Commentary Magazine


Posts For: January 11, 2012

“Hunt One Head and Hunt It Famously”

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:

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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:

But Obama didn’t pull his punches. “When I was a senator running for office, I talked very firmly about what I thought was right based on the information I had,” Vince Warren, of the Center for Constitutional Rights, recalled the president saying. “Now I’m the president of all the people, and the decisions I make have to be from that perspective based on the information I now have.” His face emotionless, he told his guests that he was considering an indefinite detention policy, allowing authorities to hold certain suspects without charges. It was an “Oh my God moment,” one guest said later.

Good for the president to say that instead of blaming others, at least. But the worst moment of the meeting took place at its conclusion, when ACLU Executive Director Anthony Romero repeated his plea for Obama to prosecute Bush officials. Romero said: “Hunt one head and hunt it famously and bring it down to ensure we don’t make the same mistakes again.”

Obama, to his great credit, told Romero he was alone on that ledge and dismissed the meeting.

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U.S. Must Remain Committed to Taiwan

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.

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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.

The whole article is, as they say, worth reading–and remembering the next time you hear the appeals of faux-realists who argue in favor of dumping a tiny democracy of 23 million people to improve relations with a dictatorship that rules more than 1.3 billion people.

 

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“Inside the Beltway” Talk About Gingrich

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.

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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.

It all gets so darn confusing. Perhaps this matter can be sorted out while having brie and chablis with Andrea Mitchell, Diane Rehm, and Bob Schieffer at the next party hosted by Donald Graham.

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One OWS Documentary the Left Won’t Want to See

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.”

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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.”

It’s easy to see why conservative groups like Citizens United would try to turn Occupy Wall Street into a presidential campaign issue, especially because Democrats will undoubtedly hammer the GOP with class warfare messages during the general election. For Republicans, tying the Democratic Party to the OWS movement could be one way to combat the attacks without going on the defense. The Occupiers are viewed increasingly negatively by the general public, and there are still plenty of Americans who aren’t aware of the movement. Which means the battle to define OWS will probably be a key part of the election.

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Gingrich Backs Off on Bain Attack

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.

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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 pro-Gingrich super PAC has made a $3.4 million airtime buy in South Carolina for a documentary that portrays Romney’s career at Bain Capital in a negative light. The blowback from what many conservatives consider a leftist line of argument pursued by Gingrich and Rick Perry has hurt them more than the charge has damaged Romney. If the documentary airs after Gingrich’s admission that the line of attack is inappropriate, the controversy could prove to be yet another setback for his faltering campaign.

The attack was the product of Gingrich’s bitterness at the negative ads run by pro-Romney super PACs that highlighted negative aspects of his record. But the revenge that Gingrich attempted to exact said a lot more about his hypocrisy and well-known intolerance for criticism than anything else. Though some conservatives defended Gingrich’s decision to portray Romney as a heartless plutocrat laying off defenseless workers on the grounds that the Democrats were bound to use it anyway, even some of Romney’s critics were repelled by the tactic that struck them as adopting the rhetoric of the Occupy Wall Street movement.

By now admitting his mistake, Gingrich might help get the conversation in South Carolina back to Romney’s weaknesses to conservatives such as his flip-flops on social issues and health care. But if the film airs and Gingrich tries to rationalize it or distance his candidacy from the attack, it will make him look even worse than if he had never disavowed it. Ironically, though Gingrich claims he is the “true conservative” running against a moderate, so long as Republicans are discussing this issue, Romney can put himself forward, as he did last night in his New Hampshire victory speech, as a defender of free enterprise against liberal Democrats and “desperate Republicans.”

That’s a formula for another disastrous defeat for Gingrich that could mean the end of his presidential run.

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Air Strikes Against Iran Are Justifiable

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.

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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.

