Commentary Magazine


Posts For: February 3, 2012

Obama Leads From Behind Israel on Iran

Most observers have spent the past few months trying desperately to interpret the mixed signals emanating from the Obama administration on Iran. It has escalated its rhetoric against Iran’s nuclear ambitions while at the same time continued to shy away from actions that might actually stop Tehran, such as the tough sanctions on Iran’s Central Bank that would set in motion a partial oil embargo. Yet, while American diplomats travel the globe trying to corral other nations to support sanctions on Iran, American leaders have been open about their unwillingness to contemplate the use of force and horror at the thought Israel will act on its own.

The latest such contradictory signal comes from Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, who told the Washington Post’s David Ignatius his biggest worry is the Israelis will take care of the problem for him:

Panetta believes there is a strong likelihood that Israel will strike Iran in April, May or June — before Iran enters what Israelis described as a “zone of immunity” to commence building a nuclear bomb. Very soon, the Israelis fear, the Iranians will have stored enough enriched uranium in deep underground facilities to make a weapon — and only the United States could then stop them militarily.

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Most observers have spent the past few months trying desperately to interpret the mixed signals emanating from the Obama administration on Iran. It has escalated its rhetoric against Iran’s nuclear ambitions while at the same time continued to shy away from actions that might actually stop Tehran, such as the tough sanctions on Iran’s Central Bank that would set in motion a partial oil embargo. Yet, while American diplomats travel the globe trying to corral other nations to support sanctions on Iran, American leaders have been open about their unwillingness to contemplate the use of force and horror at the thought Israel will act on its own.

The latest such contradictory signal comes from Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, who told the Washington Post’s David Ignatius his biggest worry is the Israelis will take care of the problem for him:

Panetta believes there is a strong likelihood that Israel will strike Iran in April, May or June — before Iran enters what Israelis described as a “zone of immunity” to commence building a nuclear bomb. Very soon, the Israelis fear, the Iranians will have stored enough enriched uranium in deep underground facilities to make a weapon — and only the United States could then stop them militarily.

Ignatius goes on to say Obama and Panetta have told the Israelis not to strike, because they think it will “derail an increasingly successful international economic sanctions program and other non-military efforts to stop Iran from crossing the threshold.”

Anyone wondering why the Israelis seem to be moving closer to deciding to attack on their own need only read that statement. The Israelis — and the Iranians — know the current sanctions program is nowhere close to stopping Iran. That is because Obama has not only hesitated to put the stringent sanctions recently passed by Congress (over his objections) into effect but also has never forced the Treasury Department to enforce the existing far weaker measures aimed at Iran.

Though Israel knows it cannot do the job of setting back Iran’s nuclear program as well as the United States can, Prime Minister Netanyahu and Defense Minister Barak may have arrived at the same conclusion their Iranian enemies have come to in the last three years: Barack Obama is too weak and indecisive to be taken seriously when he threatens Iran. That means the only alternative to sitting back and waiting patiently as the Iranians run out the diplomatic clock on a feckless Washington-led effort to restrain them, is for Israel to strike.

Clearly, the administration’s preference is for the Israelis to be sufficiently cowed by U.S. pressure into standing down. Obama and Panetta would like Netanyahu to believe the U.S. would cut off the Israelis the way the Eisenhower administration did in 1956 when it abandoned Israel during the Sinai Campaign. But, as Ignatius points out, an open breach with Israel during an election year would be political suicide for Obama.

So rather than take responsibility for dealing with a problem that threatens the peace of the world, once again the Obama administration is trying to lead from behind. Except this time it isn’t hiding behind France as it did in Libya but behind tiny Israel, who will face the risks of Iranian counter-attacks alone and under the threat of being cut off by its own ally. It is unlikely Israel can be convinced to back off by vague American promises of more negotiations or stepped up covert attacks. Neither plan offers much hope of success. That is why the Israelis may be on the verge of deciding to strike on their own.

Under these circumstances, Ignatius is right that Israel’s leaders probably feel they are better off on their own in this enterprise rather than being shackled by Obama. But with Iran once again vowing to destroy Israel, Netanyahu and Barak realize allowing Ayatollah Khamenei to have his finger on a nuclear trigger simply cannot be tolerated.

