Commentary Magazine


Posts For: February 2, 2012

Obama’s Rhetoric Falls Flat

Daniel Henninger of the Wall Street Journal is a very good writer and a very smart man. But his claim that President Obama’s slimmed down version of his most recent State of the Union address – a speech Obama has taken on the road – is “soaring out in the country” is fairly wide of the mark.

We just learned, for example, that only 36 percent of likely voters grade the Obama administration’s handling of the economy at good or excellent, while a huge number — 62 percent — grade the president at fair to poor, with poor collecting the largest number: 45 percent. Now I recognize that people could like Obama’s speeches and disapprove of his policies. But in the end, they will (unlike 2008) cast their vote based on his deeds rather than his words. And Henninger’s claim that Obama is the “maestro” of the “inner melodies of life in America these days” isn’t something I detect when looking at polling data or, frankly, much else.

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Daniel Henninger of the Wall Street Journal is a very good writer and a very smart man. But his claim that President Obama’s slimmed down version of his most recent State of the Union address – a speech Obama has taken on the road – is “soaring out in the country” is fairly wide of the mark.

We just learned, for example, that only 36 percent of likely voters grade the Obama administration’s handling of the economy at good or excellent, while a huge number — 62 percent — grade the president at fair to poor, with poor collecting the largest number: 45 percent. Now I recognize that people could like Obama’s speeches and disapprove of his policies. But in the end, they will (unlike 2008) cast their vote based on his deeds rather than his words. And Henninger’s claim that Obama is the “maestro” of the “inner melodies of life in America these days” isn’t something I detect when looking at polling data or, frankly, much else.

I’m glad Henninger is raising warning flags, because conservatives should assume the race against Obama won’t be easy. And there are reasons to guard against soaring confidence when it comes to the 2012 election. But my own sense of things is Obama long ago lost his claim to being America’s rhetorical maestro – and while his words may play well in a pre-selected crowd in Chandler, Arizona, they have fallen flat with most Americans.

If Barack Obama wins the presidency in November, it won’t be because he stirred the hearts of Americans. It will have very little to do with any inner melodies of life in America. It will be because he succeeded in utterly destroying the reputation of his opponent.

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Obama’s Israel Problem Cause of Democrat Losses Among Jews

As Florida voters went to the polls on Tuesday, those journalists trolling for evidence of a shift in the Jewish vote seized on a slight decline in Jewish turnout in the Republican primary as proof the GOP hadn’t made much progress. Those who did so were mistaken, because the sample size was so small and the willingness of Jews to change registration to vote in a primary isn’t indicative of how they’ll actually vote in November. But a new Pew Research Poll released this afternoon about party affiliation provides clear proof that a long-awaited shift among Jews away from the Democrats may have begun.

Republicans have gained nine percentage points in the last three years among Jewish voters polled about whether they identify with or lean toward either party. In 2008, Democrats led among Jews by a hefty 72 to 20 percent. In 2011, the margin was 65 to 29 percent. While that still gives the Democrats a commanding lead among Jews, the gain for the GOP could be enough to significantly affect a few states where the voting may be close this fall. Just as importantly, while some of this could be attributed to general dissatisfaction with the administration’s record on the economy, it will be difficult for Democrats to argue it is not also at least partly the fault of President Obama’s quarrels with Israel during the last three years.

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As Florida voters went to the polls on Tuesday, those journalists trolling for evidence of a shift in the Jewish vote seized on a slight decline in Jewish turnout in the Republican primary as proof the GOP hadn’t made much progress. Those who did so were mistaken, because the sample size was so small and the willingness of Jews to change registration to vote in a primary isn’t indicative of how they’ll actually vote in November. But a new Pew Research Poll released this afternoon about party affiliation provides clear proof that a long-awaited shift among Jews away from the Democrats may have begun.

Republicans have gained nine percentage points in the last three years among Jewish voters polled about whether they identify with or lean toward either party. In 2008, Democrats led among Jews by a hefty 72 to 20 percent. In 2011, the margin was 65 to 29 percent. While that still gives the Democrats a commanding lead among Jews, the gain for the GOP could be enough to significantly affect a few states where the voting may be close this fall. Just as importantly, while some of this could be attributed to general dissatisfaction with the administration’s record on the economy, it will be difficult for Democrats to argue it is not also at least partly the fault of President Obama’s quarrels with Israel during the last three years.

Because Republicans have gained only four points nationwide, it isn’t possible to argue the Democratic loss among the Jews is nothing special. Israel is the likely reason for the Democrats’ Jewish problem, because the GOP gain among Jews is higher than among any other religious group except for Mormons. The Mormon figures are certainly due to anticipation that Mitt Romney might become the first Latter-day Saint to ascend to the White House. But there is no reason to think Jews are unhappier than Catholics, Protestants, atheists or agnostics about the economy. The friction between Obama and Israel about the status of Jerusalem, the 1967 boundaries and settlements is the only possible explanation for Jews to be more disillusioned with the Democrats than other voters.

Many Democrats have spent the last two years publicly denying Obama would suffer politically for his slights of Israel and its leaders, but the White House’s Jewish charm offensive in the last several months belied this optimism. Obama’s exaggerated claim he has done more to enhance Israel’s security than any president in history is aimed at persuading Jews to forget his administration came into office bragging about how distancing itself from Israel was a change from George W. Bush’s policies. The nasty spats with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu that followed have clearly taken their toll on his party’s ability to count on the loyalty of many Jews.

While this shift toward the GOP is significant, it is not a harbinger of a full realignment of Jewish voters. Most Jews are ideologically liberal and partisan Democrats and unlikely to vote Republican under almost any circumstance. Liberal Jews remain far more afraid of conservative Christians than Hamas terrorists and will always judge any Democratic candidate, even one like Obama who has demonstrated little real affinity for Israel, on a curve.

But that doesn’t mean Jewish swing voters don’t exist. It may not be realistic for Republicans to expect they will match Ronald Reagan’s record 39 percent of the vote in 1980 this year. But in Barack Obama they have a Democratic opponent who, like Jimmy Carter 32 years ago, is distinctly vulnerable on the issue of Israel. Were a Republican candidate able to gain the same nine points over the 22 percent share of the Jewish vote John McCain got in 2008 that could be enough to make the difference in a few crucial battleground states. If the two parties are closely matched in Pennsylvania and New Jersey but especially in Florida, a large Jewish turnout for the GOP could sink the president’s hopes for re-election.

Though Democrats already knew they were in trouble in the Jewish community, this poll will undoubtedly lead them to redouble their efforts this year to spin Obama’s record on Israel and to do everything they can to scare Jews away from the GOP. It will also give Republicans good reason to fight harder for the votes of a group that remains, after African-Americans, the second most Democratic sector of the electorate.

