Commentary Magazine


Posts For: January 30, 2012

Did Romney Eliminate Kosher Nursing Home Food as Governor?

During the weekend, the New York Post reported that Mitt Romney vetoed a bill to help fund kosher food at Massachusetts nursing homes in 2003. Newt Gingrich, who happens to be courting Jewish and elderly voters in Florida, immediately jumped on the story – and got it very, very wrong in the process:

“[Romney] eliminated serving kosher food for elderly Jewish residents under Medicare,” Gingrich said. “I did not know this, it just came out yesterday. The more we dig in, I understand why George Soros in Europe yesterday said it makes no difference if it’s Romney or Obama, we can live with either one.”

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During the weekend, the New York Post reported that Mitt Romney vetoed a bill to help fund kosher food at Massachusetts nursing homes in 2003. Newt Gingrich, who happens to be courting Jewish and elderly voters in Florida, immediately jumped on the story – and got it very, very wrong in the process:

“[Romney] eliminated serving kosher food for elderly Jewish residents under Medicare,” Gingrich said. “I did not know this, it just came out yesterday. The more we dig in, I understand why George Soros in Europe yesterday said it makes no difference if it’s Romney or Obama, we can live with either one.”

It’s a great campaign line for the former speaker, and the addition about George Soros is a nice touch. The problem is, Romney never actually “eliminated serving kosher food” to Jewish residents at state nursing homes, especially not in the way Gingrich describes.

In 2002, cuts in both federal and state subsidies to assisted living facilities, combined with the rising costs of maintaining the facilities, caused a couple of Massachusetts nursing homes to consider closing their kosher kitchens. It was an unfortunate decision, but there was never actually a concern that kosher residents would be forced to eat non-kosher food – the facilities were weighing several options, including busing in the food from other nursing homes or hiring catering services. The Jewish Advocate reported in January 2003:

[Nursing home owner Genesis ElderCare] decided in November to discontinue operating the Coolidge House’s kosher kitchen due to rising costs and decreased state and federal reimbursements. Management said although the kitchen would close, Coolidge House would continue to provide kosher meals either by serving pre-packaged food, contracting with a caterer to prepare and deliver meals, or bringing food over from the Heritage House, GEC’s nursing home at Cleveland Circle. Coolidge House officials say the kitchen will remain open at least through Passover, which starts in mid-April.

The issue was the nursing home had to maintain the kosher kitchen for everyone living there, even though reportedly just a small percentage of its residents actually kept kosher:

For administrators at the Coolidge House, it comes down to the math: Only 30 percent of the 200 residents are Jewish, they say, and only 8 percent now keep kosher. By preparing meat and dairy foods in the same kitchen, administrators say, they would save about $200,000, or 14 percent of annual dining costs.

“We understand the community’s sensitivities, but this is what we have to do to stay in business,” said Larry Lencz, executive director of Coolidge House. “The bottom line comes down to simple economics and changing demographics.”

Some Jewish community groups opposed the plans to bus in food, and instead requested additional state government funding in 2003 to help the kitchens operate. At the time, Massachusetts was struggling with a budget crisis, and Romney was trying to rein in costs by blocking additional spending. The kosher food bill that he vetoed would have provided an additional $600,000 in funding to nursing homes. Whether you believe he was right or wrong to veto it, this was clearly a position that made Romney appear insensitive to the elderly and Jewish communities.

In the end, the veto was overridden by the Massachusetts state legislature, and the facilities kept their kosher kitchens after all. But Romney’s decision was not, as Gingrich claims, a choice to “eliminate kosher food for elderly Jewish residents under Medicare.” First of all, it was a choice made by the nursing homes themselves, not the Massachusetts government. Second, it was never actually going to prevent kosher residents from accessing kosher food. And third, Romney’s decision wouldn’t have cut anything – he simply vetoed additional funds, keeping funding at the status quo during a budget crisis year. Which means Gingrich’s comments have little basis in reality.

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Breaking Up is Hard to Do

A few weeks ago, I joked that the Obama White House is “the Hotel California of presidential administrations.” It looks like we can add another name to the list of advisers who can never leave. Last week, Haaretz reported that longtime Mideast hand Dennis Ross was still advising President Obama on the Middle East, though no one was quite sure to what extent.

Today, Haaretz follows up by noting the White House took the “unusual” step of installing a direct phone line from Ross’s office at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy to the White House. The State Department says Ross is an unpaid adviser, but Haaretz says Ross has been conducting some pretty important meetings on the president’s behalf:

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A few weeks ago, I joked that the Obama White House is “the Hotel California of presidential administrations.” It looks like we can add another name to the list of advisers who can never leave. Last week, Haaretz reported that longtime Mideast hand Dennis Ross was still advising President Obama on the Middle East, though no one was quite sure to what extent.

Today, Haaretz follows up by noting the White House took the “unusual” step of installing a direct phone line from Ross’s office at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy to the White House. The State Department says Ross is an unpaid adviser, but Haaretz says Ross has been conducting some pretty important meetings on the president’s behalf:

During his visit to Israel last week, Ross met secretly with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as well as with his adviser Yitzhak Molho. American officials estimated that Ross’ talks with Netanyahu are on behalf of President Obama, and part of a channel of communication that bypasses the government.

One journalist insistently asked [spokesperson Victoria] Nuland whether Ross is bypassing the State Department in his talks with Netanyahu. “With regard to this specific mission and how much of it is Dennis’s private travel and how much of it is in this role as an uncompensated adviser, you need to talk to the White House about that. I don’t have those details. But frankly, Dennis has been a good partner to administrations of all kinds, whether he was in government or out of government, and always remains in close touch.”

In other words, yes, Ross is bypassing the State Department, which probably knows as much about Ross’s ghost diplomacy as Haaretz does. This is important for two reasons: first, those expecting any diplomatic adjustment from the Obama White House can now forget it. They’re running with the same all-star team that has pummeled the peace process to within an inch of its life in only three years. But second, the president is signaling he not only can accept failure, but prefers the failure he knows to the possibility of failure he doesn’t know.

