Commentary Magazine


Posts For: January 16, 2012

Romney Running Out the Clock as Rivals Go Down Fighting

With only five days left until the crucial South Carolina primary, Mitt Romney’s Republican rivals know that time is running out for them to catch up with the frontrunner. So it was little surprise that Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum and Rick Perry came out fighting at the Fox News/Wall Street Journal debate in Myrtle Beach. The result was a lively two hours of sharp exchanges between the candidates that made for better television than almost all of the 15 GOP debates that preceded it. But although Romney spent most of the night trying to fend off attacks and Gingrich, Santorum and even Perry all had strong performances, the evening ended as it began with the former Massachusetts governor still in position to put a stranglehold on the nomination with a victory in South Carolina.

Romney took hits on his business record and his record of flip-flopping throughout the debate. But as he has done in most of the earlier debates, he kept his cool and responded strongly when he got the chance. Though he was not able to spend as much time attacking President Obama as he liked, Romney still emerges as the victor if for no other reason than the fact that his invigorated opponents are all still splitting the conservative vote, making it nearly impossible for any one of them to catch the leader.

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With only five days left until the crucial South Carolina primary, Mitt Romney’s Republican rivals know that time is running out for them to catch up with the frontrunner. So it was little surprise that Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum and Rick Perry came out fighting at the Fox News/Wall Street Journal debate in Myrtle Beach. The result was a lively two hours of sharp exchanges between the candidates that made for better television than almost all of the 15 GOP debates that preceded it. But although Romney spent most of the night trying to fend off attacks and Gingrich, Santorum and even Perry all had strong performances, the evening ended as it began with the former Massachusetts governor still in position to put a stranglehold on the nomination with a victory in South Carolina.

Romney took hits on his business record and his record of flip-flopping throughout the debate. But as he has done in most of the earlier debates, he kept his cool and responded strongly when he got the chance. Though he was not able to spend as much time attacking President Obama as he liked, Romney still emerges as the victor if for no other reason than the fact that his invigorated opponents are all still splitting the conservative vote, making it nearly impossible for any one of them to catch the leader.

Newt Gingrich started out poorly, having to play some defense of his own as he was pressed about his super PAC-funded assault on Romney’s business record. The issue is a loser and allows Romney to win conservative plaudits by standing up for free enterprise against an attack from the left.  But as the evening wore on, Gingrich found his own voice as he scored on the importance of teaching kids to work and on foreign policy, reminding us of how he once rode strong debate performances to a brief stint as the frontrunner.

But Santorum was just as good if not better as Gingrich as the former senator pressed Romney closely on the issues. The same could be said of Rick Perry, who delivered what was probably his best showing in any of the debates, sounding especially eloquent in defense of American servicemen. But coming as it did with his campaign on life support, the only one to benefit from it will probably be Romney, who is counting on the Texas governor drawing off enough votes to make sure that neither Gingrich nor Santorum can achieve an upset.

All three might plausibly expect a slight spike in the polls this week as a result of the debate, but if so, it can only help Romney. With Romney way out in front nationally as well as in the South Carolina polls, the only way any of his rivals can possibly catch him is if the other two collapse. That accounts for the fact that the Gingrich-Santorum non-aggression pact that seemed to characterize their attitudes since Iowa appears to be finished. But with all three showing signs of life, there’s simply no way any one of them can emerge as the single “non-Romney” in the race.

As for Ron Paul, he once again provided some fireworks and a chance for the others to agree as his absurd and inconsistent isolationist stands rightly earned him the scorn of the rest of the field.

But no issue, not even that of the Romney super PAC’s misleading ads, was enough to floor the frontrunner. Though his opponents found their voices, he stayed cool and for the most part answered their attacks easily, even turning the issue of his ads around to launch a well-thought out attack on the liberal “reforms” of campaign finance that made super PACs a way of life. So long as he is able to keep a cool and confident air about him and his opponents are dividing the conservative vote, Romney will have little to worry about this weekend in South Carolina. Even on a night when his rivals bested him from time to time, Romney was able to run out the clock on the debate–leaving his nomination still looking as if it is inevitable.

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Live Blog: The GOP Debate

The debate ends: More winners than losers.  Gingrich, Santorum and Perry all did well. Romney took punches but none did much damage. That means frontrunner leaves the stage still in a commanding position.

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Romney scores with attack on McCain-Feingold. Super PAC ads are the fruit of campaign finance “reform.”

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Romney: Gingrich’s super PAC-funded documentary about Bain is the biggest hoax since Bigfoot.

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Gingrich nails Romney again on super PAC ads. Of course, his own super PACs have been just as bad.

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Santorum: Ron Paul’s vote on gun manufacturers liability law would have wiped out 2nd amendment.

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Romney says pro-gun groups backed the gun control law he signed. Turns it around and attacks Obama as an anti-gun president. Santorum says NRA agreed with him too.

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Looks like the Santorum-Gingrich non-aggression pact is over.

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The debate ends: More winners than losers.  Gingrich, Santorum and Perry all did well. Romney took punches but none did much damage. That means frontrunner leaves the stage still in a commanding position.

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Romney scores with attack on McCain-Feingold. Super PAC ads are the fruit of campaign finance “reform.”

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Romney: Gingrich’s super PAC-funded documentary about Bain is the biggest hoax since Bigfoot.

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Gingrich nails Romney again on super PAC ads. Of course, his own super PACs have been just as bad.

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Santorum: Ron Paul’s vote on gun manufacturers liability law would have wiped out 2nd amendment.

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Romney says pro-gun groups backed the gun control law he signed. Turns it around and attacks Obama as an anti-gun president. Santorum says NRA agreed with him too.

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Looks like the Santorum-Gingrich non-aggression pact is over.

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Santorum says Romney’s and Gingrich’s plans are not bold enough. Says Gingrich’s idea about guaranteed private accounts won’t work in a down economy. Says it’s fiscal insanity.

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Gingrich puts on his historian hat and talks Chilean social security. Again, this is Newt at his best.

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Romney lays out Ryanesque proposal for Medicare and Social Security reform. Closes by saying you also repeal Obamacare.

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Perry’s probably giving his strongest debate yet. Too bad for him it comes when his campaign is on life support.

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Paulbots boo Romney for saying Americans that join al Qaeda should be treated as enemy combatants. Shows how out of touch his isolationist fans are.

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Perry brings up question of Marines urinating on Taliban and makes strong point about supporting the military and Obama admin’s failure to do so.

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Perry criticizes Turkey. But then scores with comment that moderators need a gong to deal with Paul’s comments about bin Laden killing.

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Santorum says US should isolate Syria and Assad, not Israel. Foreign policy remains one of his strong points.

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Romney says Biden is wrong about negotiating with Taliban. Don’t negotiate with anyone while they’re killing US soldiers.

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Romney chimes in with Romney and says the best thing for terrorists who kill Americans is the bullet in the head that bin Laden received.

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Gingrich calls out Paul for comparing bin Laden to a Chinese dissident. Not a rational position. About time somebody said Paul wasn’t rational. Says Andy Jackson knew what to do with the enemy: kill them! Great applause line. Paul replies that the golden rule should apply to national defense. No wonder he’s doing better with Dems than Republicans.

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Ron Paul called out for opposing killing of Osama bin Laden. He claims he was for it but opposed violation of Pakistani sovereignty. And then makes an analogy between the U.S. and Communist China. Another crazy Paul contradiction. Thinks bin Laden should have been captured with help of Pakistanis? Not a serious position.

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Gingrich called on his comments about minority kids needing to learn to work. Refuses to accept that it’s racist to say it. Another good moment for him. He says Obama is the food stamps president. Gingrich rhetoric hearkens back to GOP’s best moments in welfare reform debate of the 90s. Juan Williams attack was a break for Newt.

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Paul gets to talk about the drug war being bad. This is what his core supporters want to hear: legalize dope!

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Santorum scores again with family values argument. This is his strength.

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Romney’s position on the Dream Act is wrong and does hurt the GOP with Hispanics. But his position that illegals shouldn’t gain an advantage is hard to argue with.

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Romney says he’ll release his tax records in April. That will probably be the end of it.

