Commentary Magazine


Posts For: February 7, 2012

Going Negative on Santorum Would Be a Mistake for Romney

The final results from Tuesday’s voting are not in yet, but it’s already clear it’s been a great night for Rick Santorum. The former Pennsylvania senator has won the “beauty contest” in Missouri as well as the Minnesota caucus. Even if that turns out to be balanced by a win for Mitt Romney in the Colorado caucus, the day will still be judged a big win for Santorum. This will give him a big leg up over Newt Gingrich in the competition to be the leading “non Romney” in the GOP race. But if this means the beginning of the end for Gingrich, it may also concentrate the frontrunner’s attention on his surging conservative rival. If so, that may lead to a new round of ads and statements from the Romney campaign blasting Santorum.

But the assumption that a Romney “carpet bombing” of Santorum would achieve the same result as the attacks on Gingrich that have helped derail the former speaker’s presidential hopes is mistaken. Going negative on Gingrich merely reinforced the public’s doubts of the speaker’s character and record. To try and do the same thing against a candidate who has come across as the nicest guy left in the race might boomerang on Romney.

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The final results from Tuesday’s voting are not in yet, but it’s already clear it’s been a great night for Rick Santorum. The former Pennsylvania senator has won the “beauty contest” in Missouri as well as the Minnesota caucus. Even if that turns out to be balanced by a win for Mitt Romney in the Colorado caucus, the day will still be judged a big win for Santorum. This will give him a big leg up over Newt Gingrich in the competition to be the leading “non Romney” in the GOP race. But if this means the beginning of the end for Gingrich, it may also concentrate the frontrunner’s attention on his surging conservative rival. If so, that may lead to a new round of ads and statements from the Romney campaign blasting Santorum.

But the assumption that a Romney “carpet bombing” of Santorum would achieve the same result as the attacks on Gingrich that have helped derail the former speaker’s presidential hopes is mistaken. Going negative on Gingrich merely reinforced the public’s doubts of the speaker’s character and record. To try and do the same thing against a candidate who has come across as the nicest guy left in the race might boomerang on Romney.

It should be conceded that there are plenty of avenues for criticism of Santorum. His defense of earmarks and his record as a “big government conservative” has the potential to alienate him from Tea Partiers. There are also real questions about his electability because he is so closely identified with hard line stands on social issues.

However, by staying out of the Gingrich-Romney mudslinging contest, Santorum has managed to bolster his image. The sympathy that was generated by coverage of his little daughter Bella’s illness also allowed him to carve out a unique niche in the race that put him above the fray in terms of roughhouse presidential politics. While Gingrich deeply resented the attacks on him from the Romney campaign, most Republicans know the former speaker has never shied away from smearing his opponents on either side of the aisle. To a certain extent, that knowledge protected Romney from intense criticism from many Republicans for going negative.

But if he tries the same tactic to take down Santorum, the blowback might do more damage to Romney than his intended victim. The spectacle of the frontrunner trying to demolish the character of another conservative rival may not go down well with the GOP grass roots, especially becauseSantorum has avoided the class warfare and personal attacks Gingrich launched at Romney.

An assault on Santorum may actually play into his hands, because it will make Romney appear like a bully trying to pick on the one candidate who has tried to run a clean campaign. Moreover, for all of Santorum’s vulnerability on financial issues, the longer the race has gone, the more likeable the Pennsylvanian has seemed. That’s the opposite of what has happened to Gingrich.

Romney needs to remember he still has an enormous advantage over Santorum. Nothing that happened on Tuesday night necessarily changes the narrative in which Romney cruises to the nomination. For Romney to initiate an all-out attack on Santorum would only inflate the senator’s image and make him appear unpresidential. Going negative on Santorum will be a terrible mistake that could help turn a Romney romp into a much more competitive race.

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Is Gingrich Another Reagan?

Once again, Newt Gingrich vowed tonight on CNN to take the Republican presidential race to the convention in Tampa. To back up his vow, he compared this contest to the GOP race in 1976 when the Ronald Reagan insurgency against incumbent President Gerald Ford took the fight to that convention and came close to winning. But Gingrich’s comparison is ridiculous for a number of reasons.

First of all, that battle was a two-man race between Reagan and Ford. The current GOP race involves four candidates. But, of course, the conceit of Gingrich’s comparison is that of the candidates. He’s casting Mitt Romney in the role of Ford and himself as the new Gipper. Romney may deserve the Ford comparison, as he is a relative moderate and the choice of most of the party establishment to the extent that one actually exists. But the big difference is Gingrich is no Ronald Reagan.

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Once again, Newt Gingrich vowed tonight on CNN to take the Republican presidential race to the convention in Tampa. To back up his vow, he compared this contest to the GOP race in 1976 when the Ronald Reagan insurgency against incumbent President Gerald Ford took the fight to that convention and came close to winning. But Gingrich’s comparison is ridiculous for a number of reasons.

First of all, that battle was a two-man race between Reagan and Ford. The current GOP race involves four candidates. But, of course, the conceit of Gingrich’s comparison is that of the candidates. He’s casting Mitt Romney in the role of Ford and himself as the new Gipper. Romney may deserve the Ford comparison, as he is a relative moderate and the choice of most of the party establishment to the extent that one actually exists. But the big difference is Gingrich is no Ronald Reagan.