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UN Clearly Not Serious About Syria

The Obama administration has staked its Syria policy on winning consensus at the United Nations Security Council, a near impossibility given Russia’s desire to protect Bashar al-Assad at all costs. Alas, it is not only the Kremlin whose resistance empowers Assad’s murderous regime.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon reportedly appointed Amat Al Alim Alsoswa, a former Yemeni minister for human rights, to be his task force leader on Syria. The problem is that Amat was a representative and functionary for the brutal regime of Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

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The Obama administration has staked its Syria policy on winning consensus at the United Nations Security Council, a near impossibility given Russia’s desire to protect Bashar al-Assad at all costs. Alas, it is not only the Kremlin whose resistance empowers Assad’s murderous regime.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon reportedly appointed Amat Al Alim Alsoswa, a former Yemeni minister for human rights, to be his task force leader on Syria. The problem is that Amat was a representative and functionary for the brutal regime of Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

When the UN chooses a Qaddafi regime functionary to oversee human rights, an Islamic Republic of Iran official to handle proliferation concerns, and a representative of an Arab dictator to chair a task force handling the Assad’s “brotherly regime,” then it loses all credibility. The Syrian people deserve better.

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Moderate Islamists and Soccer Fundamentalists

If you believe the papers, today’s Muslim world is a funny place. The Islamists are reform-minded democrats and the soccer fans are murderous fundamentalists.

A flurry of reports describe a wave of tolerance sweeping up Islamists everywhere–from the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt to the Afghan Taliban to Tunisia’s Ennhada party to Libya’s “relative moderates,” as Reuters puts it, “who prefer a civil state simply inspired by sharia.” Hey, they said relative.

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If you believe the papers, today’s Muslim world is a funny place. The Islamists are reform-minded democrats and the soccer fans are murderous fundamentalists.

A flurry of reports describe a wave of tolerance sweeping up Islamists everywhere–from the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt to the Afghan Taliban to Tunisia’s Ennhada party to Libya’s “relative moderates,” as Reuters puts it, “who prefer a civil state simply inspired by sharia.” Hey, they said relative.

Somehow it doesn’t quite feel like moderation is tempering Middle Eastern Islamism, does it? Perhaps that’s because Middle Eastern Soccerism is becoming such a deadly menace. Egyptian soccer fans known as “Ultras” killed 73 people at Wednesday night’s game in Port Said. Ultras also led the attack on the Israeli embassy in Cairo last September. For a better look at the horror of Soccerism, watch this video of a packed Egyptian stadium chanting for another Holocaust.

The tradition of moderate soccer fandom has given way to a radical and unrepresentative strain that seeks to pervert a proud and glorious pastime. Hopefully the moderates will reclaim the game before 2022, when the World Cup comes to Qatar—whose Prime Minister Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani recently recommended the West embrace, you got it, “moderate Islamists.”

Okay, Soccerism is a cheap joke. But it’s more respectable than the official line on the so-called Arab Spring and moderate Islamists. Only used-foreign-policy salesmen could look at the mess in Egypt and beyond and sell it as a triumph for democracy. And only the most craven among them would throw compassionate Islamism into the deal for no additional cost.

If the Egyptian military can’t prevent mass-casualties at a sporting event, it can’t govern. If thousands of Egyptian citizens can’t get together without calling for the annihilation of Jews, moderation has a long way to go. And if every country of the Arab Spring has put radicals in government, the near-term prospects for Middle East democracy are slim. The Islamists and the soccer Ultras are parts of the same toxic stew that comes boiling out when you rip the lid off of Middle East autocracy. They are the rubbish that realists sweep under the rug of stability.

But pretending that Islamism is moderate and unrest is democratic is a win-win deal for springtime Islamists and Obama administration declinists. The former get the West off their backs and the latter get to retreat from an unraveling world order.  If we buy into the Muslim Brotherhood’s democratic “progress” we can skip the hard work of real democracy promotion. If we take the Taliban’s claims of moderation at face value we can surrender—yes, surrender—in Afghanistan and call it victory.

It was only 2008 when John McCain said of Americans, “We don’t hide from history. We make history.” But it might as well have been 1908. The administration has missed so much history during the last three years, the next president is sure to face some brutal make-up classes. We sat out a regional metamorphosis, turned our backs on hard-won Iraq victory, and washed our hands of a winnable war in Afghanistan.

Barack Obama believed if America just got out of the way, the rest of the world would sort itself out. It mattered not at all that the full expanse of human history stood as evidence against that contention. With no democratic superpower to play the imposing role of world police, we’d at last get to see the friendly nature of long-demonized adversaries.