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Paul tries to argue that cutting defense will strengthen defense. Impossible argument. But his fans love the isolationism. They ignore his gaffe about the spending on our embassy in Iraq. It’s paid for by the State Dept. budget, not DOD.

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Romney gets to talk about getting government out of the economy. This is his wheelhouse and enables him to start attacking Obama which is what he wants to do.

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Gingrich talks about the GOP being for work. He’s always at his best when he’s attacking Democrats, not Republicans.

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Rick Santorum takes on sacred cow of extending unemployment insurance. Excellent point that will be demagogued by Dems.

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Juan Williams asks about Obama administration’s attempt to attack voter ID laws and frames it as an attack on voting rights. Perry will have none of it as Gov. Nikki Haley applauds in the audience. Good moment for Perry.

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So are the quotes about Huntsman’s flip-flop on Romney aimed at Romney or Huntsman? His story about his change of mind about abortion sounds good. Of course, the truth is not quite that simple.

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At the first break, Rommey taking all the punches but I doubt that being vindicated on felon voting rights will make the difference for Santorum. But he’s not going down without a fight. Gingrich sounded defensive on Bain. Perry incoherent on everything.

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Santorum making a meal out of super PAC ad. Romney stays calm. Perry then chimes in with states rights argument that gets cheers but is really beside the point.

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Santorum calls out Romney for his super PAC ad about voting rights. Romney doesn’t have a good answer and then Santorum mentions more liberal Mass. law. Good moment for Santorum.

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Ron Paul says nothing wrong with negative advertising as long as it’s true. Can’t argue with that. But Santorum answers back that Paul is quoting leftist groups that aren’t credible.

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Romney’s blames China and their unfair trade practices for failed steel company. He had to be thinking of Huntsman.

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Perry’s not afraid to dive into the Bain pool. But the contradiction between his anti-regulatory position and his attack on Romney is pretty obvious. Mentions steel that Bain invested in that failed. Does he think viewers don’t know that the decline of American steel didn’t have much to do with Romney.

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Romney’s answer: I had experience turning around tough situations. He sounds relaxed confident. Gingrich tense, tight, defensive. No mystery about who’s way ahead in the polls.

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The longer Gingrich is talking about his Michael Moore-type slams at Romney, the worse it is for him.

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First question: Gingrich gets called on leftist attack on Romney. Gingrich’s answer: unilateral disarmament isn’t the answer. True but the reason why his attacks boomeranged was because he attacked from the left while claiming to be the true conservative.

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Now the candidates will get one minute and thirty seconds for their answers. I guess that should make all the difference.

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For once the applause at the debates isn’t skewed toward Ron Paul. Looks like the other campaigns got their supporters into the hall in sufficient numbers.

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Watching FOX while waiting for the debate to begin, Karl Rove makes a good point that Newt Gingrich actually helped unify a lot of conservatives behind Mitt Romney by attacking his business record. The law of unintended consequences prevails again.

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Live Blogging the GOP Debate Tonight

Join us tonight as senior online editor Jonathan S. Tobin live blogs the latest Republican presidential debate from South Carolina. So tune in to Fox News at 9 pm and then log on to Commentarymagazine.com for live insights as the remaining five GOP contenders have at it once again.

Join us tonight as senior online editor Jonathan S. Tobin live blogs the latest Republican presidential debate from South Carolina. So tune in to Fox News at 9 pm and then log on to Commentarymagazine.com for live insights as the remaining five GOP contenders have at it once again.

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Debate Preview: Just Five Left Standing

With Jon Huntsman joining Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain and Tim Pawlenty on the sidelines of the Republican presidential race, the stage at tonight’s FOX News/Wall Street Journal debate in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina will be a bit less crowded than the previous episodes of America’s favorite political reality show. That may allow the moderators to ask more questions but it will raise the stakes for the five men still left standing. With polls showing Mitt Romney’s lead growing in both South Carolina as well as nationally, this debate and the one on CNN on Thursday will provide his opponents with what may well be their last meaningful chances to alter the outcome of the race.

That means Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum and Rick Perry are probably going to be aiming most of their fire at the frontrunner rather than each other. But unlike the attacks on Gingrich’s records that seemed to derail his campaign in Iowa, the attempt by the former speaker and the Texas governor to blast Romney’s business record from a left-wing perspective seems to have backfired. Though there are other avenues of attack, it remains to been seen whether anything they can say in these last five days can alter the course of a primary that may anoint Romney as the inevitable nominee.

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With Jon Huntsman joining Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain and Tim Pawlenty on the sidelines of the Republican presidential race, the stage at tonight’s FOX News/Wall Street Journal debate in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina will be a bit less crowded than the previous episodes of America’s favorite political reality show. That may allow the moderators to ask more questions but it will raise the stakes for the five men still left standing. With polls showing Mitt Romney’s lead growing in both South Carolina as well as nationally, this debate and the one on CNN on Thursday will provide his opponents with what may well be their last meaningful chances to alter the outcome of the race.

That means Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum and Rick Perry are probably going to be aiming most of their fire at the frontrunner rather than each other. But unlike the attacks on Gingrich’s records that seemed to derail his campaign in Iowa, the attempt by the former speaker and the Texas governor to blast Romney’s business record from a left-wing perspective seems to have backfired. Though there are other avenues of attack, it remains to been seen whether anything they can say in these last five days can alter the course of a primary that may anoint Romney as the inevitable nominee.

The other point that bears watching is whether this right-wing trio will give up on Romney and instead take shots at each other. The fact remains that Romney’s strength is in large measure the function of a divided conservative field. Had any two of the three withdrawn after Iowa or even New Hampshire that might have given the survivor an even chance to defeat Romney. But with Gingrich and Santorum scrapping over the conservative vote and Perry hanging on in last place, the odds of any one of them finishing first in South Carolina are slim.

After South Carolina, it is likely that the GOP lineup will again be pruned. While Ron Paul can be counted on to make his extremist case and largely dismiss or ignore his opponents, Gingrich, Santorum and Perry must choose whether to fire on each other or on Romney. But with the frontrunner already focused on Barack Obama and the November election, tonight’s show is one of the last chances the others have to make their cases.

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Say Goodnight, Newt

Here are two sentences that buttress the argument of those of us who said Newt Gingrich was temperamentally unfit to be president by virtue of his chronic indiscipline, erratic style and lack of philosophical grounding. It comes from Michael Moore, perhaps the most visible and harshest American critic of capitalism in the last couple of decades.

In commenting on Newt Gingrich’s assault on Bain Capital specifically and capitalism more broadly, here is what Mr. Moore said: “I wondered who they stole from my crew. It was fun to hear what I have been saying for 20 years, not just by any Republican candidate, but Newt Gingrich.””

Say goodnight, Newt.

 

Here are two sentences that buttress the argument of those of us who said Newt Gingrich was temperamentally unfit to be president by virtue of his chronic indiscipline, erratic style and lack of philosophical grounding. It comes from Michael Moore, perhaps the most visible and harshest American critic of capitalism in the last couple of decades.

In commenting on Newt Gingrich’s assault on Bain Capital specifically and capitalism more broadly, here is what Mr. Moore said: “I wondered who they stole from my crew. It was fun to hear what I have been saying for 20 years, not just by any Republican candidate, but Newt Gingrich.””

Say goodnight, Newt.

 

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Iran’s Subsidiary Goal: Disarm Israel

The increased attention given to the threat from Iran’s nuclear program by both Israel and the United States has set off alarm bells on the left, where even the Obama administration’s at times half-hearted effort to pressure the Islamist regime is worrying. But those arguing against the crippling sanctions that the United States is thinking about imposing–let alone the use of force to avert the Iranian nuclear threat–have a subsidiary goal: disarming Israel. That’s the point of an op-ed in today’s New York Times by Shelby Telhami and Steven Kull, who urge that those worried about the danger an Iranian nuke would pose to Israel, the Middle East as a whole and the security of the West, should instead focus their efforts on getting Israel to disavow its own nuclear deterrent.

The conceit of this argument, which repeats a point some in Iran and others in the Muslim world have also put forward, is that the way to persuade the ayatollahs to renounce nukes is to force the Jewish state to dismantle its own nuclear arsenal. But the seeming fairness of this proposal masks its inherent bias. Unlike Iran, or indeed any other country on the planet, Israel faces threats to its existence as a nation. Those who wish to give up its ultimate weapon are asking it to put its trust in the goodwill of its neighbors and the international community, a notion that contradicts the lessons of Jewish history as well as the very reason for Israel’s existence.