Colby and Long write “that attacking Iran without provocation is a dangerous course.” But of course no one is talking about attacking Luxembourg. That really would be an unprovoked attack. In the case of Iran–which has spent decades illegally supporting terrorist groups, killing and kidnapping American citizens, threatening its neighbors, and developing an illicit nuclear weapons program–an attack would hardly be unprovoked. Indeed, Iran has provided so much provocation since its Islamic revolution that it is a wonder its aggression has not yet been met with military force, at least not since the Tanker War of the 1980s.

Then Colby and Long toss out various unconvincing arguments which they claim “are well-known”: “deterrence, while neither easy nor cheap, can work; the costs of likely Iranian retaliation outweigh the likely benefits, perhaps markedly; and the United States (and its allies) have considered preventive attacks against adversary nuclear programs before, thought the better of it and come out tolerably.” But while deterrence worked against the Soviet Union–just barely–there is good cause to be worried it will not be so successful against a country like Iran whose leaders are not about to set-up a hotline to Jerusalem or Washington so as to improve the handling of crises.

It’s true the U.S. in the past decided against preemptive attacks on nuclear sites in states such as the Soviet Union and Red China, but then they were, after all, superpowers. We also decided not to launch a preemptive strike on North Korea, but the merits of that decision remain far from clear. One American ally–Israel–has actually mounted preemptive attacks on the nuclear programs of Iraq and Syria and done so with complete success and without suffering any negative repercussions. Is Iran more like Iraq/Syria or the USSR/China? The question answers itself.

Perhaps recognizing the weakness of these arguments, Colby and Long trot out two more. They claim advocates of military action “fail to explain how the United States will prevent Iran from simply restarting its program, this time in deadly earnest. Moreover, they don’t explain why such strikes won’t contribute to the immediate rallying of the Iranian people around the otherwise reviled regime.”

It’s certainly true there is no guarantee Iran could not restart its nuclear program after air strikes. But if it does, it’s always possible to mount further air strikes–a model the U.S. actually followed with Iraq between 1991 and 2003. And it may be possible that no further strikes will be needed at all, because restarting a nuclear program is no easy business. The authors cite the aftermath of Israel’s 1981 strike on Saddam Hussein’s Osirak nuclear facility as evidence that air strikes on Iran will not deliver long-term benefits, but the opposite is true: Despite Saddam’s efforts to restart his nuclear program, he still had not come close to producing a bomb ten years later when the Gulf War occurred. If not for the Israeli strike, Iraq probably would have gone nuclear by then and Kuwait would today be Iraq’s 19th province.

A lot can happen in the years after successful air strikes–including regime change. Not by foreign invasion but by people power. Those who discount the possibility of a peaceful revolution in Iran are ignoring the lessons of the past year: The Arab Spring has shown even the most repressive regimes are more brittle than they appear at first blush.

Colby and Long claim air strikes will unite Iranians around their regime. “Large-scale bombing campaigns didn’t break support for North Vietnamese or North Korean regimes, or for the German or Japanese governments during World War II,” they write. “Rather, they hardened support for them.” This may or may not be true. How do we know what the Vietnamese, North Koreans, Germans or Japanese thought about their governments when they had no opportunity to express their sentiments at the ballot box? But even if this is accurate it’s irrelevant. No one is advocating massive bombing of Iran to topple the regime.

All we are discussing is the possibility of limited air strikes against a few nuclear sites. Such strikes might well cause a surge of support for the government, but in all likelihood it would be fleeting and temporary. A few weeks later Iranians would realize all of their old grievances with the government–from its repressive social policies to its lack of economic opportunity–would remain intact. Indeed, successful air strikes might well help to dispel the aura of fear that surrounds the theocratic regime by showing it is not nearly as invincible as its leaders claim. Such benefits are, admittedly, speculative–but no more speculative than Colby and Long’s assertions that air strikes would prolong the mullahs’ foul rule.

All we know for certain is if we do nothing, Iran is likely to go nuclear before long–and if we bomb their nuclear sites we are likely to set back their program for a considerable period of time. That, in a nutshell, is the case for action if further sanctions do not work.

 

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The Muslim Brotherhood’s Agenda in Egypt

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.

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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.