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Indiana Spikes Union Coercion

The trade union movement has been feeling its oats lately. It has the strong support of President Obama, who is counting on union manpower to help his re-election effort. Unions also flexed their muscles in Wisconsin as they threatened Governor Scott Walker with recall for having the temerity to change the laws that enabled state workers to collectively bargain the state into bankruptcy. But they suffered a major defeat yesterday when Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels signed into law a right-to-work statute recently passed by the legislature there. The bill curtails the ability of unions to compel non-members to join or pay fees as a price of employment.

The measure is yet another indication that the American people understand that while unions serve a purpose, their political agenda is more about power and leverage than the rights of workers. The concept of the “union shop” in which the government allows workers to be bullied and taxed into submission is repugnant. It also is the underlying factor behind the trend by which powerful municipal and state unions have used their leverage to win contracts taxpayers cannot afford. Though Indiana, like the battles over collective bargaining in Wisconsin, is just one front in a wide-ranging battle to overturn the tyranny of union thuggery, it is a signal triumph that should encourage other states to do the same (currently only 23 states have right-to-work laws).

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The trade union movement has been feeling its oats lately. It has the strong support of President Obama, who is counting on union manpower to help his re-election effort. Unions also flexed their muscles in Wisconsin as they threatened Governor Scott Walker with recall for having the temerity to change the laws that enabled state workers to collectively bargain the state into bankruptcy. But they suffered a major defeat yesterday when Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels signed into law a right-to-work statute recently passed by the legislature there. The bill curtails the ability of unions to compel non-members to join or pay fees as a price of employment.

The measure is yet another indication that the American people understand that while unions serve a purpose, their political agenda is more about power and leverage than the rights of workers. The concept of the “union shop” in which the government allows workers to be bullied and taxed into submission is repugnant. It also is the underlying factor behind the trend by which powerful municipal and state unions have used their leverage to win contracts taxpayers cannot afford. Though Indiana, like the battles over collective bargaining in Wisconsin, is just one front in a wide-ranging battle to overturn the tyranny of union thuggery, it is a signal triumph that should encourage other states to do the same (currently only 23 states have right-to-work laws).

The argument put forth by the unions that they only wish to stop some workers from benefitting from their negotiating efforts without paying for them is utterly disingenuous. As Jeff Jacoby writes in the Boston Globe in a brilliant takedown of those who oppose right-to-work laws:

That’s not a principle, it’s a shameless pretext. Unions demand monopoly bargaining power — the right to exclusively represent everyone in a workplace — and then insist that each of those workers must pay for the privilege. This is the “principle” of the squeegee-man who aggressively wipes your windshield when you stop at a red light, then demands that you pay for the service he has rendered you.

By the union’s “free-rider” logic, shouldn’t all voters be forced to subscribe to a daily newspaper, since all of them benefit from its journalism? And shouldn’t every company be compelled to support the Chamber of Commerce, which lobbies on behalf of business whether individual firms ask it to or not?

The passion with which Big Labor fights right-to-work helps explain why so many Americans have abandoned unions. The labor movement was born in freedom and choice. That’s not what it stands for anymore.

The struggle against union coercion is not a minor issue. Unless states find the political will to stand up against the unions and restore a semblance of democracy to the workplace and the bargaining table, the vast tide of public debt will eventually overwhelm the ability of citizens to pay for it. Big labor is fighting hard to preserve its grip on power and the public purse. The question voters in Wisconsin and many other states will have to answer in the coming months and years is whether the taxpayers have the will and the courage to resist them.

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Erdogan’s Goal is to Islamize a Generation

President Obama counts Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan as among his favorite leaders, and successive American ambassadors to Turkey—Eric Edelman being the exception—bought the notion that Erdoğan truly sought to liberalize, modernize, and democratize Turkey. Erdoğan has just put to rest the idea this was his goal. Speaking to an assembly from his ruling party, Erdoğan addressed criticism leveled by the main secular opposition party:

“Do you expect the conservative democrat AK Party to raise atheist generations? This may be your business and objective but not ours. We will raise a generation that is conservative and democratic and embraces the values and historical principles of its nation.”

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President Obama counts Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan as among his favorite leaders, and successive American ambassadors to Turkey—Eric Edelman being the exception—bought the notion that Erdoğan truly sought to liberalize, modernize, and democratize Turkey. Erdoğan has just put to rest the idea this was his goal. Speaking to an assembly from his ruling party, Erdoğan addressed criticism leveled by the main secular opposition party:

“Do you expect the conservative democrat AK Party to raise atheist generations? This may be your business and objective but not ours. We will raise a generation that is conservative and democratic and embraces the values and historical principles of its nation.”

In other words, Erdoğan’s goal is to indoctrinate a generation into accepting his Islamist interpretations of the role of religion in politics. True, Erdoğan still embraces the rhetoric of democracy but, then again, so did Muammar Qaddafi, Bashar al-Assad, and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. His record on democracy leaves much to be desired, as his evisceration of free expression in Turkey demonstrates.

Turkey was a model precisely because it developed a liberal, democratic system that was not anti-religion, but which sought to constrain the blurring of religion and politics. Erdoğan has turned that model on its head. The Obama administration—and, frankly, the Bush administration before it—are guilty of tremendous diplomatic malpractice for refusing to recognize the reality behind Erdoğan’s rhetoric.

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What Obama Promised and Didn’t Deliver

Jeffrey Anderson, writing in The Weekly Standard, makes an excellent point:

In President Obama’’s first budget, entitled (with no apparent sense of irony) “A New Era of Responsibility,”” he projected that the federal budget deficit in 2012 would be a rather hefty $581 billion. Fast-forwarding three years, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) now projects that it will instead be $1.079 trillion, meaning that, if the CBO is right, Obama was wrong by $498,000,000,000. To put that into perspective, that roughly half-trillion dollar margin of error is more than Obama allocated in this year’’s budget for Medicare. Medicare could magically have become free for 2012, and the deficit would still have exceeded Obama’’s earlier estimate.

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Jeffrey Anderson, writing in The Weekly Standard, makes an excellent point:

In President Obama’’s first budget, entitled (with no apparent sense of irony) “A New Era of Responsibility,”” he projected that the federal budget deficit in 2012 would be a rather hefty $581 billion. Fast-forwarding three years, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) now projects that it will instead be $1.079 trillion, meaning that, if the CBO is right, Obama was wrong by $498,000,000,000. To put that into perspective, that roughly half-trillion dollar margin of error is more than Obama allocated in this year’’s budget for Medicare. Medicare could magically have become free for 2012, and the deficit would still have exceeded Obama’’s earlier estimate.

It strikes me that President Obama isn’t simply vulnerable when it comes to the objective conditions of the country (though he is); it’s that he’s vulnerable based on what he promised versus what he has delivered as president. That’s true on a range of issues, including the unemployment rate (which we were told wouldn’t go above 8 percent if his stimulus package was passed; December was the 35th straight month with unemployment above 8 percent); health care costs (he promised to bend the health care cost curve down; it’s gone up); poverty going down (it’s gone up); cutting the deficit in half (it’s exploded); fixing the housing crisis (it’s gotten worse); improving America’s image in the world (we’re less popular in the Muslim world now than we were under Obama’s predecessor); and improving the political culture in Washington (the divisions have gotten deeper and Obama has set a record for polarization in each of his first three years in office).