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The increased attention given to the threat from Iran’s nuclear program by both Israel and the United States has set off alarm bells on the left, where even the Obama administration’s at times half-hearted effort to pressure the Islamist regime is worrying. But those arguing against the crippling sanctions that the United States is thinking about imposing–let alone the use of force to avert the Iranian nuclear threat–have a subsidiary goal: disarming Israel. That’s the point of an op-ed in today’s New York Times by Shelby Telhami and Steven Kull, who urge that those worried about the danger an Iranian nuke would pose to Israel, the Middle East as a whole and the security of the West, should instead focus their efforts on getting Israel to disavow its own nuclear deterrent.

The conceit of this argument, which repeats a point some in Iran and others in the Muslim world have also put forward, is that the way to persuade the ayatollahs to renounce nukes is to force the Jewish state to dismantle its own nuclear arsenal. But the seeming fairness of this proposal masks its inherent bias. Unlike Iran, or indeed any other country on the planet, Israel faces threats to its existence as a nation. Those who wish to give up its ultimate weapon are asking it to put its trust in the goodwill of its neighbors and the international community, a notion that contradicts the lessons of Jewish history as well as the very reason for Israel’s existence.

Telhami and Kull’s thesis seems to begin with the premise that there is no way for the West or Israel to prevent Iran from getting nukes eventually if that is their goal. They claim that since Iran will have its nukes if it wants them badly enough, the real choice is not between a nuclear Iran and a non-nuclear Iran but between a Middle East in which neither Israel nor Iran has nukes and one in which they both have such capability. That is not true, because even if a bombing campaign would only set the Iranian effort back a few years, the continuance of sanctions and the threat of future attacks would, if the West were determined to press its point, force Tehran to give up its nuclear fantasy. But the pair ignores this and goes on to argue that a nuclear-free zone in the Middle East is actually more desirable for Israel than a non-nuclear Iran.

While it is true that a Cold War-style policy of mutually assured destruction would not work, that is an argument for stopping Iran, not disarming Israel. It is also true that Israel’s official ambivalence about its nuclear weapons is pointless, and it can be argued that its nuclear deterrent is of limited value as everyone knows they will never be the first to use one.

But the one thing those who dismiss the value of Israel’s nuclear arsenal often forget is that Israel’s status as an unofficial nuclear power provides the state’s enemies with a very convincing argument to avoid a direct challenge to its existence. Forcing Israel to divest itself of such weapons, even if it will never use them, can only encourage those in the Muslim and Arab worlds who continue to dream of its destruction. Israelis rightly say that a nuclear-free Middle East must await the conclusion of a lasting peace agreement that will ensure such fantasies are impossible.

Those who ask us to disarm Israel rather than preventing Iran from gaining such weapons also ignore the obvious difference between the goals of the two nuclear programs. Israel is a democracy and has no wish to obliterate its neighbors or to end their independent existence. Iran is an Islamist tyranny whose goal is the destruction of Israel. Anyone who sees these two states as morally equivalent or believes there is no real difference between them with respect to possession of nuclear weapons has either lost their moral compass or is pushing another more sinister agenda. Diverting diplomacy aimed at persuading the ayatollahs to abandon their nukes into a discussion about Israel’s weapons won’t heighten the chances for Middle East peace. It will just give Tehran more time for its scientists to work on a weapon.

It is to be hoped that sanctions and an oil embargo will force Iran to realize it must abandon its nuclear dream without the use of force. But no matter which method the West must ultimately employ to stop Iran, disarming Israel is merely an invitation to more Middle East strife.

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Clinton Adviser Endorses Islamist Cult Leader’s Paper

Anne-Marie Slaughter was, until last year, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s director of policy planning. Today, Today’s Zaman, a Turkish  newspaper affiliated with the Islamist cult of Fethullah Gülen, broadcasts her endorsement of the conspiratorial broadsheet:

“I love Today’s Zaman,” said Anne-Marie Slaughter, a Princeton professor who is also in U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s team of foreign policy advisers. Her hailing of the newspaper illustrated a prevailing positive reception for the young news outlet in many capitals of the West and that it is swiftly becoming a must-read paper for the policy community and state mandarins.

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Anne-Marie Slaughter was, until last year, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s director of policy planning. Today, Today’s Zaman, a Turkish  newspaper affiliated with the Islamist cult of Fethullah Gülen, broadcasts her endorsement of the conspiratorial broadsheet:

“I love Today’s Zaman,” said Anne-Marie Slaughter, a Princeton professor who is also in U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s team of foreign policy advisers. Her hailing of the newspaper illustrated a prevailing positive reception for the young news outlet in many capitals of the West and that it is swiftly becoming a must-read paper for the policy community and state mandarins.

While the Gülenists say they promote tolerance and dialogue, their record is quite opposite. Many see Gülen’s hand behind the unprecedented crackdown on journalists and the free press in Turkey. That a former top aide to Clinton embraces a propaganda outlet like Zaman is a slap to the several dozen Turkish journalists now in prison and those who seek democracy and liberalism inside Turkey. It also reflects the uncritical embrace of political Islamism within the Obama administration and the State Department.

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A Chance to Defend Democratic Capitalism

I’ll be very interested in tonight’s GOP presidential debate, in part to see if Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry go after Mitt Romney based on his association with Bain Capital. I wouldn’t be surprised if they try to avoid the topic (Gingrich did during his appearances in South Carolina on Sunday). Why? Because it’s clear the attacks on Bain — which conservatives rightly understood as an assault on enterprise and democratic capitalism — backfired badly on both men. They’ve been pounded by non-RINOs  like Rush Limbaugh, Mark Levin, Michelle Malkin, James Taranto, Charles Murray, Mark Steyn, National Review, Club  for Growth, and many more.

The tack taken by Gingrich and Perry qualifies as one of the more inexplicable campaign decisions I can recall; the product, if one wants to be generous, of desperation. (The “King of Bain” video may be the most comical piece of campaign propaganda I have ever seen, something you’d expect from a person with Michael Moore’s views and one-tenth of his talent. It has been utterly destroyed by fact checkers.)

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I’ll be very interested in tonight’s GOP presidential debate, in part to see if Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry go after Mitt Romney based on his association with Bain Capital. I wouldn’t be surprised if they try to avoid the topic (Gingrich did during his appearances in South Carolina on Sunday). Why? Because it’s clear the attacks on Bain — which conservatives rightly understood as an assault on enterprise and democratic capitalism — backfired badly on both men. They’ve been pounded by non-RINOs  like Rush Limbaugh, Mark Levin, Michelle Malkin, James Taranto, Charles Murray, Mark Steyn, National Review, Club  for Growth, and many more.

The tack taken by Gingrich and Perry qualifies as one of the more inexplicable campaign decisions I can recall; the product, if one wants to be generous, of desperation. (The “King of Bain” video may be the most comical piece of campaign propaganda I have ever seen, something you’d expect from a person with Michael Moore’s views and one-tenth of his talent. It has been utterly destroyed by fact checkers.)

Whatever animated the attacks, they appear to have helped Governor Romney, who is rising in the polls both nationally and in South Carolina.  And InsiderAdvantage poll released last night, for example, finds Romney with the support of 32 percent of  likely GOP voters surveyed, a nine-point gain from its last poll, taken on  January 11. “The only candidate to really gain any ground in this survey since our poll of last Wednesday night is Mitt Romney,” said InsiderAdvantage chief pollster Matt Towery to Newsmax.

Romney, having been bequeathed this unexpected gift by Gingrich and Perry, should take  advantage of it. I for one would be delighted to hear a leading Republican (outside of Representative Paul Ryan) make a powerful moral defense of democratic capitalism, to explain how it has lifted more people from poverty and destitution than any other economic system in human history, and why wealth creation is a moral good. The tendency in a campaign is to lay out a series of policy proposals, which are certainly important, but not to ground those policies in a political philosophy, which is equally important.