Jonathan offered a good eulogy of the Dennis Ross era in which he acknowledged the fact that Ross’s streak of bungling Mideast affairs for the White House was about to begin its third decade. The interesting part of Ross’s inability to be fired is that neither side in the negotiations trusts him. Israel, however, probably trusts him more than they trust Obama or the president’s judgment in choosing a successor to Ross. But more importantly, the American Jewish community tends to trust Ross. (Though at this point, there is probably more of a perceived trust where there used to be an actual trust, and few are willing to say this out loud and bring down the house of cards on which Ross’s reputation, such as it is, rests.)

But if the Obama administration thinks the American Jewish community trusts Ross, why would they keep Ross’s continued involvement in the administration’s Mideast shenanigans a secret? Perhaps Obama was actually trying to keep it a secret from those still working as official, paid advisers to the president whose advice is being summarily ignored in favor of Ross’s but who didn’t know it. They will no doubt be encouraged to learn that not only is their advice being ignored, but when Ross’s next failure comes–and if history is any guide, it will be sooner rather than later–it will have their names but not their fingerprints on it, the most insulting possible combination.

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Obama Should Make More Tough Decisions

Give Vice President Biden kudos for honesty, if not for good judgment. Apparently, he said in a recent speech that he had advised President Obama against launching the raid that killed Osama bin Laden. As reported by the Daily Caller:

The president “went around the table with all the senior people, including the chiefs of staff,” Biden explained. “And he said, ‘I have to make this decision. What is your opinion?’ He started with the national security adviser and the secretary of state, and he ended with me. Every single person in that room hedged their bet except [Secretary of Defense] Leon Panetta. Leon said go. Everyone else said 49, 51, this got to be, ‘Joe, what do you think?’

“And I said, ‘You know, I didn’t know we had so many economists around the table.’ I said, ‘We owe the man a direct answer. Mr. President, my suggestion is don’t go. We have to do two more things to see if he’s there.’”

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Give Vice President Biden kudos for honesty, if not for good judgment. Apparently, he said in a recent speech that he had advised President Obama against launching the raid that killed Osama bin Laden. As reported by the Daily Caller:

The president “went around the table with all the senior people, including the chiefs of staff,” Biden explained. “And he said, ‘I have to make this decision. What is your opinion?’ He started with the national security adviser and the secretary of state, and he ended with me. Every single person in that room hedged their bet except [Secretary of Defense] Leon Panetta. Leon said go. Everyone else said 49, 51, this got to be, ‘Joe, what do you think?’

“And I said, ‘You know, I didn’t know we had so many economists around the table.’ I said, ‘We owe the man a direct answer. Mr. President, my suggestion is don’t go. We have to do two more things to see if he’s there.’”

This does little to increase faith in the judgment of a vice president who, based on his track record, does not inspire much faith anyway–he was, after all, the senator who was for the war in Iraq but against the surge and called instead for breaking that country into three. But it reiterates that Obama is able to make tough decisions–sometimes. The president deserves, and will take, all the credit in the world for such gutsy calls as the bin Laden raid or the more recent SEAL mission in Somalia to rescue two hostages. I only wish he were wiling to make equally tough decisions by finding a way to keep troops in Iraq or avoid a premature drawdown in Afghanistan–or for that matter tackle the runaway entitlement spending which is bankrupting us.

 

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The Real Reasons Conservatives Oppose Gingrich

In an intense primary battle, a lot of silly things are said. (Many of them, it turns out, are said by Sarah Palin, who seems intent on confirming every negative thing her critics have said about her.) Among them is the charge, repeated like rounds fired from a machine gun, that opposition to Newt Gingrich is based on those in the “establishment” who fear the scale of change he would bring to Washington. If you’re for Gingrich, so goes this story line, you’re for “genuine” and “fundamental” change. If you oppose Gingrich, on the other hand, you’re for “managing the decay” of America.

Except for this. The single most important idea, when it comes to fundamentally changing Washington, is the budget plan put forward by Representative Paul Ryan last April. When most massive-scale-of-change conservatives were defending Ryan’s plan against scorching criticisms from the left, Gingrich described the plan as an example of “right-wing social engineering.” It was Gingrich, not the rest of us, who was counseling caution, timidity, and an unwillingness to shape (rather than follow) public opinion. (The Medicare reform plan Gingrich eventually put out wasn’t nearly as bold and far-reaching as the one put out by Governor Romney.)

So much for Mr. Fundamental Change.

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In an intense primary battle, a lot of silly things are said. (Many of them, it turns out, are said by Sarah Palin, who seems intent on confirming every negative thing her critics have said about her.) Among them is the charge, repeated like rounds fired from a machine gun, that opposition to Newt Gingrich is based on those in the “establishment” who fear the scale of change he would bring to Washington. If you’re for Gingrich, so goes this story line, you’re for “genuine” and “fundamental” change. If you oppose Gingrich, on the other hand, you’re for “managing the decay” of America.

Except for this. The single most important idea, when it comes to fundamentally changing Washington, is the budget plan put forward by Representative Paul Ryan last April. When most massive-scale-of-change conservatives were defending Ryan’s plan against scorching criticisms from the left, Gingrich described the plan as an example of “right-wing social engineering.” It was Gingrich, not the rest of us, who was counseling caution, timidity, and an unwillingness to shape (rather than follow) public opinion. (The Medicare reform plan Gingrich eventually put out wasn’t nearly as bold and far-reaching as the one put out by Governor Romney.)

So much for Mr. Fundamental Change.

The reality is that conservative/”establishment” opposition to Gingrich generally falls into three categories. One is that if he won the nomination, he would not only lose to Barack Obama, but he would sink the rest of the GOP fleet in the process. A second area of concern is that Gingrich is temperamentally unfit to be president –he’s too erratic, undisciplined, and rhetorically self-destructive. A third area of concern is the suspicion that the former House speaker is not, in fact, a terribly reliable conservative, that he is not philosophically well-grounded (see his attachment to Alvin Toffler for more).