He continues also to speculate about the Muslim Brotherhood’s foreign policy agenda. While Trager curiously does not discuss leverage when suggesting U.S. policy positions—The Washington Institute does not like to go too far out on a limb for fear of antagonizing the State Department and imperiling access—his piece is nevertheless the best thing out there on Egypt right now, and well worth reading.

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Obama’s Ill-Fated Foreign Initiatives

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.

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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.

By contrast, the biggest successes Obama can claim are a product of continuing and even expanding George W. Bush’s policies, for example by employing drone strikes against al-Qaeda targets. He would have done better if he had continued two other Bush policies by staying committed to the long-term reconstruction of Iraq and Afghanistan. I agree with Diehl it is unlikely that even a near-term disaster in Iraq will cause Obama much damage in the fall election, but presidents have to think not only about their immediate election prospects but also about their long-term legacy. And history will not judge Obama kindly if he is seen to have squandered a chance to stabilize the situation in Iraq after so much American sacrifice. Nor will he be likely to get good marks from posterity if he is held responsible–like Jimmy Carter–for harming American military capabilities, a process that appears to be well under way with the massive cuts being made in the defense budget.

 

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“Vulture Capitalism” Attack Ripped from Pat Buchanan’s ’92 Playbook

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.

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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.

Buchanan’s popularity hit its peak during the New Hampshire primary. On February 16, 1992, The New York Times editorial page applauded his critique of capitalism, and argued that it led to his surge in the state:

He started his New Hampshire primary campaign intending to push President Bush back to old-time Republican religion. Then he came to New Hampshire, where businesses have failed in record numbers, unemployment in some towns has exceeded 20 percent and welfare rolls have swollen. Meet the new Patrick Buchanan.

Now the archconservative journalist campaigns by assailing “vulture capitalism.” Now the thundering apostle of free-market economics proclaims that “conservatism is about more than the constitutional right of big fishes to eat little fishes.” …

His conversion to this new-time religion may or may not be sincere. But it is paying dividends. Barely three weeks ago, President Bush seemed destined to bury Mr. Buchanan, who had never been elected to anything. Now with the election two days away, the President is scrambling to preserve a convincing margin of victory.

Unsurprisingly, conservatives dissented. On March 1, 1992, Charles Krauthammer wrote, in a masterful takedown of Buchanan, that the anti-capitalist sentiment was just one of the many symptoms of the candidate’s fascistic ideology:

Buchanan has converted to protectionism, i.e., government shutting markets in the name of the nation. And now the pretender to the throne of Ronald Reagan has gone beyond mere autarky to public denunciations of “vulture capitalism.”

This is Reaganism? Sounds more like Peronism. After a lifetime denouncing the left for letting government regulate the economy, Buchanan is a born-again economic populist, championing the shirtless ones against rapacious capitalism.

While Buchanan’s attacks on Bush aren’t identical to the current attacks on Romney, his dark portrayal of free market activity and use of left-wing rhetoric is remarkably similar. But Buchanan’s modest success didn’t continue on past the New Hampshire primary. And the current anti-capitalist rhetoric from some Republican candidates isn’t likely to get them very far either.

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Exaggerating the Paul Effect

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.

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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.

One factor that will quickly diminish Paul’s prominence is that most of the rest of the primaries will not be open to the independents and Democrats whose votes inflated the Texas congressman’s totals. Polls in South Carolina and Florida — the next two states to hold primaries — show Paul dropping out of the top tier of GOP contenders. If Paul’s supporters at his New Hampshire headquarters were acting as if they won the Super Bowl last night, it was because for them it was. His distant second place finish there was as good as it’s going to get for him.

Paul doubled the votes he received in both Iowa and New Hampshire in 2008, and that’s an indication his movement has gained some traction. But it will soon be apparent it is just as marginal in terms of Republican sentiment in 2012 as it was four years ago. The idea that Romney could or should pander to Paul’s supporters is bad politics as well as virtually impossible. The common ground between this group and the rest of the GOP is too narrow to allow it.