Gingrich’s hubris is well-known, but the notion that he is in the same league as the great communicator is a joke. The point is it took a figure of enormous stature and charisma to nearly knock off an incumbent president in a series of primaries. That Republican revolt was fueled not by personal resentment of Ford, but of disgust with his détente policies and the other compromises made by the administration. Tea Partiers today may not trust Romney but they are angry with President Obama. In 1976 there truly was a fight for the soul of the Republican Party as conservatives were taking hold of the GOP. But that battle was won long ago and the Rockefeller liberals who once predominated (and largely formed the party’s real establishment) are long gone. Romney’s critics may see him as a moderate but by the standards of the Republican Party Reagan sought to revolutionize, today’s frontrunner is a conservative.

The former speaker of the House should, I suppose, be forgiven for saying anything to try and get his name in the news on a day when he may well be supplanted by Rick Santorum as the leading conservative alternative to Romney. But his attempt to link himself with Reagan’s legacy is still an embarrassing reach that says more about the candidate’s ego than his skills as a historian.

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More Komen-Planned Parenthood Fallout

Last week the Susan G. Komen Foundation announced that it was ending funding to Planned Parenthood after the remainder of its current grants had been paid out. After an explosion of outrage from the left, Komen days later announced it would continue to fund Planned Parenthood in an effort to appease the powerful pro-abortion lobby. Many credited the initial decision to their new Senior Vice President for Policy Karen Handel, a pro-life Republican who had just been defeated in her bid for Governor of Georgia. With Handel’s resignation today, it has become clear that the cancer organization will continue to provide funding to the largest abortion provider in the United States.

With this controversy Planned Parenthood has sent a clear signal: Reevaluate our funding at your peril. It doesn’t matter why you put a stop to your support, we have millions of pro-abortion supporters in the public and media ready to unleash a campaign of vitriol against your organization if you cross us.

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Last week the Susan G. Komen Foundation announced that it was ending funding to Planned Parenthood after the remainder of its current grants had been paid out. After an explosion of outrage from the left, Komen days later announced it would continue to fund Planned Parenthood in an effort to appease the powerful pro-abortion lobby. Many credited the initial decision to their new Senior Vice President for Policy Karen Handel, a pro-life Republican who had just been defeated in her bid for Governor of Georgia. With Handel’s resignation today, it has become clear that the cancer organization will continue to provide funding to the largest abortion provider in the United States.

With this controversy Planned Parenthood has sent a clear signal: Reevaluate our funding at your peril. It doesn’t matter why you put a stop to your support, we have millions of pro-abortion supporters in the public and media ready to unleash a campaign of vitriol against your organization if you cross us.

While this strategy may scare current donors into sticking around, other potential donors should rightfully be wary of entering the shark tank with an organization with a lobbying arm equipped with $1.7 million in its coffers. The media has been quick to point out the jump in fundraising Planned Parenthood garnered after the Komen spat, notably from celebrities like New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg, but there has been very little discussion about how detrimental the Planned Parenthood connection had been for Komen’s fundraising in years past.

After the split with Planned Parenthood, Komen saw a shocking 100% jump in its fundraising in just the few days before it reinstated its support of the abortion provider. Many of these new donors are now demanding a refund of their donations, which were placed with the understanding that they would not make their way into Planned Parenthood’s bank accounts. While only a fraction of pro-life Americans were aware of the connection before, in the future it will be no secret that Komen grants funds to an organization that provided over 320,000 abortions last year alone. If the Planned Parenthood connection hurt Komen before, it will hurt even more going forward.

Pro-life Americans (a recent Gallup survey  indicates almost half of Americans self-identify as such) are now on the look-out for other organizations that funnel their donations to the abortion provider. Planned Parenthood’s affiliates have learned valuable lessons from the Komen debacle and the end result could deter would-be donors from ever involving themselves with Planned Parenthood.

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Get Used to it Washington, Netanyahu’s Not Going Anywhere

Dislike of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been a constant theme of the Obama administration. While President Obama has cuddled up to an Islamist troublemaker and human rights violator like Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, he has made no secret of his abhorrence of Netanyahu. Obama has tried to humiliate Netanyahu and has abused him in public (via an open microphone while chatting with French President Sarkozy). Indeed, American policy toward Israel in 2009 seemed aimed at forcing the newly elected Netanyahu from office. Those maneuvers failed and the U.S. foreign policy establishment as well as its European counterparts settled down to wait for Netanyahu to be beaten at the next election.

It’ll be a long wait for Netanyahu’s critics as his government, which Obama thought was so unstable that it might be supplanted with a more pliant one led by Kadima’s Tzipi Livni, seems likely to last until the prime minister is ready to ask the Israeli electorate for another term. But whether he chooses to go for an early election sometime this year or wait out the full four years that would leave him in office until 2013, right now it appears as if he is certain to win the next election. That’s the verdict of Shmuel Rosner, who writes in the International Herald Tribune (read here on the New York Times website) that not only is Netanyahu favored to win the next Israeli election, party realignment there means he is pretty much the only person who has any chance to lead the government.