Some of these criticisms may be appropriate and some of them may be overstated or miss the mark. But to pretend the criticisms of Gingrich — expressed in varying degrees by commentators like George Will, Charles Krauthammer, Charles Murray, Michael Gerson, Ann Coulter, Michelle Malkin, Bob Tyrrell, Pat Buchanan, Mona Charen, Mark Steyn, Michael Medved, Hugh Hewitt, Bill Bennett, Karl Rove, Ramesh Ponnuru, Rich Lowry, Elliott Abrams, John Podhoretz, John Hinderaker, Jennifer Rubin, Ross Douthat, David Brooks, Yuval Levin, and the editorial writers at the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Examiner, to say nothing of a slew of conservative members/former members of Congress who worked with Gingrich in the 1990s –are rooted in their fear of “genuine change” is simply not credible.

I understand campaigns need to create narratives that reflect well on their candidate. But the job of the rest of us is to point out, when necessary, just how ludicrous some of those narratives can be.

 

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Echoes of 1967 in Israel’s Iran Dilemma

One of the interesting aspects of yesterday’s New York Times Magazine cover story about Israel’s decision whether or not to strike at Iran’s nuclear program came from a passage in which author Ronen Bergman describes his meeting with former Mossad chief Meir Amit. Amit, who headed Israel’s intelligence agency at the time of the 1967 Six-Day War, described a meeting with the CIA station chief in Tel Aviv during the lead up to that conflict. According to the transcript of the meeting, which was given to Bergman, the American spy threatened Israel and did all in his power to prevent the Jewish state from acting to forestall the threat to its existence from Egypt and other Arab states that were poised to strike.

The lessons of this confrontation certainly put Israel’s current dilemma about attempting to pre-empt Iran’s ability to threaten the Jewish state with extinction via a nuclear weapon in perspective. Bergman provides no firm answer to the question of whether or not Israel will go ahead and strike Iran even if, as was initially the case in 1967, it must happen over the objections of the United States. But he does attempt to give a coherent framework for how the decision can be made as well as providing a bit more background on the chief Israeli critic of a strike on Iran.

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One of the interesting aspects of yesterday’s New York Times Magazine cover story about Israel’s decision whether or not to strike at Iran’s nuclear program came from a passage in which author Ronen Bergman describes his meeting with former Mossad chief Meir Amit. Amit, who headed Israel’s intelligence agency at the time of the 1967 Six-Day War, described a meeting with the CIA station chief in Tel Aviv during the lead up to that conflict. According to the transcript of the meeting, which was given to Bergman, the American spy threatened Israel and did all in his power to prevent the Jewish state from acting to forestall the threat to its existence from Egypt and other Arab states that were poised to strike.

The lessons of this confrontation certainly put Israel’s current dilemma about attempting to pre-empt Iran’s ability to threaten the Jewish state with extinction via a nuclear weapon in perspective. Bergman provides no firm answer to the question of whether or not Israel will go ahead and strike Iran even if, as was initially the case in 1967, it must happen over the objections of the United States. But he does attempt to give a coherent framework for how the decision can be made as well as providing a bit more background on the chief Israeli critic of a strike on Iran.

According to Bergman, Israel has three criteria for deciding to act on their own on Iran:

 1. Does Israel have the ability to cause severe damage to Iran’s nuclear sites and bring about a major delay in the Iranian nuclear project? And can the military and the Israeli people withstand the inevitable counterattack?

2. Does Israel have overt or tacit support, particularly from America, for carrying out an attack?

3. Have all other possibilities for the containment of Iran’s nuclear threat been exhausted, bringing Israel to the point of last resort? If so, is this the last opportunity for an attack?

For the first time since the Iranian nuclear threat emerged in the mid-1990s, at least some of Israel’s most powerful leaders believe the response to all of these questions is yes.

I’m not sure he’s right about that, especially when it comes to the first two points. While Israel can inflict serious damage on Iran, there’s no question that to do the job properly it will require American involvement. And though it may well be that ultimately the Obama administration will give Israel the same blinking green light it got in 1967, a close read of most of the statements coming out of Washington lately on the subject may lead to a different answer. It remains to be seen whether Obama is more afraid of the terrible consequences of an Iranian nuclear device for the world as well as Israel as he is of the fallout from an Israeli attack. Elsewhere in the piece, Bergman presents an Israeli assessment of what many believe is a feckless American stand on the issue that seems more the product of magical thinking than an analytic process:

“I fail to grasp the Americans’ logic,” a senior Israeli intelligence source told me. “If someone says we’ll stop them from getting there by praying for more glitches in the centrifuges, I understand. If someone says we must attack soon to stop them, I get it. But if someone says we’ll stop them after they are already there, that I do not understand.”

Just as fascinating is his account of the activities of Meir Dagan, another former Mossad chief who has been quoted incessantly in the American press largely because he is a vocal critic of the idea of an Israeli strike on Iran.

Bergman allows Dagan his say on the matter in which he bitterly criticizes both Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as well as Defense Minister Ehud Barak. But his is one of the rare accounts in the U.S. press to also note the spymaster carries a political grudge against the two because they did not reappoint him to his position after the fiasco in which Mossad personnel were exposed while carrying out a hit on a Hamas terrorist in Dubai.

Though he is often represented in the Western press as someone who minimizes the danger from Iran, Bergman also corrects this impression. Dagan seems as intent on stopping Iran as Netanyahu and Barak, but he thinks it can be better achieved by Mossad’s cloak-and-dagger assassinations of Iranian scientists and/or sabotage of Iranian facilities. But it’s far from clear the Iranians haven’t already overcome those tactics.

The other Israeli critic of a strike on Iran that he cites is Rafi Eitan, the 85-year-old former spook whose most famous achievement in his field was the Jonathan Pollard disaster (something Bergman fails to note). He believes it is a foregone conclusion that Iran will go nuclear and thinks the only way to avert the danger is to promote regime change. While the replacement of the Islamist dictatorship with a democratic government would be an improvement, waiting around for that to happen doesn’t seem particularly prudent, especially when you consider the consequences.

Bergman’s conclusion is Israel will attack Iran sometime this year because of a growing consensus it has no choice but to do so. If Barack Obama wishes to avert that outcome, he is going to have to prove to the Israelis he means business about sanctions that will bring the Iranian economy to its knees. But given the ambivalent signals emanating from Washington on that subject, everything Netanyahu and Barak are hearing is more likely to be hardening their conviction that, as Bergman writes, “only the Israelis can ultimately defend themselves.”