One only had to listen to his lengthy rant last night to understand that a group led by a man who obsesses about the Federal Reserve and views the United States as the moral equivalent of the Soviet Union is not someone who can or should be allowed to influence the Republican platform or party policy in any way. Romney has been careful to treat Paul with respect. Perhaps too careful for my taste, though it is no more cynical than the way Democrats have treated their outliers and extremists in the past.

Some of those Republicans who voted for Paul as a protest vote will probably stay loyal to the party in November because they despise Barack Obama. But undoubtedly many of Paul’s independents and Democrats will stay home or vote for Obama, as they did four years ago. If Paul runs on his own (and given his concern for his son’s future in the GOP I doubt that will happen), I think he’ll take as many if not more votes from Obama than the Republican candidate.

Romney can use all the help he can get this year, but his path to victory in November will be by attracting centrist independents and Democrats, not voters who are primarily interested in legalizing drugs or opposing American foreign deployments. Though it would be wrong to completely ignore Paul, once his primary vote totals start dropping down to single digits, it isn’t likely many will still be saying much about him.

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Court Deems Oklahoma Sharia Law Ban “Unconstitutional”

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.

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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.

The main issue the court took with the amendment was that it singled out Sharia law, while ignoring other forms of religious law. In the court’s decision, it said the amendment was subject to the “Larson test,” from Larson v. Valente, which held that “The State may not adopt programs or practices…which aid or oppose any religion.”

Supporters of the ban countered that the amendment did in fact ban all religious law – it simply didn’t specify these other religions by name. But the court disagreed:

The only religious law mentioned in the amendment is Sharia law, which is defined in SQ 755 in religious terms: “Sharia law is Islamic law. It is based on two principal sources, the Koran and the teachings of Mohammad.” …

The language prohibits Oklahoma courts from upholding and adhering to laws of other states that include Sharia law but does not prohibit Oklahoma courts from upholding and adhering to laws of other states that include the laws of any other religion. On this basis alone, application of Larson strict scrutiny is warranted. …

The amendment bans only one form of religious law – Sharia law.

In order to pass the Larson test, supporters of the Sharia ban needed to prove there was a compelling state justification for the law. But as the court noted, the appellants couldn’t name a single example of an Oklahoma court even applying Sharia law. Ever:

Appellants do not identify any actual problem the challenged amendment seeks to resolve. Indeed, they admitted at the preliminary injunction hearing that they did not know of even a single instance where an Oklahoma court had applied Sharia law or used the legal precepts of other nations of cultures, let alone that such applications or uses had resulted in concrete problems in Oklahoma.

This fight over the Oklahoma Sharia law ban isn’t over by a long shot, but this decision definitely highlights its futility. If Sharia opponents can’t name a single instance of Islamic law being used in the state courts, what exactly is the point of banning it — beyond vague and unsubstantiated fears?

On the other hand, there isn’t exactly a compelling counter-argument in favor of Sharia law. The U.S. courts should avoid applications of religious law in general. And Sharia has a particularly horrific reputation, since it’s used to justify the state-sanctioned oppression of women, the silencing of journalists and human rights workers, religious persecution, and vicious executions across the Islamic world.

But the good news for Sharia law opponents is that these things are already illegal in the United States, and Sharia is rarely applied to anything in this country beyond executions of wills and personal financing matters. Unless that changes, attempts to “ban” it are based on little more than hysteria and conspiracy theories.

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The Not-So-Weak GOP Frontrunner

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.

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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.

Governor Romney is the first Republican, other than a sitting president, to win both Iowa and New Hampshire. He’s ahead in South Carolina and Florida. And he may effectively lock up the nomination by the end of this month, earlier than any non-incumbent has ever done. The rap on Mitt Romney four years ago was that he did much better in polls than he did in elections. That isn’t the case this year, at least thus far.

Romney has vulnerabilities for sure, all of which have been discussed many times. But in some respects that makes the point, doesn’t it? They exist, but so far, they haven’t cost him.