But absolutely nothing is better for America having sat on the sidelines. It’s becoming clear that the difference between a democratic revolt and a senseless riot is at the discretion of the headline writer. The only hope for shaping these eruptions into something recognizably democratic lies with the United States. Which means, at the moment, there is little hope at all.

Listen closely to Brotherhood members or Taliban spokesmen prattle on about representative governance, women’s rights, and pluralism. They sound like incarcerated murderers who explain their rampages in Freudian language provided them by jailhouse social workers. Serial killers have become more expert at explaining denial, projection, and sublimation than college psychology professors. If you think that means they’re cured, go ahead and release them.

It’s likely moderate Islamism will turn out to be uncannily similar to the less moderate version we’re still allowed to worry about. It will just be dressed up in a guise we can more easily ignore. But by the time that news breaks, the United States will have dealt itself out of the region, and the game, completely. Watch the soccer Ultras, not the moderation peddlers, if you want to see where things are headed.

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A Syrian Intervention Scenario

I do not often find myself in agreement with political scientist Robert Pape whose “research” into suicide bombings I roundly panned in a lengthy review for his unconvincing attempts to blame “foreign occupation” for all suicide bombings–even in countries that have never been occupied. So I was stunned to find myself in a large measure of agreement with Pape’s New York Times oped today arguing that civilized states should not wait until genocide is actually being committed to intervene. He writes:

A new standard for humanitarian intervention is needed. If a continuing government-sponsored campaign of mass homicide — in which thousands have died and many thousands more are likely to die — is occurring, a coalition of countries, sanctioned by major international and regional institutions, should intervene to stop it, as long as they have a viable plan, with minimal risk of casualties for the interveners.

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I do not often find myself in agreement with political scientist Robert Pape whose “research” into suicide bombings I roundly panned in a lengthy review for his unconvincing attempts to blame “foreign occupation” for all suicide bombings–even in countries that have never been occupied. So I was stunned to find myself in a large measure of agreement with Pape’s New York Times oped today arguing that civilized states should not wait until genocide is actually being committed to intervene. He writes:

A new standard for humanitarian intervention is needed. If a continuing government-sponsored campaign of mass homicide — in which thousands have died and many thousands more are likely to die — is occurring, a coalition of countries, sanctioned by major international and regional institutions, should intervene to stop it, as long as they have a viable plan, with minimal risk of casualties for the interveners.

I couldn’t agree more, and Syria seems to be a case in point of exactly the kind of situation where Pape would justify intervention. Of course, he backs out at the end by arguing that intervention wouldn’t be prudent because of “the absence of a viable, low-casualty military solution”:

Unlike Libya, where much of the coastal core of the population lived under rebel control, the opposition to Syria’s dictatorial president, Bashar al-Assad, has not achieved sustained control of any major population area. So air power alone would probably not be sufficient to blunt the Assad loyalists entrenched in cities, and a heavy ground campaign would probably face stiff and bloody resistance.

But just because Syria doesn’t conform to the template of Libya doesn’t mean there is nothing outside powers can do. In fact, there is quite a bit: Steps that have been discussed include increasing Bashar Assad’s diplomatic isolation with a total international cutoff of his regime, embargoing the import of further arms to his regime, setting up humanitarian safe zones along the border with Turkey that would be policed by Turkish troops, arming and training the Syrian opposition, and launching air strikes on regime targets. It’s true the opposition does not currently control a region of Syria as the Libyan opposition controlled Benghazi and its environs. But nor is the regime in secure control of the country—major cities like Homs slip in and out of its control and even the Damascus suburbs have seen fighting in recent days. Although Assad continues to get shameful support from Russia and Syria, it is not inconceivable that a little more Western pressure could nudge him out of power. And a ground invasion—something no one is discussing—would not be required.

Assad’s removal is an objective worth seeking urgently because as Charles Krauthammer and Jackson Diehl point out in typically cogent Washington Post op-eds, the stakes in Syria are not just humanitarian. This is a huge opportunity to strike an indirect blow against Assad’s patrons in Syria and to change the balance of power in the Middle East. The Obama administration should be doing more to take advantage of the moment.