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Unfair Attacks on Gingrich

Readers of “Contentions” know I have significant concerns when it comes to Newt Gingrich’s presidential candidacy. But even critics of the former House speaker should insist that the charges leveled against him be accurate rather than fictional. And so I agree with this editorial in the Wall Street Journal, which asserts that Mitt Romney’s attacks on Gingrich’s ethics case in the 1990s are misleading.

It’s clear the charges against Gingrich were trumped up; the IRS exonerated him after a multi-year investigation (see this CNN report at the time). For Governor Romney to now say, as he repeatedly does, that Gingrich “resigned in disgrace,” simply isn’t fair. Gingrich’s resignation was not connected to the ethics charges made against him. He was, in fact, the victim of a smear. And to give that smear new life is wrong. It really ought to stop.

 

Readers of “Contentions” know I have significant concerns when it comes to Newt Gingrich’s presidential candidacy. But even critics of the former House speaker should insist that the charges leveled against him be accurate rather than fictional. And so I agree with this editorial in the Wall Street Journal, which asserts that Mitt Romney’s attacks on Gingrich’s ethics case in the 1990s are misleading.

It’s clear the charges against Gingrich were trumped up; the IRS exonerated him after a multi-year investigation (see this CNN report at the time). For Governor Romney to now say, as he repeatedly does, that Gingrich “resigned in disgrace,” simply isn’t fair. Gingrich’s resignation was not connected to the ethics charges made against him. He was, in fact, the victim of a smear. And to give that smear new life is wrong. It really ought to stop.

 

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Misguided Alarmism About Sharia Law

Rumors about the supposed ascendancy of sharia law in the West–a staple of a certain strain of conservative alarmism–are greatly exaggerated. That at least is the only conclusion I can reach based on the news from Canada where three members of an immigrant family from Afghanistan were convicted of murder in the deaths of four female relatives who had supposedly dishonored their clan. Those found guilty were Mohammed Shafia, his wife, Tooba Mohammad Yahya, and their son, Hamed, 21. The elder Shafia was apparently the ring leader, masterminding a conspiracy to kill three of his daughters and his “other” wife–he was living in a polygamous marriage–because he believed the young women, ranging in age from 13 to 19, were “whores” who had been polluted by the licentious ways of the West–they were wearing revealing clothes, running around with boyfriends, etc. Shafia’s first wife was killed along with them because he blamed her for their daughters’ supposed immorality.

The case was widely reported to be one of “honor killing,” with Shafia and his wife and son engaging in murder to supposedly cleanse the stain on their family’s honor. If Canadian courts were in fact respectful of such an extreme interpretation of sharia, they might have gone along or at least handed out a reduced sentence. But that is not what happened. The judge sentenced the culprits to life in prison and strongly denounced their behavior: “It is difficult to conceive of a more despicable, more heinous, more honorless crime,” the judge told the defendants. “The apparent reason behind these cold-blooded, shameful murders was that the four completely innocent victims offended your completely twisted concept of honor, a notion of honor that is founded upon the domination and control of women.”

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Rumors about the supposed ascendancy of sharia law in the West–a staple of a certain strain of conservative alarmism–are greatly exaggerated. That at least is the only conclusion I can reach based on the news from Canada where three members of an immigrant family from Afghanistan were convicted of murder in the deaths of four female relatives who had supposedly dishonored their clan. Those found guilty were Mohammed Shafia, his wife, Tooba Mohammad Yahya, and their son, Hamed, 21. The elder Shafia was apparently the ring leader, masterminding a conspiracy to kill three of his daughters and his “other” wife–he was living in a polygamous marriage–because he believed the young women, ranging in age from 13 to 19, were “whores” who had been polluted by the licentious ways of the West–they were wearing revealing clothes, running around with boyfriends, etc. Shafia’s first wife was killed along with them because he blamed her for their daughters’ supposed immorality.

The case was widely reported to be one of “honor killing,” with Shafia and his wife and son engaging in murder to supposedly cleanse the stain on their family’s honor. If Canadian courts were in fact respectful of such an extreme interpretation of sharia, they might have gone along or at least handed out a reduced sentence. But that is not what happened. The judge sentenced the culprits to life in prison and strongly denounced their behavior: “It is difficult to conceive of a more despicable, more heinous, more honorless crime,” the judge told the defendants. “The apparent reason behind these cold-blooded, shameful murders was that the four completely innocent victims offended your completely twisted concept of honor, a notion of honor that is founded upon the domination and control of women.”

What are the odds that in the future any other sentence could possibly be reached in such a case in Canada, the U.S., or any other part of the West?  I’d say the odds are pretty slim. Which is one reason–not the only one–why alarmism about the spread of sharia is so misguided. In fact, only the most fanatical interpretations of sharia would countenance such cold-blooded murder.

The meaning of sharia is as vague and open for debate as the meaning of the Talmud or Catholic theology. Some people will have fundamentalist interpretations, but other interpretations will be more moderate. There is nothing particularly alarming about Muslims volunteering to agree to abide by the laws of their faith in certain matters pertaining to family law, just as some observant Jews, Catholics, and other religious believers do. What would be repugnant and alarming is if some cockamamie interpretation of sharia were infringing on the freedoms of unbelievers or jeopardizing the safety and well-being of those entitled to the full protection of the law. But as the Shafia case in Canada shows, that is not what is happening. And I predict it will not happen in the future either.

 

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Election Revealing Left’s Xenophobia

Pretty much everyone seems to believe Mitt Romney’s wealth is a liability. The Democrats have united around a strategy that portrays Romney as too rich for America’s taste. Some of Romney’s rivals have sought votes there as well. The Washington Post takes another whack at Romney about his wealth. Everyone agrees on this–everyone, that is, except actual voters.

Public Policy Polling, a liberal-leaning firm, finds that Romney has seemingly overcome his tax-return foibles, consistent with what other polls have found as well. The New Republic’s Alec MacGillis couldn’t get voters on the trail to disparage Romney for his wealth, even when MacGillis admittedly called them back “and pressed further” in an attempt to get voters to change their minds and please bash Romney’s wealth. They consistently refused his entreaties, however. But delve just a bit into the PPP results and there’s an uncomfortable truth for the media:

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Pretty much everyone seems to believe Mitt Romney’s wealth is a liability. The Democrats have united around a strategy that portrays Romney as too rich for America’s taste. Some of Romney’s rivals have sought votes there as well. The Washington Post takes another whack at Romney about his wealth. Everyone agrees on this–everyone, that is, except actual voters.