Remember how RomneyCare was supposed to be political kryptonite in this year’s GOP race? Not so. The line of attack adopted by Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry has reduced them to sounding like a couple of aging Occupy Wall Street protesters. Tim Pawlenty was going to be Romney without the baggage? The Minnesota governor dropped out of the race last August. Romney doesn’t inspire the right wing? Perhaps, but he’s making himself acceptable to it. There is no McCain or Huntsman-like reflex to stick a finger in the eye of conservatives or to speak down to them. And they, in turn, are becoming increasingly comfortable with Romney. And while there’s no question Romney is fortunate he faces such a weak field, that’s not his fault or his doing. All he can do is compete against the candidates who show up. And right now, Romney is dominating them. That counts for something.

Now for the qualifiers: any judgment about Romney as a candidate is, at this stage, preliminary. The voting has barely begun. Political currents can shift suddenly and dramatically (ask Newt Gingrich, who just last month led in the polls by double figures in Iowa, South Carolina and Florida). And particularly if Romney becomes the nominee, he’ll be tested and tested again. Running for president is a brutal process. Among the challenges for Romney will be to resist the temptation to pretend he’s something he’s not, which can easily happen to candidates. Self-knowledge – what you do well and what you don’t; who you are and who you are not – is a priceless gift in politics, as in life itself. My sense is that who Romney is — a very intelligent, able, data-driven, steady, and disciplined man, able to prosecute his case, running as a center-right candidate in a center-right country – is quite enough to reassure Republican voters and, later, the American electorate.

If you look at the political calendar, the GOP primary is a long way from over. Yet if you look at the dynamics of the race so far, and the underlying realities, we may be nearing a denouement. In January. Just weeks after the first vote in Iowa was cast. A full seven months before the GOP convention. We’ll know much more after the January 21 primary in South Carolina and the January 31 primary in Florida. But if what I’ve outlined in fact happens – and it’s certainly in the realm of the possible and getting close to being in the realm of the likely – we can probably all agree that it wouldn’t be a half-bad achievement for an incredibly weak frontrunner.

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Don’t Bet on Assad’s Imminent Fall

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.

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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.

It is true the cracks in his regime seem to be widening. The growing number of deserters from the army and security forces is the worst sign for Assad. So, too, is the willingness of his former allies in the Arab League to throw him under the bus.

But it is an immutable rule of history that tyrannies only collapse when their leadership is no longer willing to kill to maintain their grip on power. The French Revolution occurred during the reign of the most benevolent of the Bourbon absolute rulers, not the most brutal. The Shah of Iran was forced to flee because he hesitated to murder demonstrators in the streets of Tehran, a weakness that one couldn’t accuse his Islamist successers of having. And Hosni Mubarak’s decades-long rule in Egypt ended because he was unwilling or unable to order his army to mow down protesters in Tahir Square.

Based on the record of the last year of protests, that is not something anyone is likely to accuse Bashar Assad of doing. Yesterday, Assad vowed to use an “iron hand” to continue to repress dissent that he claimed was solely the work of “outsiders” and “terrorists.” With so much blood already on his hands, why would anyone doubt he would continue to kill?

If Assad lost control of the army or the security forces, that might force him to quit. But because much of the security apparatus is in the hands of Assad’s fellow Alawites, they have an incentive to be loyal to him as they know they will be out of luck after his departure. The very fact that Alawites understand their fate will be a bad one in the post-Assad era and that flight is not an option for most, makes them unlikely to buckle.

Knowing he faces an uncertain future out of power, Assad has every reason to dig in. While anything can happen, so long as he doesn’t run out of bullets, it may be a mistake to assume Assad is about to be ousted.

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Answering Jeffrey Goldberg on Iran

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.

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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.

Of course, if the Iranian nuclear program is military in nature and the elements of the Iranian security services which would have custody, command, and control over a nuclear weapon hope to use it against Israel, then why get in a tit-for-tat now rather than simply concentrate on completing a program which will achieve the goal of killing Israelis a million-times-over?

