Commentary Magazine


Posts For: January 17, 2012

Can Obama Get Away With Iran Inaction?

President Obama has been assuring the public since before he was elected in 2008 that he would never allow Iran to acquire nuclear weapons. But the question facing the White House this year is whether a failure to make good on that pledge will be more damaging to his chances of re-election than a spike in oil prices.

That’s the dilemma Obama has been grappling with since Congress passed a bill over his objections last month that mandated a complete ban on all transactions with entities that did business with Iran’s Central Bank. Sanctions on the bank are the lever by which an international embargo on the sale of Iranian oil is made possible. But as American diplomats are laying the groundwork for such an embargo, the administration is also sending out signals that indicate it is less than enthusiastic about dealing with the possible economic fallout of the one tactic that might stop the Iranians short of war.

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President Obama has been assuring the public since before he was elected in 2008 that he would never allow Iran to acquire nuclear weapons. But the question facing the White House this year is whether a failure to make good on that pledge will be more damaging to his chances of re-election than a spike in oil prices.

That’s the dilemma Obama has been grappling with since Congress passed a bill over his objections last month that mandated a complete ban on all transactions with entities that did business with Iran’s Central Bank. Sanctions on the bank are the lever by which an international embargo on the sale of Iranian oil is made possible. But as American diplomats are laying the groundwork for such an embargo, the administration is also sending out signals that indicate it is less than enthusiastic about dealing with the possible economic fallout of the one tactic that might stop the Iranians short of war.

According to the New York Times, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner has already told Congress he thought the bank measure interfered with the administration’s  “carefully phased” approach to sanctions on Iran. Having demanded and gotten a waiver inserted into the bill that would allow the president to put off the sanctions indefinitely, there is now a very real chance Obama will decide the sanctions are not worth the trouble. With the president’s favorability numbers already low, the White House may believe the impact of a major increase in the price of gas and the consequent economic distress may be more politically toxic than actions that can be interpreted as acquiescing to a nuclear Iran.

But with diplomacy offering no hope and since the administration has made it clear it will not support the use of force against Iran and opposes Israel doing so on its own, punting on an oil embargo will be seen as an indication Obama is not prepared to do anything to stop Tehran.

Doing so will open the president up to fierce criticism from Republicans. Just as troubling is that it will undermine his standing with a key component of his electoral coalition: American Jews. Obama may be able to hold onto the loyalty of a group that is for the most part comprised of Democratic partisans, even though he has often quarreled with Israel’s government. But for Obama to refuse to use the one economic lever he has at his disposal to avert an existential threat to Israel as well as to the entire Middle East would certainly cost him heavily among Jews as well as non-Jewish friends of Israel.

Essentially, Obama has until late June to decide whether or not to use the waiver Congress gave him. While we must expect the administration would attempt to explain its use as part of a long-range strategy against Iran, the consequences of doing so could be greater than just some lost votes. If the United States chooses not to push tough sanctions against Iran, then Israel may decide it must take matters into its own hands. Since the president has acted at times as if he was more afraid of Israel attacking Iranian nuclear sites than he was of the ayatollah gaining control of a bomb, that too may figure into his decision. Even worse for the president is the possibility that further delay will result in an Iranian announcement of nuclear capability on Obama’s watch.

But if Obama is left with no good choices about Iran he has only himself to blame. Having wasted his first three years in office on a foolish policy of “engagement” with and feckless diplomatic initiatives that accomplished nothing, the fact that he has painted himself into a corner on this issue during an election year is entirely his own doing.

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The Two Faces of Newt Gingrich

I’ve certainly had critical things to say about Newt Gingrich, but he proved again Monday night that he’s in possession of some of the greatest skills in American politics. Gingrich was the dominant figure in last night’s debate, in part because of his ability to create fairly dramatic moments, including his confrontation with Fox News’s Juan Williams. The former speaker was energetic, in command of the issues, and sent a jolt of electricity through the audience. He clearly owned the evening.

The South Carolina leg of the GOP campaign in some ways represents Gingrich in a microcosm. Last night we saw Gingrich at his best. But last week we saw him at his worst, leading an assault on Bain Capital (and the free market more broadly) that was terribly damaging to his campaign. Among other things, Gingrich’s approach earned him the praise of such liberal/left-wing stalwarts as the film director Michael Moore and AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka.

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I’ve certainly had critical things to say about Newt Gingrich, but he proved again Monday night that he’s in possession of some of the greatest skills in American politics. Gingrich was the dominant figure in last night’s debate, in part because of his ability to create fairly dramatic moments, including his confrontation with Fox News’s Juan Williams. The former speaker was energetic, in command of the issues, and sent a jolt of electricity through the audience. He clearly owned the evening.

The South Carolina leg of the GOP campaign in some ways represents Gingrich in a microcosm. Last night we saw Gingrich at his best. But last week we saw him at his worst, leading an assault on Bain Capital (and the free market more broadly) that was terribly damaging to his campaign. Among other things, Gingrich’s approach earned him the praise of such liberal/left-wing stalwarts as the film director Michael Moore and AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka.

What makes Gingrich the most Janus-like figure in American politics today is his capacity to bring a conservative audience to its feet one moment while in the next he refers to Representative Paul Ryan’s budget as an example of “right-wing social engineering.” The former House speaker can present himself as the heir of Reagan one day while the next he attacks democratic capitalism in language so extreme not even Barack Obama would dare invoke it. Gingrich can articulate in compelling terms the philosophical case for conservatism in one setting and speak as if he’s philosophically unanchored in another. He threatens to fire any staffer who goes negative one day and accuses the GOP frontrunner of lying and looting the next. He can speak out about the civilizational importance of marriage as an institution while treating it with a good deal less care in his own life. He can quote Edmund Burke while being a devoted follower of Alvin Toffler.