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Barack Obama’s Divisive Theology

At his National Prayer Breakfast address yesterday, President Obama declared, “Now, we can earnestly seek to see these values lived out in our politics and our policies, and we can earnestly disagree on the best way to achieve these values. In the words of C.S. Lewis, ‘Christianity has not, and does not profess to have a detailed political program. It is meant for all men at all times, and the particular program which suited one place or time would not suit another.’ Our goal should not be to declare our policies as biblical.”

These are wise words. I only wish Obama believed them.

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At his National Prayer Breakfast address yesterday, President Obama declared, “Now, we can earnestly seek to see these values lived out in our politics and our policies, and we can earnestly disagree on the best way to achieve these values. In the words of C.S. Lewis, ‘Christianity has not, and does not profess to have a detailed political program. It is meant for all men at all times, and the particular program which suited one place or time would not suit another.’ Our goal should not be to declare our policies as biblical.”

These are wise words. I only wish Obama believed them.

Because in the same speech in which he quoted Lewis, Obama also said this:

And when I talk about shared responsibility, it’s because I genuinely believe that in a time when many folks are struggling, at a time when we have enormous deficits, it’s hard for me to ask seniors on a fixed income, or young people with student loans, or middle-class families who can barely pay the bills to shoulder the burden alone. And I think to myself, if I’m willing to give something up as somebody who’s been extraordinarily blessed, and give up some of the tax breaks that I enjoy, I actually think that’s going to make economic sense. But for me as a Christian, it also coincides with Jesus’s teaching that “for unto whom much is given, much shall be required.” It mirrors the Islamic belief that those who’ve been blessed have an obligation to use those blessings to help others, or the Jewish doctrine of moderation and consideration for others.

For Obama to move from the Biblical injunction that “for unto whom much is given, much shall be required” to higher marginal tax rates on those making $250,000 or more is laughable theology. Why draw the line at $250,000? Why not draw it at $125,000? Or $500,000? And why doesn’t Obama, in the name of Jesus, propose increasing the highest marginal tax rates to 90 percent? In fact, why doesn’t he endorse a plan for the government to take over people’s property and their life savings and distribute it to the poor under the banner of “for unto whom much is given, much shall be required”? Why doesn’t he propose a plan to take money from Americans making $25,000 a year in order to send it to people in Africa making a dollar a day? And why doesn’t St. Barack, in order to set an example for us all, commit that his net worth will never exceed $1 million? Or perhaps the argument being made by the president is that if we read the book of Acts carefully enough, we’ll find that God’s preferred tax rate just happens to be the one championed by Obama.

My point in this exercise is to illustrate what a ludicrous dart game Obama is playing. But it’s actually worse than that. What the president is doing is using the Scriptures to advance a transparently partisan political agenda, and he did so in a setting where past presidents have traditionally stayed away from such stunts.

To be clear: I believe, and have long argued, that people’s faith should help shape their political ethics. But I have also written that Scripture does not provide a governing blueprint and that, while whether the top marginal tax rate should be 70 percent, 40 percent, or 28 percent is a serious public policy issue, neither the New Testament nor the Hebrew Bible sheds light on the matter. The Christian ethicist Paul Ramsey put it best when he said, “Identification of Christian social ethics with specific partisan proposals that clearly are not the only ones that may be characterized as Christian and as morally acceptable comes close to the original New Testament meaning of heresy.”

In the vast majority of cases, what we are talking about are prudential judgments about competing priorities, and we need to approach them with humility and open minds. No president, even Barack Obama, should pretend his tax policies have been chiseled on stone tablets delivered to him on Mt. Sinai.

It’s no secret that Obama, in order to win re-election, is attempting to divide us by class. But that, apparently, is too restrictive a category for Obama. Now he wants to divide us based on faith, portraying his position on taxes as consistent with the teaching and spirit of Jesus and those who oppose his agenda as being anti-Christian (as well as anti-Muslim and anti-Jewish).

Barack Obama, in his quest for re-election, is as eager to vulgarize and dumb down Christianity as Jerry Falwell was. I wonder if any of those on the left, especially liberal Christians, will express a word of public criticism or concern. Or might it be their real concerns have less to do with preserving the integrity of their faith and more to do with advancing a narrow partisan agenda?

We’ll know soon enough.

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Don’t Get Too Excited About Jobs Numbers

I wanted to add a note of caution to John Steele Gordon’s post regarding today’s Bureau of Labor Statistics report on the unemployment rate.