Likewise, there is always the possibility the Iranians overstate their intelligence capabilities, while the Israelis downplay theirs. Then again, perhaps Goldberg is wrong to assume the Israelis—rather than an Arab intelligence service—are behind this. After all, the Mossad is a shadow of its former self and has long ago ceased being the most effective intelligence service in the Middle East, as recent boondoggles illustrate. As much as American officials view Arab Shi’ites as Fifth Columnists, perhaps we need to recognize that the Fifth Column can go both ways.

2) Does Israel, or whoever is assassinating Iranian scientists, believe that these killings will actually slow-down Iranian nuclear development? In other words, do the people behind the assassinations believe that Iranian nuclear knowledge is so concentrated in the minds of a few scientists that a limited series of assassinations can cripple the program? This doesn’t seem likely, obviously.

Well, just earlier this week the head of Iran’s nuclear organization said the regime was having trouble keeping its nuclear scientists onboard. 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.

3) Is the goal of the assassination program to convince Iranian nuclear scientists to seek other lines of work? This is also plausible, but not likely to work: I think the regime would take the Tony Soprano approach — you can’t resign from the Mafia — and tell frightened scientists to get back to work, or suffer the consequences, or have their families suffer the consequences.

Indeed, that is how I interpret Fereydoun Abbasi’s statement.

4) Why is Iran so incompetent at protecting its nuclear scientists? This is a perplexing issue.

There is a common problem among dictatorships that officials tell their superiors what they want them to hear. Perhaps the Iranian leadership truly believes the alleged spies they are arresting are guilty. All a foreign intelligence service has to do, however, is cull the authors of academic papers which Iran publishes online. As I wrote earlier, Alef News has released the titles of academic articles he had published (scroll down for English). What is clear, however, is that the Islamic Republic is deeply penetrated.

5) Why is the Mossad, assuming this is the Mossad, so deft at assassinating people in Tehran? It’s a very hard target, Iran, and the Mossad has on more than one occasion bungled assassinations in terrible ways (the attempted killing of the Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal in Jordan is only one case in point).

Again, Goldberg might consider that the list of those who oppose Iran’s nuclear program is far greater than just Israel and the United States. Indeed, fear of an Iranian nuclear breakout can make strange bedfellows. When it came to extraordinary rendition, the CIA clearly worked with some unsavory Arab governments. Why is it so unbelievable that there would be intelligence cooperation in this case? While I had earlier dismissed the tit-for-tat Iranian and Arab claims of sleeper cells in each others’ countries, perhaps there could be something to that.

6) Another question, or something closer to an observation: If I were a member of the Iranian regime (and I’m not), I would take this assassination program to mean that the West is entirely uninterested in any form of negotiation (not that I, the regime official, has ever been much interested in dialogue with the West) and that I should double-down and cross the nuclear threshold as fast as humanly possible. Once I do that, I’m North Korea, or Pakistan: An untouchable country.

Goldberg may have cause and effect confused here. Certainly, what the Iranians say in Persian about negotiation, and what they say in English are two different things.

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Iran Admits Targeting Nuclear Scientists Takes a Toll

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.

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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.

The latest assassination suggests, however, that preservation of their relationship with foreign scientists is probably not top among the Iranian nuclear scientists’ concerns. Indeed, Abbasi probably understood that, but cannot admit it so directly.

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Romney vs. the “Bitter Politics of Envy”

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.

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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.

Even more important than his defense of capitalism and the free market is the acknowledgement that President Obama’s success in November will depend entirely on how successful the president will be at dividing the country and setting Americans against one another.

The class warfare Obama will employ will mirror to some extent the recent attacks on Romney’s business experience from Newt Gingrich, Jon Huntsman, and Rick Perry. But the other element of Obama’s strategy will be what the White House’s allies and insiders have described as seeking a coalition of “voters who have gotten ahead on the basis of educational attainment… and a second, substantial constituency of lower-income voters who are disproportionately African-American and Hispanic.”

