Commentary Magazine


Posts For: January 12, 2012

The Ideas Lady

Phyllida Lloyd’s The Iron Lady based on Margaret Thatcher is a touching reminiscence about a tenacious woman’s relation to her loyal husband and family, from whom she feared she had been too distant as a result of her overwhelming political ambition. There is plenty the movie – well worth seeing – does well, and plenty it does not (review here).

Granted, the movie is a biopic, a portrait of a person, not an era. That said, more could have been made about her cabinet, about her relationship to the queen, about Europe, about the Soviet Union, about Reagan, and about a host of other relationships and conflicts that featured in her lengthy tenure as prime minister of the United Kingdom.

But what cannot be granted is that the movie is intended as a depiction of Thatcher, and not Thatcherism; yet to take the latter out of the former is to reduce her life to the story of a determined, perhaps ruthless, politician, albeit one who was uniquely successful. That may be entertaining, but it is not edifying. Nor is it fair. Read More

Phyllida Lloyd’s The Iron Lady based on Margaret Thatcher is a touching reminiscence about a tenacious woman’s relation to her loyal husband and family, from whom she feared she had been too distant as a result of her overwhelming political ambition. There is plenty the movie – well worth seeing – does well, and plenty it does not (review here).

Granted, the movie is a biopic, a portrait of a person, not an era. That said, more could have been made about her cabinet, about her relationship to the queen, about Europe, about the Soviet Union, about Reagan, and about a host of other relationships and conflicts that featured in her lengthy tenure as prime minister of the United Kingdom.

But what cannot be granted is that the movie is intended as a depiction of Thatcher, and not Thatcherism; yet to take the latter out of the former is to reduce her life to the story of a determined, perhaps ruthless, politician, albeit one who was uniquely successful. That may be entertaining, but it is not edifying. Nor is it fair.

The Thatcher character herself declares: ‘‘It used to be about trying to do something. Now it’s about trying to be someone,’’ and yet we see so little of that ‘‘something.’’ Given the movie (justifiably) takes dramatic license with the historical record, it is regrettable that it omitted, for instance, the story of a Tory Party meeting where Thatcher, as the new party leader, slammed on the table a copy of Hayek’s The Constitution of Liberty and announced, “This is what we believe!” And that it does not reference that it was the Soviet media which dubbed her the “Iron Lady” because of her unfaltering opposition to Communism.

Perhaps it should not come as surprising, though, that a movie from Harvey Weinstein would choose to downplay Thatcher’s ideas and vision for her country–a prosperous Britain at home, built on small businesses and free from excessive government and from the trade union stranglehold that had choked the country through the 1970s, and a strong and unafraid Britain abroad. But in portraying her as little more than a yuppie pioneer – concerned predominantly with her own professional advancement – one wonders if the moviemakers sought not merely to downplay her ideas, but indeed to discredit them.

And yet it is about precisely these ideas of free enterprise at home and principled action abroad that this coming presidential election will be fought, and the moviemakers’ effort to marginalize those ideas may betray their recognition that, thanks to the leadership of, among others, the iron lady, they still have the same force today as they did then.

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U.S.-Israel Split on Iran Assassinations?

Earlier today, I noted the skewed morality of left-wing writers in general, and Salon’s Glenn Greenwald, in particular, who consider the mysterious deaths of Iranian nuclear scientists to be an act of terrorism. Quite the contrary, I think it’s clear the Iranians are the terrorists and it is the duty of both the United States and Israel to do anything in their power to pre-empt Iran’s ability to build a nuclear weapon. But it’s worth adding to the discussion that it appears President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton are eager to avoid being labeled terrorists by left-wing pundits. The United States has not only disavowed any participation in attacks on Iranian nuclear personnel but went so far as to actually condemn the killing.

Given that this administration has fully embraced the doctrine of targeted killings of terrorists and regards drone strikes against individuals and groups that Washington deems bad guys, its scruples about knocking off people involved in a project that would give the ayatollahs the ability to pull off a second Holocaust seems curious. The reasons U.S. officials have given for their opposition to the assassinations also fall flat.

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Earlier today, I noted the skewed morality of left-wing writers in general, and Salon’s Glenn Greenwald, in particular, who consider the mysterious deaths of Iranian nuclear scientists to be an act of terrorism. Quite the contrary, I think it’s clear the Iranians are the terrorists and it is the duty of both the United States and Israel to do anything in their power to pre-empt Iran’s ability to build a nuclear weapon. But it’s worth adding to the discussion that it appears President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton are eager to avoid being labeled terrorists by left-wing pundits. The United States has not only disavowed any participation in attacks on Iranian nuclear personnel but went so far as to actually condemn the killing.

Given that this administration has fully embraced the doctrine of targeted killings of terrorists and regards drone strikes against individuals and groups that Washington deems bad guys, its scruples about knocking off people involved in a project that would give the ayatollahs the ability to pull off a second Holocaust seems curious. The reasons U.S. officials have given for their opposition to the assassinations also fall flat.

According to the New York Times, the U.S. opposes any such attacks because they “could backfire by undercutting future negotiations and prompting Iran to redouble what the West suspects is a quest for a nuclear capacity.”

First of all, the entire notion that “future negotiations” have any chance of getting Iran to back down from the nuclear brink is entirely without foundation. Iran’s only motive in allowing the administration to believe in the possibility of such talks is to string them along and thereby allow their nuclear scientists more time to perfect their plans. The idea that they would “redouble” their quest is also farcical because Iran is already going all out to achieve this goal. The only thing that will convince the Iranians to give up their dream of a bomb is to both enact and enforce crippling sanctions such as an oil embargo that could bring their economy to halt or to use force.

Given the adamant nature of the administration’s denials about the assassinations, this is probably no ruse. But if the U.S. is not helping Israel in its alleged efforts to make it more difficult for the Iranian scientific community to work on the nuclear project, it may be one more sign that Obama is not really serious about stopping Iran. This could well be one more signal that, the president’s rhetoric notwithstanding, Israel is being left alone to face this deadly threat to its existence. It may well be we will now hear more from the left about labeling Israel a terrorist state because of the Iranian nuclear scientists. But as with many other instances in which its right to self-defense has been attacked, Israel’s leaders will likely choose to risk the name-calling if it means that measures they have undertaken will significantly reduce the threat to their nation.

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Why Fayyad is on His Way Out

Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad is a favorite of both American diplomats and Israeli officials. His dedication to improving the lives of Palestinian Arabs on the West Bank and his support for security cooperation with Israel is seen as stepping-stones to a viable two-state solution. New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman is so enamored of him that he elevated Fayyad to a one-man ideology called “Fayyadism,” whose future depends on elevated levels of support from the United States and Israel. But the problem with Fayyad and his “ism” is its main constituency is not Palestinian but rather American and Israeli. So when Hamas asked Fayyad’s boss PA President Mahmoud Abbas to dump him as part of the unity pact with the Islamist group, there was little resistance.

Fayyad is hanging on in Ramallah until the pact is completed, but anyone wanting to get a better idea of why Fayyad has so little political support among his people should read this interview with the PA prime minister in Britain’s JC. In it, he discusses how he shares Israel’s fears of a nuclear Iran, wishes the Iranians would shut up about the Israel-Palestinian conflict, registers dismay at the way Turkey has abandoned its alliance with Israel and generally dismisses the possibility that the popular Fatah-Hamas unity pact will ever be consummated. With this sort of a platform, he’d probably have an easier time getting elected to the Knesset than to the Palestinian parliament.

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Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad is a favorite of both American diplomats and Israeli officials. His dedication to improving the lives of Palestinian Arabs on the West Bank and his support for security cooperation with Israel is seen as stepping-stones to a viable two-state solution. New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman is so enamored of him that he elevated Fayyad to a one-man ideology called “Fayyadism,” whose future depends on elevated levels of support from the United States and Israel. But the problem with Fayyad and his “ism” is its main constituency is not Palestinian but rather American and Israeli. So when Hamas asked Fayyad’s boss PA President Mahmoud Abbas to dump him as part of the unity pact with the Islamist group, there was little resistance.