It’s certainly true there’s good news in the report. But if you examine the internal data, there are also grounds for concern.

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I wanted to add a note of caution to John Steele Gordon’s post regarding today’s Bureau of Labor Statistics report on the unemployment rate.

It’s certainly true there’s good news in the report. But if you examine the internal data, there are also grounds for concern.

To be specific: the labor-force participation number fell to 63.7 percent, the lowest (seasonably-adjusted) figure since May 1983. If the economy were stronger, an increase of 250,000 jobs would actually move the unemployment rate up a bit, as people who had given up looking for work would once again start (meaning they would be counted as part of the labor force again). But what appears to have happened in January is the number of people being hired increased by less than a quarter-of-a-million while the number of people who dropped out of the labor force was around 1.2 million, a record figure. (For more, see here.)

Consider this: If the labor-force participation rate in January 2011 (64.2 percent) was the participation rate in January 2012 (63.7 percent), the unemployment rate would be 8.9 percent instead of 8.3 percent (see this piece by Matt McDonald for more). And if the same number of people were looking for work today as in 2007, unemployment would be right around 11 percent.

In addition, as Tyler Durden points out, in January, the number of part-time workers rose by nearly 700,000 (from 27,040,000  to 27,739,000) while the number of full-time jobs increased by only 80,000 (from 113,765 to 113,845).

These are not good signs. And when you combine this jobs report with the new CBO report (which predicts unemployment will reach 8.8 percent in the fall), the news that last year we experienced the worst sales year on record for housing, and the news that real GDP in 2011 increased only 1.7 percent (down from 3.0 percent in 2010), I’m not terribly encouraged.

Gaining jobs is better than losing jobs, but our economy remains in a very weak condition.

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Romney’s Flaws Won’t Stop His Streak

Since Florida Republicans gave him a massive victory on Tuesday night, Mitt Romney has not had a good few days. His absurd statement about not caring about the very poor, from which, as Seth wrote earlier, he has already backtracked, was a gaffe of the first order. He followed that by showing up at a press conference in Las Vegas to accept Donald Trump’s endorsement, a decision that was generally lambasted and even labeled his worst “biggest blunder” by Phillip Klein in the Washington Examiner.

But while Romney gave his detractors plenty of ammunition, those expecting another swing in momentum as we’ve seen several times during the course of the GOP race, are almost certainly going to be disappointed. For all his bad judgment and proven inability to speak the language of conservatives as Peter Wehner pointed out, I think those burying him are exaggerating his problems. Romney is still about to embark on the first substantial winning streak of the campaign that will secure him the GOP nomination.

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Since Florida Republicans gave him a massive victory on Tuesday night, Mitt Romney has not had a good few days. His absurd statement about not caring about the very poor, from which, as Seth wrote earlier, he has already backtracked, was a gaffe of the first order. He followed that by showing up at a press conference in Las Vegas to accept Donald Trump’s endorsement, a decision that was generally lambasted and even labeled his worst “biggest blunder” by Phillip Klein in the Washington Examiner.

But while Romney gave his detractors plenty of ammunition, those expecting another swing in momentum as we’ve seen several times during the course of the GOP race, are almost certainly going to be disappointed. For all his bad judgment and proven inability to speak the language of conservatives as Peter Wehner pointed out, I think those burying him are exaggerating his problems. Romney is still about to embark on the first substantial winning streak of the campaign that will secure him the GOP nomination.

Tomorrow, Romney will almost certainly win the Nevada Republican caucus. On Tuesday, he has a good chance of running the table in caucuses in Maine, Colorado and Minnesota as well as the non-binding primary in Missouri. After a three-week lull, Michigan and Arizona will then hold elections on February 28, and he will be favored to win in both states. Though Newt Gingrich is hoping to hang on until Super Tuesday the week after that when he may do better in some of the southern states, at that point the notion of Romney’s inevitability will have already become so strong that the former speaker’s plan to mobilize conservatives against the frontrunner will be severely handicapped. Indeed, Gingrich may be in greater danger of being passed by fellow insurgent Rick Santorum than of catching Romney.

All of which is to say the momentary bumps along the road for Romney such as his remarks about the poor or Trump are not likely to derail his path to the nomination or materially affect his chances of winning in November.