Time and time again, Barack Obama has not only not done what he promised; his policies have moved things in the opposite direction.

He is a man who rode to office on his words and promises. In November, Obama might well be given a one-way ticket back to Chicago for the same reason.

 

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Bipartisan “Birtherism” Emerges

It got lost in the shuffle on Tuesday night as most of us were focused on Mitt Romney’s big Florida win and Newt Gingrich’s graceless and weird non-concession speech, but conservative personality Joseph Farah said something on Sean Hannity’s “Fox News” program that is a reminder of just how crazy contemporary politics can get. Farah was on a panel with Bob Beckel and Gretchen Hamel when the question of possible Republican vice presidential candidates came up:

“[Sen. Marco] Rubio’s not eligible,” Farah said.

“What do you mean?” host Sean Hannity asked.

“You’re going to lose 10% of the Republican vote because he is not a natural born citizen. We’ve been through this with Obama now for four years,” Farah explained.

“I don’t believe that. I don’t think that’s going to work,” Hannity said.

Hannity is, of course, right. This bizarre attack on Rubio won’t work because Rubio was born in Miami and therefore is a natural born citizen of the United States and ten percent of Republican voters aren’t nuts. But this exchange illustrates just how deep-seated the virus of conspiracy mongering is in our political culture. After eight years of crackpot lies about George W. Bush and 9/11 that was followed by three plus years of Obama birth certificate lunacy, we have now arrived at a point where “birtherism” is a bipartisan form of insanity.

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It got lost in the shuffle on Tuesday night as most of us were focused on Mitt Romney’s big Florida win and Newt Gingrich’s graceless and weird non-concession speech, but conservative personality Joseph Farah said something on Sean Hannity’s “Fox News” program that is a reminder of just how crazy contemporary politics can get. Farah was on a panel with Bob Beckel and Gretchen Hamel when the question of possible Republican vice presidential candidates came up:

“[Sen. Marco] Rubio’s not eligible,” Farah said.

“What do you mean?” host Sean Hannity asked.

“You’re going to lose 10% of the Republican vote because he is not a natural born citizen. We’ve been through this with Obama now for four years,” Farah explained.

“I don’t believe that. I don’t think that’s going to work,” Hannity said.

Hannity is, of course, right. This bizarre attack on Rubio won’t work because Rubio was born in Miami and therefore is a natural born citizen of the United States and ten percent of Republican voters aren’t nuts. But this exchange illustrates just how deep-seated the virus of conspiracy mongering is in our political culture. After eight years of crackpot lies about George W. Bush and 9/11 that was followed by three plus years of Obama birth certificate lunacy, we have now arrived at a point where “birtherism” is a bipartisan form of insanity.

Farah ought to know. He’s spent much of the last few years promoting myths about Barack Obama not being an American citizen though there was never any rational reason to doubt he was born in Hawaii. Even after the Obama birth certificate was produced, Farah stuck to his wacko guns and predictably claimed it was a forgery.

But though Farah is a conservative of a sort, his “birtherism” is bipartisan as he is now backing the notion that both Rubio and fellow Republican Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal are not eligible for the presidency or vice presidency.

As far as Rubio and Jindal are concerned, Farah knows there is no way he can cast doubt on their birth on American soil. So what he has done now is to promote the fraudulent claim that in order to be a natural born citizen as required by the Constitution, not only must the individual be born in the United States but the parents must also be American citizens at the time of the birth. Rubio’s parents were Cuban immigrants who became citizens a few years after their child was born. The same was true for Jindal. But this makes no sense as U.S. citizenship has always been automatic in the case of any child born in the country. Nor has the law ever been interpreted as referring to anyone’s citizenship but the child’s.

After years of ranting about Obama’s eligibility, I suppose it was only natural for the universe of conspiracy theorists to want to latch onto a new absurdity. But anyone who thinks this will prevent Rubio from being nominated or elected to the vice presidency needs to emerge from their survivalist bunkers and get some fresh air.

Farah’s attempt to cast doubt on Rubio ought to be a warning to responsible media figures to be wary of inviting him or any other birther onto their shows. Along with the 9/11 truthers, the birthers need to be quarantined and confined to the fever swamps of political insanity, where they belong.

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Don’t Cry for Komen’s Break With Planned Parenthood

Earlier this week, the Susan G. Komen Foundation announced it would no longer be providing funding for organizations under investigation by governmental agencies. Thanks to this new policy, grants to Planned Parenthood (which totaled $680,000 last year) would cease. Planned Parenthood immediately released a statement calling the decision “deeply disturbing and disappointing” and within the same press release used the news as a fundraising opportunity (it worked – they’ve raised more than $400,000).

The left immediately went into spin mode, claiming the funds were used for breast screenings and without Komen’s grants, women’s health would be jeopardized. The funds, they claim, went only towards what they were granted to cover: breast screening and education. Remember the part about Planned Parenthood being under congressional investigation? In part, it’s due to charges over misappropriation of funds. Life News goes into detail on the charges:

A congressional committee has taken the first steps in investigating the Planned Parenthood abortion business over abuses ranging from financial disparities to its compliance with federal regulations on taxpayer funding to concerns that it is covering up cases of sex trafficking.

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Earlier this week, the Susan G. Komen Foundation announced it would no longer be providing funding for organizations under investigation by governmental agencies. Thanks to this new policy, grants to Planned Parenthood (which totaled $680,000 last year) would cease. Planned Parenthood immediately released a statement calling the decision “deeply disturbing and disappointing” and within the same press release used the news as a fundraising opportunity (it worked – they’ve raised more than $400,000).

The left immediately went into spin mode, claiming the funds were used for breast screenings and without Komen’s grants, women’s health would be jeopardized. The funds, they claim, went only towards what they were granted to cover: breast screening and education. Remember the part about Planned Parenthood being under congressional investigation? In part, it’s due to charges over misappropriation of funds. Life News goes into detail on the charges:

A congressional committee has taken the first steps in investigating the Planned Parenthood abortion business over abuses ranging from financial disparities to its compliance with federal regulations on taxpayer funding to concerns that it is covering up cases of sex trafficking.

While debates over Planned Parenthood’s federal funding were taking place, the organization claimed that without governmental grants, women would no longer have access to “basic family planning, mammograms…” Problem is: Planned Parenthood doesn’t provide mammograms. Or advanced breast screenings. The only breast health services Planned Parenthood provides women is teaching them how to do a self-exam at home, and performing that same exam for them in the office. If any abnormality is detected, Planned Parenthood immediately refers their patient elsewhere, as they are unable to provide medical care outside of what a woman could do at home with a basic fact sheet.