Fayyad is hanging on in Ramallah until the pact is completed, but anyone wanting to get a better idea of why Fayyad has so little political support among his people should read this interview with the PA prime minister in Britain’s JC. In it, he discusses how he shares Israel’s fears of a nuclear Iran, wishes the Iranians would shut up about the Israel-Palestinian conflict, registers dismay at the way Turkey has abandoned its alliance with Israel and generally dismisses the possibility that the popular Fatah-Hamas unity pact will ever be consummated. With this sort of a platform, he’d probably have an easier time getting elected to the Knesset than to the Palestinian parliament.

While Fayyad is not the only Sunni Muslim to be wary of Iran’s influence and its nuclear ambitions, his litany of policy concerns aptly demonstrates why he was never able to develop his own power base in Palestinian politics. He is a genuine Palestinian moderate. Unlike Abbas’s Fatah Party, which only pretends to expound moderation and peace with Israel, Fayyad is the rare Palestinian politician who means it. Though Hamas may be distancing itself from its longtime ally and sponsor in Tehran in favor of its new Turkish sugar daddy, their desire to purge Fayyad along with his “ism” is a major aspect of their plan to use the unity pact to extend their influence on the West Bank.

One can only hope his sanguine dismissal of the possibility that Hamas-Fatah unity will ever become a reality is vindicated by events. If he’s wrong, he will be out of a job and the already slim theoretical chances of peace will evaporate. Given Fayyad’s failure to develop any broad-based Palestinian support, it’s unlikely that a desire to keep him in office will be a major sticking point.

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Learning from Clinton’s Mideast Mistakes

In 1974, Yasser Arafat delivered a famous address to the United Nations in which he said: “Today I have come bearing an olive branch and a freedom fighter’s gun. Do not let the olive branch fall from my hand.” It was meant as an implicit threat, and it underlined one of the dangers of the peace process: there was value in the two sides talking, but Arafat’s side promised to resort to violence if unsatisfied with the talks.

Arafat fulfilled his promise repeatedly over the years, but never more famously or with more damage to long-term prospects for peace than after the failure of the Clinton administration’s Camp David summit in 2000. At a debate hosted by Intelligence Squared US on Tuesday night, one of the negotiators involved in that summit, Aaron David Miller, said this:

In July 2000, we decided to recommend to Bill Clinton to go to Camp David to try to create a conflict-ending solution between Israelis and Palestinians. Do you realize that a dozen years after that summit, we are still paying for the lack of wisdom and the recklessness of that decision? Israelis and Palestinians have not yet recovered from the trauma of those ten years, because we believed in an effort to do something in the face of a desperate situation, that we could make it better. This notion is reckless, and it’s not well thought through.

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In 1974, Yasser Arafat delivered a famous address to the United Nations in which he said: “Today I have come bearing an olive branch and a freedom fighter’s gun. Do not let the olive branch fall from my hand.” It was meant as an implicit threat, and it underlined one of the dangers of the peace process: there was value in the two sides talking, but Arafat’s side promised to resort to violence if unsatisfied with the talks.

Arafat fulfilled his promise repeatedly over the years, but never more famously or with more damage to long-term prospects for peace than after the failure of the Clinton administration’s Camp David summit in 2000. At a debate hosted by Intelligence Squared US on Tuesday night, one of the negotiators involved in that summit, Aaron David Miller, said this:

In July 2000, we decided to recommend to Bill Clinton to go to Camp David to try to create a conflict-ending solution between Israelis and Palestinians. Do you realize that a dozen years after that summit, we are still paying for the lack of wisdom and the recklessness of that decision? Israelis and Palestinians have not yet recovered from the trauma of those ten years, because we believed in an effort to do something in the face of a desperate situation, that we could make it better. This notion is reckless, and it’s not well thought through.

The wisdom of the Bush administration that followed was to recognize–though without saying it explicitly–just how much the Clinton administration had wrecked the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. It’s nice to see Miller–who, by the way, encouraged the reelection of Barack Obama Tuesday night–admit it as well.

But the question now is, what should be done instead? That was the topic of the debate, which was entitled: “The U.N. should admit Palestine as a full member state.” It pitted, for the motion, Palestinian legislator Mustafa Barghouthi and the New America Foundation and J Street’s Daniel Levy against Israeli diplomat Dore Gold and Miller.

The whole debate is worth watching, which can be done at Intelligence Squared’s website. But, aside from the brutal honesty about some of the worst features of Clinton’s diplomatic destruction in the Middle East, one aspect jumped out at me. Barghouthi and Levy made it clear the main goal of U.N. recognition would be to immediately declare the 1949 armistice lines as official borders and deem every last Israeli over those lines–including in Jerusalem–an illegal nuisance over whom the PLO now had sovereignty.

Both Miller and Gold raised this point out of concern that borders should be negotiated, not declared, and that if the Palestinians declare their borders then Israel will have every right to do the same–and in fact would be forced to out of an obligation to protect Jews living in an area the Palestinians have deemed should be Judenrein the moment such borders are set.

Gold was asked why the declaration of a Palestinian state at the U.N. would necessarily set those borders. Gold responded: “Well, what if the very resolution itself states that the borders will be the June 4 [1967] lines? Is the Palestinian side willing to relinquish that phraseology from a Security Council resolution?”

In response, Barghouthi tried valiantly to avoid answering the question, but moderator John Donvan pressed him on each dodge. Finally, Barghouthi said this: “I think there are four issues for negotiation. There is settlements, there is the borders, there is the issue of refugees, there is the issue of Jerusalem. Nobody said that admitting us to the U.N. will mean that we will not negotiate about all these issues.”

In other words, no, he would not agree to drop the June 4, 1967 lines from the resolution. He then said this: “As one final point, please, it’s very dangerous to say we admit, we accept Palestinian[s], that they should have a state, but we don’t agree with ‘67 borders because what that means is that you want us to have a Bantustan like there was in South Africa.”

There went any hint Barghouthi would be willing to fulfill an agreement even Arafat agreed to, which was to make borders subject to final-status negotiations.

It should be clear why this is significantly more dangerous than even the formulation that the two sides should agree to set the 1949/67 lines as the basis for negotiations and go from there. The Palestinian insistence on pulling this stunt at the U.N. tells you why the U.S. is so vehemently opposed to it. As Miller suggested, the pain and suffering inflicted upon the Israelis and Palestinians by the foolhardy Clinton administration is no excuse to encourage its desperate sequel.

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The E.J. Dionne Vote in South Carolina

The liberal Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne Jr. ends his column this way:

Which leads to this observation from Gingrich: “I think there’s a real difference,” he said, “between people who believed in the free market and people who go around, take financial advantage, loot companies, leave behind broken families, broken towns, people on unemployment.” Yes, there are different kinds of capitalism.

Romney’s victory speech suggested that he hopes that the campaign will be about whether President Obama wants to turn the United States into Europe. A more relevant discussion would be over what American capitalism is — and should be. Thanks to Gingrich and Perry, this debate is now unavoidable.

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The liberal Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne Jr. ends his column this way:

Which leads to this observation from Gingrich: “I think there’s a real difference,” he said, “between people who believed in the free market and people who go around, take financial advantage, loot companies, leave behind broken families, broken towns, people on unemployment.” Yes, there are different kinds of capitalism.

Romney’s victory speech suggested that he hopes that the campaign will be about whether President Obama wants to turn the United States into Europe. A more relevant discussion would be over what American capitalism is — and should be. Thanks to Gingrich and Perry, this debate is now unavoidable.

So it appears as if Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry have done a masterful job of securing what most political strategists consider to be the key demographic in South Carolina’s Republican Party: E.J. Dionne voters.

When Dionne, who is about as reliable a liberal and as passionate a supporter of Barack Obama as you’ll find, is praising Republican politicians for their comments on capitalism, it tells you almost everything you need to know.