His association with Trump is a blip on the radar screen that won’t change many votes one way or the other, now or in the fall. If anything, those who worry about his playing ball with a blowhard celebrity would do better to focus on the danger to Romney from any compromises with Ron Paul and his crowd at the Republican convention this summer. Trump’s potential to embarrass Romney pales beside that of the libertarian extremist.

More seriously, the flaws in the candidate’s ability to express his thoughts or to connect with ordinary voters — especially conservatives — are a problem that must be addressed by his campaign. But Romney’s weaknesses are by now the givens in this election. If he is to win the presidency it will not be the result of some artificial fix by his handlers but because they will be offset by the public’s good opinion of his strengths–such as his skill in analyzing and solving problems as well as the obvious decency of the man. Democrats will spend the next nine months pounding Romney for his wealth and his supposed lack of care for the poor. But if independents and wavering Democrats are convinced that a smart technocrat who knows how the economy works and whose personal dedication to charity exceeds that of any other major political figure is what the country needs, then the attacks won’t work.

While the Republican nomination is not yet in Romney’s pocket, the February winning streak he is about to embark on is such that it will make it all but certain. That will give his opponents plenty of time to focus on his problems, and we should expect to be hearing about them non-stop until November. But the focus on these stories is merely the background noise of the presidential campaign. The main story remains Romney’s inexorable march to victory in Tampa.

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The Komen Foundation’s Worst Week Ever

Yesterday, I wrote about the Susan G. Komen Foundation’s decision to withdraw its grants from Planned Parenthood. I said, “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.” Initially, the reasoning given was that the abortion provider was under congressional investigation. Later, the Foundation changed its explanation to indicate that the reason Planned Parenthood would no longer receive funding was because it does not provide mammograms to its patients. For the third time in two days, Komen has again changed its story, this time apparently caving to the rabidly pro-choice lobby. This morning, Komen released a statement:

We will continue to fund existing grants, including those of Planned Parenthood, and preserve their eligibility to apply for future grants, while maintaining the ability of our affiliates to make funding decisions that meet the needs of their communities.

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Yesterday, I wrote about the Susan G. Komen Foundation’s decision to withdraw its grants from Planned Parenthood. I said, “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.” Initially, the reasoning given was that the abortion provider was under congressional investigation. Later, the Foundation changed its explanation to indicate that the reason Planned Parenthood would no longer receive funding was because it does not provide mammograms to its patients. For the third time in two days, Komen has again changed its story, this time apparently caving to the rabidly pro-choice lobby. This morning, Komen released a statement:

We will continue to fund existing grants, including those of Planned Parenthood, and preserve their eligibility to apply for future grants, while maintaining the ability of our affiliates to make funding decisions that meet the needs of their communities.

A look through social media mentions of the breast cancer organization indicate they have achieved the next-to-impossible: They have angered almost every single American. Pro-choice and pro-life Americans feel betrayed and jerked around, moderates in the abortion debate are tired of seeing and hearing their friends on both sides of the debate battle it out. The abortion question is the most contentious of all public policy, and Komen has not only reignited the debate but it has also placed itself in the firing line of both sides.

Unfortunately for those on the pro-life side, there is no choice when it comes to funding Planned Parenthood. While they can choose not to give to Komen or any other charity that gives grants to Planned Parenthood, we are all obligated to pay taxes. Forty-six percent of Planned Parenthood’s funding comes from government health and services reimbursements. That money comes from the forty-nine percent of Americans who are pro-life as well as the 45 percent of Americans who identify as pro-choice.

As if the country wasn’t fractured enough, we may have just seen the opening battle in the Abortion War of 2012. Just in time for election season.

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Iran Threatens Israel With Destruction, But the Times Doesn’t Hear It

Today’s speech by Iran’s Supreme Leader, the Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, about the sanctions on his country and its determination to persist in its quest for nuclear capability was a significant news event. Khamenei served notice on the United States that he would not be bluffed into giving up his nuclear plans. Though he conceded the economic pressure on his country has hurt, he said Iran is undaunted and would retaliate against the United States should its nuclear facilities come under attack. All this was reported in newspapers around the world, including the New York Times, which posted a story on the speech Friday morning.

However, there was something missing from the Times report of Khamenei’s speech that was reported elsewhere. Other accounts noted that in addition to threatening the United States, Khamenei said this: “The Zionist regime is a cancerous tumor and it will be removed.” While we don’t know how or why a mention of this element of the speech managed to get excised from the account in the Times, it’s a question worth pondering.