There’s a pinball quality to what Newt Gingrich says and does, which makes him both a compelling figure and an erratic one. He’s a man in possession of some extraordinary gifts but whose defects in his temperament and character are at least equal to those gifts. As a conservative, he can’t help but impress you, often just before he unnerves you.

 

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So Why Read (Fiction) Anymore?

Yesterday, in his blog Works and Days at PJ Media, the classical historian Victor Davis Hanson asked why anyone should read anymore. He rehearsed several good reasons (reading is mental exercise, it renews the language that social media zaps into an “instant bland hot cereal,” it reverses the intellectual regress that seems to accompany technological progress) before arriving at what strikes me as the soundest reason of all. “[S]peaking and writing well are not just the DSL lines of modern civilization,” Hanson concluded, “but also the keys to self-mastery. . . .” He hurried on to talk about upholding the standards of culture, saying no more about self-mastery. In passing, though, Hanson put his finger on the reason for what Ben Jonson, four centuries ago, called a “mul­ti­plicity of read­ing.” It “maketh a full man,” Jonson said.

That’s not the conventional wisdom. The conventional wisdom is that reading leads not to self-mastery, but to self-affirmation. Some such view stands behind the nonprofit labors of Reading Is Fundamental, the children’s literacy organization:

Literature transforms human experience and reflects it back to us, and in that reflection we can see our own lives and experiences as part of the larger human experience. Reading, then, becomes a means of self-affirmation, and readers often seek their mirrors in books.

What follows from this view is that “nonwhite readers” need to “find their mirrors.” They cannot hope to glimpse themselves and their circumstances in “white” books. Thus the call for “diversity” in literature — different groups require different “mirrors” for self-affirmation.

But what if this is exactly backwards? Hanson thinks so: “In his treatise on old age and again in the Pro Archia,” he observes, “Cicero made the argument that learning gives us a common bond.” Cicero is unlikely, however, to convince those who believe that young readers will only feel “part of the larger human experience” if their own smaller experience is affirmed first.

What if both arguments are wrong? What if both the reader hoping for a common bond and the reader in search of self-affirmation are making the same mistake? The mistake, as the poet and literary scholar J. V. Cunningham said caustically, is for a reader to think that he “can appropriate [a book] as his own.” Cunningham’s ambition as a poet was to disappoint the reader in this expectation:

He wanted him to know that this was his poem, not yours; these were his circumstances, not yours; and these were the structures of thought by which he had penetrated them.

Every written text belongs to its author, not to you. This proposition, I realize, is sadly anachronistic. It sounds like an admonition to thrift and chastity. It paddles against the current of the times. Michel Foucault has taught us, after all, that the author is an impediment to freedom — that he is not really a person at all (who is owed respect), but merely a “certain functional principle by which, in our culture, one limits, excludes, and chooses. . . .” Remove the author, Roland Barthes urges, and you remove all limitations upon the text.

The truth is otherwise. Remove the author and all you do is to remove every restraint upon Narcissistic Reading Disorder. To read an author is to read someone different from ourselves. Reading is not a means of self-affirmation, but of self-denial. Any book that is any good challenges its readers: This is so, isn’t it? Did you know this? Have you considered that? Hanson gives a marvelous account of the late Christopher Hitchens, a writer we both admired despite his various contradictions and occasional cruelties: “[H]e achieved what the Roman student of rhetoric, Quintilian, once called variatio, the ability to mix up words and sentences and not bore,” Hanson says. But surely Hitchens’s appeal is more immediate than that. With Hitchens, the challenge is constant. He never lets you get away with a lazy reflection, because he never let himself get away with a lazy reflection. He demands that you think about things his way, and if you find that unpleasant — well, what do you think?

Hence reading is self-mastery, because the self (and its affirmations) are held in check while the author (and his structures of thought) are fully attended to. True diversity in literature would be to read authors in circumstances as different from our own as possible, because we might then imagine ourselves as different than we are — not the creature of circumstances, but their master. Reading is fundamental, all right: to a person’s ethical development. Umberto Eco, the Italian postmodernist thinker and novelist, explains in an interview:

The ethical has to do with human behavior; it’s not necessarily related to good and evil. When I read Madame Bovary I ask myself: what would I do in a similar situation? Would I trust Leon, who tells me that he loves me? . . . If I were Ringo in Stagecoach, would I have escaped with Dallas upon reaching the city, or would I have set out to take revenge on my enemies? This is what ethics is about. . . . Every work of fiction is a story of human conduct, and the reader would have to be a monster in order not to see the deeds which the work presents as possible acts of his own.

If reading is the key to self-mastery, fiction is the master key. Those like Hanson and Hitchens, who invite disagreement, are good too. But fiction demands that you either identify with the characters’ decisions or distance yourself from them, and this has a powerful effect. In doing so you shape your own moral experience. Although it may seem to be far removed from the center of the culture right now, fiction remains the best form of reading — the single best way to achieve all of reading’s goods.