The Susan G. Komen Foundation was founded by Nancy Brinker, who named the Foundation in honor of her sister who died of breast cancer. The Foundation “works to end breast cancer in the U.S. and throughout the world through ground-breaking research, community health outreach, advocacy and programs in more than 50 countries with a special focus on low-resource and developing nations.”

With the freeing up of funds from an organization who do next to nothing for breast health, the Komen Foundation will now be free to use these resources to bankroll organizations who provide wide-ranging breast services for women around the world. For those who are upset that Planned Parenthood will no longer have this grant opportunity, they are free to donate to Planned Parenthood directly (and they are). Given the fact that Planned Parenthood is actually a profitable business (netting $18.5 million last year), if women’s health is truly their top priority, it won’t suffer without Komen.

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Is the Bahrain Uprising Sponsored by Iran?

Bahrain is strategically important and an incredibly diverse country, not only ethnically (with Arabs and those of Persian origin, not to mention South Asians and Filipinos if one includes the expatriate workers), but also religiously: The majority are Shi’ite Muslims, the ruling and more elite class are Sunni Muslims, and there are also a number of Christians and Jewish families, the latter mostly of Iraqi origin centuries ago. The Bahraini ambassador to the United States is Jewish.

Because most of the opposition is Shi’ite, there is concern in American policy circles and among many journalists that a hidden Iranian hand controls the Bahraini opposition. This translates into concern that meaningful reform would usher in a period of Iranian domination.

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Bahrain is strategically important and an incredibly diverse country, not only ethnically (with Arabs and those of Persian origin, not to mention South Asians and Filipinos if one includes the expatriate workers), but also religiously: The majority are Shi’ite Muslims, the ruling and more elite class are Sunni Muslims, and there are also a number of Christians and Jewish families, the latter mostly of Iraqi origin centuries ago. The Bahraini ambassador to the United States is Jewish.

Because most of the opposition is Shi’ite, there is concern in American policy circles and among many journalists that a hidden Iranian hand controls the Bahraini opposition. This translates into concern that meaningful reform would usher in a period of Iranian domination.

The issue, however, is far more nuanced. When the British evacuated the region, the United Nations brokered a referendum on Bahrain’s future, and the vast majority—of both Sunni and Shi’ites—chose independence rather than incorporation into Iran. Certainly, the Iranians—who view most of the Persian Gulf, along with Afghanistan, Iraq, and the Caucasus as their near-abroad—never truly abandoned their claim. In 2007, Hossein Shariatmadari, whom the Supreme Leader of Iran appointed to edit the Kayhan newspaper and so is read by many Iran analysts as the Supreme Leader’s proxy voice, penned an editorial reasserting Iran’s claim over Bahrain.

That said, most Bahraini Shi’ites are Arab and not Persian, and ethnic divisions matter. Few Arabs like to live under Persian domination regardless of sect. Hence the saying in southern Iraq: “Break the bones of a Persian and sh-t comes out.” Saddam Hussein, however, was in some ways a blessing for the Iranians. Because of Saddam’s oppression of the Iraqi Shi’ites and the tight control he kept over the holy city of Najaf, many Bahraini religious students shifted their study beginning in the 1970s and continuing arguably to the present day away from Najaf and toward Qom, where the Iranians could preach Ayatollah Khomeini’s vision of clerical rule. Just because something is taught, however, does not mean  it is believed. Many other Bahraini Shi’ites have been exposed to Iranian influence during pilgrimage, mostly to Mashhad but also to Qom.

Relations, however, are not enough to conclude political influence. The Shi’ite landscape in Bahrain is complex. If traditionally, many Bahraini Shi’ites looked toward Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani for their religious guidance, others increasingly look to Ayatollah Khamenei. Muhammad Hussein Fadlallah, perhaps the closest thing to a spiritual leader which Lebanese Hezbollah had, also retains followers in Bahrain. While he died in 2010 and, theoretically, Shi’ites must follow a living source of emulation, Fadlallah’s office still retains a vakil who collects religious taxes. Other groups look more toward Ayatollahs Shirazi and Modaressi.

The Iranian government wins a great advantage through its media. Almost everyone I spoke to—taxi drivers, businessmen, and activists—say they listen to Iran’s Arabic-language Al-Alam service for their news or, when that is jammed, to Voice of Iran. Iran’s Press TV and Sahar are also popular. Government officials also acknowledge the popularity of these services. Here then is another example of the failure of Voice of America (and, for that matter, the BBC) which has not covered the events in Bahrain nearly as often or as completely. Bahrainis, though, are sophisticated, and while they may listen to Iranian channels for news, they are not brainwashed blindly. After all, they recognize that for news about Syria, the Iranian channels are woefully biased, “as biased as VOA is on Bahrain,” as one taxi driver told me. Still, woe be it for the United States to lose the battle of the airwaves.

During my time in Iraq, Iranian influence was clear even if many in the Coalition Provisional Authority, State Department and, indeed, the media did not want to initially believe it. Bahrain does not feel like the parallel. There are not Hezbollah flags, nor are Khamenei or Khomeini’s pictures ever present. That said, I did see worrying signs. Wandering into a religious book store near old Manama, I found posters for sale not only of Isa Qasim, the leading Bahraini cleric, but also of Khamenei, Hezbollah’s Hassan Nasrallah, and, most worrisome, Imad Mughniyeh, the mastermind of the 2003 attack on the Marine barracks in Beirut. My colleague found a CD with Wifaq leader Ali Samad’s speeches set to music and produced by Hezbollah’s al-Manar station. While many Bahrainis deny Isa Qasim follows Khamenei’s concept of clerical rule, Americans and Bahrainis cannot afford to forget that Khomeini swore up and down he had no interest in personal power prior to Iran’s Islamic Revolution, and too many useful idiots in both Iran and the United States accepted his statements at face value.

Shi’ite activists suggested that I had visited a store that was the exception rather than the rule but, not having surveyed other shops in villages, I have no way of knowing. Hopefully, the U.S. embassy has done such a survey but, again, having had no contact with American diplomats, I simply do not know.

Importantly, the Bahraini government’s investigation into last year’s uprising also shows the Iranians were not behind it unlike, for example, the 1981 uprising. Just because the Iranians did not spark the revolt, however, does not mean they will not try to hijack it. Khamenei will give the Friday Prayer sermon in Tehran himself tomorrow—a relative rarity—and he is expected to speak about Bahrain. Many Shi’ites also suggested that they perceive the Americans as supporting the government and some suggested they would accept help wherever they could get it. The perception that Saudi Arabia is playing hardball in Bahrain also makes local Shi’ites susceptible to Iranian influence.

The marches surrounding the anniversary of the Pearl Monument protests will be telling. Aside from Molotov cocktails—which are very much lethal—most of the Bahraini Shi’ites have been unarmed or, at least, have not had guns. Bahrain is an island, and so the government has been better able to stem the flow of illegal weaponry. Many Shi’ites have also sought to embrace non-violence, with varying degrees of success. However, if there is much violence on February 14, many Shi’ites may be more willing to arm themselves in a way that will be detrimental to everyone except, perhaps, Iran.