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Dislike of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been a constant theme of the Obama administration. While President Obama has cuddled up to an Islamist troublemaker and human rights violator like Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, he has made no secret of his abhorrence of Netanyahu. Obama has tried to humiliate Netanyahu and has abused him in public (via an open microphone while chatting with French President Sarkozy). Indeed, American policy toward Israel in 2009 seemed aimed at forcing the newly elected Netanyahu from office. Those maneuvers failed and the U.S. foreign policy establishment as well as its European counterparts settled down to wait for Netanyahu to be beaten at the next election.

It’ll be a long wait for Netanyahu’s critics as his government, which Obama thought was so unstable that it might be supplanted with a more pliant one led by Kadima’s Tzipi Livni, seems likely to last until the prime minister is ready to ask the Israeli electorate for another term. But whether he chooses to go for an early election sometime this year or wait out the full four years that would leave him in office until 2013, right now it appears as if he is certain to win the next election. That’s the verdict of Shmuel Rosner, who writes in the International Herald Tribune (read here on the New York Times website) that not only is Netanyahu favored to win the next Israeli election, party realignment there means he is pretty much the only person who has any chance to lead the government.

Rosner details what is now common knowledge in Israeli politics though few Americans seem to pay attention to these facts. Kadima, which Obama once believed was well-placed to oust Netanyahu, is likely to be squeezed out of its current place as the leading opposition party in the next Knesset. It will face brutal competition both from a revived Labor Party that will run on a social justice platform rather than emphasizing the peace process as in the past as well as a new centrist party led by Yair Lapid. Kadima, which was formed by Ariel Sharon in 2005 by skimming off the leading opportunists in Likud and Labor, has no rationale other than office seeking and will likely be halved by the electorate at the ballot box.

That will leave Netanyahu and Likud in the drivers’ seat. Rather than being weakened by confrontations with Obama, as was the case with previous prime ministers who tangled with American presidents, Netanyahu has gained strength because Israelis see Obama as hostile to their country and as having materially damaged the chances for peace. And with Livni fading from sight, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman under a legal cloud and the two new contenders, Labor’s Shelly Yachimovitz and Lapid, seen as too inexperienced to be considered for the prime minister’s chair, Netanyahu is the only conceivable prime minister in the next Knesset.

Given the hostility between Washington and Jerusalem in the last three years, that will make for a frosty alliance if Obama is re-elected too. But no matter who is sitting in the White House a year from now, they had better get used to the idea that Israel’s leader will be named Netanyahu for some time to come.

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Are the Chinese Helping Obama or Iran?

Yesterday’s executive order signed by President Obama enforcing a total ban on transactions with any entity doing business with Iran’s Central Bank is the lever by which an international oil embargo of the Islamic state can be put in place. In order to prepare for this eventuality, American diplomats have in recent weeks been urging Saudi Arabia to step up oil production in order to meet the shortfall that will exist once Iran’s exports are shut down. But as this report from Reuters shows, its not entirely clear whether the uptick in Saudi oil supply will be used by China to supplant Iran’s petroleum or if it is just looking for leverage in order to get a better deal in future contracts with Tehran.

According to Reuters, China has been taking seriously the possibility of a cutoff in Iranian oil and has been looking to pick up any supplies it can get elsewhere. That’s the good news. But the bad news is that oil traders in China believe that Unipec, an entity that represents the country’s top refiner in such deals, is buying up Saudi oil specifically in order to bolster its position in future deals with Iran. That means the American belief that it can orchestrate the financial isolation of the Iranians may be a trifle optimistic.

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Yesterday’s executive order signed by President Obama enforcing a total ban on transactions with any entity doing business with Iran’s Central Bank is the lever by which an international oil embargo of the Islamic state can be put in place. In order to prepare for this eventuality, American diplomats have in recent weeks been urging Saudi Arabia to step up oil production in order to meet the shortfall that will exist once Iran’s exports are shut down. But as this report from Reuters shows, its not entirely clear whether the uptick in Saudi oil supply will be used by China to supplant Iran’s petroleum or if it is just looking for leverage in order to get a better deal in future contracts with Tehran.

According to Reuters, China has been taking seriously the possibility of a cutoff in Iranian oil and has been looking to pick up any supplies it can get elsewhere. That’s the good news. But the bad news is that oil traders in China believe that Unipec, an entity that represents the country’s top refiner in such deals, is buying up Saudi oil specifically in order to bolster its position in future deals with Iran. That means the American belief that it can orchestrate the financial isolation of the Iranians may be a trifle optimistic.

As Reuters reports:

Iran is keen to secure customers as new EU sanctions banning its oil, designed to discourage the country’s nuclear program, add to U.S. measures.

Officials from the two countries were expected to hold talks as early as this week in Beijing.

“Unipec is gambling now,” said a Beijing-based oil trader. “If the Iranian side can compromise and reach a term deal, Unipec will get a large volume of crude at favorable prices, offsetting the premiums it paid to buy alternative oil over the past months.”

If that’s the way things work out, then all the huffing and puffing about international sanctions on Iran may turn out to be so much Western bluster that won’t persuade Tehran to give up its nuclear ambitions.

The wild cards in any sanctions plan have always been Russia and China, two nations eager to do business with Iran and also always interested in thwarting American foreign policy goals. Both pay lip service to the need to stop Iran from going nuclear because that scares them as much as the United States. But both nations have sought to play both ends against the middle when it comes to Iranian sanctions.