Well done, gentlemen. Well done.

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Palin Now Echoing Gingrich on Bain Attack?

On one hand, Sarah Palin is sticking to questions about Mitt Romney’s job creation claims at Bain Capital, about which there are legitimate issues. On the other hand, she seems to be completely mischaracterizing Rick Perry’s attack on Romney. Perry was doing more than just challenging Romney’s job creation numbers; he was flat-out using the language of the progressive left to paint Romney as a greedy, “vulture capitalist,” profiteer.

She is helping give Gingrich and Perry some cover though:

“Governor Romney has claimed to have created 100,000 jobs at Bain, and people are wanting to know: is there proof?” Palin told Sean Hannity on Fox News.

Rick Tyler, former Gingrich aide and head of Newt Gingrich’s Super PAC, has already accused Romney of having created those 100,000 jobs in Asia and Mexico. Earlier this week, Big Government pointed out that Romney’s claim to have created 100,000 jobs contrasts with claims he made during his 1994 U.S. Senate campaign, when he claimed to have created 10,000 jobs at Bain. Romney retired from Bain Capital in 1999.

Palin said that Romney needed to come clean about his record, given the likelihood that Democrats would probe the tax issue and Romney’s tenure at Bain if he were to become the Republican nominee.

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On one hand, Sarah Palin is sticking to questions about Mitt Romney’s job creation claims at Bain Capital, about which there are legitimate issues. On the other hand, she seems to be completely mischaracterizing Rick Perry’s attack on Romney. Perry was doing more than just challenging Romney’s job creation numbers; he was flat-out using the language of the progressive left to paint Romney as a greedy, “vulture capitalist,” profiteer.

She is helping give Gingrich and Perry some cover though:

“Governor Romney has claimed to have created 100,000 jobs at Bain, and people are wanting to know: is there proof?” Palin told Sean Hannity on Fox News.

Rick Tyler, former Gingrich aide and head of Newt Gingrich’s Super PAC, has already accused Romney of having created those 100,000 jobs in Asia and Mexico. Earlier this week, Big Government pointed out that Romney’s claim to have created 100,000 jobs contrasts with claims he made during his 1994 U.S. Senate campaign, when he claimed to have created 10,000 jobs at Bain. Romney retired from Bain Capital in 1999.

Palin said that Romney needed to come clean about his record, given the likelihood that Democrats would probe the tax issue and Romney’s tenure at Bain if he were to become the Republican nominee.

Palin almost seems to be echoing Gingrich from this morning here. Yes, Romney’s record at Bain and comments about creating 100,000 jobs should absolutely be vetted. But that’s not at all what Gingrich and Perry have been attacking Romney on. They’ve been depicting the layoffs and failures at some of Bain’s companies as the consequence of unchecked greed and capitalism. It’s this mentality conservatives have criticized, not the questions about Romney’s background. For Palin to suggest otherwise is disingenuous, and it almost sounds like a sign she’s readying for a Gingrich endorsement.

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Israel’s Jewish Identity Debate

It has now been a couple of weeks since Israel Channel 2’s explosive news broadcast on haredi extremism in Beit Shemesh dramatically increased public awareness of the shameful protests that city has endured against young girls walking to and from school. As Jonathan noted soon after the broadcast first aired, the oft-heard idea that it represents a threat to Israeli democracy is a wild exaggeration.

More interesting though is the question of what the growth and power of the haredi community means to Israel’s future Jewish character. The inevitable English-language articles have now begun to appear in the American Jewish press, pointing in their own ways to this central Jewish debate over identity.

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It has now been a couple of weeks since Israel Channel 2’s explosive news broadcast on haredi extremism in Beit Shemesh dramatically increased public awareness of the shameful protests that city has endured against young girls walking to and from school. As Jonathan noted soon after the broadcast first aired, the oft-heard idea that it represents a threat to Israeli democracy is a wild exaggeration.

More interesting though is the question of what the growth and power of the haredi community means to Israel’s future Jewish character. The inevitable English-language articles have now begun to appear in the American Jewish press, pointing in their own ways to this central Jewish debate over identity.

A sensible approach to the problem, exemplified best by Jay Michaelson at The Forward, is to try to cut off diaspora financial support for haredi-controlled institutions and to press for their deeper integration.

But the unseen pitfalls of a robust approach to the issue are also on display in an article for Tablet by Erin Kopelow and Ariel Beery (full disclosure: I am a former classmate of Ariel’s at the Jewish Theological Seminary and I volunteered for a time on his magazine, PresenTense) that confuses the issue with the far more difficult question of official “discrimination” against non-Orthodox Jews.

It is true that Jews like Kopelow–who was born and raised in Canada to a mother who underwent a Conservative conversion unrecognized by the Israeli chief rabbinate, which therefore deems her not to be Jewish–who were raised as Jews, who have committed to a life in Israel, and who observe Shabbat and keep a kosher home besides, should be fully embraced as Jews by the Jewish state. The same can be said for the hundreds of thousands of Russian Jews born and raised in Israel whose Jewishness is similarly denied. (Although we may ask what would rightfully prevent them from undergoing a simple ceremony that would remove any doubt to their status if one was made available to them.)

Still, this is not the simple question of electoral math it is generally portrayed as. Yes, Israeli governments from the founding of the state have included religious parties in order to achieve the necessary majority to govern, and yes it is at the insistence of these forces that David Ben-Gurion acquiesced to the “status quo” agreement of rabbinic control over matters of personal status (i.e. marriage and death) and yeshiva student exemption from military service.

But Ben-Gurion and other powerful Labor Zionist leaders like Berl Katznelson understood as well that these compromises were about more than just seat counting in the Knesset. For a Jewish state raises the question of what its Jewish content is to be. In eliding the question of what is to make Israel Jewish if the deep divisions that separate various Jewish streams are papered over, Kopelow and Beery simplify a problem that cuts to the core of Israel’s definition and that has no easy answers. It is easy enough to say Israel must not be a state governed by the most extreme interpretations of Jewish tradition. It is far harder to articulate a vision for a Jewish state that both resonates with the tradition yet accords to the dramatic realignment of the Jewish condition that modern Jewish political independence represents.

There are smart thoughts being discussed about this question, by Evelyn Gordon and Hadassah Levy in a recent issue of Azure, and perhaps most of all by 2011 Israel Prize winner Ruth Gavison. They point a path toward a solution to a problem that won’t be solved by negation of the haredi position alone. We should be paying closer attention.

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Killing Iranian Scientists is Not Terrorism

While most of the civilized world is taking grim satisfaction from the news about the latest Iranian nuclear scientist to turn up dead, predictably, the hard left is outraged. Salon’s Glenn Greenwald is particularly upset because he recalls that when Glenn Reynolds wrote in 2007 to urge the Bush administration to strike out at the Iranians in this fashion, the suggestion was widely denounced–at least on the left. But though Greenwald is unhappy about the fact that Americans view the possibility their government or its allies are taking out those behind Tehran’s nuclear program, he isn’t shy about labeling it as terrorism. As far as he is concerned, if the U.S. or Israel are behind the killings, then both are “terrorist states” and President Obama may be a “a terrorist, a state sponsor of terrorism or, at the very least, a supporter of terrorism.”

But you need a particular form of moral myopia not to see that heading off a potential second Holocaust in the form of an Iranian nuclear attack on Israel or the nuclear blackmail of the rest of the Middle East is not a form of terrorism. Anyone who believes Iran should be allowed to proceed toward the building of a nuclear bomb has either lost their moral compass or is so steeped in the belief that American and Israeli interests are inherently unjustified they have reversed the moral equation in this case. Rather than the alleged U.S. and Israeli covert operators being called terrorists, it is the Iranian scientists who are the criminals. They must be stopped before they kill.