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Today’s speech by Iran’s Supreme Leader, the Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, about the sanctions on his country and its determination to persist in its quest for nuclear capability was a significant news event. Khamenei served notice on the United States that he would not be bluffed into giving up his nuclear plans. Though he conceded the economic pressure on his country has hurt, he said Iran is undaunted and would retaliate against the United States should its nuclear facilities come under attack. All this was reported in newspapers around the world, including the New York Times, which posted a story on the speech Friday morning.

However, there was something missing from the Times report of Khamenei’s speech that was reported elsewhere. Other accounts noted that in addition to threatening the United States, Khamenei said this: “The Zionist regime is a cancerous tumor and it will be removed.” While we don’t know how or why a mention of this element of the speech managed to get excised from the account in the Times, it’s a question worth pondering.

Any discussion of the nature of the Iranian nuclear threat that ignores the regime’s murderous intentions toward Israel is clearly incomplete.

An Iranian bomb would change the balance of power in the region and endanger all moderate Arab regimes while strengthening the hand of Tehran’s terrorist allies such as Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas (though relations between Gaza and Iran have cooled recently). It would also threaten the free flow of oil from the Gulf to the West and diminish the strategic position as well as the security of both the United States and Europe.

But it is only Israel that Iran has promised to destroy. That is why placing a nuclear weapon in the hands of a regime pledged to the eradication of the Jewish state is a different order of threat than Khamenei’s usual bluster aimed at the United States. Because of its small size and concentrated population, one or two nuclear explosions would mean another Holocaust.

So when Khamenei repeats the Islamist regime’s pledge to make good on its threat to destroy “the Zionist regime” in the same context as its vow to satisfy its nuclear ambitions, this is no minor rhetorical point. It is, instead, tangible evidence that Israel’s alarm about Iran is justified and that the question of what to do about this threat is a matter of life and death for millions in the Jewish state.

For the Times to eliminate Khamenei’s threat to Israel from its coverage even as it accurately reports other elements of the speech is more than curious. At the very least, it is an egregious error of judgment. At worst, it smacks of an effort to skew the discussion about Iran away from the imminent peril that its Tehran’s nuclear program represents.

Those who seek to dismiss the justified fears expressed by friends of Israel about the Obama administration’s hesitancy in taking actions and efforts to forestall an Israeli strike on Iranian nuclear facilities wish to lower the temperature of the discussion and ignore Khamenei’s threats. But doing so makes it impossible to make a rational decision about averting the danger. Further prevarication such as that going on in Washington right now about Iran is exactly what Khamenei is hoping for as Iran seeks to run out the clock and achieve its ambitions before the West or Israel acts to stop them. Those who believe a nuclear Iran can be “contained” or doubt Iran’s evil intentions need to understand what Khamenei said and what he meant by it. But that won’t happen if major media outlets suppress the full story about Iran.

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Romney and the Language of Politics

In the wake of Mitt Romney’s clumsy comment about the “very poor,” conservatives have offered an intriguing explanation: he doesn’t “speak the language” of conservatism, because he’s new to it. I don’t disagree that this is one problem with Romney’s communication, but I think the former governor’s explanation of his comments reveals a slightly different focus.

Here is what Romney said to Jon Ralston in Nevada yesterday about the controversy:

I misspoke. I’ve said something that is similar to that but quite acceptable for a long time. And you know when you do I don’t know how many thousands of interviews now and then you may get it wrong. And I misspoke. Plain and simple.

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In the wake of Mitt Romney’s clumsy comment about the “very poor,” conservatives have offered an intriguing explanation: he doesn’t “speak the language” of conservatism, because he’s new to it. I don’t disagree that this is one problem with Romney’s communication, but I think the former governor’s explanation of his comments reveals a slightly different focus.

Here is what Romney said to Jon Ralston in Nevada yesterday about the controversy:

I misspoke. I’ve said something that is similar to that but quite acceptable for a long time. And you know when you do I don’t know how many thousands of interviews now and then you may get it wrong. And I misspoke. Plain and simple.

I don’t see a reason this would reassure anyone. It was essentially a defense of what he said, though he wishes he said it better. Questions abound: Why is Romney speaking in the negative at all (i.e. who he will not serve, who he is not concerned about)? Hasn’t he been running for president long enough to have a better grasp of the language of presidential politics? Doesn’t he understand the tension between such comments and trying to lead a conservative political party?