Just as worrisome is the belief conveyed in the Reuters report there simply is not enough alternative oil available for shipment to satisfy Iran’s current customer list, especially China.

This revelation ought to place the administration’s push for sanctions in perspective. As I wrote yesterday, President Obama hoped to buy more time for diplomacy with his acquiescence to congressional legislation on the Iran Central Bank. But if even that draconian measure is doomed to failure, it is hard to see what arguments the U.S. can put forward to avoid the conclusion the only way to stop Iran is by force. That is particularly true, because even if the sanctions did work, the Israelis have good reason to worry they will only be used as a pretext for U.S. negotiations with Tehran that will allow the ayatollahs to run out the diplomatic clock while they get close to nuclear capability.

This means that just a day after Obama reaped a great deal of justified praise for signing on to the bank ban, the president may find he has actually done very little to stave off the need for a direct confrontation with Iran.

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More Turkish Free Speech Hypocrisy

The Swiss government has started an inquiry into a statement by Egemen Bağış, Turkey’s minister for European Union affairs, in which Bağış stated that the Armenians suffered no genocide. According to a report in the Turkish press, Bağış said, “There is no Armenian genocide. Let them arrest me.” Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdağ commented on the incident, “Can’t a minister of a country express his views speaking in another country? It’s ridiculous.”

While I’m not in favor of laws restricting the speech, no matter how wrong the speaker, Bağış and Bozdağ’s stand is rich considering that Bağış – with the apparent blessing of Namik Tan, the Turkish ambassador in Washington – tried to sue me into silence after I wrote a series of articles criticizing Turkish government policies. Turkish officials believe in free speech for themselves, but seek to censor when speech is used to challenge their ideas.

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The Swiss government has started an inquiry into a statement by Egemen Bağış, Turkey’s minister for European Union affairs, in which Bağış stated that the Armenians suffered no genocide. According to a report in the Turkish press, Bağış said, “There is no Armenian genocide. Let them arrest me.” Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdağ commented on the incident, “Can’t a minister of a country express his views speaking in another country? It’s ridiculous.”

While I’m not in favor of laws restricting the speech, no matter how wrong the speaker, Bağış and Bozdağ’s stand is rich considering that Bağış – with the apparent blessing of Namik Tan, the Turkish ambassador in Washington – tried to sue me into silence after I wrote a series of articles criticizing Turkish government policies. Turkish officials believe in free speech for themselves, but seek to censor when speech is used to challenge their ideas.

The reality today is that, despite Bağış and Tan’s best efforts, the only place Turks or Turkish analysts enjoy free speech is outside of Turkey. Hence, as Jonathan noted yesterday, in order to defend free speech, Kemal Kılıçdaroglu, the chairman of the Republican Peoples Party, the largest secular party in Turkey, took to the pages of The Washington Post rather than a Turkish outlet. As Kılıçdaroglu explained:

Turkey today is a country where people live in fear and are divided politically, economically and socially. Our democracy is regressing in terms of the separation of powers, basic human rights and freedoms and social development and justice. Citizens worry deeply about their future. These points are, sadly, reflected in most major international indexes, such as Human Rights Watch, which rank Turkey quite low in terms of human rights, democracy, freedoms and equality.

Just as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton embarrassed herself by labeling Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad a reformer, President Obama embarrasses himself by calling Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan a friend. Should Obama and Clinton embrace Turkey as a model for the Arab Spring, then he is condemning another generation of Arabs to repression.

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Santorum’s Advantages

As Jonathan discussed earlier, today is a big day for the campaign of Rick Santorum. He is in position to possibly win two out of tonight’s three contests. He will also take with him some momentum from the support he has won from conservative media, most notably the recent endorsements from Michelle Malkin and Hot Air’s Ed Morrissey.

Those endorsements are important in part because they help Santorum build a certain narrative: that he can best unite the party. At this point in the process, being the “not-Romney” is less of a draw than it was before Mitt Romney began winning big in the Northeast, South, and West. Luckily for Santorum, Romney has turned his fire on the former Pennsylvania senator, which makes the argument that Santorum is the “not-Romney” without Santorum having to do so himself. Santorum simply doesn’t have the time or money left to build campaign momentum on the claim he belongs in second place. He does have two advantages, however.

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As Jonathan discussed earlier, today is a big day for the campaign of Rick Santorum. He is in position to possibly win two out of tonight’s three contests. He will also take with him some momentum from the support he has won from conservative media, most notably the recent endorsements from Michelle Malkin and Hot Air’s Ed Morrissey.

Those endorsements are important in part because they help Santorum build a certain narrative: that he can best unite the party. At this point in the process, being the “not-Romney” is less of a draw than it was before Mitt Romney began winning big in the Northeast, South, and West. Luckily for Santorum, Romney has turned his fire on the former Pennsylvania senator, which makes the argument that Santorum is the “not-Romney” without Santorum having to do so himself. Santorum simply doesn’t have the time or money left to build campaign momentum on the claim he belongs in second place. He does have two advantages, however.