Yesterday, in his blog Works and Days at PJ Media, the classical historian Victor Davis Hanson asked why anyone should read anymore. He rehearsed several good reasons (reading is mental exercise, it renews the language that social media zaps into an “instant bland hot cereal,” it reverses the intellectual regress that seems to accompany technological progress) before arriving at what strikes me as the soundest reason of all. “[S]peaking and writing well are not just the DSL lines of modern civilization,” Hanson concluded, “but also the keys to self-mastery. . . .” He hurried on to talk about upholding the standards of culture, saying no more about self-mastery. In passing, though, Hanson put his finger on the reason for what Ben Jonson, four centuries ago, called a “mul­ti­plicity of read­ing.” It “maketh a full man,” Jonson said.

That’s not the conventional wisdom. The conventional wisdom is that reading leads not to self-mastery, but to self-affirmation. Some such view stands behind the nonprofit labors of Reading Is Fundamental, the children’s literacy organization:

Literature transforms human experience and reflects it back to us, and in that reflection we can see our own lives and experiences as part of the larger human experience. Reading, then, becomes a means of self-affirmation, and readers often seek their mirrors in books.

What follows from this view is that “nonwhite readers” need to “find their mirrors.” They cannot hope to glimpse themselves and their circumstances in “white” books. Thus the call for “diversity” in literature — different groups require different “mirrors” for self-affirmation.

But what if this is exactly backwards? Hanson thinks so: “In his treatise on old age and again in the Pro Archia,” he observes, “Cicero made the argument that learning gives us a common bond.” Cicero is unlikely, however, to convince those who believe that young readers will only feel “part of the larger human experience” if their own smaller experience is affirmed first.

What if both arguments are wrong? What if both the reader hoping for a common bond and the reader in search of self-affirmation are making the same mistake? The mistake, as the poet and literary scholar J. V. Cunningham said caustically, is for a reader to think that he “can appropriate [a book] as his own.” Cunningham’s ambition as a poet was to disappoint the reader in this expectation:

He wanted him to know that this was his poem, not yours; these were his circumstances, not yours; and these were the structures of thought by which he had penetrated them.

Every written text belongs to its author, not to you. This proposition, I realize, is sadly anachronistic. It sounds like an admonition to thrift and chastity. It paddles against the current of the times. Michel Foucault has taught us, after all, that the author is an impediment to freedom — that he is not really a person at all (who is owed respect), but merely a “certain functional principle by which, in our culture, one limits, excludes, and chooses. . . .” Remove the author, Roland Barthes urges, and you remove all limitations upon the text.

The truth is otherwise. Remove the author and all you do is to remove every restraint upon Narcissistic Reading Disorder. To read an author is to read someone different from ourselves. Reading is not a means of self-affirmation, but of self-denial. Any book that is any good challenges its readers: This is so, isn’t it? Did you know this? Have you considered that? Hanson gives a marvelous account of the late Christopher Hitchens, a writer we both admired despite his various contradictions and occasional cruelties: “[H]e achieved what the Roman student of rhetoric, Quintilian, once called variatio, the ability to mix up words and sentences and not bore,” Hanson says. But surely Hitchens’s appeal is more immediate than that. With Hitchens, the challenge is constant. He never lets you get away with a lazy reflection, because he never let himself get away with a lazy reflection. He demands that you think about things his way, and if you find that unpleasant — well, what do you think?

Hence reading is self-mastery, because the self (and its affirmations) are held in check while the author (and his structures of thought) are fully attended to. True diversity in literature would be to read authors in circumstances as different from our own as possible, because we might then imagine ourselves as different than we are — not the creature of circumstances, but their master. Reading is fundamental, all right: to a person’s ethical development. Umberto Eco, the Italian postmodernist thinker and novelist, explains in an interview:

The ethical has to do with human behavior; it’s not necessarily related to good and evil. When I read Madame Bovary I ask myself: what would I do in a similar situation? Would I trust Leon, who tells me that he loves me? . . . If I were Ringo in Stagecoach, would I have escaped with Dallas upon reaching the city, or would I have set out to take revenge on my enemies? This is what ethics is about. . . . Every work of fiction is a story of human conduct, and the reader would have to be a monster in order not to see the deeds which the work presents as possible acts of his own.

If reading is the key to self-mastery, fiction is the master key. Those like Hanson and Hitchens, who invite disagreement, are good too. But fiction demands that you either identify with the characters’ decisions or distance yourself from them, and this has a powerful effect. In doing so you shape your own moral experience. Although it may seem to be far removed from the center of the culture right now, fiction remains the best form of reading — the single best way to achieve all of reading’s goods.

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Will Romney Unilaterally End the Debates?

The debates have basically become a contest over which not-Romney candidate can draw the most blood from the frontrunner. This is great for voters, who get to see Mitt Romney’s positions challenged, and great for the other candidates, who get a chance to try to knock him down a peg. But there’s not much of a benefit there for Romney, whose campaign floated the idea to Byron York that he may sit out some of the upcoming debates:

“There are too many of these,” Romney strategist Stuart Stevens said after Monday night’s Fox News debate at the Myrtle Beach Convention Center. “We have to bring some order to it. We haven’t accepted Florida…It’s kind of like a cruise that’s gone on too long.” …

More generally, Stevens suggested that in the long course of the campaign, this year’s key issues have been exhausted. “We’re down to the most obscure questions,” he said. “When more than ten debates mention Chilean models, and it’s not a fashion show, then something’s wrong.”