Public Policy Polling, a liberal-leaning firm, finds that Romney has seemingly overcome his tax-return foibles, consistent with what other polls have found as well. The New Republic’s Alec MacGillis couldn’t get voters on the trail to disparage Romney for his wealth, even when MacGillis admittedly called them back “and pressed further” in an attempt to get voters to change their minds and please bash Romney’s wealth. They consistently refused his entreaties, however. But delve just a bit into the PPP results and there’s an uncomfortable truth for the media:

If you want a clue as to why Romney releasing his tax returns hasn’t hurt him one little bit in Florida consider this: 68% of Republicans in the state have a favorable opinion of rich people to only 8% with a negative one. Romney’s up 47-32 among those who like rich people. Here’s a simple reality: in a GOP primary it’s an asset to be rich and successful, not a liability. Attacks on Romney along those lines just aren’t going to be effective with Republican voters. Additionally only 14% of voters have “major concerns” about Romney’s overseas bank accounts, while 56% have none at all.

Republican voters just don’t hold his wealth against Romney. MacGillis had been talking to swing voters who sometimes vote Democrat and sometimes Republican. They, too, for the most part weren’t angry about Romney’s wealth. So who is? Liberals, it seems. An article in Politico a few days ago inadvertently shed more light on liberal voters’ sense of political xenophobia:

The academic standards for president have been rising since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Bill Clinton was the first Rhodes scholar. He handed the Oval Office keys to our first M.B.A. president, George W. Bush.

Barack Obama held one of the highest post-graduate honors, editor-in-chief of the Harvard Law Review. The presidential and vice presidential nominees on every Democrat ticket in the past 20 years have a post-graduate degree. This is also true of the only successful GOP ticket in this period, Bush (M.B.A.) and Dick Cheney (M.A.).

There has never been a Ph.D. president during the modern era or anyone holding two post-graduate degrees, or a medical license. President Harry Truman never even graduated from college.

The article notes that despite their education levels, Truman, Reagan, and Lyndon Johnson were the most consequential presidents of the post-war era. Could Truman, the authors wonder, even get elected today?

The answer is yes–as a Republican. As the article explains, this year’s crop of Republican candidates is extremely well educated–perhaps the best such group of candidates yet. So Republican voters are obviously not antagonistic toward the well educated. But Republicans have also pushed back against the narrative that those who were not educated at elite universities aren’t fit for higher office–and been pilloried as “anti-intellectual” for it.

As far as educational standards go, Republicans will nominate both the elite and the non-elite. They will support rich candidates or those closer to “the common man.” And a look back at polling tells you they are more likely to support a Mormon for president than Democrats are. Liberal voters, then, have an educational bias, a religious bias, and a class bias. So it’s really no wonder that mainstream media outlets and a liberal president are pushing the class warfare narrative: it turns out liberal voters are a closed-minded bunch.

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Palestinian TV Celebrates Mass Murderer

At times, it seems for those who wish to blame Israel for the lack of peace in the Middle East, there is nothing the Palestinians could do to reassess their thinking. But surely even the most dedicated finder of fault with Israel would have to be shocked by the latest outrage promoted by the official television station of the Palestinian Authority. PA TV runs a show titled “For You,” which is dedicated to stories about Arab prisoners being held in Israeli jails. But last week’s edition broke new ground when it comes to promoting contempt for the value of Jewish life among Palestinians.

The show, which was broadcast twice last week, featured Hakim Awad, a Palestinian who was sentenced to five life sentences last summer for taking part in the cold-blooded murder of a Jewish family in the settlement of Itamar. Hakim and his cousin Amjad Awad stabbed to death Udi and Ruth Fogel and three of their children: 11-year-old Yoav, 4-year-old Elad, and Hadas, a four-month-old baby. But the official television station of the U.S.-funded PA treated Awad as a “hero” and a “legend.”

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At times, it seems for those who wish to blame Israel for the lack of peace in the Middle East, there is nothing the Palestinians could do to reassess their thinking. But surely even the most dedicated finder of fault with Israel would have to be shocked by the latest outrage promoted by the official television station of the Palestinian Authority. PA TV runs a show titled “For You,” which is dedicated to stories about Arab prisoners being held in Israeli jails. But last week’s edition broke new ground when it comes to promoting contempt for the value of Jewish life among Palestinians.

The show, which was broadcast twice last week, featured Hakim Awad, a Palestinian who was sentenced to five life sentences last summer for taking part in the cold-blooded murder of a Jewish family in the settlement of Itamar. Hakim and his cousin Amjad Awad stabbed to death Udi and Ruth Fogel and three of their children: 11-year-old Yoav, 4-year-old Elad, and Hadas, a four-month-old baby. But the official television station of the U.S.-funded PA treated Awad as a “hero” and a “legend.”

The show featured the prisoner’s aunt and mother praising him while directly acknowledging his participation in the killings of the Fogel family. The host responded saying, “We also wish them [the murderers] well.” The watchdog group Palestine Media Watch reported the broadcast.

Critics of PMW claim it and other groups that monitor the Arab media cherry-pick incendiary quotes and take them out of context. But there is no way to explain or rationalize the PA’s decision to broadcast shows that glorify terrorists who kill Jewish children. However, this issue is about more than the culpability of PA President Mahmoud Abbas and the rest of the Fatah-run Authority (though perhaps soon it will be run by Hamas). The reason why such programs are broadcast is they reflect Palestinian popular opinion which views the murder of Jews as justifiable.

It must be understood that as long as the PA promotes such sentiments, peace is impossible. Until the day comes when a Palestinian government is prepared to teach its people that slaughtering Jews is wrong, there is simply no way it will ever sign an accord that recognizes the legitimacy of a Jewish state–no matter where its borders are drawn.