First, Santorum has turned one of his earlier weaknesses into an asset. In the past, he has too often gone on the defensive, especially around reporters. This made him seem thin-skinned. We might have expected the intense pressure, long hours, and negative atmosphere of this campaign, as well as the health scare of his daughter, Bella, to exacerbate that quality. Instead, he has seemed to get calmer, sharper, and more patient as the campaign has dragged on. It has not gone unnoticed, as Morrissey wrote:

Santorum has demonstrated a level of personal integrity in this race that outshines the rest of the field.  Santorum has campaigned with blue-collar Reagan Democrats in mind, pushing for an economic plan that would revitalize manufacturing and small business.  He could easily have tipped over into class-warfare populism while Gingrich and Romney bashed each other over their work at Bain and Freddie Mac in order to ingratiate himself with that sector by playing on latent envy. Instead, he defended capitalism and both of his competitors on the campaign trail more effectively than either could defend themselves. In contrast, Romney keeps demonstrating a lack of fluency in conservative politics and philosophy, while Gingrich has conducted a personal, angry campaign that threatens to reinforce every negative stereotype about conservatives, both at times putting themselves and their ambitions above the party they seek to lead.

The other advantage for Santorum is his outstanding debate preparation. The next debate is in two weeks. If Santorum can get a couple of big wins tonight, he will ride a wave of free media until then. At that point, he may be neck and neck with Romney in terms of primary and caucus victories. It will look like a different race from the last time they shared a debate stage, and if Santorum bests Romney again, it will be.

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The Left Plans to (Violently) Occupy CPAC

Only days after the U.S. Park Police cleared the Occupy DC camp, the Heritage Foundation’s Lachlan Markay reports a new plan from the group: violent occupation of the CPAC (Conservative Political Action Conference). According to Markay:

The protesters suggested pulling fire alarms in the hotel where the conference will take place, screaming “fire” during conference activities, “glitter-bombing” participants, cutting electrical power, and barricading entrances to the hotel, according to the source, who requested anonymity.

“Speakers will be physically assaulted, not just verbally confronted,” the source told Scribe in an email. Two occupiers, who the source also identified as members of the New Black Panther Party, “said they would be disappointed if they didn’t get arrested and planned to ‘make it count.’”

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Only days after the U.S. Park Police cleared the Occupy DC camp, the Heritage Foundation’s Lachlan Markay reports a new plan from the group: violent occupation of the CPAC (Conservative Political Action Conference). According to Markay:

The protesters suggested pulling fire alarms in the hotel where the conference will take place, screaming “fire” during conference activities, “glitter-bombing” participants, cutting electrical power, and barricading entrances to the hotel, according to the source, who requested anonymity.

“Speakers will be physically assaulted, not just verbally confronted,” the source told Scribe in an email. Two occupiers, who the source also identified as members of the New Black Panther Party, “said they would be disappointed if they didn’t get arrested and planned to ‘make it count.’”

According to unconfirmed sources in Markay’s report, the AFL-CIO may have purchased hotel rooms for occupiers to stay in during the conference. While the AFL-CIO denied the report when contacted  by Markay, they have had no problem giving money to the group in the past. On November 21, 2011, the AFL-CIO voted to give $3,000 each to Occupy DC and Occupy Baltimore. At the same time this vote took place, reports of rape, theft and assault were rolling in from Occupy camps across the country.

This wouldn’t be the first time occupiers attempted to disrupt a conservative conference. In mid-November, Freedom Works hosted their annual BlogCon convention in Denver for conservative bloggers across the country. During the conference, dozens of members of Occupy Denver sieged the hotel, interrupting the conference for part of an afternoon and putting the hotel staff and police department on alert for the remainder of the weekend. Earlier that month, Occupy DC also crashed an Americans For Prosperity event, resulting in old women getting trampled by the 20-something occupiers – again all on tape.

What the Occupy movement stands to gain from the disruptions isn’t clear. There have already been hundreds of arrests across the country. While the CPAC plan serves to get its message back onto the evening news and in the papers, Americans’ perception of the movement has slowly become more negative the more they see of it. There have been many theories about the waning popularity, but as is often the case, the most simple explanation is often the best: When Americans hear the word “Occupy” on the news, it is often paired with images of violence and destruction.

An invasion of a conservative conference filled with average Americans engaged in the political process would only stand to hurt those doing the invading. Those planning on occupying will be arrested and, unless no video is shown in the media, will look like the violent, jobless degenerates they are.

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Watch Sources on Afghanistan More Closely

Here is a follow-up to my earlier item on Lt. Col. Daniel L. Davis, the army reservist who spent some time last year traveling around Afghanistan helping to assess army equipment and has returned to write an article claiming senior commanders are lying when they say we are making progress.

This is hardly the first op-ed Davis has written. The others are collected on his own website, which suggests he is an aspiring blogger.

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Here is a follow-up to my earlier item on Lt. Col. Daniel L. Davis, the army reservist who spent some time last year traveling around Afghanistan helping to assess army equipment and has returned to write an article claiming senior commanders are lying when they say we are making progress.

This is hardly the first op-ed Davis has written. The others are collected on his own website, which suggests he is an aspiring blogger.