Obama reinforced this recently at a fundraiser where he suggested a Republican administration that replaced him would employ racist policies against minorities. Aside from the divisive rhetoric on race, the president signaled in his “Teddy Roosevelt” address that he will continue to demagogue wealth and success to capitalize on the Occupy Wall Street protest movement and scapegoat his political opponents for the failure of his policies to keep unemployment numbers where he promised they would be.

Obama won four years ago on the strength of his lofty oratory on uniting the country. He’s made it clear he will be taking the opposite approach in November. This gives Romney the opportunity to do what he did last night: instead of offering a disquisition on Schumpeter and Friedman, seek to protect Americans from the divide-and-conquer strategy to which the president is about to subject them.

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Rick Santorum’s Gingrich Problem

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.

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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.

Gingrich was expected to fade away on his own, and Santorum was supposed to capitalize on the momentum from Iowa to have a decent showing in New Hampshire (at least better than Newt’s) and a strong finish in South Carolina. If Gingrich had dropped out of the race after he bombed in Iowa, and Santorum had managed to pick up his supporters in New Hampshire, then Santorum could have ended up in third place as opposed to a disappointing fifth.

The bar was set low for Santorum in New Hampshire. But ending up in single digits, and coming in fifth after Gingrich – even by a negligible .5 percent margin – was slightly below expectations. Now Santorum can’t just be focused on competing with Romney for the nomination. He’ll first have to definitively beat out Gingrich for the conservative not-Romney slot. He’s now neck-and-neck with Gingrich in South Carolina, with Romney 10 points ahead of both of them. That means any Santorum-Gingrich truce – even a tacit one – can’t continue if Santorum wants the nomination.

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Iranian Press on Iranian Scientist Death

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.

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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.

Nasim Online points out that Roshan was assassinated on the second anniversary of the assassination of Masoud Ali Mohammadi, another nuclear scientist.

Who was Roshan? Sharif University of Technology says that Roshan had a degree in chemical engineering from the university. Alef News has released the titles of academic articles he had published (scroll down for English).

Who was behind it? Well, the Iranian government has never let an investigation get in the way of a good conspiracy. First Vice President Mohammad-Reza Rahimi accuses “the Zionist regime,” while Safar Ali Baratlou, Tehran Province Security chief, says “it is the work of the Zionists… It seems like the Zionists are trying to reduce public participation in [forthcoming parliamentary] elections….” Parliamentarians have condemned the assassination by chanting “Death to America,” “Death to Israel,” and “Death to the Hypocrites,” the latter usually being code for the Mujahedin al-Khalq.

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Another Iranian Scientist Assassinated

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.

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.

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Conservatives Will Have to Make Their Peace With Romney

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.

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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.

While Romney has struggled at times to articulate a coherent defense of capitalism, he found his voice last night during his victory speech when he noted that President Obama and “desperate Republicans” were trying “to put free enterprise on trial.” His declaration that he has faith in the people, not government, was exactly the message he needs to emphasize the rest of the campaign. Even more to the point, by making this election about defending the private sector against Obama’s belief in big government, he can reassure conservatives that despite his faults and his difficulty in connecting with ordinary voters, he is clearly on their side of the great issues facing the nation.

During the next week and a half, Gingrich and Perry will be launching their last-ditch effort to convince Tea Partiers and social conservatives that Romney can be stopped. But if they continue with their hypocritical trashing of his business record, all they will accomplish is to destroy what is left of their own tattered reputations. Rick Santorum has wisely stayed out of that scrum and is hoping to galvanize the support of social conservatives to stay in contention. But his disappointing fifth-place finish in New Hampshire may have dissipated the momentum he got from his strong performance in Iowa. Moreover, with well-funded conservative foes in Gingrich and Perry going all out in South Carolina, it’s hard to see how Santorum emerges from the pack to beat Romney.

While we can expect to hear more about Romney’s flaws, the rest of this primary season will primarily be about conservatives learning to make their peace with him. Though he has a long way to go before his nomination is secured, sooner or later his party’s right-wing activists are going to have to realize that if they want to defeat Obama, he is their only hope.

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