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The debates have basically become a contest over which not-Romney candidate can draw the most blood from the frontrunner. This is great for voters, who get to see Mitt Romney’s positions challenged, and great for the other candidates, who get a chance to try to knock him down a peg. But there’s not much of a benefit there for Romney, whose campaign floated the idea to Byron York that he may sit out some of the upcoming debates:

“There are too many of these,” Romney strategist Stuart Stevens said after Monday night’s Fox News debate at the Myrtle Beach Convention Center. “We have to bring some order to it. We haven’t accepted Florida…It’s kind of like a cruise that’s gone on too long.” …

More generally, Stevens suggested that in the long course of the campaign, this year’s key issues have been exhausted. “We’re down to the most obscure questions,” he said. “When more than ten debates mention Chilean models, and it’s not a fashion show, then something’s wrong.”

Rick Perry’s next move after this weekend’s primary could factor into this. Perry insists he’ll continue on to Florida, but he’s polling in a distant last place in South Carolina, which raises the possibility that he may not last much longer in the race. If Perry does drop out, would it even be realistic for the networks to hold a debate without Romney? That would leave just Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum, and Ron Paul on the stage — not a very interesting contest. If voters don’t tune in, it could mean an end to the primary debates and almost certain victory for Romney.

But skipping debates wouldn’t be without significant risks for Romney. It could be viewed as a snub to Florida voters, as if he was taking his support in the state for granted. And it would definitely leave him open to attack from other candidates. It really depends on what the public interest in debates is like at that point – if voters are just as tired of them as Romney is, then it might not make a difference to them what he decides to do.

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Romney Leads Perry…in Texas

It’s stories like these that make Phil Klein’s scenario of a 50-state Mitt Romney primary sweep seem more and more plausible. As low as Rick Perry’s poll numbers have been in the rest of the country, it was just assumed he still had a strong cheering section in Texas – he is, after all, the only candidate out of the lot who is currently governing an entire state.

But even in Texas, Romney is starting to look inevitable. He’s now leading Perry by six points, after Perry’s incredible 39-point lead collapsed:

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It’s stories like these that make Phil Klein’s scenario of a 50-state Mitt Romney primary sweep seem more and more plausible. As low as Rick Perry’s poll numbers have been in the rest of the country, it was just assumed he still had a strong cheering section in Texas – he is, after all, the only candidate out of the lot who is currently governing an entire state.

But even in Texas, Romney is starting to look inevitable. He’s now leading Perry by six points, after Perry’s incredible 39-point lead collapsed:

Rick Perry’s presidential campaign is doing about as bad in Texas now as it is everywhere else in the country. When PPP last polled the state in September he was at 49%, leading Mitt Romney by 39 points.  Now Perry’s support has declined by 31 points, leaving him in 3rd place at 18%. Mitt Romney at 24% and Newt Gingrich at 23% lead the way with Rick Santorum at 15%, Ron Paul at 12%, and Buddy Roemer at 0% rounding out the field behind Perry.

If the other candidates were going to have a leg-up anywhere, you would think it would be in their own states, right? Fortunately, Perry probably won’t stick around long enough to have to go through the embarrassment of losing his own state primary in April. But this poll doesn’t provide much hope for a dramatic or drawn-out race. If Romney’s now leading the field in a true red state like Texas, he’ll certainly have the squishier northeast races locked up.

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Cyberwar Against Israel Is a Worry for All

The cyberwar being waged against Israel should be of great concern not only to that country but also to the U.S. and our other allies.

In recent days, a hacker known as oxOmar, supposedly a Saudi teenager, has mounted assaults which have disrupted the websites of the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange and El Al airline. He has also posted online the details of roughly 20,000 Israeli credit cards. That he has been able to cause so much mayhem is notable because, outside the U.S., Israel might be the most advanced user of computers and Internet in the world. Yet Israeli computer scientists–some of the best in the world–have not been able to stop these brazen assaults.

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The cyberwar being waged against Israel should be of great concern not only to that country but also to the U.S. and our other allies.

In recent days, a hacker known as oxOmar, supposedly a Saudi teenager, has mounted assaults which have disrupted the websites of the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange and El Al airline. He has also posted online the details of roughly 20,000 Israeli credit cards. That he has been able to cause so much mayhem is notable because, outside the U.S., Israel might be the most advanced user of computers and Internet in the world. Yet Israeli computer scientists–some of the best in the world–have not been able to stop these brazen assaults.

Would we do any better? The answer is no, according to Gen. Keith Alexander. He should know: As head of the National Security Agency and Cyber Command, he is our top computer warrior. According to Wired magazine, in a speech last week, Alexander warned that even Defense Department computer networks are “not defensible” and that civilian networks, which control much of the economy, are in even worse shape.

The problem at the Pentagon is that it has too many networks–15,000–a figure Alexander is pushing to consolidate into a more manageable 3,000. Achieving that goal will require overcoming a monumental amount of bureaucratic inertia. But protecting civilian networks, such as the ones targeted in Israel, will be even harder. The NSA and Cyber Command lack the legal authority to monitor civilan networks in real time, which is what it would take to detect and stop attacks. Giving them that authority would require an act of Congress but, given the resistance to such a move that inevitably would be heard from the computer industry and libertarian lobby, that is not likely to happen anytime soon. It may well take a cyber Pearl Harbor before we start to seriously protect our civilian computer infrastructure. That’s a sobering thought as we watch a close ally grapple with its own cyber attacks.

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Sanctions on Iran Starting to Bite?