That said, money can also drive rebellions and fuel revolutions. Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps leaders made no secret, in 2008, that they see export of the revolution to be a military phenomenon and not a matter for soft power, as some of the Islamic Republic’s so-called reformists claim. It is not possible for an outside observer to know about the background financing, and that unknown is simply too great to draw firm conclusions without more information. Nevertheless, unrest of this magnitude could not exist without real grievances, and so the question for American policymakers is whether such grievances can be addressed before the Bahraini Shi’ite community is pushed into the Iranian camp, or before even greater Saudi intervention and/or federation–which will bring with it a whole host of other problems.

 

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Holder: Of Course Bush and Cheney Were Right All Along

At first, you might think Eric Holder’s testimony this morning was hypocritical. After all, he defiantly echoed the Bush administration’s defense of the separation of powers that drove liberals absolutely crazy. (Watch this Jon Stewart interview with John Bolton from 2007 in which Stewart gets so frustrated by the executive privilege argument he tells Bolton to “man up.” I’m sure he’ll be telling Holder to “man up” any day now.)

But in truth, Holder’s defense of executive privilege was perfectly consistent with the Obama administration’s position on this all along. For example, here’s a McClatchy dispatch about a move Obama made immediately upon assuming office:

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At first, you might think Eric Holder’s testimony this morning was hypocritical. After all, he defiantly echoed the Bush administration’s defense of the separation of powers that drove liberals absolutely crazy. (Watch this Jon Stewart interview with John Bolton from 2007 in which Stewart gets so frustrated by the executive privilege argument he tells Bolton to “man up.” I’m sure he’ll be telling Holder to “man up” any day now.)

But in truth, Holder’s defense of executive privilege was perfectly consistent with the Obama administration’s position on this all along. For example, here’s a McClatchy dispatch about a move Obama made immediately upon assuming office:

President Barack Obama, in his first full day in office, revoked a controversial executive order signed by President Bush in 2001 that limited release of former presidents’ records.

The new order could expand public access to records of President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney in the years to come as well as other past leaders, said Steven Aftergood, director of the Project on Government Secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists.

Get it now? Obama fully intended to provide more transparency–about the Bush administration. Open government groups, like the ACLU and the Sunlight Foundation, learned this lesson just a few months ago, when the Obama administration (Holder’s Justice Department specifically) proposed changes to Freedom of Information Act rules the ACLU described as “authorizing agencies to lie.” They were not exaggerating. The only thing this administration has more disdain for than the opinion of the American public is the concept of transparency.

Just for fun, here’s a comparison of what Bolton said to Stewart and what Holder said this morning. Bolton:

I think it’s important that the president have the advantage of confidentiality in his advice–that people are not worried that they spill their guts to the president and the next day they’ve got to up to Congress and say exactly what they said. You’re going to be more candid with your boss if you can give him advice in private and not have it in the public record shortly thereafter. That’s a fact.

And Holder:

Prior administrations have recognized that robust internal communications would be chilled, and the Executive Branch’s ability to respond to oversight requests thereby impeded, if our internal communications concerning our responses to congressional oversight were disclosed to Congress. For both Branches, this would be an undesirable outcome. The appropriate functioning of the separation of powers requires that Executive Branch officials have the ability to communicate confidentially as they discuss how to respond to inquiries from Congress.

Notice the difference? Holder went one step further by telling Congress he’s doing this for their own good as well as that of his boss. That is, Bolton was less condescending and less confrontational in his attitude toward congressional inquiry. That the Obama administration has gone further than the Bush administration in executive power is now, and has been for a while, common knowledge. But they also have added a note of contempt to it, just so Congress and the public know how much this White House resents them.

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Iranian Missile “Aimed at America,” Says Israeli Deputy PM

At a national security conference in Herzliya today, Deputy Prime Minister Moshe Ya’alon warned that the Iranian regime has “already built missile capacity,” and cited reports it is developing a missile with a reach of 10,000 kilometers – a range that was “aimed at America, not us,” he added.

“The clock keeps ticking,” said Ya’alon. “We should be talking sooner rather than later…So if anyone here is scared or fears the prospects for the Middle East and the world, they should be determined in the next few months to take steps against the nuclear action in Iran.”

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At a national security conference in Herzliya today, Deputy Prime Minister Moshe Ya’alon warned that the Iranian regime has “already built missile capacity,” and cited reports it is developing a missile with a reach of 10,000 kilometers – a range that was “aimed at America, not us,” he added.

“The clock keeps ticking,” said Ya’alon. “We should be talking sooner rather than later…So if anyone here is scared or fears the prospects for the Middle East and the world, they should be determined in the next few months to take steps against the nuclear action in Iran.”

IDF intelligence chief Aviv Kochavi estimated Iran already has enough low-enriched uranium to build four bombs. So far time has been on the side of the Iranian regime, which is reportedly pumping out uranium at enrichment levels sufficient for building a bomb at a rate of around 15 kilograms per month. At the conference, Kochavi said Iran already has 100 kilograms enriched to 20 percent, which experts say is enough to build at least one bomb. Kochavi added it also has 4 tons of lower-grade uranium, which is mainly being used to manufacture higher-enriched fuel.

Iran’s development of long-range missiles isn’t a secret, but coming from a high-profile figure like Ya’alon, the comments highlight that a nuclear Iran presents as much of a threat to the United States as it does to Israel. The question is whether the Obama administration will be able to project enough strength during the election year to convince the Iranian regime that military action is a real possibility, if the latest round of tough sanctions fails.

Full disclosure: I am visiting Herzliya on a press junket sponsored by the Emergency Committee for Israel, a  pro-Israel advocacy organization.

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Liberals and Obama’s War on the Church

For many liberals these days, defining religious liberty is more a matter of circumstance and fashion than principle. Thus, when a plan was put forward to build a Muslim community center and mosque in the shadow of New York’s Ground Zero, the mere expression of concern such a decision was insensitive to the victims and families of the 9/11 attacks was taken as a sign that opponents of the project sought to repeal the First Amendment. The right of prisoners to practice their faiths is often allowed to trump other concerns. The Supreme Court has made it imperative the government must have a compelling reason to impinge in any way on the right of believers to observe religious rights and customs. But this belief in the value of diversity only goes so far. Thus, when President Obama chooses to force Catholic institutions to pay for services for their employees that the principles of the Church forbid, the government’s abrogation of their religious freedom was seen by many of the same liberal commentators who applauded the ground zero mosque as being of no consequence.