But rather than reveal a lack of fluency in “conservaspeak,” I think his comments shine some light on one of the ironies of Romney’s campaign: His hedging and inconsistency make him sound like the typical politician, but in truth his troubles stem from the fact that he isn’t a politician and isn’t running as one. This was best captured in Peter Suderman’s March cover story on Romney for Reason magazine, “Consultant in Chief”:

At its core, the business is based on problem solving. Management consultants ask the same basic question over and over again, explains Avik Roy, a former health policy analyst at the Romney-founded firm Bain Capital and current senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute: “If you’ve got a problem, how do you then break the problem down into discrete parts that we can then empirically address?” The job requires narrowing down mountains of data into a few key metrics, then feeding the information back to the client in executive-friendly formats such as PowerPoint slide shows, colorful pie charts, PDFs splattered with bullet points, historical line graphs, and so on.

This has actually been one of Romney’s selling points, and it endeared him to conservatives before Obamacare was built on Romney’s own health care reform plan in Massachusetts. But that plan also reveals why conservatives are wary of Romney’s penchant for problem solving: there are no ideological roots to his proposals. Suderman describes the atmosphere in which Romney’s health care reform was hatched:

This time, when Romney acted, his process was explicitly consultant driven. He hired a team of health care consultants at McKinsey, a longtime Bain & Company rival, to investigate the state’s uninsured population. The preliminary work on the law was conducted in an ideology-free zone. “They didn’t approach it from the standpoint of ‘free market—yay!’ or ‘equality—yay!’ ” says [Avik] Roy. Instead, it was the usual consultant’s method: “What is the problem? Let’s analytically define the problem.”

Romney has always seen himself as a problem solver; that’s just who he is. This doesn’t mean he has no conservative instincts, or that he wouldn’t govern more conservatively in the White House than he did in Massachusetts–I think he does and he would. But he is simply not an ideology-driven person. He wants to identify the problem and find a targeted solution. In some respects, this is a very conservative instinct–he doesn’t have any desire for a government that, at least in his mind, does too much. He is aware of how easily costs can spiral out of control, and he understands the law of unintended consequences–something liberals never have and never will.

That’s what was behind his answer on the “very poor” and the “very rich.” He believes he has identified the primary problem area and wants a targeted solution. It may be smart, it may be useful, and some may even think it is what the country needs in this regard. But it is not the language of the politician.

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Today’s Jobs Numbers Are Good News for White House

Once again, the jobs numbers that came out this morning are good news for President Obama. As the New York Times reports, the economy added 243,000 jobs in January, far above economists’ estimates of about 125,000 jobs. This is the best month for jobs since April.

Unemployment, meanwhile, fell from 8.5 percent to 8.3 percent and long-term unemployment also edged down. This was also better than expectations, as most economists predicted the rate would stay steady. The rate is the lowest since February 2009, just as the recession was ending and the Obama administration beginning. The stock market would hit bottom in March that year and, always a leading indicator, then begin to recover. The recession officially ended in June, 2009. But unemployment is a lagging indicator and the fact that it is now at the lowest point since the recession officially ended is a strong sign that recovery is finally under way.

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Once again, the jobs numbers that came out this morning are good news for President Obama. As the New York Times reports, the economy added 243,000 jobs in January, far above economists’ estimates of about 125,000 jobs. This is the best month for jobs since April.

Unemployment, meanwhile, fell from 8.5 percent to 8.3 percent and long-term unemployment also edged down. This was also better than expectations, as most economists predicted the rate would stay steady. The rate is the lowest since February 2009, just as the recession was ending and the Obama administration beginning. The stock market would hit bottom in March that year and, always a leading indicator, then begin to recover. The recession officially ended in June, 2009. But unemployment is a lagging indicator and the fact that it is now at the lowest point since the recession officially ended is a strong sign that recovery is finally under way.

Will it keep falling and give Obama a boost to his re-election chances? It might, but there are likely to be bumps along the way. Housing prices are still falling and long-term unemployment is still very high. As jobs increase, people who had ceased looking for work—and thus were not counted as being unemployed–tend to come back into the job market, causing a temporary increase in the unemployment number. It has been a very mild winter in most of the country, giving a boost to construction jobs. That might adversely impact construction job growth this spring.

But there’s no question they are happy at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue this morning.

 

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