News from Iran is that the new sanctions on its oil industry and Central Bank enacted by Congress over President Obama’s protests are already starting to bite—even before the European Union finalizes its own embargo of Iranian oil. The Wall Street Journal reports:

Iran’s rial currency has declined 40 percent to 55 percent against the dollar on the black market since December. Iranian inflation, meanwhile, now exceeds 20 percent a month, according to the Central Bank. While the rial has been falling for almost a year, the latest drop appeared to be triggered by a recent U.S. announcement that it would penalize companies that do business with Iran’s Central Bank, and a proposed plan to ban Iranian oil purchases in the European Union later this year.

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News from Iran is that the new sanctions on its oil industry and Central Bank enacted by Congress over President Obama’s protests are already starting to bite—even before the European Union finalizes its own embargo of Iranian oil. The Wall Street Journal reports:

Iran’s rial currency has declined 40 percent to 55 percent against the dollar on the black market since December. Iranian inflation, meanwhile, now exceeds 20 percent a month, according to the Central Bank. While the rial has been falling for almost a year, the latest drop appeared to be triggered by a recent U.S. announcement that it would penalize companies that do business with Iran’s Central Bank, and a proposed plan to ban Iranian oil purchases in the European Union later this year.

That’s certainly good news on some level although no one can be happy about the economic suffering being inflicted on the Iranian people who have no say in their leaders’ attempts to acquire nuclear programs. But will these sanctions be enough to deter the mullahs from going nuclear? Perhaps so, if the sanctions galvanize social unrest that threatens the ayatollahs’ hold on power. But I am not especially hopeful that will be the case.

As the Journal notes, the examples of Cuba, North Korea and Iraq under Saddam Hussein are not encouraging: all three countries faced years of crippling sanctions (decades in the case of the first two) yet their leaders’ hold on power was not seriously challenged. Instead, as the Journal writes, the result was “a populace that is poor and dependent on state welfare.”

This is the flip side of the argument that opponents of bombing Iran’s nuclear installations often make: Such strikes, they claim, will only lead the people to draw closer to their rulers. But that could also be the effect of sanctions. The difference is that, whatever their impact on Iranian popular opinion (impossible to predict), strikes would at least deliver short-term benefits by setting back Iranian nuclear efforts. Sanctions could simply be ineffectual.

 

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Will Romney Regret Immigration Stance?

When liberal pro-immigration groups criticize a Republican candidate, it will often understandably be written off as pure partisanship (or in some cases, preparing for a plum administration appointment). But what happens when the presumptive GOP nominee is taking fire on immigration from Republican groups, and even a Republican governor who has attracted speculation she might be considered for the vice presidential nomination? The Wall Street Journal reports:

Mitt Romney’s embrace of Kris Kobach, the man behind a spate of laws intended to rid states like Arizona of illegal immigrants, is drawing fire from Hispanic Republicans and immigrant advocates who say the GOP front-runner has damaged his chances of attracting Latino voters in the presidential election.

“Romney committed political suicide when he received Kobach’s endorsement,” said DeeDee Garcia Blase, founder of Somos Republicans, a grassroots Latino Republican group. Somos Republicans announced Monday that it is endorsing Newt Gingrich in the Republican primary.

[…]

Concerned about alienating Hispanics, the Republican National Committee has enlisted a director for Latino outreach. New Mexico Gov. Susan Martinez, who is a Republican, last week urged her party’s presidential candidates to tone down their immigration rhetoric. Arizona Sen. John McCain is also among prominent Republicans who have recently cautioned against taking an anti-immigrant stance.

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When liberal pro-immigration groups criticize a Republican candidate, it will often understandably be written off as pure partisanship (or in some cases, preparing for a plum administration appointment). But what happens when the presumptive GOP nominee is taking fire on immigration from Republican groups, and even a Republican governor who has attracted speculation she might be considered for the vice presidential nomination? The Wall Street Journal reports:

Mitt Romney’s embrace of Kris Kobach, the man behind a spate of laws intended to rid states like Arizona of illegal immigrants, is drawing fire from Hispanic Republicans and immigrant advocates who say the GOP front-runner has damaged his chances of attracting Latino voters in the presidential election.

“Romney committed political suicide when he received Kobach’s endorsement,” said DeeDee Garcia Blase, founder of Somos Republicans, a grassroots Latino Republican group. Somos Republicans announced Monday that it is endorsing Newt Gingrich in the Republican primary.

[…]

Concerned about alienating Hispanics, the Republican National Committee has enlisted a director for Latino outreach. New Mexico Gov. Susan Martinez, who is a Republican, last week urged her party’s presidential candidates to tone down their immigration rhetoric. Arizona Sen. John McCain is also among prominent Republicans who have recently cautioned against taking an anti-immigrant stance.

Romney has chosen immigration as one area to run to the right of his rivals to shore up his conservative credibility. But it may not have been the best choice. The issue has potency, and in fact hurt Rick Perry’s candidacy a few months ago when he defended, somewhat awkwardly, offering in-state tuition to the children of illegal immigrants. Newt Gingrich also took a more moderate line on immigration, similar to Perry’s, and it seemed to leave him unscathed.

But as a general-election issue, Romney may have put himself in a box. Romney is not just to the right of Gingrich and Perry on the issue; he’s to the right of every Republican presidential nominee in recent history. After Ann Coulter and Peter Robinson discussed the topic on a Ricochet podcast last week, Ben Domenech jumped into the fray with some statistics that reveal why the GOP’s border state politicians are telling Romney to cool it:

Now, I’m skeptical of a lot of data about illegal immigrants because, well, it’s a bit difficult to assess. But as far as such data goes, the folks at Pew do a pretty thorough job. They estimated recently that two-thirds of illegal immigrants have been here for more than a decade.