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While most of the civilized world is taking grim satisfaction from the news about the latest Iranian nuclear scientist to turn up dead, predictably, the hard left is outraged. Salon’s Glenn Greenwald is particularly upset because he recalls that when Glenn Reynolds wrote in 2007 to urge the Bush administration to strike out at the Iranians in this fashion, the suggestion was widely denounced–at least on the left. But though Greenwald is unhappy about the fact that Americans view the possibility their government or its allies are taking out those behind Tehran’s nuclear program, he isn’t shy about labeling it as terrorism. As far as he is concerned, if the U.S. or Israel are behind the killings, then both are “terrorist states” and President Obama may be a “a terrorist, a state sponsor of terrorism or, at the very least, a supporter of terrorism.”

But you need a particular form of moral myopia not to see that heading off a potential second Holocaust in the form of an Iranian nuclear attack on Israel or the nuclear blackmail of the rest of the Middle East is not a form of terrorism. Anyone who believes Iran should be allowed to proceed toward the building of a nuclear bomb has either lost their moral compass or is so steeped in the belief that American and Israeli interests are inherently unjustified they have reversed the moral equation in this case. Rather than the alleged U.S. and Israeli covert operators being called terrorists, it is the Iranian scientists who are the criminals. They must be stopped before they kill.

As far as Greenwald is concerned, the fact that we are not currently at war with Iran renders any attacks on those aiding its effort to build a nuclear weapon illegal, if not outright terrorism. It may be that international law may not necessarily deem preemptive strikes to halt an illegal action — such as Iran’s nuclear efforts — as strictly legal. But the question here is whether it is within President Obama’s power under the Constitution to defend the United States and its allies to order operations that would avert a dangerous and possibly catastrophic development such as putting nuclear weapons into the hands of Iran’s ayatollahs. The argument that the United States must sit back and wait to see if the Iranians succeed in achieving their nuclear ambitions ignores the fact that Iran is a rogue state whose own support of international terrorism has placed it outside the law.

Just as we commonly state that democracy is not a suicide pact, neither is international law. States can and must act, sometimes preemptively, to defend their interests as well as the lives of their citizens. The most immoral thing either Barack Obama or Benjamin Netanyahu could do would be to abide by Greenwald’s notion of the legal niceties rather than to act to stop the Islamist state. It is far from clear covert activities such as assassinations of Iranian scientists or computer viruses will be enough to halt the threat. But the alternatives — either acquiescing to a nuclear Iran or contemplating massive military action — are far less palatable and will certainly result in far more bloodshed. Therefore, the targeted killings of those engaged in the development of this terrible threat is the least destructive option open to either the U.S. or Israel.

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New Intelligence Estimates on Afghanistan

It is perhaps unfair to comment on a document you haven’t read, but then National Intelligence Estimates aren’t typically released to the public. So I have to form my conclusions based on news reports such as this one about the latest NIE on Afghanistan.

At the very least it should put to rest any concerns—or any hopes—that David Petraeus, in his new job as director of Central Intelligence, would adjust the intelligence community’s outlook to be more in line with the military’s. Apparently, if the Los Angeles Times reporting can be believed, the new NIE is just as gloomy as the one last year to which Petraeus, as the top military commander, filed a written dissent. This year his successor, Gen. John Allen, and the U.S. ambassador in Kabul, Ryan Crocker, have filed their own dissents. I trust their judgment a lot more than I do the NIE-writers in Washington. Allen and Crocker are known as straight-shooters and are much more intimately involved in the war effort than are the faraway intelligence analysts who compiled these reports which are meant to reflect a consensus of the intelligence community—something that inevitably produces lowest common denominator thinking.

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It is perhaps unfair to comment on a document you haven’t read, but then National Intelligence Estimates aren’t typically released to the public. So I have to form my conclusions based on news reports such as this one about the latest NIE on Afghanistan.

At the very least it should put to rest any concerns—or any hopes—that David Petraeus, in his new job as director of Central Intelligence, would adjust the intelligence community’s outlook to be more in line with the military’s. Apparently, if the Los Angeles Times reporting can be believed, the new NIE is just as gloomy as the one last year to which Petraeus, as the top military commander, filed a written dissent. This year his successor, Gen. John Allen, and the U.S. ambassador in Kabul, Ryan Crocker, have filed their own dissents. I trust their judgment a lot more than I do the NIE-writers in Washington. Allen and Crocker are known as straight-shooters and are much more intimately involved in the war effort than are the faraway intelligence analysts who compiled these reports which are meant to reflect a consensus of the intelligence community—something that inevitably produces lowest common denominator thinking.

I would not say, as the NIE apparently does, the war effort is mired in a “stalemate.” There has been palpable progress especially in the south, which I have seen with my own eyes. That doesn’t mean this NIE is all wrong. It raises legitimate doubts about the administration’s preferred policies in Afghanistan.

According to the Times, it “asserts that the Afghan government in Kabul may not be able to survive as the U.S. steadily pulls out its troops and reduces military and civilian assistance.” It also says recent offensives “haven’t diminished the Taliban’s will to keep fighting.” Both of those judgments sound credible to me—which is why I find it so incredible that so much hope is once again being placed in peace talks with the Taliban, who are opening an office in Qatar. A negotiated settlement will supposedly enable the U.S. to withdraw our troops by 2014 without risking a collapse in Kabul.

As the NIE makes clear, this is wishful thinking: the Taliban aren’t about to give up, and any settlement they agree to now is more likely to trigger a civil war than to end the fighting.

 

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Santorum’s Principled Stand

The unprincipled and to me, mystifying, lines of attacks being used by Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry against Bain Capital have  provided an opening for someone to speak out in defense of democratic capitalism – and it looks like former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum is taking advantage of it.

Here’s a report from NBC News:

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The unprincipled and to me, mystifying, lines of attacks being used by Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry against Bain Capital have  provided an opening for someone to speak out in defense of democratic capitalism – and it looks like former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum is taking advantage of it.

Here’s a report from NBC News:

Presidential hopeful Rick Santorum on Wednesday hit his Republican rivals for their critiques of frontrunner Mitt Romney’s record at Bain Capital, calling their criticisms of the former Massachusetts governor an attack on capitalism.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Texas Gov. Rick Perry have used Romney’s time at the investment firm to portray him as a business tycoon who fired scores of workers for his own profit. But Santorum likened such attacks to what he called the anti-capitalism rhetoric President Obama has used to attack America’s most financially successful corporate leaders. Rhetoric, Santorum says, that has stalled the economy and put the country’s free market system into question.

“It’s this hostile rhetoric, which unfortunately – I don’t want to stand here and be a defender of Mitt Romney, but unfortunately even some in our party now, even some running for president will engage in with respect to capitalism,” Santorum said to a town hall of nearly 200 people. “It is bad enough for Barack Obama to blame folks in business for causing problems in this country. It’s one other thing for Republicans to join him.”

While others seeking the GOP nomination see Romney’s time at Bain and recent comments that he enjoys the ability to fire people as an opening for political attacks, the former Pennsylvania senator has not piled on. Even when prodded by reporters to take a shot, Santorum instead has only said he believes in the economic model that allows people to be successful.

It is quite amazing; Gingrich and Perry are using anti-free market rhetoric that even Barack Obama would not entertain, if only because of concerns it would paint him as too radical and too anti-capitalist. And now we have a couple of self-proclaimed “Reagan conservatives” venturing into territory not even the most liberal president in American history would dare go.

Politics can do strange things to people, including stripping them of their intellectual integrity.

But politics can also highlight the opposite, which bring us to Santorum. Whatever faults he may have, he is not one given to pandering. His conservative beliefs, many of which are rooted in his religious convictions, are deep and true. Unfortunately, that is more than one can say about the former speaker and the current governor of Texas.

 

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Straddling the Non-Existent Middle

Over at Jewish Ideas Daily this morning, Erika Dreifus writes a cri de coeur of the young American Jewish writer who must somehow make peace with a literary left for whom Israel is far more disgusting and repressive than Burma or North Korea. “In defending Israel, you risk alienating friends, editors, and critics,” she writes. “As open-minded as these ‘liberal or leftist’ circles claim to be, they are as quick as their analogues at the other end of the spectrum to judge and scorn. There is no place for centrists.”