I’ve always thought that voters, even (and maybe especially) in the midst of a primary campaign, appreciate public figures who take the time and care to articulate a public philosophy. Not all the time, of course, but from time to time. It it what Ronald Reagan did supremely well and helps explain why he reshaped the conservative movement and American politics in such deep and lasting ways.

Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry, having last week unleashed an extraordinary attack on capitalism, have now provided an opening to Romney (and Rick Santorum, as I argued last week). There’s every reason in the world for conservatives to defend and champion democratic capitalism, not superficially but in depth, in a manner that is both intellectually serious and touches the human heart. It actually can be done — see Reagan and Margaret Thatcher for more — and I hope someone in the current GOP field dares to try.

 

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Huntsman Withdrawal as Didactic as Usual

During the next few days, we’ll probably see a surge of rose-tinted, wistful commentary on Jon Huntsman — how he was both the most conservative and most reasonable candidate, whose one flaw was he ran for president during a time when the Republican Party had become radically dogmatic/extreme/anti-intellectual/uncompromising.

This is ridiculous. It’s hard to imagine there would ever have been a time when someone like Huntsman would be popular with conservatives. His problem wasn’t that he had a few moderate positions – plenty of Republican voters could have lived with that. His problem was always tone. He came off as self-righteous when arguing from the left, but deferential and respectful when arguing from the right.

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During the next few days, we’ll probably see a surge of rose-tinted, wistful commentary on Jon Huntsman — how he was both the most conservative and most reasonable candidate, whose one flaw was he ran for president during a time when the Republican Party had become radically dogmatic/extreme/anti-intellectual/uncompromising.

This is ridiculous. It’s hard to imagine there would ever have been a time when someone like Huntsman would be popular with conservatives. His problem wasn’t that he had a few moderate positions – plenty of Republican voters could have lived with that. His problem was always tone. He came off as self-righteous when arguing from the left, but deferential and respectful when arguing from the right.

Then there was his reputation as the Republican scold. Take, for example, his gratuitous criticism of the GOP field in his withdrawal speech today:

Former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman abandoned his quest for the presidency Monday morning with an endorsement of former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney and an unexpectedly sharp condemnation of the “toxic” tone that the Republican primary battle has taken.

“This race has degenerated into an onslaught of negative and personal attacks not worthy of the American people and not worthy of this critical time in American history,” Huntsman said in a news conference in which he was flanked by his wife, children, father and South Carolina supporters.

There have been a lot of unfair attacks in the race, but that’s pretty typical of any primary season. And it’s not like Huntsman’s hands are clean here. He’s taken plenty of shots at the other candidates, including recently blasting Mitt Romney for saying he “enjoys firing people.” Huntsman had a lot of great attributes as a candidate, but writers and pundits shouldn’t gloss over the main reason he never caught on. It was his attitude, not his ideas.

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In Defense of DC

Andy Ferguson, who seems incapable of writing something that is not worth reading, has penned a piece for The Weekly Standard that takes aim at those who criticize Washington, D.C., while enjoying wonderful (and often profitable) lives thanks to their careers in the nation’s capital. Andy’s target in this particular case is Rick Santorum, but he is just one of a seemingly endless list of candidates. Ferguson, who is also a monthly contributor to COMMENTARY, describes them as a Washingtonian of a particular type:

The anti-Washington Washingtonian—an AWW, a contented resident of the nation’s capital who has based his career on his loudly declared disdain for the nation’s capital, particularly the federal Leviathan residing there. The AWW campaigns against Washington, catalogues its harmful effects, extols alternatives, and contrasts it with the “real America,” which he vows to liberate forever from its depredations — while never admitting that Washington is the very thing that makes his life worth living.

This critique gives voice to something I’ve felt since almost the day I arrived in Washington in the 1980s.

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Andy Ferguson, who seems incapable of writing something that is not worth reading, has penned a piece for The Weekly Standard that takes aim at those who criticize Washington, D.C., while enjoying wonderful (and often profitable) lives thanks to their careers in the nation’s capital. Andy’s target in this particular case is Rick Santorum, but he is just one of a seemingly endless list of candidates. Ferguson, who is also a monthly contributor to COMMENTARY, describes them as a Washingtonian of a particular type:

The anti-Washington Washingtonian—an AWW, a contented resident of the nation’s capital who has based his career on his loudly declared disdain for the nation’s capital, particularly the federal Leviathan residing there. The AWW campaigns against Washington, catalogues its harmful effects, extols alternatives, and contrasts it with the “real America,” which he vows to liberate forever from its depredations — while never admitting that Washington is the very thing that makes his life worth living.

This critique gives voice to something I’ve felt since almost the day I arrived in Washington in the 1980s.

Many of the same people who would criticize Washington with zeal, acting as if it’s a sacrifice and terrible burden to live here, are the same ones who would rather surrender their first-born son than leave D.C. The dirty little secret is that most of the political class who live in Washington thoroughly enjoy it. And the dirtier little secret is (as Andy documents) they have every reason to enjoy it.

I know it’s fashionable for Washingtonians to second the words of Harry Truman, who said, “If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog.” There’s only one problem with this critique: It’s wrong. Over the years I’ve made countless friends, people who are intelligent and informed and care deeply about public affairs. I’m fortunate to have regular lunches and dinners with some of the brightest columnists and commentators in the country — the very heart and soul of the much-derided “establishment” and “ruling class”—and they are thoroughly uplifting and enjoyable affairs. There’s not a cynic among them. And for those, particularly on the right, who constantly criticize people who live and work “inside the Beltway,” speaking as if they are alien beings, I have news for them: the nation’s capital is part of the “real America.”

The people who inhabit D.C. and the surrounding suburbs (I live in McLean, Virginia) are no less (and no more) admirable than people I’ve met anywhere else in the country. They’re active in their neighborhoods, their schools, and their places of worship. They attend PTA meetings and Bible studies and prayer groups; they coach soccer and basketball and baseball.

I have no interest in idealizing D.C. But I do think it’s helpful from time to time to puncture the fiction — perpetrated mostly by conservatives, to be honest — that D.C. and the surrounding suburbs are simply comprised of knaves and fools, of people who are unprincipled and out of touch. Like most of the political class who live in the D.C. area, I consider it a blessing to be able to call it my home. A lot of other people do, too. I just wish they’d do us all a favor and say so.

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Reasons for Huntsman’s Flameout

Former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman’s withdrawal from the GOP presidential race will come as a shock to almost no one. There are many reasons for Huntsman’s flameout, but one of them can be found in this June 2011 profile in Esquire magazine.

For [John] Weaver and the rest of the team, Huntsman’s intelligence and foreign-policy experience, combined with his strong record of fiscal conservatism and social semimoderation (he supports civil unions for gay couples and believes climate change is an urgent issue), made him the ideal candidate to shake up a Republican field that Weaver calls “the weakest since 1940.”

“There’s a simple reason our party is nowhere near being a national governing party,” Weaver told Esquire. “No one wants to be around a bunch of cranks.”

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Former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman’s withdrawal from the GOP presidential race will come as a shock to almost no one. There are many reasons for Huntsman’s flameout, but one of them can be found in this June 2011 profile in Esquire magazine.

For [John] Weaver and the rest of the team, Huntsman’s intelligence and foreign-policy experience, combined with his strong record of fiscal conservatism and social semimoderation (he supports civil unions for gay couples and believes climate change is an urgent issue), made him the ideal candidate to shake up a Republican field that Weaver calls “the weakest since 1940.”

“There’s a simple reason our party is nowhere near being a national governing party,” Weaver told Esquire. “No one wants to be around a bunch of cranks.”

The field may well have been the weakest since 1940. But consider this: in this historically weak field Huntsman had no real influence on the race, he never gained traction, and he never became a top-tier candidate, which tells you almost all you need to know about the former Utah governor.

Oh, and one other thing: When your top political adviser goes around referring to Republicans as a “bunch of cranks,” don’t be surprised if voters return the favor.

Jon Hunstman certainly has a more serious command of the issues than, say, Herman Cain. And his economic proposal was impressive enough. But it wasn’t nearly enough. People cast votes for people, not simply for plans. The former ambassador to China ran a poor campaign from beginning to end (speaking in Mandarin to a GOP audience has never been known to work terribly well). He came across as supercilious. He never articulated anything approaching a compelling vision for his campaign. And he leaves the campaign having said more negative things about his GOP rivals than he said about President Obama.