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Defining Recovery Down

On Friday, we learned that the annualized GDP growth rate in the fourth quarter was 2.8 percent. The press coverage the following days portrayed this news as encouraging. It wasn’t. The Great Recession officially ended in the middle of 2009; for the last quarter of 2011 to produce a growth rate less than 3.0 percent is evidence of a very weak economy. (Historically, the deeper the recession, the stronger the recovery.) Indeed, the GDP increase for all of 2011 was a Lost Decade-like 1.7 percent. We lost ground from 2010, which itself was a relatively sickly year (GDP grew only 3.0 percent).

As a point of comparison, this editorial points out that once the Reagan recovery began in earnest in 1983, growth stayed above 5 percent for 18 months and never fell below 3.3 percent for 13 consecutive quarters. In the Obama years, on the other hand, growth has never exceeded 4 percent in any quarter.

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On Friday, we learned that the annualized GDP growth rate in the fourth quarter was 2.8 percent. The press coverage the following days portrayed this news as encouraging. It wasn’t. The Great Recession officially ended in the middle of 2009; for the last quarter of 2011 to produce a growth rate less than 3.0 percent is evidence of a very weak economy. (Historically, the deeper the recession, the stronger the recovery.) Indeed, the GDP increase for all of 2011 was a Lost Decade-like 1.7 percent. We lost ground from 2010, which itself was a relatively sickly year (GDP grew only 3.0 percent).

As a point of comparison, this editorial points out that once the Reagan recovery began in earnest in 1983, growth stayed above 5 percent for 18 months and never fell below 3.3 percent for 13 consecutive quarters. In the Obama years, on the other hand, growth has never exceeded 4 percent in any quarter.

For anyone to be encouraged by our latest GDP figures is evidence that, to paraphrase a formulation once used by Daniel Patrick Moynihan, we’re Defining Recovery Down.

 

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You Can’t Take Money Out of Politics

Yesterday’s edition of NBC’s “Meet the Press” featured a battle of two surrogates: John McCain, who was there boosting Mitt Romney, and his former Senate colleague Fred Thompson, who was on hand to speak for Newt Gingrich. Given the polls that show Romney ready to win big in Florida, McCain had the better of the argument about the Republican presidential race. But when he got around to discussing the use of super PACs in the contest, Thompson made more sense.

As the co-author of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law that was largely gutted by the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, the Arizona senator is still furious about the impact this had on his pet cause of campaign finance reform. His dire predictions it would all lead to “scandal” because there is “too much money washing around in politics” made for a good sound bite, but the super PACs’ role in the 2012 campaign is not so much a testament to the mistakes of the High Court but to the fallacies promoted by the campaign finance reform lobby. If McCain doesn’t like the way campaigns are being financed, and there are good reasons not to like it, then he should blame the entire reform movement, not a court that protected free speech rights.

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Yesterday’s edition of NBC’s “Meet the Press” featured a battle of two surrogates: John McCain, who was there boosting Mitt Romney, and his former Senate colleague Fred Thompson, who was on hand to speak for Newt Gingrich. Given the polls that show Romney ready to win big in Florida, McCain had the better of the argument about the Republican presidential race. But when he got around to discussing the use of super PACs in the contest, Thompson made more sense.

As the co-author of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law that was largely gutted by the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, the Arizona senator is still furious about the impact this had on his pet cause of campaign finance reform. His dire predictions it would all lead to “scandal” because there is “too much money washing around in politics” made for a good sound bite, but the super PACs’ role in the 2012 campaign is not so much a testament to the mistakes of the High Court but to the fallacies promoted by the campaign finance reform lobby. If McCain doesn’t like the way campaigns are being financed, and there are good reasons not to like it, then he should blame the entire reform movement, not a court that protected free speech rights.

It is true the spectacle of individual donors like Newt Gingrich’s friend Sheldon Adelson having the power to affect the race seems an indictment of the current state of the law. But super PACs exist, like their predecessors in recent elections such as the 527 groups made famous by the Swift Boat Veterans that attacked John Kerry, because of the reform impulse that seeks to take money out of politics. As this is impossible, all the reforms have done is to make it more difficult for candidates and political parties to raise money. Though some laws, like McCain’s unlamented legislation, have sought to extend those restrictions to individual citizens, groups and corporations, this violates the constitutionally protected right of political speech.

McCain thinks it is scandalous that a “casino owner and his wife” — meaning the Adelsons — have a right to spend their money promoting candidates and issues they believe in. But even if you agree some of the ads financed by Adelson (such as the Michael Moore-style documentary attacking Romney’s business career that was run by a Gingrich super PAC) were absurd, why should the government have any more right to stifle the Adelsons’ speech than it does that of the media or incumbent politicians?

As Thompson pointed out in rebuttal to McCain, the right of political speech cannot be restricted only to those candidates who can “self-fund.” That means all candidates and the parties should have the ability to raise the money they need, if they can muster such support, so long as there is some transparency. If McCain thinks it’s a bad thing that campaign finance law has marginalized parties, he should blame the whole “reform” impulse that has continually blighted our political life since Watergate, not the court.

If there are to be more campaign finance scandals, they are as much the fault of those who, like McCain, cling to the myth that money can be drained from politics if only you write enough restrictive laws. On the contrary, politics will be a lot cleaner once this “reform” impulse is permanently shelved.

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So, You Think the Palestinians Are Actually Interested in Negotiating?

As I noted earlier, one area in which Palestinians need no help from anyone is finding excuses to shun negotiations. Currently, of course, they are claiming Israel’s position on borders leaves no room for progress. But if you want to see the real reason talks are stalemated, take a look at what happened last week, when Israel tried to present its position on security arrangements at a negotiating session in Amman: Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat refused  to even let the Israeli official speak, saying he had no “mandate to negotiate security arrangements” until Israel presented “detailed documents” with its position on borders.

Everyone involved in the peace process has always understood that borders and security are intimately connected, because how much territory Israel is willing to cede will depend on the robustness of the compensatory security arrangements. That’s why even President Barack Obama, in his May 2011 speech calling for a “borders first” approach that would defer issues like Jerusalem and the refugees until later, didn’t propose deferring security; he suggested that talks focus first on “territory and security.” Thus, if the Palestinians aren’t even willing to listen to Israel’s positions on security arrangements, they clearly aren’t interested in conducting serious negotiations at all. As Israel’s chief negotiator aptly told Erekat, “If you do not have the mandate to discuss this, maybe you should leave and bring someone in your place who does have the mandate.”