There is no place for centrists, because on the Israel question — the Jewish question of our day — there is no possible “maybe.” Should Israel exist? Should it grant a “right of return” to Palestinian Arabs? Should an armed Palestinian state dedicated to its destruction be founded on its borders? Not even a young American Jewish writer who is afraid of alienating friends, editors, and critics can answer “maybe” to these questions.

And that’s the problem. Too many young Zionists, with the best will of the world, want to stand on both sides of the question. God forbid they alienate their friends or professors or editors! They know — it is the ethos of the literary left — that anyone who speaks a good word for Israel must admit in the same breath, as Dreifus does, that “Israel isn’t perfect.” “I believe that with a little training and lot more study,” she says, “I could do a better job of making a case for Israel, even gaining the ability to acknowledge its flaws publicly.”

Strange, though, that champions of the Palestinian cause never get around to acknowledging its flaws publicly. The first lie of anti-Zionism is that you can criticize Israel without being anti-Zionist. Theoretically, perhaps, you can. But in practice, criticism of Israel never ends with the concession that the Jewish state “isn’t perfect.” It is instead the starting point, the opening salvo, of anti-Zionism.

The American Jewish writer who wishes to “do a better job of making a case for Israel” needs to leave the acknowledgment of its flaws to those who would destroy it. Then she needs to make the case. And the case cannot be made negatively, by simply refusing to associate with Israel’s enemies, but must be made affirmatively, publicly, without stint or hesitation. Dreifus tells how she resigned from the National Book Critics Circle when its blog became “a mouthpiece for criticizing Israel.” She tells how she “declined to join the 2,000 writers, many of them Jewish, who signed an ‘Occupy Writers’ manifesto supporting ‘the Occupy movement around the world,’ ” because of “episodes like ‘Occupy Boston Occupies the Israeli Consulate.’ ” (Then she goes on to criticize me, “COMMENTARY’s chief literary blogger,” for describing the 2,000 Occupy Writers as “useful idiots.”)

Dreifus would like to have it both ways. She would like the esteem and approval of the Occupy Writers, who are nearly unanimous in their implacable hatred of the Jewish state. But she would also like Israel to be publicly defended, just as long as it is defended in a way that is “helpful” and does not embarrass her. As she herself says, though, there are no centrists in this fight. There are only Zionists, anti-Zionists, and the “useful idiots” whose desire to appear “open-minded” and to stand with the angels on the literary left when it comes to every other issue but Israel gives hope and strength to the enemies of the Jewish state.

Over at Jewish Ideas Daily this morning, Erika Dreifus writes a cri de coeur of the young American Jewish writer who must somehow make peace with a literary left for whom Israel is far more disgusting and repressive than Burma or North Korea. “In defending Israel, you risk alienating friends, editors, and critics,” she writes. “As open-minded as these ‘liberal or leftist’ circles claim to be, they are as quick as their analogues at the other end of the spectrum to judge and scorn. There is no place for centrists.”

There is no place for centrists, because on the Israel question — the Jewish question of our day — there is no possible “maybe.” Should Israel exist? Should it grant a “right of return” to Palestinian Arabs? Should an armed Palestinian state dedicated to its destruction be founded on its borders? Not even a young American Jewish writer who is afraid of alienating friends, editors, and critics can answer “maybe” to these questions.

And that’s the problem. Too many young Zionists, with the best will of the world, want to stand on both sides of the question. God forbid they alienate their friends or professors or editors! They know — it is the ethos of the literary left — that anyone who speaks a good word for Israel must admit in the same breath, as Dreifus does, that “Israel isn’t perfect.” “I believe that with a little training and lot more study,” she says, “I could do a better job of making a case for Israel, even gaining the ability to acknowledge its flaws publicly.”

Strange, though, that champions of the Palestinian cause never get around to acknowledging its flaws publicly. The first lie of anti-Zionism is that you can criticize Israel without being anti-Zionist. Theoretically, perhaps, you can. But in practice, criticism of Israel never ends with the concession that the Jewish state “isn’t perfect.” It is instead the starting point, the opening salvo, of anti-Zionism.

The American Jewish writer who wishes to “do a better job of making a case for Israel” needs to leave the acknowledgment of its flaws to those who would destroy it. Then she needs to make the case. And the case cannot be made negatively, by simply refusing to associate with Israel’s enemies, but must be made affirmatively, publicly, without stint or hesitation. Dreifus tells how she resigned from the National Book Critics Circle when its blog became “a mouthpiece for criticizing Israel.” She tells how she “declined to join the 2,000 writers, many of them Jewish, who signed an ‘Occupy Writers’ manifesto supporting ‘the Occupy movement around the world,’ ” because of “episodes like ‘Occupy Boston Occupies the Israeli Consulate.’ ” (Then she goes on to criticize me, “COMMENTARY’s chief literary blogger,” for describing the 2,000 Occupy Writers as “useful idiots.”)

Dreifus would like to have it both ways. She would like the esteem and approval of the Occupy Writers, who are nearly unanimous in their implacable hatred of the Jewish state. But she would also like Israel to be publicly defended, just as long as it is defended in a way that is “helpful” and does not embarrass her. As she herself says, though, there are no centrists in this fight. There are only Zionists, anti-Zionists, and the “useful idiots” whose desire to appear “open-minded” and to stand with the angels on the literary left when it comes to every other issue but Israel gives hope and strength to the enemies of the Jewish state.

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What Happened to Obama’s $1 Billion Campaign?

What happened to President Obama’s $1 billion campaign? Complacency happened, according to Politico. While the Obama campaign is still raising an impressive amount of money, apparently the donations have slowed in the fourth quarter – a problem Obama campaign aides are reportedly blaming on a lack of enthusiasm from supporters:

The Obama campaign and Democratic National Committee raked in a combined $68 million in the fourth quarter, bringing their total 2011 haul to $250 million  — an impressive take but not quite up to the blistering pace set by the Bush-Cheney reelection machine over the same period. …

In 2003, Bush-Cheney, combined with the Republican National Committee, took in about $239 million — or $273 million in today’s inflation-adjusted dollars.

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What happened to President Obama’s $1 billion campaign? Complacency happened, according to Politico. While the Obama campaign is still raising an impressive amount of money, apparently the donations have slowed in the fourth quarter – a problem Obama campaign aides are reportedly blaming on a lack of enthusiasm from supporters:

The Obama campaign and Democratic National Committee raked in a combined $68 million in the fourth quarter, bringing their total 2011 haul to $250 million  — an impressive take but not quite up to the blistering pace set by the Bush-Cheney reelection machine over the same period. …

In 2003, Bush-Cheney, combined with the Republican National Committee, took in about $239 million — or $273 million in today’s inflation-adjusted dollars.

Raising less than Bush-Cheney did in 2003 isn’t necessarily a terrible proposition; the Republicans did break fundraising records for that 2004 campaign. But Obama later broke that record in 2008 with his massive $746 million haul. He’s expected to exceed that number, and fundraising pace, in this year’s election.

But last year’s numbers show he’s not yet on track to break any records. While there were reports his campaign planned to raise more than $1 billion for reelection, his campaign has started to downplay its expectations:

The campaign hopes to raise between $700 million and $800 million before November, campaign officials have said in recent weeks. But they fear they will be rivaled, or even surpassed, by the totals collected by GOP frontrunner Mitt Romney, the Republican National Committee and shadowy pro-GOP super PACs, which are outpacing Democratic independent expenditure groups.

Because enthusiasm for Obama is currently low, Democrats will probably play on their base’s fear of Republican Super PACs to encourage more donations. Of course, it will be more difficult for them to fear-monger on the issue now that Obama has his own super PAC supporting him.

