed the target on the way you’re addressing Romney’s weaknesses. I want to beg you to redirect and go after his obvious disingenousness about his conservatism and lay off the corporatist versus the free market. I think it’s nuanced,” Dean Glossop, an Army Reservist from Inman, S.C., said.
“I agree with you,” Gingrich said. “It’s an impossible theme to talk about with Obama in the background. Obama just makes it impossible to talk rationally in that area because he is so deeply into class warfare that automatically you get an echo effect. … I agree with you entirely.”
But it remains to be seen whether supporters of the former speaker will get with the program.
A lot of the usual suspects in blog-land are agog over my “Contentions” item earlier this week praising two articles in Foreign Affairs that advocate military action against the Iranian nuclear program. I concluded thusly: “I have yet to see (have I missed it?) an equally detailed and convincing exposition of the anti-bombing side.” This has various Twitterers rushing to point to a National Interest article by defense analysts Elbridge Colby and Austin Long arguing against bombing.
Having read it, I stand by my original comment–the Foreign Affairs articles are more compelling.
While many have voiced concern about Muslim Brotherhood intentions for Egypt now that the group looks certain to dominate the new government in Egypt and have disproportionate influence on Egypt’s new constitution, few have been able to speak about Egypt with the precision of Eric Trager, a Ph.D. student at the University of Pennsylvania. In an analysis penned for The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Trager writes:
Three such issues should be of special concern to Washington. First, FJP leaders have repeatedly said that they would ban alcohol and beach bathing — both of which are essential to a tourism industry that accounts for roughly 10 percent of the economy. Second, Egypt faces a severe cash crisis, and its ability to attract international investment may be hampered by the Brotherhood’s intention to implement the Quranic prohibition on interest-based banking. Third, newly elected FJP parliamentarians have said that they will not tolerate criticisms of Islam or sharia, including those made by Christians and secularists. In recent months, Brotherhood-affiliated lawyers have filed suits against organizations and individuals accused of insulting Islam. These attempts to limit free speech are likely to intensify once the FJP assumes control of parliament.
Jackson Diehl has a typically excellent and thought-provoking column in the Washington Post this week. He argues that Obama may well get away, at least to some extent, by claiming credit for ending the war in Iraq and decimating the al-Qaeda leadership: “Will independents in Ohio or Florida really be swayed if Iraqis go back to slaughtering one another?” But, Diehl points out, Obama has been a dismal failure in precisely the areas he promised to emphasize.
As evidence, he cites Obama’s promises to reinvigorate the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, institute a regime for global nuclear arms control, and “engage” with American adversaries such as Iran, Venezuela and North Korea. All are either complete flops or have yielded meager results. To this list one can also add Obama’s promise to close the Guantanamo detention facility–yet another ideological brainstorm which has fallen flat in the real world.
Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry are continuing to slam Mitt Romney for “vulture capitalism,” a phrase that NBC reports was “newly-minted” by Perry. Actually, it turns out that the phrase isn’t really that new – and this isn’t even the first time a GOP candidate has used it to attack a primary rival.
In 1992, Pat Buchanan seized on the term in a fit of desperation, and used it to bludgeon frontrunner President George H.W. Bush in the days leading up to the New Hampshire primary. The Boston Globe reported on February 11, 1992:
Patrick Buchanan accused the Bush administration yesterday of promoting “vulture capitalism,” and called for a more compassionate conservatism that would consider human needs.
With time running out to make his case to New Hampshire voters before next Tuesday’s primary, Buchanan is pressing to personalize his appeal in new television ads that show him talking directly into the camera about his views and with campaign stops like the former residence of a supporter, Steve Embry, a victim of the recession.
After strong showings in both Iowa and New Hampshire, Ron Paul is starting to get some respect from the media, even if it is grudging. But while no one, not even Paul himself, seems to believe the libertarian extremist is any threat to steal the Republican nomination from Mitt Romney, there is growing sentiment that his appeal to young voters, Democrats and independents will be a problem for the GOP frontrunner in the coming months as well as the general election.
While Paul has tapped into some Tea Party support outside of his own constituency with his rigid stance against virtually all government spending, the idea that he could sabotage Romney with an unlikely third party run or that his supporters could cost the Republicans the election in November is, at best, an exaggeration. Paul’s top three finishes in the first two states to hold primaries were the result of him bring bringing out to the polls voters who are attracted to political outliers and protest candidates. Though any group, no matter how small, may prove decisive in a close election, Romney’s presidential hopes will not rest on the affections of youngsters who want to legalize pot or those who like Paul’s isolationist foreign policy. Even more to the point, as the primary season advances and Paul’s results start to decline, talk of his influence on the election will fade.
A federal appeals court found that an Oklahoma amendment banning Sharia law is unconstitutional, and upheld an injunction on the law. You can read the court’s full decision here (via Doug Mataconis). CBS reports that the anti-Sharia amendment can now be challenged by Muneer Awad, director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Oklahoma, who sued a state board to prevent the law from going into effect:
An amendment that would ban Oklahoma courts from considering international or Islamic law discriminates against religions and a Muslim community leader has the right to challenge its constitutionality, a federal appeals court said Tuesday.
The court in Denver upheld U.S. District Judge Vicki Miles-LaGrange’s order blocking implementation of the amendment shortly after it was approved by 70 percent of Oklahoma voters in November 2010.
For a man who is, we’re told, an incredibly weak frontrunner, Mitt Romney is doing a pretty good job disguising himself as a strong one.
The former Massachusetts governor has proven to be an excellent debater. He’s assembled a first-rate team. He can raise a lot of money. And he showed last night that he can give a very good speech. Romney is the only candidate who a majority of conservative and moderate/liberal Republicans nationwide see as an acceptable GOP nominee for president. But most importantly, Romney has shown he can win.