That’s the conundrum the president’s anti-Catholic fiat exposed, and the reaction to it from much of our chattering classes is hardly encouraging for those who worry about the government’s willingness to trample on the rights of believers. One needn’t agree with the Vatican’s stand on contraception to understand that if the law regards the government health care agenda as being more sacred than the rights of Catholics not to be forced to subsidize practices they abhor, then the principle of religious liberty in our country truly is in danger.

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For many liberals these days, defining religious liberty is more a matter of circumstance and fashion than principle. Thus, when a plan was put forward to build a Muslim community center and mosque in the shadow of New York’s Ground Zero, the mere expression of concern such a decision was insensitive to the victims and families of the 9/11 attacks was taken as a sign that opponents of the project sought to repeal the First Amendment. The right of prisoners to practice their faiths is often allowed to trump other concerns. The Supreme Court has made it imperative the government must have a compelling reason to impinge in any way on the right of believers to observe religious rights and customs. But this belief in the value of diversity only goes so far. Thus, when President Obama chooses to force Catholic institutions to pay for services for their employees that the principles of the Church forbid, the government’s abrogation of their religious freedom was seen by many of the same liberal commentators who applauded the ground zero mosque as being of no consequence.

That’s the conundrum the president’s anti-Catholic fiat exposed, and the reaction to it from much of our chattering classes is hardly encouraging for those who worry about the government’s willingness to trample on the rights of believers. One needn’t agree with the Vatican’s stand on contraception to understand that if the law regards the government health care agenda as being more sacred than the rights of Catholics not to be forced to subsidize practices they abhor, then the principle of religious liberty in our country truly is in danger.

That’s a conclusion many in our chattering classes refuse to accept. In noting the comments of Republican presidential candidates on the issue in an editorial today, the New York Times put the words “religious liberty” in quotes as if the mere notion that the church’s rights were imperiled was something of a joke.

The reason for this is no secret. For liberal secularists, church teachings about contraception are antiquated and contrary to the progressive spirit of the age. If the church thinks condoms and morning-after pills are wrong, then so much the worse for it. Their beliefs are to be suppressed largely because they are seen as wrong and therefore not worthy of protection let alone tolerance. The triumphal tone of many Church critics betrays a sense that a faith hierarchy that is seen as conservative and/or patriarchal is being put in its place.

Supporters of the president have tried to portray his decision as being made in defense of workers who are being deprived of essential health coverage. But this is a subterfuge. Health care plans vary. Anyone who views birth control benefits as necessary to their terms of employment need not work for a church institution. But the point of this measure is about a political agenda in which free contraception becomes a universal right, not the particular needs of individuals.

While liberals scoff at the idea Obama is waging a war on Catholics, there is little doubt the government’s refusal to accommodate the Church represents a clear choice about the legitimacy of its beliefs. As Politico notes in its analysis today, this may come back to haunt Obama in November as white working-class Catholics who voted for him in 2008 abandon his cause in 2012. But the more important point to be made here is if Catholic rights can be trampled in this fashion, so can those of other faiths even if their liberal adherents think they are untouched by this controversy. Religious liberty either exists for all or for none.

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Will Turkey Become a Terror Sponsor?

The anti-Israel animus of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is no secret, nor is the widespread anti-Semitism of many Turkish officials, anti-Semitism that ranges from classic conspiracy theories to an endorsement of the view that any Jew who believes a strong, democratic Israel is a positive interest somehow harbors dual loyalties.

A few days ago, I wrote a short blog post about the discussion in Turkey about whether or not to become the new host to Hamas, now that the group is seeking to flee Syria, its long term sponsor. I noted that Syria remained on the State Sponsor of Terrorism List largely because it hosted so many terrorist groups.

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The anti-Israel animus of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is no secret, nor is the widespread anti-Semitism of many Turkish officials, anti-Semitism that ranges from classic conspiracy theories to an endorsement of the view that any Jew who believes a strong, democratic Israel is a positive interest somehow harbors dual loyalties.

A few days ago, I wrote a short blog post about the discussion in Turkey about whether or not to become the new host to Hamas, now that the group is seeking to flee Syria, its long term sponsor. I noted that Syria remained on the State Sponsor of Terrorism List largely because it hosted so many terrorist groups.

Yusuf Kanli, a columnist for Hurriyet, tackles the same issue in a more eloquent manner than I ever could, asking,“Should Turkey embrace Hamas as a ‘civilian’ party?” It is a question that goes to the root of the legitimization campaign for not only Hamas, but also Hezbollah. Notes Kanli:

As a country that has suffered so much from terrorism and lost almost 40,000 people to terrorism-related violence, Turkey should not be assisting, abetting or providing some sort of overt or covert support to terrorism in another country.

Amen to that. Certainly, Kanli’s column is worth reading in full. It is only a shame that as the State Department confuses  sycophancy with diplomacy, it remains unwilling to speak with the moral clarity that some Turks do on the issue.

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Romney’s Problem With the Poor

In the sound bite heard ’round the world, Mitt Romney said in an interview yesterday with CNN’s Soledad O’Brien, “I’m not concerned about the very poor. We have a safety net there. If it needs repair, I’ll fix it. I’m not concerned about the very rich, they’re doing just fine. I’m concerned about the very heart of the America, the 90 percent, 95 percent of Americans who right now are struggling.”

O’Brien jumped in. “There are lots of very poor Americans who are struggling who would say, ‘That sounds odd,’” she said.

“Well, finish the sentence, Soledad,” Romney replied. “I said I’m not concerned about the very poor that have a safety net, but if it has holes in it, I will repair them. We will hear from the Democrat party, the plight of the poor. And there’s no question, it’s not good being poor, and we have a safety net to help those that are very poor. But my campaign is focused on middle-income Americans. You can choose where to focus, you can focus on the rich. That’s not my focus. You can focus on the very poor, that’s not my focus. My focus is on middle income Americans. Retirees living on Social Security, people who can’t find work, folks that have kids that are getting ready to go to college. These are the people most badly hurt during the Obama years. We have a very ample safety net and we can talk about whether it needs to be strengthened or whether there are holes in it. But we have food stamps, we have Medicaid, we have housing vouchers, we have programs to help the poor. But the middle income Americans, they’re the folks that are really struggling right now and they need someone that can help get this economy going for them.”

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In the sound bite heard ’round the world, Mitt Romney said in an interview yesterday with CNN’s Soledad O’Brien, “I’m not concerned about the very poor. We have a safety net there. If it needs repair, I’ll fix it. I’m not concerned about the very rich, they’re doing just fine. I’m concerned about the very heart of the America, the 90 percent, 95 percent of Americans who right now are struggling.”

O’Brien jumped in. “There are lots of very poor Americans who are struggling who would say, ‘That sounds odd,’” she said.