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Romney’s Challenge: Explaining Himself

Defenders of Mitt Romney who think the more sensational attacks on his work at Bain Capital pose the more serious threat to Romney’s candidacy may be focusing their defenses on the wrong target. More treacherous may be a media with such a shallow understanding of finance that Romney risks having to turn his campaign into a lecture series on private equity.

An article in today’s Washington Post is a perfect example. Supposedly in the paper’s “business” section, it offers a peek at what Romney is up against. Here’s a key paragraph, about one of Bain’s success stories, Staples:

Staples became a runaway business success in the 1980s and 1990s because it offered companies a smarter way of purchasing supplies, saving them money. As Staples grew, smaller stationery stores were shuttered. These losses are not counted in Romney’s jobs figure.

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Defenders of Mitt Romney who think the more sensational attacks on his work at Bain Capital pose the more serious threat to Romney’s candidacy may be focusing their defenses on the wrong target. More treacherous may be a media with such a shallow understanding of finance that Romney risks having to turn his campaign into a lecture series on private equity.

An article in today’s Washington Post is a perfect example. Supposedly in the paper’s “business” section, it offers a peek at what Romney is up against. Here’s a key paragraph, about one of Bain’s success stories, Staples:

Staples became a runaway business success in the 1980s and 1990s because it offered companies a smarter way of purchasing supplies, saving them money. As Staples grew, smaller stationery stores were shuttered. These losses are not counted in Romney’s jobs figure.

That last sentence is rather stunning, considering this is a business reporter. Of course job losses in companies Romney had nothing to do with are not included in Romney’s jobs figure. Blaming successful companies for being more successful than their competitors would be a very silly approach to evaluating businesses. But how does Romney refute this without (a) sounding like the enemy of mom and pop shops or (b) explaining that he’s not responsible for those job losses, only other job losses?

Likewise, Kevin Williamson has a post at National Review effectively refuting the suggestion that Bain took a bailout from the FDIC. What actually happened was that after Romney had essentially saved the company from bad management, some creditors, including a bank that had since been taken over by the FDIC, agreed to write down some of the debt. Here’s Williamson explaining the difference:

The free-market purists among you might believe that there should be no such thing as an FDIC, but that is, at this point, a philosophical question. The FDIC, as I have argued in National Review, is the best-performing financial regulator we have, and what it does is the opposite of bailing out institutions. Bailouts are retrospective, cooked up after a company gets into trouble. What the FDIC does is prospective, ensuring that banks can cover their deposits and providing insurance in case of insolvency. Bailouts involve transferring taxpayers’ money to banks; the FDIC charges banks a fee (essentially an insurance premium) for its services. It is, in other words, exactly the kind of institution we wish we had in place to prevent bailouts. The FDIC is not perfect, but it gets the job done.

Not exactly the stuff of rousing campaign rallies, but there it is. This type of misunderstanding is much more difficult to refute than, say, some of the appalling insinuations in the half-hour Bain video Gingrich has been distributing. My favorite line from the movie trailer has to be from this exchange:

Unidentified Woman A: “He’s for small businesses? No he isn’t. He’s not.”

Unidentified Woman B: “You’re gonna be on the hit list, you know that?”

Yes, that’s right: the trailer for Gingrich’s video approvingly quotes people warning of Romney Death Squads lurking in the shadows to silence any criticism of his business practices. Something tells me this will be easier to disprove than accusations the FDIC partially bailed out some Bain debt or that Romney is responsible for job losses at companies he never managed.

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Newt Backing Off of Bain Criticism?

Apparently realizing he may have gone too far, Newt Gingrich started backing off his attacks on Mitt Romney’s record at Bain at a book-signing yesterday. And on Fox News this morning he defended himself from charges that he’s anti-capitalist:

A defensive Newt Gingrich, under fire from all sides for his attacks against Mitt Romney’s experience at Bain Capital, shot back at his critics Thursday morning, insisting that he was going after a “very specific case” involving his rival — not capitalism in general.

“It’s legitimate to ask the question — and this is the whole Wall Street problem — how come the big boys made a lot of money and [others] went broke?” Gingrich said on Fox News. “And that’s not an attack on capitalism. That’s not an issue about the whole capitalist system. That is a question about a very particular style of activity involving a very particular person.”

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Apparently realizing he may have gone too far, Newt Gingrich started backing off his attacks on Mitt Romney’s record at Bain at a book-signing yesterday. And on Fox News this morning he defended himself from charges that he’s anti-capitalist:

A defensive Newt Gingrich, under fire from all sides for his attacks against Mitt Romney’s experience at Bain Capital, shot back at his critics Thursday morning, insisting that he was going after a “very specific case” involving his rival — not capitalism in general.

“It’s legitimate to ask the question — and this is the whole Wall Street problem — how come the big boys made a lot of money and [others] went broke?” Gingrich said on Fox News. “And that’s not an attack on capitalism. That’s not an issue about the whole capitalist system. That is a question about a very particular style of activity involving a very particular person.”

Gingrich won’t come right out and say the attacks were wrong. But it’s hard to believe he will keep up his Bain criticism at the same pace after the massive blowback he’s received from conservatives. Politico reports the newest commercial from the pro-Gingrich Super PAC is actually a positive ad, which seems to suggest the group is dropping the Bain attacks, at least for now.

But then again, Gingrich has no incentive to necessarily stand by and support the 27-minute attack on Bain Capital released by the pro-Gingrich Super PAC. The film is already out, voters are already viewing it, the media’s already covering it, and any damage it will cause Romney is already well on its way. That’s not to mention the spectacular footage of Gingrich and Rick Perry slamming Romney for destructive business practices and “vulture capitalism” that are sure to feature prominently in Obama campaign ads if Romney gets the nomination.

If Gingrich had started to back away from the attacks before the film was released, the media would have probably pressed him on whether he would ask the Super PAC to stop it from going public. Now, Gingrich doesn’t have to worry about that. By distancing himself from the Bain hit film now, he’s hoping he can have it both ways.

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DNC Chair Calls for Civility … While Blaming Tea Party for Giffords Shooting

The anniversary of the tragic shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords has thankfully produced little of the partisan name-calling that the event initially provoked among Democrats. But you knew we could count on Democratic National Committee chair Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz to provide a counterpoint to the general note of civility that has prevailed in the commemorations. In a speech in New Hampshire yesterday, the DNC leader blamed the Tea Party movement for the level of anger in public discourse and had the gall to implicitly link it to the Giffords shooting:

“We need to make sure that we tone things down, particularly in light of the Tucson tragedy from a year ago, where my very good friend, Gabby Giffords — who is doing really well, by the way — [was shot].” … I’ll tell you. I hesitate to place blame, but I have noticed it takes a very precipitous turn towards edginess and lack of civility with the growth of the Tea Party movement.”

Many liberals initially tried to blame the Tea Party or Sarah Palin or anybody else they could think of on the right for the shooting. But once it was established that the perpetrator was an apolitical lunatic, they quickly dropped that ploy though few, if any, apologized. It takes a special kind of chutzpah to dredge this nastiness up a year later and to do it while calling for more civility in politics.

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The anniversary of the tragic shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords has thankfully produced little of the partisan name-calling that the event initially provoked among Democrats. But you knew we could count on Democratic National Committee chair Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz to provide a counterpoint to the general note of civility that has prevailed in the commemorations. In a speech in New Hampshire yesterday, the DNC leader blamed the Tea Party movement for the level of anger in public discourse and had the gall to implicitly link it to the Giffords shooting:

“We need to make sure that we tone things down, particularly in light of the Tucson tragedy from a year ago, where my very good friend, Gabby Giffords — who is doing really well, by the way — [was shot].” … I’ll tell you. I hesitate to place blame, but I have noticed it takes a very precipitous turn towards edginess and lack of civility with the growth of the Tea Party movement.”

Many liberals initially tried to blame the Tea Party or Sarah Palin or anybody else they could think of on the right for the shooting. But once it was established that the perpetrator was an apolitical lunatic, they quickly dropped that ploy though few, if any, apologized. It takes a special kind of chutzpah to dredge this nastiness up a year later and to do it while calling for more civility in politics.