Huntsman and Weaver should be able to look forward to their newest posts: as political contributors to MSNBC. They’d fit right in.

 

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Dredging the Future

George Will, in his column yesterday, notes that, a century ago, it took ten years to build the Panama Canal, one of the most challenging engineering feats of the age, a project that had to cope with a remote location, yellow fever, and steam-shovel technology. Building the new locks for the canal, which will allow much larger ships to use it, will take eight years. It will be completed in 2014. But the new “Panamax” ships will not be able to use many east coast harbors, such as Savannah and Charleston–the 4th busiest port on the east coast–because the harbors are not deep enough to handle ships that will carry up to 18,000 containers.

The solution, of course, is easy: dredge the harbors. But Savannah began studying the possibility of dredging in 1999. Today, 13 years later, the study is still not completed. When and if it is, the dredging itself will take five years. So even if dredging started today, Savannah will not be able to take the new Panamax ships until three years after they begin to transit the canal. But dredging won’t start upon completion of the environmental study because various self-appointed guardians of the environment will–as surely as the sun will rise in the east tomorrow–sue, arguing over every comma of the environmental impact statement that will run to thousands of pages. These groups have become past masters at using the legal system to delay–and thus all too often kill–projects they do not approve of, which, it seems, is nearly all of them.

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George Will, in his column yesterday, notes that, a century ago, it took ten years to build the Panama Canal, one of the most challenging engineering feats of the age, a project that had to cope with a remote location, yellow fever, and steam-shovel technology. Building the new locks for the canal, which will allow much larger ships to use it, will take eight years. It will be completed in 2014. But the new “Panamax” ships will not be able to use many east coast harbors, such as Savannah and Charleston–the 4th busiest port on the east coast–because the harbors are not deep enough to handle ships that will carry up to 18,000 containers.

The solution, of course, is easy: dredge the harbors. But Savannah began studying the possibility of dredging in 1999. Today, 13 years later, the study is still not completed. When and if it is, the dredging itself will take five years. So even if dredging started today, Savannah will not be able to take the new Panamax ships until three years after they begin to transit the canal. But dredging won’t start upon completion of the environmental study because various self-appointed guardians of the environment will–as surely as the sun will rise in the east tomorrow–sue, arguing over every comma of the environmental impact statement that will run to thousands of pages. These groups have become past masters at using the legal system to delay–and thus all too often kill–projects they do not approve of, which, it seems, is nearly all of them.

Charleston’s harbor is 45 feet deep, so it would only need to be dredged five feet to take these new ships. It would cost about $300 million and would deliver about $100 million in net annual benefits to Charleston, paying for itself in only three years. It would also lower prices for many goods in the eastern United States, as 70 percent of goods imported from Asia now offload in west coast ports and are trans-shipped by railroad and truck, a much more expensive way to transport freight.

The Chamber of Commerce has a website listing hundreds of energy projects that are in limbo because of the broken permit system in this country. Many of them are so-called renewable energy projects, such as wind farms, so even projects one would think environmentalists would encourage are endlessly delayed. (To be sure, some opposition comes from the NIMBY syndrome: Not In My Back Yard.) And these are only energy projects, not transportation, housing, pipeline, and industrial projects.

This is a clear and present danger to the future of the American economy. The environment needs to be carefully protected and local opinion should be taken into account. But neither should be allowed to trump any and all other considerations. Nor should the permitting process be open-ended.

Steven Hayward over at Powerline has some ideas on how to fix the system:

The regulatory review process ought to have a short deadline. Agency review should be completed within six or nine months, with a presumption in favor of granting permission unless an agency can delineate a substantively new problem based on precedents from previous similar projects (that is, no speculative objections based on what global warming might do 75 years from now, as actually happened to a proposed project in California a few years back where regulators denied a building permit on the theory that rising sea levels would make the land habitat for an endangered species that would want to move upland). Standing to sue to block projects should be tightened, and the threshold for hearing such suits made much more restrictive. And how about requiring that all Environmental Impact Statements be no longer than 200 pages? I’’m sure all the environmental lawyers and consultants who charge by the hour and make a bundle doing these multi-volume EIRs that no one reads will howl, but if the Supreme Court can limit briefs to 50 pages on matters of high constitutional importance, why can’’t our regulatory process not emulate a standard of brevity that emphasizes the essential over the frivolous and tedious?

The successful completion of the Panama Canal in 1914 was a great psychological moment for the United States, providing powerful evidence that this country could do anything it set its mind to. That attitude built the Hoover Dam, produced the industrial miracle that won World War II, constructed the Interstate Highway System, and sent men to the moon. Today, it seems, we can’t even dredge a harbor, a technology that goes back centuries.

 

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Romney’s Weaknesses Still on Full Display

Rick Santorum’s weekend interview with the Wall Street Journal reinforced the impression that his candidacy provides the clearest contrast with Mitt Romney’s latest attempts at branding himself—described here in the Washington Post. The contrast is not likely to favor Romney, and with the big evangelical endorsement going to Santorum this weekend, the former Pennsylvania senator might be in the strongest position of the remaining “not Romneys.”

At the end of that Post profile comes this quote from Kathleen Hall Jamieson, professor of rhetoric and communication at the University of Pennsylvania, about the image Romney projected after his New Hampshire victory speech:

“It’s difficult to look at that picture and say, yes, he woke up in the morning and decided to eliminate entire companies and throw large numbers of people out of work because all he cares about is money,” Jamieson said. “The visual rebuttal is devoted family and wife — and look at those adorable grandchildren!”

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Rick Santorum’s weekend interview with the Wall Street Journal reinforced the impression that his candidacy provides the clearest contrast with Mitt Romney’s latest attempts at branding himself—described here in the Washington Post. The contrast is not likely to favor Romney, and with the big evangelical endorsement going to Santorum this weekend, the former Pennsylvania senator might be in the strongest position of the remaining “not Romneys.”

At the end of that Post profile comes this quote from Kathleen Hall Jamieson, professor of rhetoric and communication at the University of Pennsylvania, about the image Romney projected after his New Hampshire victory speech:

“It’s difficult to look at that picture and say, yes, he woke up in the morning and decided to eliminate entire companies and throw large numbers of people out of work because all he cares about is money,” Jamieson said. “The visual rebuttal is devoted family and wife — and look at those adorable grandchildren!”

In other words, the most effective rebuttal the Romney campaign has yet produced to the accusation that he “looted” companies for profit is: “Who, me?” but leaving that aside, his family-man image is certainly a plus, especially if you think Newt Gingrich is Romney’s main rival. And, given the polls and attack ads, that would be a reasonable conclusion. But as difficult an opponent as Gingrich can be, Santorum remains a challenging matchup for Romney.

Santorum, too, has a reputation as a family man—more so than any of the other candidates, arguably. And Santorum’s campaign remains one of only two that isn’t really about President Obama per se, and therefore possesses its own raison d’être (Ron Paul is the other). Santorum worries about the breakdown of the family, and he has concrete plans to address that. He worries, too, about blue-collar workers, and has a plan to specifically address that as well. And then there’s this, from the Journal interview:

Though a career politician, he seems refreshingly unwilling to pander.

Outside a polling place in Bedford, a young mother expresses interest in early childhood programs. Mr. Santorum responds that Head Start has not delivered the promised results.

At Mastricola Elementary School in Merrimack, a wise voter suggests that Mr. Santorum should push even harder for growth with a flatter tax system that applies equally to everyone. Mr. Santorum is cheerful but gives no indication he’ll take the advice.

Nor does he give ground in our discussion.

I think this overstates the extent to which Santorum refuses to pander; I’ve watched many of his town hall events, and he’s certainly not immune to pandering. But Gingrich’s natural instinct on the campaign trail is to agree with the premise of virtually any question a voter asks him, and then attempt to steer his answer in his own direction. And Romney’s habit of trying to be all things to all people has, to conservatives, defined his candidacy. Santorum does, indeed, best his rivals when it comes to the self-discipline to avoid pandering.