“Well, finish the sentence, Soledad,” Romney replied. “I said I’m not concerned about the very poor that have a safety net, but if it has holes in it, I will repair them. We will hear from the Democrat party, the plight of the poor. And there’s no question, it’s not good being poor, and we have a safety net to help those that are very poor. But my campaign is focused on middle-income Americans. You can choose where to focus, you can focus on the rich. That’s not my focus. You can focus on the very poor, that’s not my focus. My focus is on middle income Americans. Retirees living on Social Security, people who can’t find work, folks that have kids that are getting ready to go to college. These are the people most badly hurt during the Obama years. We have a very ample safety net and we can talk about whether it needs to be strengthened or whether there are holes in it. But we have food stamps, we have Medicaid, we have housing vouchers, we have programs to help the poor. But the middle income Americans, they’re the folks that are really struggling right now and they need someone that can help get this economy going for them.”

I understand that presidential candidates, who speak non-stop, will use awkward constructions from time to time. Still, the phrase “I’m not concerned about the very poor” is jarring. It reinforces the worst caricature of Republicans. And it provides the Obama campaign with a sound bite it will use from now until election day, if Romney is the nominee.

But it’s actually worse than that. Even if you were inclined to be generous and say Romney’s formulation was an innocent blunder, his efforts to explain his comments were also quite problematic. It’s true a bad economy hurts everyone, but it hurts no one more than the poor, even with a safety net in place. (In addition, it’s not as if those in the middle class don’t have government programs available to them.) And economic growth helps everyone in a society, but none more than the poor. One of the main moral defenses of democratic capitalism, after all, is that it’s done more than any economic system in history to lift people out of mass poverty and mass misery.

Romney’s answer is also a tip off that he’s simply unfamiliar with the intellectual/policy work done by conservatives over the years whose explicit purpose has been to help the poor, including reforms in welfare, crime, and education. (Many of those reforms have been terrifically successful.)

But it goes even deeper than that. Some of us believe a society should be judged in large part by how it treats the poor, the defenseless, and the disadvantaged. “I know that the Lord secures justice for the poor and upholds the cause of the needy,” David writes in the Psalms. “The righteous care about justice for the poor, but the wicked have no such concern,” according to Proverbs. “Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of mine, even the least of them, you did it to me,” Jesus said in Matthew.

Now precisely how these concerns translate into government policy is a complicated matter — but some of us became conservatives in some measure because we believed liberalism had failed the underclass and conservatism had something important to offer. So to have the likely Republican nominee say “I’m not concerned about the very poor” reveals a mindset that is disquieting.

 

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Consult Jerusalem’s Palestinians Before Rushing to Divide the City

Here, in one sentence, is the gist of Frank Jacob’s 1,500-word op-ed in the New York Times this week: Divided cities are bad, and we should strive to reunite them – except for Jerusalem, which we should instead strive to redivide, even though it will likely mean building a wall through its heart. “In a place where there’s no middle ground,where you’re either from one side or the other, it’s hard to see how a case can be made that both parts of the city belong together, and should grow together,” he pontificated. “Even [former West Berlin Mayor and German Chancellor] Willy Brandt would agree.”

I have no doubt Brandt would agree if he were still alive; most Europeans do. But here’s who wouldn’t agree: a sizable minority, and quite possibly a majority, of those East Jerusalem Palestinians whom Jacobs and his fellow pundits so blithely advocate tearing away from Israel.

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Here, in one sentence, is the gist of Frank Jacob’s 1,500-word op-ed in the New York Times this week: Divided cities are bad, and we should strive to reunite them – except for Jerusalem, which we should instead strive to redivide, even though it will likely mean building a wall through its heart. “In a place where there’s no middle ground,where you’re either from one side or the other, it’s hard to see how a case can be made that both parts of the city belong together, and should grow together,” he pontificated. “Even [former West Berlin Mayor and German Chancellor] Willy Brandt would agree.”

I have no doubt Brandt would agree if he were still alive; most Europeans do. But here’s who wouldn’t agree: a sizable minority, and quite possibly a majority, of those East Jerusalem Palestinians whom Jacobs and his fellow pundits so blithely advocate tearing away from Israel.

In a November 2010 poll which 1,039 East Jerusalem Palestinians conducted via face-to-face interviews, fully 35 percent said they would prefer remaining Israeli if a two-state solution emerged, compared to only 30 percent who preferred Palestinian citizenship. The remainder declined to answer or said they didn’t know.

Since a Palestinian who openly prefers Israel would be deemed treasonous by most of his compatriots, the fact that a majority of those who actually answered the question nevertheless chose Israel is stunning – especially because the interviews were conducted by Palestinian pollsters (the poll was officially conducted by Pechter Middle East Polls and the Council on Foreign Relations, but they hired a West Bank firm, Dr. Nabil Kukali’s Palestinian Center for Public Opinion, to do the actual interviews). That makes it likely that among those who declined to answer, an even larger majority would have chosen Israel.

The same preference emerged from a different question: Would you relocate to Israel (or Palestine) if your neighborhood of Jerusalem ended up in the other? Fully 40 percent of respondents said they would move to remain in Israel, while only 27 percent said they would move to become part of Palestine. Again, the likelihood is that those who declined to answer would break even more strongly for Israel.

In September 2011, two weeks before the Palestinians formally applied for statehood at the UN, Pechter and the Washington Institute conducted a follow-up poll, again using Kukali’s firm for the actual interviews. This time, 39 percent said they preferred Israeli citizenship and 53 percent preferred Palestinian, seemingly indicating, as the pollsters wrote, that “views have shifted toward this option among the one-third who previously voiced uncertainty or refused to answer.”

But it could equally reflect the fact that amid all the hoopla over the imminent statehood bid, more Palestinians felt acutely uncomfortable publicly stating a preference for Israel, regardless of what they actually thought. This possibility is bolstered by the fact that while 42 percent said they would move to Israel if their neighborhood became Palestinian, only 44 percent said they would move to Palestine if their neighborhood remained Israeli. In other words, all those who publicly preferred Israeli citizenship were willing to move to obtain it. But among those who publicly preferred Palestinian citizenship, many fewer were willing to move to obtain it.

Clearly, none of this makes East Jerusalem Palestinians into Zionists; those who preferred Israeli citizenship mainly cited practical reasons: “freedom of movement in Israel, higher income and better job opportunities, and Israeli health insurance.” But that doesn’t make their preferences less worthy of consideration.

So before Westerners blithely assert that dividing Jerusalem is what’s best for its Palestinian residents, perhaps they ought to pay a little more attention to what those residents actually say.

 

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Bahrain is Heading for a Bloodbath

I’ve spent the last several days in Bahrain, meeting with both government officials and members of the opposition. While I began my trip expecting protests on February 14, the anniversary of last year’s demonstrations and crackdowns on the Pearl Roundabout, I am leaving more pessimistic.

This was my first trip to Bahrain in 18 years, since I lived in the tiny Persian Gulf island nation for a summer. Since that time, the development in Bahrain has been astounding. What once was a dusty backwater with a very limited amount of oil has seen massive development. Alas, this has not trickled down to the population—with its sectarian divisions—evenly. I am not one who believes wealth must be distributed equally; what disturbs me more is the opportunity gap.