Of the total, Pew found that 35% of illegal immigrants have been here for more than 15 years. And only 15% have been here for less than five years (this is the area where I think their estimate is questionable, as that would likely be the population more difficult to track; on the flip side, the economic downturn of the last four years has almost certainly slowed traffic in this direction).

The overall point is that a long-term illegal immigrant is not some outlier, but actually a significant portion of the population.

If you support hard-line policies to curb illegal immigration, at some point you have to ask yourself whether your plan really calls for the deportation of 6.4 million adults (out of the 10.2 estimated total) who have been in this country for at least a decade, almost half of whom have children under the age of 18. If the answer is yes, you are left with two follow-up questions: Can this in any way be considered realistic? And presuming you do not accomplish this (for a host of reasons), have you just told 3 million parents in the demographic that accounted for 56 percent of the nation’s population growth in the last decade that your party wants them and their children out?

In other words, is it possible your plan is both bad politics and bad policy? Since the general-election ads against this line have presumably already been cut, Romney needs to have answers to all those questions.

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“iCarly” and the Obamas’ Camelot Treatment

If you don’t have a pre-teen female in your household, the significance of Michelle Obama’s recent appearance on “iCarly” may have been lost on you. The show, a situation comedy that depicts the antics of some wholesome and terrible likeable teenagers who have their own Internet web show, appears on the Nickelodeon cable channel. It’s a huge hit, especially with young girls. But while there was nothing particularly partisan or sinister about the episode in which Mrs. Obama guest-starred, it’s noteworthy because it shows not only the effective way the White House has managed to insinuate the first lady into children’s programming but also how differently Obama’s family is treated by the press and popular culture when compared to his recent predecessors.

The point is not just that it is almost impossible to imagine Laura Bush being treated so royally by a popular television show though that is certainly the case. Rather, it is that the Obamas and their children are given the sort of kid-glove treatment by pop culture and the media that has not been seen in this country since the days of John F. Kennedy and Camelot.

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If you don’t have a pre-teen female in your household, the significance of Michelle Obama’s recent appearance on “iCarly” may have been lost on you. The show, a situation comedy that depicts the antics of some wholesome and terrible likeable teenagers who have their own Internet web show, appears on the Nickelodeon cable channel. It’s a huge hit, especially with young girls. But while there was nothing particularly partisan or sinister about the episode in which Mrs. Obama guest-starred, it’s noteworthy because it shows not only the effective way the White House has managed to insinuate the first lady into children’s programming but also how differently Obama’s family is treated by the press and popular culture when compared to his recent predecessors.

The point is not just that it is almost impossible to imagine Laura Bush being treated so royally by a popular television show though that is certainly the case. Rather, it is that the Obamas and their children are given the sort of kid-glove treatment by pop culture and the media that has not been seen in this country since the days of John F. Kennedy and Camelot.

The Bush family as well as that of Vice President Cheney were the subject of vulgar and pointedly partisan comments that repeatedly found their way into television scripts. But even recent Democratic presidents were not treated as kindly as the Obamas. Given the abuse that was dished out to Chelsea Clinton and Amy Carter (the last two small children of presidents to live in the White House) the respectful manner with which the mainstream media has regarded the Obama children stands out.

That is not to argue the press should be abusive to the Obamas. Any president’s family ought to be off-limits for the abuse that was dealt to the Bushes or even the Clintons for that matter. But the cynicism with which politicians are normally portrayed on television is strictly on hold when the Obamas are mentioned.

Michelle Obama has taken advantage of a welcome mat that was never rolled out for her predecessor. She has become a familiar face to kids via public service announcements on the Disney Channel about healthy food and exercise and has now capped that with her guest role on “iCarly.” There will be those who grouse that her ability to pop up in these settings is an attempt to send a not-so-subtle subliminal message to parents to vote for her husband. They’re not entirely wrong, and one might think producers would regard it as prudent to stay away from the White House during an election year. But even if you believe there’s something not kosher about this, it’s doubtful the 2012 election will be heavily influenced by “iCarly’s” fan base.

Nevertheless, this stunt is one more reminder to Republicans that their task this year is not as easy as some of them might think. President Obama not only has all the natural advantages that accrue to any incumbent, he can also count on a largely sympathetic mainstream media and the adoration of the arbiters of most of our popular culture. The Camelot treatment by these powerful influences on society gives Obama a leg up on the GOP. This stacked deck is one more obstacle that Republicans will have to overcome if they hope to defeat Obama in November.

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Clinton Adviser Denies Endorsement of Turkish Islamist Paper

Anne-Marie Slaughter, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s director of policy planning, now denies she endorsed Today’s Zaman, the flagship newspaper of Fethullah Gülen’s Islamist cult. Here is a google cache record with Prof. Slaughter’s endorsement, and here is the page now, with Professor Slaughter’s endorsement excised.

Professor Slaughter denies she made the endorsement, although it would be over-the-top for Zaman simply to construct a quote by a former official and prominent intellectual.

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Anne-Marie Slaughter, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s director of policy planning, now denies she endorsed Today’s Zaman, the flagship newspaper of Fethullah Gülen’s Islamist cult. Here is a google cache record with Prof. Slaughter’s endorsement, and here is the page now, with Professor Slaughter’s endorsement excised.