Part of what made the Armed Forces Journal article so interesting was that he suggested he was initially a supporter of the war but came away disillusioned. This was the third paragraph of his essay: “Entering this deployment, I was sincerely hoping to learn that the claims were true: that conditions in Afghanistan were improving, that the local government and military were progressing toward self-sufficiency. I did not need to witness dramatic improvements to be reassured, but merely hoped to see evidence of positive trends, to see companies or battalions produce even minimal but sustainable progress.”

But his own writings show this statement is highly disingenuous. All the way back in April 2009, Armed Forces Journal published an essay by then-Maj. Daniel Davis entitled “The Afghan Mistake: Sending More Troops Won’t Work.” In it, he argued:

Senior leaders, military experts and now President Barack Obama are arguing that we need to surge our troop level in Afghanistan to more than 60,000. We are told to be ready for hard fighting, that the Taliban has resurged and we must be prepared to continue fighting for years to come. But is a surge of troops in Afghanistan the best solution to this deteriorating situation? I argue that the answer is not simply “no,” but “absolutely no.”

As an alternative he suggested “that sometimes the most appropriate and effective military strategy the U.S. could pursue is to reject combat.” In other words, Davis was already predisposed to think the buildup of forces in Afghanistan was futile; it is hardly surprising what he saw merely reinforced his preconceptions.

The 2009 article also raises serious questions about his strategic judgment. He wrote that article at a time when the Taliban were making such rapid gains that Gen. Stanley McChrystal warned they could win within a year if the U.S. did not reinforce its forces. It remains a mystery how Davis’s preferred strategy of rejecting combat could possibly have been more effective than sending tens of thousands of troops to eject the Taliban from their strongholds.

That his judgments are highly dubious is only reinforced by reading another article on his website, published in the Washington Times on Dec. 14, 2007, called “A Third Way.” In it, he suggested an alternative to either “capitulation or war” with Iran. What alternative? He recommended to President Bush “that you announce a unilateral request for a cabinet-level dialogue with Iran; that you communicate a desire to have an open, unconditional conversation with their government to discuss issues of mutual concern.” This is pretty much the approach President Obama came into office with. He too thought that talks with Tehran could result in a breakthrough. Now he has been cruelly disabused of that illusion which many of us warned against at the time–but which Davis was a cheerleader for.

Is this really the man whose assessment of Afghanistan we should accept over the assessments of such storied leaders as David Petraeus and John Allen, who know far more than Davis does about the war in all its dimensions–and whose views of cautious optimism are reinforced by knowledgeable and experienced soldiers such as Major Fernando Lujan (whose work I have previously cited)? For opponents of the war, of course, any confirmation of their views is welcome, but they should look at the source a little more closely.

 

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Obama Campaign Under Fire for Selling Designer Goods

The Obama campaign has yet another fundraising scandal to deal with today. This time it’s under fire for selling hideously ugly designer merchandise (seriously, that Beyonce t-shirt looks like something you’d make at day camp) at low, low prices on its website. According to the Wall Street Journal, Obama may be in violation of campaign finance laws for selling these clothes and handbags created for him gratis by celebrities and designers:

Jan Baran, an election lawyer with Wiley Rein LLP, said designers can’t ask employees to work on political projects unless they willingly volunteered their time. “Someone who is paid to do campaign work is not a volunteer,” he said. If the designer or staff are paid by anyone other than the campaign, it would be considered a campaign contribution from a company to a candidate.

The Obama campaign said the gear complies with campaign-finance rules.

“All of the designers volunteered their personal time to create these great designs,” the campaign said, and were “not underwritten with any corporate funds.”

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The Obama campaign has yet another fundraising scandal to deal with today. This time it’s under fire for selling hideously ugly designer merchandise (seriously, that Beyonce t-shirt looks like something you’d make at day camp) at low, low prices on its website. According to the Wall Street Journal, Obama may be in violation of campaign finance laws for selling these clothes and handbags created for him gratis by celebrities and designers:

Jan Baran, an election lawyer with Wiley Rein LLP, said designers can’t ask employees to work on political projects unless they willingly volunteered their time. “Someone who is paid to do campaign work is not a volunteer,” he said. If the designer or staff are paid by anyone other than the campaign, it would be considered a campaign contribution from a company to a candidate.

The Obama campaign said the gear complies with campaign-finance rules.

“All of the designers volunteered their personal time to create these great designs,” the campaign said, and were “not underwritten with any corporate funds.”

To be honest, there doesn’t seem to be much meat to this scandal. Celebrities and designers create campaign merchandise for politicians all the time. In 2008, a lot of the same designers in the WSJ piece made handbags and clothes that were sold at similarly low prices in Obama’s and Hillary Clinton’s campaign stores. So it doesn’t sound like Obama’s violating any campaign finance laws here.

But that also depends on where the merchandise was manufactured. If the shirts and bags were simply designed by Derek Lam and Diane von Furstenberg, but manufactured elsewhere by companies paid by the Obama campaign, that would probably be within the rules. But if the merchandise was manufactured by companies not compensated by the Obama campaign, that could be a problem.

That said, the story does play into narratives that Obama’s out of touch with the middle class, that he’s buddy-buddy with obnoxious celebrities, and that his campaign isn’t the grassroots-driven operation he makes it out to be. It’s especially problematic coming for him on a day when his flip-flop on Super PACs is all over the news.