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As I noted earlier, one area in which Palestinians need no help from anyone is finding excuses to shun negotiations. Currently, of course, they are claiming Israel’s position on borders leaves no room for progress. But if you want to see the real reason talks are stalemated, take a look at what happened last week, when Israel tried to present its position on security arrangements at a negotiating session in Amman: Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat refused  to even let the Israeli official speak, saying he had no “mandate to negotiate security arrangements” until Israel presented “detailed documents” with its position on borders.

Everyone involved in the peace process has always understood that borders and security are intimately connected, because how much territory Israel is willing to cede will depend on the robustness of the compensatory security arrangements. That’s why even President Barack Obama, in his May 2011 speech calling for a “borders first” approach that would defer issues like Jerusalem and the refugees until later, didn’t propose deferring security; he suggested that talks focus first on “territory and security.” Thus, if the Palestinians aren’t even willing to listen to Israel’s positions on security arrangements, they clearly aren’t interested in conducting serious negotiations at all. As Israel’s chief negotiator aptly told Erekat, “If you do not have the mandate to discuss this, maybe you should leave and bring someone in your place who does have the mandate.”

But that isn’t the only evidence; equally telling is the ever-growing list of “gestures” the Palestinians are demanding from Israel in exchange for deigning to sit in the same room with Israeli officials. For months, they said the condition for continued talks was a freeze on settlement construction. But now, even this isn’t enough: Nimer Hammad, an aide to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, said earlier this month the PA also demands a release of Palestinian terrorists imprisoned in Israel, the dismantling of Israeli security checkpoints in the West Bank and the transfer of additional chunks of West Bank territory to PA control – or in other words, that Israel cede territory prior to negotiations instead of as a result of negotiations.

Even worse, the “international community” is pressuring Israel to agree to these demands, seemingly incapable of seeing the obvious: If the Palestinians had any interest in holding genuine negotiations, they wouldn’t need to be bribed with lavish Israeli concessions just to get them to enter the room.

And that, of course, brings us to the other obvious corollary that the “international community” willfully refuses to see: If the Palestinians had any real interest in obtaining a state, they wouldn’t need to be bribed, cajoled and arm-twisted just to get them to hold talks with the only party that can actually give them one –Israel.

But to admit that is to admit  the entire peace process is a fraud and a failure, and that is too painful. It’s much more comfortable to keep pretending that peace could be achieved if Israel would just give a little more.

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The Sore Loser Scenario

With few expecting tomorrow’s Florida primary to be anything but a decisive win for Mitt Romney, some observers are turning to the question of what Newt Gingrich will do in the weeks ahead in the aftermath of this anticipated defeat. While the Republican race has been highly volatile, February could be a very lean month for Gingrich with no debates scheduled for weeks at a time and no states voting or caucusing that give him a good chance of victory. But even if Romney starts rolling up victories, few think Gingrich will withdraw even if it is clear he has little or no chance to win the nomination. Instead, Gingrich will continue to run hard while making increasingly bitter attacks on the all-but-certain GOP nominee all the way to the Republican National Convention in Tampa.

The possibility that Gingrich’s candidacy will rise from the dead one more time has to frighten Republicans who believe he has no chance to beat Barack Obama. But it is this sore loser scenario that really ought to be scaring them. As Politico reports this morning, there is every indication Gingrich will be fighting a scorched earth campaign against Romney for as long as he has a penny in his pocket. In doing so, he could help exacerbate the rift between his Tea Party supporters and Romney and make it harder, if not impossible, for the frontrunner to beat Barack Obama in November.

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With few expecting tomorrow’s Florida primary to be anything but a decisive win for Mitt Romney, some observers are turning to the question of what Newt Gingrich will do in the weeks ahead in the aftermath of this anticipated defeat. While the Republican race has been highly volatile, February could be a very lean month for Gingrich with no debates scheduled for weeks at a time and no states voting or caucusing that give him a good chance of victory. But even if Romney starts rolling up victories, few think Gingrich will withdraw even if it is clear he has little or no chance to win the nomination. Instead, Gingrich will continue to run hard while making increasingly bitter attacks on the all-but-certain GOP nominee all the way to the Republican National Convention in Tampa.

The possibility that Gingrich’s candidacy will rise from the dead one more time has to frighten Republicans who believe he has no chance to beat Barack Obama. But it is this sore loser scenario that really ought to be scaring them. As Politico reports this morning, there is every indication Gingrich will be fighting a scorched earth campaign against Romney for as long as he has a penny in his pocket. In doing so, he could help exacerbate the rift between his Tea Party supporters and Romney and make it harder, if not impossible, for the frontrunner to beat Barack Obama in November.

Gingrich has no incentive to be a good sport like most Republican runners-up in the past. The former speaker has no need to worry about mending fences with GOP power bases in order to secure another White House race in the future simply because it is unlikely he would run again and no chance he would benefit, as others have in the past, from his runner-up status in 2012. Gingrich has nothing personally to gain from clearing the way for the all-but-certain nominee and to help strengthen his chances in November against Obama.

Just as important is the temperament of the candidate. Even at the height of his power as Speaker of the House, Gingrich was always better suited to the role of insurgent bomb thrower than power broker. If anything, he may actually enjoy the idea of leading a grass roots revolt against the GOP establishment even if he is just as much a member of that establishment as anyone else. Having bought into his own increasingly bitter attacks on Romney for supposedly being a liberal, it may be close to impossible for Gingrich to step back in off of the rhetorical ledge onto which he has stepped.

With the GOP primary rules mandating proportional allocation of delegates, it may even be possible for him to come close to preventing Romney from obtaining a majority until very late in the year, even if he never won another state after South Carolina. That would force Romney to spend time, energy and money fighting Republicans rather than preparing for Obama. Rather than a long fight helping Romney, the Gingrich onslaught would be aided by a press that will latch onto his attacks in a way that Hillary Clinton’s criticisms of Obama did not. Gingrich could ensure that the Republican convention is a bloodbath rather than a coronation of the GOP standard-bearer.