The extent to which Gingrich’s attacks on Romney’s finance background caught the former Massachusetts governor off-guard has been obvious from Romney’s responses: an attack on Bain is an attack on capitalism itself; his work at Bain was kind of like Obama’s auto bailout; etc. If Romney thinks the promise that he and Obama both want to do the same things but he’ll be much better at it is going to win votes in Ohio, he is mistaken. And if he thinks Santorum’s reputation as a sincere, principled family man with blue-collar credibility is no longer a threat to his candidacy, he may very well be mistaken on that front as well.

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Americans Not Particularly Worried About Income Inequality

The Heritage Foundation’s Lachlan Markey draws attention to an interesting stat from a recent Gallup poll that measured the economic concerns of Americans:

Gallup reports that only 2 percent of Americans list the “divide between rich and poor” as the most important economic issue facing the country. Those findings come from an open-ended survey, meaning respondents were not confined to a pre-selected group of responses. Unemployment and the national debt top the list, but all told, a full 17 economic issues rank higher in the American political consciousness than income inequality.

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The Heritage Foundation’s Lachlan Markey draws attention to an interesting stat from a recent Gallup poll that measured the economic concerns of Americans:

Gallup reports that only 2 percent of Americans list the “divide between rich and poor” as the most important economic issue facing the country. Those findings come from an open-ended survey, meaning respondents were not confined to a pre-selected group of responses. Unemployment and the national debt top the list, but all told, a full 17 economic issues rank higher in the American political consciousness than income inequality.

Progressives had high hopes the Occupy Wall Street movement was going to turn “income inequality” – a largely mythical concept in the U.S. – into a major national concern. As the poll shows, OWS hasn’t had much success here. At the same time, there are plenty of conservative issues, like taxes and entitlement programs, that also rank low on the list of American worries.

It’s not necessarily that the public doesn’t care about these issues. It’s just that the concerns about unemployment eclipse them. According to the poll, jobs are the foremost worry for Americans at 26 percent, followed by the national debt at 16 percent. Which means President Obama’s class warfare rhetoric won’t help him appeal to many voters, unless he pegs it to job creation and deficit reduction.

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How Israel’s Gaza Pullout Radicalized Sinai

Anyone who still thinks more Israel territorial withdrawals are a good idea should carefully study Ehud Yaari’s chilling new report for The Washington Institute on “Sinai: A New Front.” To anyone who has been following the situation, Yaari’s bottom line – that Sinai-based terrorism “could break a fragile bilateral peace [with Egypt] that is already challenged by growing post-Mubarak demands to abrogate, review, or amend the treaty” – isn’t new; I’ve been warning of this for months. Where the veteran Israeli journalist and Arabist makes a real contribution is his analysis of how Israel’s 2005 pullout from Gaza contributed to Sinai’s radicalization. And while he doesn’t say so, the implication of his research is obvious: An Israeli pullout from the West Bank could similarly radicalize and destabilize Jordan.

Clearly, radicalization doesn’t happen overnight, and Yaari indeed describes a slow spread of radical Islam among the Sinai Bedouin since the 1980s, along with a consequent rise in arms trafficking and terror. But Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza, “and subsequent removal of troops from the Sinai-Gaza border,” catalyzed the process:

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Anyone who still thinks more Israel territorial withdrawals are a good idea should carefully study Ehud Yaari’s chilling new report for The Washington Institute on “Sinai: A New Front.” To anyone who has been following the situation, Yaari’s bottom line – that Sinai-based terrorism “could break a fragile bilateral peace [with Egypt] that is already challenged by growing post-Mubarak demands to abrogate, review, or amend the treaty” – isn’t new; I’ve been warning of this for months. Where the veteran Israeli journalist and Arabist makes a real contribution is his analysis of how Israel’s 2005 pullout from Gaza contributed to Sinai’s radicalization. And while he doesn’t say so, the implication of his research is obvious: An Israeli pullout from the West Bank could similarly radicalize and destabilize Jordan.

Clearly, radicalization doesn’t happen overnight, and Yaari indeed describes a slow spread of radical Islam among the Sinai Bedouin since the 1980s, along with a consequent rise in arms trafficking and terror. But Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza, “and subsequent removal of troops from the Sinai-Gaza border,” catalyzed the process:

As Bedouin political activist Ashraf al-Anani put it, “a fireball started rolling into the peninsula.” Illegal trade and arms smuggling volumes rose to new records, and ever-larger sectors of the northern Sinai population became linked to Gaza and fell under the political and ideological influence of Hamas and its ilk. Sympathy and support for the Palestinian battle against Israel grew; according to al-Anani, the closer one got to the Gaza border, “the more people are inclined toward Hamas.” In short, despite then Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s quiet hope that Cairo would assume unofficial responsibility for Gaza affairs, the Israeli withdrawal instead allowed Hamas to export its influence into Egyptian territory.

Facilitated by the dramatic increase in the number of tunnels—which numbered no less than 1,200 at their peak—the expansion of Hamas and other Palestinian activities in the Sinai was unprecedented. In fact, the arms flow was often reversed, with weapons going from Gaza to the Sinai. During the revolution, for example, observers noted a huge demand for firearms in the peninsula. And even in late 2010, well before Mubarak’s ouster, Hamas was already in the process of transferring heavy long-range missiles to secret storage places in the Sinai, including Grad rockets and extended-range Qassams…

Today, a significant number of Hamas military operatives are permanently stationed in the Sinai, serving as recruiters, couriers, and propagators of the Hamas platform. A solid network of the group’s contact men, safe houses, and armories covers much of the peninsula … In addition, Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and other factions have been moving some of their explosives workshops—which produce homemade missiles, rockets, mortars, improvised explosive devices, and so forth—from Gaza to the Sinai in recent months. In many ways, the Sinai has already become a sort of hinterland for Hamas military forces in Gaza. Dual-purpose materials used for the production of explosives are regularly transferred to the peninsula, allowing the group to place a significant part of its military industry beyond Israel’s reach.

As in Gaza, an Israeli pullout from the West Bank could easily end in a Hamas takeover. True, the Palestinian Authority is protected by American-trained troops, but the same U.S. general, Keith Dayton, trained the PA forces in Gaza, and Hamas routed them in a week during its 2007 coup.

Moreover, like Sinai, Jordan already has both a homegrown Islamist movement and some serious stability issues. Additionally, Jordan is roughly two-thirds Palestinian, and its Palestinian citizens have close ties of kinship and friendship with West Bank Palestinians. Thus, radicalization on the West Bank would likely spread to Jordan quickly if Israeli troops were no longer serving as a buffer between the two.

So if Western leaders think a radicalized, destabilized Jordan is a good idea, they should by all means keep pushing an Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank. But if not, they should be praying that Israel stays put.

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Huntsman Post-Mortem: Forget About 2016

A year or more ago there were some political observers who saw Jon Huntsman as a coming man in the Republican Party. Most thought he would wait until 2016 to run for president, but the former Utah governor and ambassador to China was a future contender to be reckoned with. But after his disastrous presidential campaign comes to an end today, speculation about his political future will be kept to a minimum. Huntsman’s bid for the GOP nomination was not, as many have already noted, just a matter of the wrong man at the wrong time. The campaign spotlight unmercifully exposed the candidate’s weaknesses and bad judgment. No one should expect a rerun in 2016 in the event of a Republican defeat this November.

Huntsman’s was, from the start, a bizarrely conceived candidacy. Though he had impeccable conservative credentials on most domestic issues, Huntsman’s decision to position himself as the leading moderate in the race to lead a deeply conservative party was a blunder from which he could never recover. His anti-war foreign policy stances were best suited to a Democratic audience, not a Republican one. That accounted for the consistently laudatory coverage he received in the mainstream press. But the idea that Republicans would ever nominate a man who was best described as a liberal’s idea of a Republican was farcical.

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A year or more ago there were some political observers who saw Jon Huntsman as a coming man in the Republican Party. Most thought he would wait until 2016 to run for president, but the former Utah governor and ambassador to China was a future contender to be reckoned with. But after his disastrous presidential campaign comes to an end today, speculation about his political future will be kept to a minimum. Huntsman’s bid for the GOP nomination was not, as many have already noted, just a matter of the wrong man at the wrong time. The campaign spotlight unmercifully exposed the candidate’s weaknesses and bad judgment. No one should expect a rerun in 2016 in the event of a Republican defeat this November.