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Gay Marriage Ban Unconstitutional, Rules 9th Circuit

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeal’s argument wasn’t a defense of gay marriage, per se, but it did find the gay marriage ban passed by California voters was unconstitutional. Law Professor William Jacobson explains the Court’s decision was based on the prior right to same-sex marriage in the state, and its opinion that there wasn’t a compelling state interest in outlawing it:

The Court essentially used a bootstrap argument — that since there was a prior right to same-sex marriage (based on a California Supreme Court decision which gave rise to Prop. 8 ) — the taking away of that right without justification violated the 14th Amendment. Judge N.R. Smith filed a 39-page dissent from this finding.

The Court also held that (i) the supporters of Prop. 8 did have standing to defend the law, deferring to the Certified Opinion of the California Supreme Court, and (ii) trial court Judge Walker did not have to recuse himself based on his own longterm same-sex relationship. These two findings were unanimous.

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The 9th Circuit Court of Appeal’s argument wasn’t a defense of gay marriage, per se, but it did find the gay marriage ban passed by California voters was unconstitutional. Law Professor William Jacobson explains the Court’s decision was based on the prior right to same-sex marriage in the state, and its opinion that there wasn’t a compelling state interest in outlawing it:

The Court essentially used a bootstrap argument — that since there was a prior right to same-sex marriage (based on a California Supreme Court decision which gave rise to Prop. 8 ) — the taking away of that right without justification violated the 14th Amendment. Judge N.R. Smith filed a 39-page dissent from this finding.

The Court also held that (i) the supporters of Prop. 8 did have standing to defend the law, deferring to the Certified Opinion of the California Supreme Court, and (ii) trial court Judge Walker did not have to recuse himself based on his own longterm same-sex relationship. These two findings were unanimous.

In other words, the ruling only applies in California, and has little impact on the rest of the country – though it’s likely an appeal could have national implications. Opponents of gay marriage can decide whether to appeal the ruling at an en banc hearing (a panel of 9th Circuit judges) or try to take it up with the Supreme Court. The Proposition 8-supporting National Organization of Marriage vowed to appeal the decision today, and the group’s president said he was eager to take the gay marriage fight to the Supreme Court:

“As sweeping and wrong-headed as this decision is, it nonetheless was as predictable as the outcome of a Harlem Globetrotters exhibition game,” said Brian Brown, NOM’s president. “We have anticipated this outcome since the moment San Francisco Judge Vaughn Walker’s first hearing in the case. Now we have the field cleared to take this issue to the U.S. Supreme Court, where we have every confidence we will prevail.”

Incidentally, the ruling doesn’t mean gay marriages will start up again in California right away. The verdict won’t take effect for at least 14 days, and could be delayed further by the appeal, according to the Wall Street Journal.

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We Failed in Iraq

Back on Oct. 21, when President Obama announced he would withdraw all U.S. forces from Iraq by the end of the year, he reassured the world the U.S. would still stay deeply engaged in Iraq. “This will be a strong and enduring partnership,” he promised. “With our diplomats and civilian advisers in the lead, we’ll help Iraqis strengthen institutions that are just, representative and accountable. We’ll build new ties of trade and of commerce, culture and education, that unleash the potential of the Iraqi people. We’ll partner with an Iraq that contributes to regional security and peace, just as we insist that other nations respect Iraq’s sovereignty.”

That was then, this is now. Today, the New York Times reports: “Less than two months after American troops left, the State Department is preparing to slash by as much as half the enormous diplomatic presence it had planned for Iraq, a sharp sign of declining American influence in the country.”

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Back on Oct. 21, when President Obama announced he would withdraw all U.S. forces from Iraq by the end of the year, he reassured the world the U.S. would still stay deeply engaged in Iraq. “This will be a strong and enduring partnership,” he promised. “With our diplomats and civilian advisers in the lead, we’ll help Iraqis strengthen institutions that are just, representative and accountable. We’ll build new ties of trade and of commerce, culture and education, that unleash the potential of the Iraqi people. We’ll partner with an Iraq that contributes to regional security and peace, just as we insist that other nations respect Iraq’s sovereignty.”

That was then, this is now. Today, the New York Times reports: “Less than two months after American troops left, the State Department is preparing to slash by as much as half the enormous diplomatic presence it had planned for Iraq, a sharp sign of declining American influence in the country.”

So much for a “strong and enduring partnership” that has “our diplomats and civilian advisers in the lead.” Those of us who argued for a continuing military presence were deeply skeptical the State Department would actually be able to main a mission of some 2,000 diplomatic personnel supported by an army of 15,000 or so contractors. The size of the task they faced was just too huge, and the State Department lacks the resources the military can bring to the task. Sure enough, the U.S. embassy has been having trouble stocking its vast chow hall and getting its personnel outside its fortified walls.

The giant State Department presence we were promised was always a fig leaf covering our shameful abandonment of a country where so many Americans have sacrificed so much. The only surprise is the fig leaf is being yanked away quite so soon to expose the nakedness of the administration’s policy failure.

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Lavrov Visits Syria to Buy Time–For Putin

At the end of his Wall Street Journal column last week on the Syrian protests and Russia’s investment in keeping the Assad regime in power, Fouad Ajami writes: “More likely, the contest will be decided on the ground. Both the regime and the oppositionists who have paid so dearly in this cruel struggle are betting that time is on their side.”