The only question is whether Gingrich’s financial supporters are as interested in sabotaging Romney as he is. Considering that his main backer, casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, is primarily interested in removing the possibility of a second Obama administration pressuring Israel, it may be that at some point he will consider it prudent to turn off the spigot of contributions. It may be that just as Adelson was able to revive Gingrich’s hopes with financial contributions, he could at some point put the Republicans out of their misery.

But failing that, Republicans could be in for a long, bitter and ultimately destructive Gingrich campaign whose only object would be to diminish Romney. That is exactly what President Obama is counting on.

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Erasing 20 Years of History

When I first read Jonathan’s post yesterday, I thought he was blaming President Barack Obama unfairly: The Palestinians don’t need Obama to produce excuses for shunning negotiations; they’ve produced plenty all by themselves (about which more in a separate post). But when I read the New York Times article he referenced, I was shocked – not by the Palestinians’ position, but by reporter Ethan Bronner’s. For when a Palestinian official asserted that Israel’s demand to retain the major settlement blocs “abandons … the framework we have been focused on for the past 20 years,” Bronner, who as a veteran Israeli correspondent should surely have known better, parroted this without a word of demurral – thereby erasing 20 years of history in which every single proposal ever discussed had Israel keeping the settlement blocs.

President Bill Clinton’s parameters of 2000, long considered the blueprint for any final-status agreement, assigned the settlement blocs to Israel. President George W. Bush asserted in a 2004 letter that “In light of new realities on the ground, including already existing major Israeli population centers, it is unrealistic to expect that the outcome of final status negotiations will be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949, and all previous efforts to negotiate a two-state solution have reached the same conclusion.” Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s offer of 2008 – which Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, after rejecting at the time, suddenly embraced last year, once Olmert was gone and it was off the table – also had Israel retaining the settlement blocs.

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When I first read Jonathan’s post yesterday, I thought he was blaming President Barack Obama unfairly: The Palestinians don’t need Obama to produce excuses for shunning negotiations; they’ve produced plenty all by themselves (about which more in a separate post). But when I read the New York Times article he referenced, I was shocked – not by the Palestinians’ position, but by reporter Ethan Bronner’s. For when a Palestinian official asserted that Israel’s demand to retain the major settlement blocs “abandons … the framework we have been focused on for the past 20 years,” Bronner, who as a veteran Israeli correspondent should surely have known better, parroted this without a word of demurral – thereby erasing 20 years of history in which every single proposal ever discussed had Israel keeping the settlement blocs.

President Bill Clinton’s parameters of 2000, long considered the blueprint for any final-status agreement, assigned the settlement blocs to Israel. President George W. Bush asserted in a 2004 letter that “In light of new realities on the ground, including already existing major Israeli population centers, it is unrealistic to expect that the outcome of final status negotiations will be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949, and all previous efforts to negotiate a two-state solution have reached the same conclusion.” Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s offer of 2008 – which Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, after rejecting at the time, suddenly embraced last year, once Olmert was gone and it was off the table – also had Israel retaining the settlement blocs.

In short, Israeli retention of the settlement blocs is precisely “the framework we have been focused on for the past 20 years.”

But along came Obama, with his assertion last May that the starting point for talks should be the 1967 lines rather than two decades of previous negotiations, and suddenly, 20 years of history have been erased: The Palestinians can unblushingly assert that Israel’s demand to retain the settlement blocs is a new demand, and a veteran New York Times reporter can unblushingly parrot that assertion. In effect, the starting point for talks has just been moved.

This would indeed be a serious obstacle to negotiations if they ever resumed, because in 20 years of conceding one “red line” after another, one of the few things successive Israeli governments have never wavered on is their insistence on retaining the settlement blocs. Yet the Palestinians can’t be more Catholic than the Pope: If the U.S. president deems the settlement blocs illegitimate, Palestinians can hardly do otherwise. That’s precisely why previous U.S. presidents were always careful to provide cover for Palestinian negotiators by making it clear that in their view, the settlement blocs should remain Israeli.

But Obama has practically single-handedly created a new narrative, in which Israeli retention of the settlement blocs is not a given, and his allies in the media are eagerly disseminating it. And that mistake, as Jonathan aptly said, will haunt Israeli-Palestinian talks for a long time to come.

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Turkey May Soon Host Hamas

As Hamas looks to leave its long-standing offices in Damascus, where the Assad regime now teeters, Turkey’s President Abdullah Gul is neither confirming nor denying reports that the group may relocate its offices to Turkey. According to Hurriyet Daily News:

Along with Qatar and Jordan, Turkey is also among would-be hosts with Turkish President Abdullah Gül neither denying nor confirming that his country would soon welcome Hamas on its soil as Turkey’s relations with its once-ally Israel hit historically low levels.

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As Hamas looks to leave its long-standing offices in Damascus, where the Assad regime now teeters, Turkey’s President Abdullah Gul is neither confirming nor denying reports that the group may relocate its offices to Turkey. According to Hurriyet Daily News:

Along with Qatar and Jordan, Turkey is also among would-be hosts with Turkish President Abdullah Gül neither denying nor confirming that his country would soon welcome Hamas on its soil as Turkey’s relations with its once-ally Israel hit historically low levels.

How will the Obama administration react should Turkey provide safe haven for Hamas? After all, a major reason why Syria remained for years on the State Sponsor of Terrorism list was because it sheltered and provided safe haven to terrorist groups.  According to the State Department:

Syria has been on the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism since the list’s inception in 1979. Because of its continuing support and safe haven for terrorist organizations, Syria is subject to legislatively mandated penalties, including export sanctions and ineligibility to receive most forms of U.S. aid or to purchase U.S. military equipment.

The United States provides Turkey with counter-terrorism assistance. While it is true Turkey has suffered from terrorism, the United States should never provide assistance to any country which embraces an a la carte definition of terrorism in which it complains about terrorism waged against it, but excuses or encourages terrorism waged against others.

Turkey was once a valuable NATO ally, but increasingly it is becoming like Pakistan an ally in name only. The only question for American policymakers should be how much damage will occur before diplomats recognize what Turkey has become and stop praising what it once was.

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