Huntsman’s was, from the start, a bizarrely conceived candidacy. Though he had impeccable conservative credentials on most domestic issues, Huntsman’s decision to position himself as the leading moderate in the race to lead a deeply conservative party was a blunder from which he could never recover. His anti-war foreign policy stances were best suited to a Democratic audience, not a Republican one. That accounted for the consistently laudatory coverage he received in the mainstream press. But the idea that Republicans would ever nominate a man who was best described as a liberal’s idea of a Republican was farcical.

The vast financial resources at his command could not disguise the fact that Huntsman’s campaign was poorly led and executed. The decision to concentrate his efforts on New Hampshire where independents and Democrats can vote wasn’t wrong. But non-Republicans were far more likely to back Romney and especially the libertarian outlier Ron Paul more than Huntsman. In the end, according to Politico, even his wealthy father thought it was foolish to pour money into this hopeless effort. The only smart thing he did in the last six months was to pull out and endorse Mitt Romney while such a statement might be said to have done the frontrunner some good.

As for his future, it’s possible to imagine Huntsman getting some kind of appointment in a putative Romney administration. But he should forget about another presidential run. That’s not just because the next generation of political talent in the GOP such as Paul Ryan, Marco Rubio or Chris Christie will eclipse him. Huntsman’s performance on the stump and in the debates was so poor as to render him an unlikely prospect for the future. While he committed no absurd gaffe in the manner of Rick Perry, his arch and condescending tone in the debates was more than off-putting. His tendency to comment on the proceedings as if he were in the peanut gallery, to make ill-considered quips quoting songs and, finally, his decision to answer a Romney riposte in Chinese (to show how much smarter he was than his rivals) told us everything we needed to know about his personality.

Republicans like to nominate a candidate who has run before but never one who has had such a disastrous tryout. Like Rudy Giuliani, a man who qualified far more for the White House, Huntsman’s first impression on the presidential campaign trail will be his last.

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Our Message to Iran

“You may say I’m a dreamer,” Jeffrey Goldberg wrote last week, urging one more attempt to talk to Iran. He’s a dreamer, but he’s not the only one. Trita Parsi, writing in the Washington Post, thinks we could get by “with a little help from [our] friends” (he names Norway, Sweden, South Africa, Oman and Qatar), whom he thinks we could ask to talk to Iran to ask Iran to talk to us.

Last week, after the IAEA confirmed that Iran is enriching uranium at its underground facility in Qom, Hillary Clinton issued a press release urging Iran to join talks to “restore confidence in the exclusively peaceful nature” of its nuclear program. It is all right out of a “Saturday Night Live” sketch.

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“You may say I’m a dreamer,” Jeffrey Goldberg wrote last week, urging one more attempt to talk to Iran. He’s a dreamer, but he’s not the only one. Trita Parsi, writing in the Washington Post, thinks we could get by “with a little help from [our] friends” (he names Norway, Sweden, South Africa, Oman and Qatar), whom he thinks we could ask to talk to Iran to ask Iran to talk to us.

Last week, after the IAEA confirmed that Iran is enriching uranium at its underground facility in Qom, Hillary Clinton issued a press release urging Iran to join talks to “restore confidence in the exclusively peaceful nature” of its nuclear program. It is all right out of a “Saturday Night Live” sketch.

As it happens, President Obama will be speaking to Iran next week, since Iran will hear his third State of the Union Address. Two years ago, he said that “as Iran’s leaders continue to ignore their obligations,” they would “face growing consequences” – punctuating his remark with a direct statement: “That is a promise.” Last year, after less-than-crippling sanctions were imposed, he devoted a single sentence to Iran, simply noting that “tougher” and “tighter” sanctions had been imposed; he made no promise of growing consequences if they did not work.

Next Tuesday, if he wants to get Iran’s attention, he will need to say something like this:

We will also use all elements of American power to pressure Iran. I will do everything in my power to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon –everything in my power to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon–everything.

That is what he told 7,000 people in 2008, in prepared remarks, at a crucial moment in his presidential campaign — repeating “everything” three times. If he really wants Iran to cease its quest for nuclear weapons, he will have to make clear, as president, in a forum where he knows Iran will be listening, what he promises to do if they don’t.

But as Iran enters its fourth year of ignoring his outstretched hand, he has lobbied Congress to water down additional sanctions, insisted they be delayed for at least six months, warned Israel over and over not to strike Iran, assured Iran we had nothing to do with killing its nuclear scientist, and stayed silent on Qom while his secretary of state satisfied herself with a press release. The message to Iran has been pretty clear.

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More About “Foreign Policy’s” Israel Slurs

Foreign Policy has produced a slander so outrageous that Israel broke with its strict policy of never confirming or denying covert operations to issue a flat denial – and surprisingly, given Israel’s notoriously poor public relations, it’s a convincing one. On Friday, the magazine published an article by Mark Perry, a military and intelligence analyst who once served as an advisor to Yasser Arafat, that accused Mossad agents of posing as CIA agents to recruit Pakistani terrorists to commit sabotage and assassinations inside Iran. The alleged operation infuriated two successive presidents, George W. Bush and Barack Obama, Perry wrote, because it endangered American lives, undermined America’s relationship with Pakistan and painted America as engaged in terrorist activity. Additionally, Perry said, it convinced many senior American officials that Israel was a liability rather than a strategic asset.

Israel termed the report “absolute nonsense,” explaining that had it been true, then-Mossad chief Meir Dagan would have been declared persona non grata in Washington rather than being a welcome visitor. Nor is that idle speculation: Those same two presidents forced the ouster of three other senior Israeli defense officials over other issues; why would they have given Dagan a pass?

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Foreign Policy has produced a slander so outrageous that Israel broke with its strict policy of never confirming or denying covert operations to issue a flat denial – and surprisingly, given Israel’s notoriously poor public relations, it’s a convincing one. On Friday, the magazine published an article by Mark Perry, a military and intelligence analyst who once served as an advisor to Yasser Arafat, that accused Mossad agents of posing as CIA agents to recruit Pakistani terrorists to commit sabotage and assassinations inside Iran. The alleged operation infuriated two successive presidents, George W. Bush and Barack Obama, Perry wrote, because it endangered American lives, undermined America’s relationship with Pakistan and painted America as engaged in terrorist activity. Additionally, Perry said, it convinced many senior American officials that Israel was a liability rather than a strategic asset.

Israel termed the report “absolute nonsense,” explaining that had it been true, then-Mossad chief Meir Dagan would have been declared persona non grata in Washington rather than being a welcome visitor. Nor is that idle speculation: Those same two presidents forced the ouster of three other senior Israeli defense officials over other issues; why would they have given Dagan a pass?

Just last year, Uzi Arad was forced to resign as chairman of Israel’s National Security Council due to Washington’s anger over leaked information from U.S.-Israeli talks on nuclear issues. And in 2005, two senior Defense Ministry officials – director general Amos Yaron and chief of security Yehiel Horev – were forced out due to Washington’s anger over Israel’s agreement to upgrade Harpy drones for China, following a year in which the Pentagon boycotted Yaron entirely. Thus, had Dagan committed an offense as egregious as Perry claimed, it’s inconceivable that he would have continued for years to be not only a welcome guest, but even one of Washington’s preferred Israeli interlocutors.

This isn’t the first time Perry has produced a false but extremely damaging anti-Israel slur. In 2010, he alleged that then-general (and now CIA chief) David Petraeus had claimed the Arab-Israeli conflict was endangering American lives; Petraeus himself later termed the report “just flat wrong.” Unfortunately, Foreign Policy seems perfectly willing to keep giving Perry a platform for such canards – which says something rather troubling about this prestigious magazine.

Still, Israel isn’t the only one that ought to be outraged by the latest report; the Obama administration should be, too. For according to Perry, not only has Obama flatly refused to engage in “covert actions targeting Iran’s infrastructure or political or military leadership,” but he even “drastically scaled back joint U.S.-Israel intelligence programs targeting Iran” in anger over the Mossad’s alleged misdeeds, forcing the CIA “to shut down ‘some key intelligence-gathering operations’” in that country. In other words, not only does Obama prefer clean hands to covert action that might slow Iran’s nuclear program, but he even sacrificed “key intelligence-gathering” about Iran to anti-Israel pique.