Professor Slaughter denies she made the endorsement, although it would be over-the-top for Zaman simply to construct a quote by a former official and prominent intellectual.

There are two possible explanations:

(1) Professor Slaughter is being truthful, and Today’s Zaman simply made it all up. If so, this suggests that the ethics of Zaman and the organization which sponsors it are non-existent.

(2) Professor Slaughter asked for the retraction only after learning about Today’s Zaman’s affiliation. Academics – and government officials – should always pay attention to sources, and understand the backgrounds of those to whom they talk. If Slaughter truly did not know that Zaman is the flagship of Gülen’s Islamist cult, then that does not reflect well on Slaughter and senior officials in the State Department.

It would behoove us to give Professor Slaughter the benefit of the doubt, however, and hope the former explanation is true. However, it would be good to hear from both Slaughter and the State Department just what their assessment of Gülen is, especially given the FBI investigation into his movement’s schools.

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Occupy D.C. Descends on the Capitol

Occupy D.C. activists are supposedly marching to protest something involving Congress, but the reality is the Occupy movement has fallen out of the news cycle lately and needs to do something big to get itself back in. I’m not sure if this protest will cut it, though. The activists were hoping for a turnout of 2,000, and as you can see from the live feed, the crowd looks like it’s only a few hundred right now.

WaPo is reporting a handful of arrests already this morning, and some shoving matches with police. Capitol Hill police say one arrest was for assault on an officer. City residents are already fed up with the Occupiers, who are still living in an increasingly smelly and filth-ridden encampment in McPherson Square. Any violence, vandalism or traffic congestion caused by the Occupiers today will only increase pressure on the federal government to evict the protesters:

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Occupy D.C. activists are supposedly marching to protest something involving Congress, but the reality is the Occupy movement has fallen out of the news cycle lately and needs to do something big to get itself back in. I’m not sure if this protest will cut it, though. The activists were hoping for a turnout of 2,000, and as you can see from the live feed, the crowd looks like it’s only a few hundred right now.

WaPo is reporting a handful of arrests already this morning, and some shoving matches with police. Capitol Hill police say one arrest was for assault on an officer. City residents are already fed up with the Occupiers, who are still living in an increasingly smelly and filth-ridden encampment in McPherson Square. Any violence, vandalism or traffic congestion caused by the Occupiers today will only increase pressure on the federal government to evict the protesters:

But pressure was mounting on the Obama administration to evict the protesters from their encampment in a federal park, with the city’s mayor citing unsanitary conditions last week in a request to have the protesters moved. Until now the National Park Service has tolerated the occupiers [who have no permit for McPherson Square], allowing them to sleep in a square where federal regulations explicitly prohibit camping. …

The White House has deferred to local authorities in New York and elsewhere as they have evicted ‘Occupy’ camps. But unlike other cities, the federal government is managing the demonstrations because the park service oversees many D.C. park lands, leaving the decision in the hands of President Barack Obama’s administration.

City officials have already pointed out the conditions at the Occupy camp are unlivable. So the responsibility for any incidents resulting from that now falls to the federal government. But will the Obama administration actually take action? Mayor Bloomberg and Mayor Jean Quan were pilloried for evicting the protesters in their cities, and the Obama administration may not want to risk angering its base during an election year.

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Huntsman’s Eyebrow and the GOP Race

In a post published yesterday, Pete noted that among Jon Huntsman’s failures as a candidate was the fact that  “he came across as supercilious.” Many others have noted the same tendency.

But while he was certainly supercilious in the metaphorical sense, he was also in the quite literal, etymological sense. The word comes from the Latin superciliosus, meaning the same thing, and that word in turn comes from supercilium, meaning eyebrow. (The English language medical term superciliary means “of or relating to the eyebrow.”)

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In a post published yesterday, Pete noted that among Jon Huntsman’s failures as a candidate was the fact that  “he came across as supercilious.” Many others have noted the same tendency.

But while he was certainly supercilious in the metaphorical sense, he was also in the quite literal, etymological sense. The word comes from the Latin superciliosus, meaning the same thing, and that word in turn comes from supercilium, meaning eyebrow. (The English language medical term superciliary means “of or relating to the eyebrow.”)

And, as John Podhoretz commented about his performance in one of the debates last fall, Huntsman’s right eyebrow seems permanently arched, giving him a, well, supercilious air.

By such trifles, it seems, are presidencies gained and lost.

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The Ron Paul Brand of Foreign Policy

At nutty as Ron Paul is on foreign policy, he typically tries to be consistent. But in this exchange with Newt Gingrich and Bret Baier at last night’s debate, Paul can’t even manage that. It’s impossible to understand what Paul’s position on this is – on one hand, he says he supported efforts to take out Osama bin Laden, but then says he disagrees with the actual mission that killed bin Laden because it was a violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty. How exactly were we supposed to kill bin Laden without entering Pakistan, seeing as he was living there? This is the problem with the Paul brand of foreign policy theory. It all comes crashing down when it meets reality. (Video via HotAir):

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At nutty as Ron Paul is on foreign policy, he typically tries to be consistent. But in this exchange with Newt Gingrich and Bret Baier at last night’s debate, Paul can’t even manage that. It’s impossible to understand what Paul’s position on this is – on one hand, he says he supported efforts to take out Osama bin Laden, but then says he disagrees with the actual mission that killed bin Laden because it was a violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty. How exactly were we supposed to kill bin Laden without entering Pakistan, seeing as he was living there? This is the problem with the Paul brand of foreign policy theory. It all comes crashing down when it meets reality. (Video via HotAir):

Gingrich does a phenomenal job challenging Paul on this, and in the process gives us one of the best historical references of the night: “South Carolina in the Revolutionary War had a young 13-year-old named Andrew Jackson. He was sabered by a British officer and wore a scar his whole life. Andrew Jackson had a pretty clear-cut idea about America’s enemies: Kill them.”