As Michael Totten noted yesterday, speculation about the imminent collapse of the Assad regime in Syria has now risen to the point where people are openly discussing the possibility of a massive influx of Alawite refugees pouring across the border to the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights. The New York Times’s article on the subject today continues the discussion by trying to put in the context of not only the fate of Syria but also Israel’s other refugee problems. But I doubt that this will happen. If members of the Alawite sect that has dominated Syria for the last 40 years are forced by the collapse of their regime to flee, I suspect they would go to Turkey, Lebanon or Jordan before Israel. Even though the Jewish state is the only place where they could find religious freedom or democracy, it’s unlikely that supporters of a brutal dictatorship would prioritize those factors when seeking a new home.
However, that’s not the only element of this story that I’m skeptical about. Though Israeli officials as well as leaders in the Arab world and Europe have all spoken as if Bashar Assad’s fall is only a matter of time, they may be assuming too much. Since Assad has continued to not only state his willingness to use force to repress dissent in his country but to murder his critics by the thousands in the last year, the certitude that is being expressed about his demise may be a bit premature. Dictatorships only fall when dictators lose their taste for blood. And so far, Assad has shown no signs of such a human weakness.
The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg raises a number of questions regarding the assassination of Mostafa Ahmadi Roshan, but also makes a number of assumptions which may not be warranted. First, his questions:
1) Why aren’t the Iranians attempting to kill Israeli defense officials? The answer, I believe, has more to do with Iranian technical limitations… Perhaps one [other] thing holding back Iran, though, is fear that attacks on Israeli officials…would prompt an immediate Israeli strike on Natanz, before the regime is able to move its centrifuges to its underground facility at Fordow.
Even before news of the latest assassination, it has become clear that a combination of sanctions and targeted assassinations is taking a toll on Iranian nuclear scientists. As my colleague Ali Alfoneh pointed out in his “Iran News Round Up” from this past Monday:
Fereydoun Abbasi, Iran Atomic Energy Organization director, said a number of Iranian nuclear scientists are not willing to contribute to Iran’s nuclear program. According to Abbasi, the scientists are eager to “preserve their international contacts.” He likened them, however, to “deserters” during the Iran-Iraq.
Mitt Romney’s main challenge going forward, aside from the general need to unite the party, is to find a message that refutes the class warfare arguments without offering up clumsy sound bites. If his victory speech last night was any indication, he may be finding his voice on this. He said:
President Obama wants to put free enterprise on trial. In the last few days, we have seen some desperate Republicans join forces with him. This is such a mistake for our party and for our nation. This country already has a leader who divides us with the bitter politics of envy. We must offer an alternative vision. I stand ready to lead us down a different path, where we are lifted up by our desire to succeed, not dragged down by a resentment of success. In these difficult times, we cannot abandon the core values that define us as unique — we are one nation, under God.
Last week, there were rumors of a “nonaggression pact” between Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich. The two candidates are good friends, and they both share the goal of stopping Mitt Romney.
But after last night, it’s clear Santorum’s obstacle to the nomination isn’t just Romney; it’s also Gingrich. While Romney finished at 39 percent in New Hampshire, exceeding expectations, and winning an unprecedented victory, Gingrich and Santorum virtually tied at 4th and 5th place, respectively.
While news is still coming out of Tehran, my colleague Ali Alfoneh has been culling the Iranian websites today and helped compile the following:
Mostafa Ahmadi Roshan, Natanz Nuclear Site commerce director, was assassinated at 08:30 am local time in Tehran. According to Fars News, a motorcyclist attached a magnet bomb to Roshan’s car. The blast killed Roshan and wounded two passengers in the car. A photo essay from the site of the explosion is here, and a photograph purporting to show Roshan after the bombing is here.
According to press reports, another Iranian nuclear scientist was killed in a bomb attack:
The bomb assassination of an Iranian atomic scientist on Wednesday will not stop “progress” in Iran’s nuclear programme, Vice President Mohammad Reza Rahimi told state television. “Today (Wednesday) those who claim to be combatting terrorism have targeted Iranian scientists. They should know that Iranian scientists are more determined than ever in striding towards Iran’s progress,” he said. He called Wednesday’s killing of Mostafa Ahmadi Roshan, a deputy director of Iran’s Natanz uranium enrichment facility, “evidence of (foreign) government-sponsored terrorism.”
Sometimes, assassination can forestall far bloodier conflict. As for Roshan, good riddance.
Try as some might to deprecate it, there’s no denying that Mitt Romney’s smashing victory in the New Hampshire primary has firmly established him as the all-but inevitable Republican presidential nominee. The final tally raised Romney’s total of the vote to nearly 40 percent in a five-man race in the state and a 17-point margin of victory over his nearest competitor. Even more important, New Hampshire’s results re-emphasized the fact that there is no single viable conservative alternative to Romney. That puts him in an even stronger position than expected to romp to another victory next week in South Carolina.
That leaves disgruntled conservatives with a difficult decision. Though no one expects Romney’s opponents to roll over for him with so many states left to vote, the vicious attacks on Romney’s business career from Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry have done as much to discredit them as the former head of Bain Capital. The spectacle of conservatives trying to sound like Occupy Wall Street protesters in order to smear Romney hasn’t hurt him so much as it has made them look ridiculous, especially when it is increasingly obvious that Romney is the only Republican running who can beat President Obama. In the coming weeks, conservatives must decide whether their unhappiness with Romney is enough to cause them to abandon their principles and to aid Democratic attacks on the man who will almost certainly be their party’s standard-bearer in November.