Wasserman Schultz claims the Tea Party coarsened American politics and its adherents don’t merely disagree with liberals but treat them as “the enemy” and calls them “liars.” No doubt some Tea Partiers have used some rough language about their opponents, but given her own long record of attempting to demonize Republicans, does anyone really think the DNC chair is in any position to call them out for it? While one expects a party hack in her position to be a font of hyper-partisan verbal warfare, for her to carry out such attacks while posing as an advocate for good manners is comically outrageous. Her career is a standing rebuke to the notion that bad behavior in politics is strictly a conservative phenomenon.

That she would do it in the months after the emergence of the Occupy Wall Street movement, a leftist protest phenomenon that has injected–with the help of its liberal Democratic allies and cheerleaders such as President Obama and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi–a heightened spirit of class warfare into the public square, merely adds to the hypocrisy. In 2010, the Democrats tried and failed to portray the Tea Party, a genuine grass roots movement of taxpayers, as an assault on democracy. There’s little doubt they will try again in 2012.

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Russia Resets Relations… With Syria

Well, the Obama administration may still believe its reset policy has a chance with Russia. Indeed, during his swearing-in as the new U.S. ambassador to Russia, Michael McFaul reiterated that the reset is not over. (Alas, as with Ambassador Jeffrey Feltman, who stood down Syria during Lebanon’s Cedar Revolution, only to be ordered to fete Damascus by Secretary Clinton, it seems the Obama administration specializes in nominating great people and then giving them horrendous instructions).

While Washington grovels, Vladimir Putin, however, seems to have another reset in mind: with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. A Russian cargo ship laden with arms has reportedly just docked in Syria in order to resupply Assad’s troops as they try to restore control after a popular uprising. The resupply effort comes after this weekend’s port call by a Russian aircraft carrier in Syria.

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Well, the Obama administration may still believe its reset policy has a chance with Russia. Indeed, during his swearing-in as the new U.S. ambassador to Russia, Michael McFaul reiterated that the reset is not over. (Alas, as with Ambassador Jeffrey Feltman, who stood down Syria during Lebanon’s Cedar Revolution, only to be ordered to fete Damascus by Secretary Clinton, it seems the Obama administration specializes in nominating great people and then giving them horrendous instructions).

While Washington grovels, Vladimir Putin, however, seems to have another reset in mind: with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. A Russian cargo ship laden with arms has reportedly just docked in Syria in order to resupply Assad’s troops as they try to restore control after a popular uprising. The resupply effort comes after this weekend’s port call by a Russian aircraft carrier in Syria.

Putin’s embrace of Assad suggests the absurdity of trying to corral Russia into any international coalition against Iran and its nuclear program. Putin sees foreign relations as a zero-sum game with absolutely no room for morality. He is the Russian Stephen Walt, only with dictatorial power. Obama’s over-reliance on the United Nations Security Council under these circumstances is strategic malpractice of the worst kind. The only reset the State Department needs is to dispense with the assumption diplomacy will work with insincere partners.

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Mr. Secretary? Bolton Backs Romney Despite Gingrich Promise

A month ago, Newt Gingrich pleased Jewish conservatives when, during his address to the Republican Jewish Coalition’s presidential forum, he promised to make former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton his secretary of state. But the offer of the State Department wasn’t enough to entice Bolton to return the favor and endorse Gingrich’s presidential ambitions. Last night, Bolton told FOX News he was backing Mitt Romney.

Bolton said he was “following the William F. Buckley test” in backing the most conservative candidate who can get elected, which he believes is Romney. Since, in his view, the re-election of Barack Obama would be a disaster for U.S. foreign as well as domestic policy, Romney presents the best chance for Republicans to avert that possibility.

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A month ago, Newt Gingrich pleased Jewish conservatives when, during his address to the Republican Jewish Coalition’s presidential forum, he promised to make former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton his secretary of state. But the offer of the State Department wasn’t enough to entice Bolton to return the favor and endorse Gingrich’s presidential ambitions. Last night, Bolton told FOX News he was backing Mitt Romney.

Bolton said he was “following the William F. Buckley test” in backing the most conservative candidate who can get elected, which he believes is Romney. Since, in his view, the re-election of Barack Obama would be a disaster for U.S. foreign as well as domestic policy, Romney presents the best chance for Republicans to avert that possibility.

At the time that he spoke of making Bolton his secretary of state, Gingrich admitted he hadn’t made the offer in person. Bolton said he was flattered but declined to back the former speaker’s campaign.

Bolton toyed with a presidential run himself but eventually rightly decided he had little chance. As for Romney’s conservative bona fides, Bolton said he “was conservative enough for me.” Bolton conceded there was little difference between the foreign policy stances enunciated between his choice and that of Gingrich and even Rick Santorum or Rick Perry. But he praised Romney’s belief in American exceptionalism and his support for revitalizing America’s military might. According to the Daily Caller, Romney has praised Bolton’s ideas for reorganizing the State Department.

Asked by Greta van Susteren as to what was Obama’s biggest foreign policy mistake, Bolton answered without hesitation that it was his failure to adequately deal with the threat of a nuclear Iran.

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Egypt’s New Rulers Sacrifice Revenue on the Altar of Their Anti-Israel Vendetta

Scarcely a day goes by without some pundit or diplomat proclaiming that we shouldn’t worry about Islamists’ electoral victories in places like Egypt and Tunisia, because they will soon be moderated by the demands of governance – primarily, the need for economic development to improve their voters’ lives. Unfortunately, Egypt’s new rulers don’t seem to have gotten the message: This week, they canceled an annual trip by Israeli pilgrims to the grave of a Jewish sage.

In other words, they announced that pandering to anti-Israel sentiment is higher priority than reviving Egypt’s battered tourism industry, its second-largest revenue source after expatriate remittances: Not only are they forgoing the revenues this particular trip would bring (550 Israelis went last year, and more would likely have joined had Cairo not capped the delegation’s size), but they are even willing to endanger future revenues from other sources by using an excuse certain to deter other tourists: that Egypt’s “political and security situation” makes it impossible to guarantee the pilgrims’ safety.

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Scarcely a day goes by without some pundit or diplomat proclaiming that we shouldn’t worry about Islamists’ electoral victories in places like Egypt and Tunisia, because they will soon be moderated by the demands of governance – primarily, the need for economic development to improve their voters’ lives. Unfortunately, Egypt’s new rulers don’t seem to have gotten the message: This week, they canceled an annual trip by Israeli pilgrims to the grave of a Jewish sage.

In other words, they announced that pandering to anti-Israel sentiment is higher priority than reviving Egypt’s battered tourism industry, its second-largest revenue source after expatriate remittances: Not only are they forgoing the revenues this particular trip would bring (550 Israelis went last year, and more would likely have joined had Cairo not capped the delegation’s size), but they are even willing to endanger future revenues from other sources by using an excuse certain to deter other tourists: that Egypt’s “political and security situation” makes it impossible to guarantee the pilgrims’ safety.

Technically, this decision was made by the transitional military government. But the Muslim Brotherhood, winner of the recent elections, is the one that led the drive to cancel the pilgrimage, terming it “unacceptable legally and politically.” The Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party reportedly organized a human chain to stop the “Zionists” from reaching the grave of Rabbi Yaakov Abuhatzeira in Damanhur; it also issued open threats against the pilgrims: Brotherhood official Gamal Heshmat declared the pilgrimage would be a “suicide mission” for the Israelis.

In fairness, however, it’s not just the Brotherhood that deems hostility toward Israel higher priority than economic development: The Egyptian media reported that 31 parties and organizations joined the campaign against the pilgrimage, including the one led by former International Atomic Energy Agency director Mohammed ElBaradei, a darling of the West.