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Can “Coordinated Unilateralism” Bring Mideast Peace?

In 2006, after Roger Clemens left the Yankees to join the Houston Astros only to miss the playoffs as the Yankees won their division, the satirical newspaper The Onion published a humorous fake story in which Clemens pretended he was still playing for the Yankees. Astros catcher Brad Ausmus says: “I want to break it to him that he’s not a Yankee, but I’m afraid that it’s the only thing that keeps him going at this point.”

I always think of this story when I read about former Senator George Mitchell’s time as President Obama’s envoy to the Middle East, charged with restarting the Israeli-Palestinian peace process in 2009. Mitchell, who was involved with the negotiations that led to peace in Northern Ireland, attempted to simply copy and paste his experience there onto his new task in the Middle East. It was a monumental mistake, and led to certain failure and to the Washington Post’s Jackson Diehl to beg Mitchell to please, for the love of all that is good and holy, stop comparing Benjamin Netanyahu and Mahmoud Abbas to Gerry Adams and David Trimble.

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In 2006, after Roger Clemens left the Yankees to join the Houston Astros only to miss the playoffs as the Yankees won their division, the satirical newspaper The Onion published a humorous fake story in which Clemens pretended he was still playing for the Yankees. Astros catcher Brad Ausmus says: “I want to break it to him that he’s not a Yankee, but I’m afraid that it’s the only thing that keeps him going at this point.”

I always think of this story when I read about former Senator George Mitchell’s time as President Obama’s envoy to the Middle East, charged with restarting the Israeli-Palestinian peace process in 2009. Mitchell, who was involved with the negotiations that led to peace in Northern Ireland, attempted to simply copy and paste his experience there onto his new task in the Middle East. It was a monumental mistake, and led to certain failure and to the Washington Post’s Jackson Diehl to beg Mitchell to please, for the love of all that is good and holy, stop comparing Benjamin Netanyahu and Mahmoud Abbas to Gerry Adams and David Trimble.

Last week, Diehl got his wish, as Mitchell appeared at an event organized by The Atlantic and the S. Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace. At one point in his speech, in the course of making a bizarre historical error, Mitchell actually raised a good point. He said:

Every sensible Arab leader today would gladly accept that 1948 plan if it were still available. But it is not still available, and never again will be. Since then, the plans offered to the Palestinians have been less attractive, and they have been rejected as well. I told both chairman Arafat and president Abbas directly that there is no evidence—none whatsoever–to suggest that the offers are going to get any better in the future. To the contrary, all of the evidence points in exactly the opposite direction. They have got to sit down and participate in direct negotiations and get the best deal they can even though it’s not 100 percent of what they want.

I’m not sure exactly when Mitchell told Yasser Arafat this, but presumably it was while the latter was still alive. Which means Mitchell turned out to be wrong. It’s true that the Palestinians will not be offered the 1948 plan again—nor is there convincing evidence they would accept that offer, though it’s surely plausible. But it is without question that the Israeli offers got better, not worse, over time. Arafat was offered all of Gaza, a capital in eastern Jerusalem, and 97 percent of the West Bank by Ehud Barak. About eight years later, Abbas admitted he was offered the same deal but with land equaling 100 percent of the West Bank.

Now, of course, Mitchell would be on more solid ground to make that promise, as it would be difficult for Israel to offer more than 100 percent. But if you were a Palestinian leader, and the offers just kept getting better and better with each time you rejected them, why would you take Mitchell’s advice? Mitchell’s premise is that the Palestinians have something to lose by continually rejecting compromise.

As it happens, Michael Zantovsky, the Czech ambassador to the Court of St. James’s, has an interesting article in the current issue of World Affairs that indirectly addresses this. Zantovsky thinks the two sides should engage in what he calls “coordinated unilateralism”—moves that each side implicitly accepts would be part of a final-status agreement, but since the two sides can’t seem to get to a negotiated settlement, should be taken with the other side’s tacit approval. Imagine, he explains, this sort of coordinated unilateralism was employed in the case of the Israeli withdrawal from all of Gaza and parts of the West Bank:

And imagine that Palestinians could have sought UN membership with the tacit understanding of Israel, in exchange for the international endorsement of the solution of the refugee problem based on the return of refugees to the Palestinian state combined with elements of material compensation. Further unilateral withdrawals of Israel from the West Bank could follow, combined with unilateral Palestinian restraint in building its own security forces. Israel could begin to unilaterally dismantle settlements inside the West Bank while the Palestinians could close their eyes to the continuing construction in, say, Ramat Eshkol. Neither side would be forced to withdraw from its own red lines, and yet with each coordinated unilateral move the conflict would be one step closer to a solution.

Zantovsky admits this is “hardly an ideal solution, but looking around us we can see a number of similar arrangements of frozen conflicts, in which people are allowed to live their lives and for the most part prosper.”

Both Mitchell and Zantovsky want to push the Palestinians closer to building their state, but it would also require the Palestinians to accept the existence of a Jewish state next door. Can the Palestinians and their supporters accept such parameters?

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