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I’ve spent the last several days in Bahrain, meeting with both government officials and members of the opposition. While I began my trip expecting protests on February 14, the anniversary of last year’s demonstrations and crackdowns on the Pearl Roundabout, I am leaving more pessimistic.

This was my first trip to Bahrain in 18 years, since I lived in the tiny Persian Gulf island nation for a summer. Since that time, the development in Bahrain has been astounding. What once was a dusty backwater with a very limited amount of oil has seen massive development. Alas, this has not trickled down to the population—with its sectarian divisions—evenly. I am not one who believes wealth must be distributed equally; what disturbs me more is the opportunity gap.

Even members of the royal family acknowledge that opposition grievances are real, and some are perhaps more sincere in their desire for reform than many oppositionists realize. Others are not, however, and while some opposition parties are more secular and liberal, and others are more religiously-oriented, there seems to be a consensus which has formed that compromise is impossible. The opposition accuses security forces—often manned by non-Bahraini Arabs and those with origins in South Asia—with using tactics which have worsened the situation. Bahraini authorities acknowledge there has been torture; the opposition distrusts the declaration of both the government and its appointed commission that they will address the problem seriously.

Within a five-minute walk from my hotel in central Manama is graffiti calling for the ouster of King Hamad, who has been a staunch ally of the United States. Within a shadow of the capital’s skyscrapers, the graffiti calling for the ruling family’s ouster, revolution, and even the king’s death is ever present (though the latter slogan is relatively rare). Cars honk their horns in a cadence with the four-syllable slogan calling for the king’s ouster. I attended a meeting with a more religiously-oriented group in which speakers called for the end of the Khalifa dynasty. To the credit of the Bahraini government, officials knew in advance I would be meeting with oppositionists, though they did not know with whom I would meet (nor, frankly did I), and the government did nothing to hamper me. To the credit of the American embassy, some of the opposition leaders spoke highly of their interaction with American diplomats. To the embassy’s discredit, others said they had never met a single American diplomat.

In Ma’amir, a village near the opposition stronghold of Sitra, I walked with protesters as they demonstrated  behind hastily erected barricades to prevent security force vehicles from running them down. I witnessed the ensuing clash—getting my fair share of tear gas (the most potent and strangest smelling tear gas I have ever encountered)—in the process. The protesters, as best I could see, were unarmed though at least one protester threw a Molotov cocktail.  Following the clash, I visited a hospital—well-guarded as the police reportedly try to stop the treatment of protesters—to confirm the death of a Bahraini oppositionist that day, who allegedly suffocated on tear gas. Perhaps the opposition wanted to create martyrs, perhaps they did not. But the fact of the matter is that going into the anniversary of last year’s shooting, there is no shortage of victims in whose memory the opposition will rally.

To the opposition’s credit, there have been no attacks, let alone threats, to my knowledge ,on Americans. It is in this context the U.S. embassy in Bahrain’s decision to withdraw Americans living in largely Shi’ite areas along the Budaiya road is a mistake. I wrote about that here, and received a thoughtful response from an anonymous blogger on Foreign Service affairs, here. While I am not sympathetic to the argument that the ability to go to Pizza Hut trumps a diplomat’s responsibility to report as broadly as possible, and I am not sympathetic to the argument that meetings with officials at sterile locations can ever substitute for observing on one’s own, a far greater concern is that with American diplomats evacuated from the area in which clashes are likely to occur, and with Western journalists unwelcome until after the anniversary passes, there is no incentive for either the government or the opposition to restrain themselves. As the opposition escalates their demands not simply to dismiss the government but also to rid Bahrain of monarchy, and the government hunkers down to restore order by whatever means necessary, the outlook for later this month is dire indeed.

There are other issues relating to American policymakers: Bahrain hosts the U.S. 5th Fleet and so is of incredible strategic importance. Allegations of Iranian influence are also of real concern to American policymakers. But, with a plane to catch, these thoughts will have to be explored over subsequent days.

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Security Concerns After UN Chief’s Convoy Attacked in Gaza

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s visit to Israel, which is aimed at restarting peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, got off on the wrong foot today. Or, to be more specific, it got off on the wrong shoes – dozens of which were pelted at Ban’s convoy by irate Palestinian protesters, along with sticks and stones, as he rode through Gaza. The UN chief is on his way to a national security conference in Herzliya, where he’s slated to give the keynote address tonight. The Jerusalem Post reports on the attack:

No one was injured during the hostile welcome and the vehicles, which entered the Hamas-ruled territory from southern Israel through the Erez crossing, pushed through the crowd and sped away. …

Many of those who protested as the UN convoy passed were family members of Palestinians being held in Israeli prisons. They hit the vehicles with signs bearing slogans accusing Ban of bias towards Israel and of refusing to meet the relatives of Palestinian prisoners.

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UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s visit to Israel, which is aimed at restarting peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, got off on the wrong foot today. Or, to be more specific, it got off on the wrong shoes – dozens of which were pelted at Ban’s convoy by irate Palestinian protesters, along with sticks and stones, as he rode through Gaza. The UN chief is on his way to a national security conference in Herzliya, where he’s slated to give the keynote address tonight. The Jerusalem Post reports on the attack:

No one was injured during the hostile welcome and the vehicles, which entered the Hamas-ruled territory from southern Israel through the Erez crossing, pushed through the crowd and sped away. …

Many of those who protested as the UN convoy passed were family members of Palestinians being held in Israeli prisons. They hit the vehicles with signs bearing slogans accusing Ban of bias towards Israel and of refusing to meet the relatives of Palestinian prisoners.

The incident comes a day after Ban gave a pro-Palestinian speech in Ramallah, in which he praised Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and condemned Israeli settlement building as a violation of international law that needs to be frozen immediately:

Ban on Wednesday praised Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas for his leadership and publicly backed him on key issues, including the demand for a freeze of settlement building on occupied lands the Palestinians want for their state.

With Abbas by his side, the UN chief affirmed that “all Israeli settlements are contrary to international law and prejudice” the outcome of a final peace deal.

Jeremy Ruden, a spokesman for the Herzliya conference, said that “unprecendeted security measures [are] being taken upon [Ban's] arrival” at the event tonight.

The attack on Ban’s convoy, and the seven rockets fired into Israel from Gaza last night, underscore the absurdity of the notion that Israeli settlement building is the major obstacle to peace, as opposed to the lack of a stable negotiating partner on the Palestinian side. How can Israel agree to halt settlement expansion as a “goodwill gesture” with the Palestinian Authority, when this will do nothing to stop the rocket fire and impossible demands from Gaza?

Netanyahu has already reportedly rejected Ban’s request for a settlement freeze. But the UN chief is likely to raise the issue again during his speech tonight.

Full disclosure: I am visiting Herzliya on a press trip sponsored by the Emergency Committee for Israel, a pro-Israel advocacy organization.

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