For an administration that claims to be both a friend of Israel and committed to halting Iran’s nuclear program, those are pretty damning accusations. Washington can’t realistically deny them publicly. But Congress might want to make sure they’re false.

 

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Did Israel Run a False Flag Operation?

Mark Perry, a long-term advocate of talking to terrorists and cutting deals with Hamas and Hezbollah, published a damaging piece in Foreign Policy reporting a memo accusing Israelis posing as CIA operatives of supporting Jundallah, a Baluchi terrorist group in Iran. Those seeking to bash Israel or exculpate Iran bent over backwards to support the Islamic Republic and jumped on the allegation. The National Iranian American Council, for example, accepted Perry’s report as fact and called Israeli behavior “appalling.” A memo’s existence, however, does not automatically validate its contents,. CIA analysts often push random theories, many based on supposition rather than fact. Some CIA memos are brilliant; others suggest their authors were valedictorians of their summer school class.

The article’s sourcing is problematic and should also raise red flags. Perry relies on two current intelligence officers, only one of whom has seen the memo alleging Israeli malfeasance. One officer—presumably the same who saw the memo and perhaps also wrote it—describes Bush’s reaction, and so presumably was a briefer for the White House. Should Gen. David Petraeus, director of Central Intelligence, wish to identify that leaker, he could do so easily. In addition, Perry talks to four retired intelligence officials, whose names and positions he also cloaks in anonymity. Allowing these officials a wall of anonymity from behind which to throw mud is problematic as intelligence officials have admitted leaks to advance personal political agendas.

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Mark Perry, a long-term advocate of talking to terrorists and cutting deals with Hamas and Hezbollah, published a damaging piece in Foreign Policy reporting a memo accusing Israelis posing as CIA operatives of supporting Jundallah, a Baluchi terrorist group in Iran. Those seeking to bash Israel or exculpate Iran bent over backwards to support the Islamic Republic and jumped on the allegation. The National Iranian American Council, for example, accepted Perry’s report as fact and called Israeli behavior “appalling.” A memo’s existence, however, does not automatically validate its contents,. CIA analysts often push random theories, many based on supposition rather than fact. Some CIA memos are brilliant; others suggest their authors were valedictorians of their summer school class.

The article’s sourcing is problematic and should also raise red flags. Perry relies on two current intelligence officers, only one of whom has seen the memo alleging Israeli malfeasance. One officer—presumably the same who saw the memo and perhaps also wrote it—describes Bush’s reaction, and so presumably was a briefer for the White House. Should Gen. David Petraeus, director of Central Intelligence, wish to identify that leaker, he could do so easily. In addition, Perry talks to four retired intelligence officials, whose names and positions he also cloaks in anonymity. Allowing these officials a wall of anonymity from behind which to throw mud is problematic as intelligence officials have admitted leaks to advance personal political agendas.

At the very least, Foreign Policy should have printed when the retirees left the service. Retired Defense Intelligence Agency officer W. Patrick Lang, whose animus toward Israel is pronounced, for example, made a cottage industry during the Iraq war of commenting about matters following his retirement. He neither disclosed his role as a registered Foreign Agent nor the fact that he lacked direct knowledge of much for which he purported to be a source.

Perry’s previous work should also color the credibility with which his accusations are accepted. His book, Talking to the Enemy, was deeply problematic and showed a tendency to allow agenda and conspiracy to trump fact. Few analysts—even those with animus toward Israel—would be as willing as Perry to take Hezbollah at its word.

Nevertheless, Perry’s accusations are serious and deserve a response. Rather than allow the intelligence community to sway policy with innuendo, Petraeus should either back the accusation or declare it baseless. He and other intelligence community executives should investigate and plug the leaks. When unsanctioned leaks come from the State Department or the Pentagon, that would be bad enough, but such leaks are often fall into the realm of policy. Intelligence should be sacrosanct. When the intelligence community allows an individual’s political peccadilloes to corrupt its process, it permanently erodes its reputation and ability to conduct its mission. Should Petraeus decline to investigate, there are only three possibilities: He lacks control, he sanctioned the leaks himself, or conversely, his superiors in the White House are willing to corrupt intelligence to sanction anonymous Israel-bashing.

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Huntsman Follows Undecideds to Romney

The big political news today coming out of South Carolina is the decision of Jon Huntsman to withdraw from the Republican presidential race and endorse Mitt Romney. In doing so, Huntsman is acknowledging the failure of his campaign to catch fire and doing the honorable thing by backing the Republican who has the best chance of winning in November. But by getting on the Romney bandwagon, he’s following the same path that has seen a considerable portion of undecided South Carolinians who are now supporting the frontrunner.

Yesterday’s Insider Advantage/Majority Opinion Research poll conducted for Newsmax revealed a major swing to Romney when compared to the survey the same group had taken just four days earlier. While the numbers of all the other candidates remained relatively stable in the last week, Romney gained nine percentage points, going from 23 to 32 percent. That stretched his lead over Newt Gingrich to a comfortable 11 points with only five days to go before the Palmetto state votes. But just as important as the raw numbers is where Romney picked up support. In the last four days, IA/MOR poll found that those expressing “no opinion” went down from 15 to 7 percent. You don’t need a PhD in statistics to figure out that most of those undecideds are now in the Romney column.

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The big political news today coming out of South Carolina is the decision of Jon Huntsman to withdraw from the Republican presidential race and endorse Mitt Romney. In doing so, Huntsman is acknowledging the failure of his campaign to catch fire and doing the honorable thing by backing the Republican who has the best chance of winning in November. But by getting on the Romney bandwagon, he’s following the same path that has seen a considerable portion of undecided South Carolinians who are now supporting the frontrunner.

Yesterday’s Insider Advantage/Majority Opinion Research poll conducted for Newsmax revealed a major swing to Romney when compared to the survey the same group had taken just four days earlier. While the numbers of all the other candidates remained relatively stable in the last week, Romney gained nine percentage points, going from 23 to 32 percent. That stretched his lead over Newt Gingrich to a comfortable 11 points with only five days to go before the Palmetto state votes. But just as important as the raw numbers is where Romney picked up support. In the last four days, IA/MOR poll found that those expressing “no opinion” went down from 15 to 7 percent. You don’t need a PhD in statistics to figure out that most of those undecideds are now in the Romney column.

We can draw two conclusions from this decisive swing to Romney.

First is the avalanche of negative advertising directed at Romney, principally by Newt Gingrich’s super PACs, not only failed to dent the former Massachusetts governor’s reputation, but had the opposite effect. The attempt to brand Romney a predatory capitalist was seen by most conservatives as absurd and South Carolinians appear to agree. We shall, no doubt, hear a lot more about Romney’s career at Bain Capital from Democrats who can be counted on to demagogue the issue relentlessly in the fall campaign. But the decision by Gingrich and Rick Perry to attack Romney from the left while claiming to be the true conservatives in the race was a major blunder.

The second point to be gleaned from this poll is that the effort by some evangelical leaders to try to settle on Rick Santorum as the conservative alternative to Romney doesn’t seem to be having much affect on South Carolina voters. The previous survey taken last Wednesday had Santorum trailing Gingrich by eight points. On Sunday, the margin remained stable with the only difference being that Ron Paul had gained a percentage point edging Santorum out of third place. Unless Santorum can do something to galvanize his campaign in the next few days, he will find himself finishing a distant third or fourth in South Carolina. That would mean the effective end of his hopes, because if Santorum can’t do well in a state where his core constituency of social conservatives are so strong, then there’s no reason to believe he’ll do better anywhere else.

Another victory in South Carolina after his Iowa and New Hampshire triumphs will give Romney an overwhelming lead in the GOP race. However, this will also provide Gingrich the opportunity he has been counting on. If Santorum can’t overtake the former speaker in South Carolina, he may pull out along with Perry who was trailing even the now withdrawn Huntsman. That would leave Gingrich as the last “non-Romney” Republican left in the race, a position all of the also-rans have been hoping would propel them to eventual victory. But the last month has been a series of unmitigated disasters for Gingrich, culminating in his Occupy Wall Street-style bashing of Romney’s business experience. Under these circumstances, it’s hard to imagine a damaged Gingrich overcoming Romney’s momentum.

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