According to Egypt’s official statistics agency, CAPMAS, the country suffered a 35 percent drop in tourist arrivals and a 26 percent drop in overnight hotel stays during the first nine months of 2011. Given tourism’s importance to the economy, one would think reversing this decline would be the new rulers’ top priority. But clearly, it comes a distant second to pursuing their anti-Israel vendetta.

Nor is this decision a fluke: The same order of priorities could be seen in September’s decision to ban exports of palm fronds (a crucial component of the lulav, a ritual object used on the Jewish holiday of Sukkot) not only to Israel, but to Jewish communities worldwide. Once again, an opportunity to earn foreign currency was trumped by anti-Israel and anti-Jewish sentiment.

This order of priorities should deeply worry both Israel and the West, because the same pundits have been claiming the need for economic development will also force the Muslim Brotherhood to uphold the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty. But if Egypt’s new rulers are so eager to sacrifice desperately needed revenue on the altar of their anti-Israel vendetta, it’s far from certain they wouldn’t be willing to sacrifice peace as well.

 

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Portrait of Palestinian Democracy — 2012

If anything, the portrait of Palestinian democracy is worse than last year. This week, Mahmoud Abbas began the eighth year of his four-year term of office, still unable to set foot in half his quasi-state, now in its fifth year in the hands of the terrorist group he promised to dismantle, with whom he is currently reconciling (for the third time).

He rules by decree, because there is no functioning legislature. He cancelled local elections in his own half-state again, ignoring the order of the Palestinian “High Court.” Both haves of the putative state are one-party police states. Last May, elections were promised for this May, in an effort to persuade the UN that Palestinians were ready for a state; the elections will not likely occur unless Fatah and Hamas can agree beforehand on who will win what. Abbas is periodically dragged to talk to Israel, but he lacks a mandate to make the concessions necessary for a state, much less the ability to implement them. He cannot make the minimal promise required for a two-state solution — that a Palestinian state will recognize a Jewish one.

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If anything, the portrait of Palestinian democracy is worse than last year. This week, Mahmoud Abbas began the eighth year of his four-year term of office, still unable to set foot in half his quasi-state, now in its fifth year in the hands of the terrorist group he promised to dismantle, with whom he is currently reconciling (for the third time).

He rules by decree, because there is no functioning legislature. He cancelled local elections in his own half-state again, ignoring the order of the Palestinian “High Court.” Both haves of the putative state are one-party police states. Last May, elections were promised for this May, in an effort to persuade the UN that Palestinians were ready for a state; the elections will not likely occur unless Fatah and Hamas can agree beforehand on who will win what. Abbas is periodically dragged to talk to Israel, but he lacks a mandate to make the concessions necessary for a state, much less the ability to implement them. He cannot make the minimal promise required for a two-state solution — that a Palestinian state will recognize a Jewish one.

In Statecraft, published in the first part of 2008, Dennis Ross described Abbas as someone who “acted as if avoiding decisions rather than making them was his objective” and whose strength was “not his decision-making instinct.” Later that year, Abbas received an offer of a state on land equivalent to the entire West Bank (after swaps) and Gaza, with a safe-passage corridor between them, and a capital in Jerusalem — and walked away. The memoirs of both George Bush and Condoleezza Rice make it clear his decision was a considered one.

When you get three offers of a state in less than ten years, and turn all three down (the modern equivalent of the “Three Nos”), the problem is deeper than what Abbas disingenuously describes as the “Long Overdue Palestinian State.” It does not relate to the specifics of the offers, or to an alleged deficiency in decision-making instincts. The problem is an inherent inability to recognize a Jewish state, or defensible borders, or an end-of-claims agreement — and the inherent instability of a society that still lacks even the minimal institutions necessary for a democratic state.

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Has Gingrich Eclipsed Santorum?

More than a week after Rick Santorum appeared to be emerging as the leading conservative in the Republican presidential race, a new poll in South Carolina shows that the former Pennsylvania senator’s Iowa momentum has more or less collapsed. The latest survey of that state’s voters shows Santorum falling far behind Newt Gingrich in the race for second place. The poll also seems to indicate that the massive infusion of money into Gingrich’s campaign by casino mogul Sheldon Adelson may have helped turn South Carolina into a two-man race between the former speaker and frontrunner Mitt Romney. The Insider Advantage/Majority Opinion Research poll conducted for the Augusta Chronicle and the Savannah Morning News released Wednesday shows Romney in the lead in South Carolina with 23 percent but Gingrich close behind him in second with 21 percent. Santorum is not only a distant third with 13.5 percent but is holding onto that spot by only two-tenths of a percentage point over Ron Paul.

Gingrich’s mini-surge in the Palmetto state will probably be attributed to the vicious attacks his campaign has launched on Romney’s business record. It is no small irony that this assault, framed in a manner usually associated with the left’s distaste for free enterprise, may be allowing Gingrich to claim the mantle as the conservative alternative to the supposedly more moderate Romney. Meanwhile, Santorum, who had hoped after Iowa to emerge as the choice of the right, seems to be dropping back in the pack.

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More than a week after Rick Santorum appeared to be emerging as the leading conservative in the Republican presidential race, a new poll in South Carolina shows that the former Pennsylvania senator’s Iowa momentum has more or less collapsed. The latest survey of that state’s voters shows Santorum falling far behind Newt Gingrich in the race for second place. The poll also seems to indicate that the massive infusion of money into Gingrich’s campaign by casino mogul Sheldon Adelson may have helped turn South Carolina into a two-man race between the former speaker and frontrunner Mitt Romney. The Insider Advantage/Majority Opinion Research poll conducted for the Augusta Chronicle and the Savannah Morning News released Wednesday shows Romney in the lead in South Carolina with 23 percent but Gingrich close behind him in second with 21 percent. Santorum is not only a distant third with 13.5 percent but is holding onto that spot by only two-tenths of a percentage point over Ron Paul.

Gingrich’s mini-surge in the Palmetto state will probably be attributed to the vicious attacks his campaign has launched on Romney’s business record. It is no small irony that this assault, framed in a manner usually associated with the left’s distaste for free enterprise, may be allowing Gingrich to claim the mantle as the conservative alternative to the supposedly more moderate Romney. Meanwhile, Santorum, who had hoped after Iowa to emerge as the choice of the right, seems to be dropping back in the pack.

With nine days to go until the crucial South Carolina primary, the race there is still very much in flux. Had conservatives been able to unite around one candidate, there’s little doubt that person would have an edge there over Romney. But with Rick Perry still lingering in the race, albeit in last place with just five percent where he trails even Jon Huntsman, Gingrich and Santorum are locked in a tough battle for social conservatives and Tea Partiers. There was some thought after Gingrich’s disastrous performance in Iowa that he would continue to fade. But Santorum has failed to capitalize on his momentum.

Adelson’s support has enabled a pro-Gingrich super PAC to broadcast a documentary portraying Romney as a rapacious corporate raider who put innocent people out of work. That the man claiming to be the “true conservative” in the race would allow this sort of leftist agitprop to be used in his name has led many conservatives to attack Gingrich’s judgment. But though it may wind up hurting him more than it does Romney, the tactic may have served to help separate Gingrich from Santorum just at the moment when it seemed the latter would emerge as the only Republican who could possibly stop the frontrunner. To his credit, Santorum has refused to engage in the sort of attacks on Romney that Gingrich and Perry have used. But his scruples may have allowed Gingrich to eclipse him at a crucial moment for his candidacy. As I wrote yesterday, Gingrich has conceded that the attacks on Romney are wrong, but with his super PAC’s ads still slotted to run, he may hope to continue to reap the advantages of the slurs on his competitor while disassociating himself from them.

Other polls have shown Romney to be in a stronger position in South Carolina than this one survey indicates. But the basic equation of the race remains the same. So long as those opposed to Romney are splitting their votes between Gingrich, Santorum and Perry, the frontrunner is likely to squeak out yet another victory as he did in Iowa. Though Adelson’s cash may allow Gingrich to stay in the race, unless Santorum finds a way to catch up with the former speaker, South Carolina will be his last stand.

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