The Assad regime will find much more comfort along those lines in today’s visit by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov than will the opposition. Here is how Lavrov’s meeting with Bashar al-Assad is being characterized in the media:

“We have had a very productive visit with the leadership of Syria,” Mr. Lavrov said, according to Russia’s Ria Novosti news service. “We have confirmed our preparedness to facilitate a rapid end to the crisis based on the positions set out in the Arab League initiative. In particular, the president of Syria gave assurance that he is fully committed to an end to violence, no matter its source.”

Mr. Lavrov also said that Mr. Assad was prepared to hold talks with representatives of Syria’s opposition. “It is clear that efforts for ending the violence should be accompanied by dialogue between political forces,” he said. “Today we received confirmation from the president of Syria that he is prepared to cooperate in this effort.”

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At the end of his Wall Street Journal column last week on the Syrian protests and Russia’s investment in keeping the Assad regime in power, Fouad Ajami writes: “More likely, the contest will be decided on the ground. Both the regime and the oppositionists who have paid so dearly in this cruel struggle are betting that time is on their side.”

The Assad regime will find much more comfort along those lines in today’s visit by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov than will the opposition. Here is how Lavrov’s meeting with Bashar al-Assad is being characterized in the media:

“We have had a very productive visit with the leadership of Syria,” Mr. Lavrov said, according to Russia’s Ria Novosti news service. “We have confirmed our preparedness to facilitate a rapid end to the crisis based on the positions set out in the Arab League initiative. In particular, the president of Syria gave assurance that he is fully committed to an end to violence, no matter its source.”

Mr. Lavrov also said that Mr. Assad was prepared to hold talks with representatives of Syria’s opposition. “It is clear that efforts for ending the violence should be accompanied by dialogue between political forces,” he said. “Today we received confirmation from the president of Syria that he is prepared to cooperate in this effort.”

The first comment–“no matter its source”–is intended to placate Assad by implying the protesters are to blame for the violence that has killed more than 5,000 of them at the regime’s hands during the last year, according to United Nations numbers. The second comment is an indication that Lavrov did exactly what he was sent to do: play for time.

Russia has a presidential election next month, and if the momentum of the protesters in Moscow is any indication, there will be hundreds of thousands of Russians of all ages and incomes in the streets–again–between then and now. Vladimir Putin is watching Syria carefully. If Assad falls thanks to the protesters, it will send a signal to Russians that patience and pressure pay off. If Assad continues his bloodbath with Putin’s very public support–and Russia’s Security Council veto will be seen as just that–Putin will look even more distasteful and reprehensible to his own people.

What Putin needs is for the Syrian opposition to look “reasonable” by holding back and then sitting down to chat with Assad. They will almost surely get nothing out of it, but it will slow the momentum of the demonstrations and show Russia’s protesters that filling the streets alone cannot bring change.

It is, of course, for the Syrian people to decide if they want negotiations with Assad, and if so under what conditions. They shouldn’t reject a deal they might otherwise take just because the Russians seem to like it. But Lavrov probably couldn’t care less. He got what he came for.

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Palestinians Make Themselves Irrelevant

There was something interesting about the reaction to the consummation of the Fatah-Hamas unity pact yesterday. The agreement, which confirmed the entry of the Islamist terrorist group into the governing structure of the Palestinian Authority and the exit of the PA’s reform-minded Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, provoked the expected harsh words from Israel’s government. In Washington, the reaction from the Obama administration was equally predictable as the State Department spokesperson withheld judgment. Some members of Congress served notice that the PA’s embrace of Hamas meant the end of U.S. aid.

But the main conclusion to be drawn from the reaction to what can only be termed a momentous turn of events is something entirely different. The lack of alarm or even much worry about the impact of Hamas on the peace process makes it clear not only is there no more peace process to worry about, but that the Palestinians have made themselves irrelevant.

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There was something interesting about the reaction to the consummation of the Fatah-Hamas unity pact yesterday. The agreement, which confirmed the entry of the Islamist terrorist group into the governing structure of the Palestinian Authority and the exit of the PA’s reform-minded Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, provoked the expected harsh words from Israel’s government. In Washington, the reaction from the Obama administration was equally predictable as the State Department spokesperson withheld judgment. Some members of Congress served notice that the PA’s embrace of Hamas meant the end of U.S. aid.

But the main conclusion to be drawn from the reaction to what can only be termed a momentous turn of events is something entirely different. The lack of alarm or even much worry about the impact of Hamas on the peace process makes it clear not only is there no more peace process to worry about, but that the Palestinians have made themselves irrelevant.

Where once the international chattering classes doted upon every aspect of Palestinian politics in a way that confirmed the prevalent myth that Israel’s antagonists were truly at the heart of all the problems of the Middle East, it is no longer possible for even their cheerleaders and apologists to pretend this is so. In the 18+ years since the signing of the Oslo Accords, the Palestinians have talked and bombed their way not only out of peace and the independent state they claimed they wanted but also off the front pages. While supporters of Israel still keep their eyes on the goings-on in Ramallah and Gaza, the rest of the world is gradually moving on.

After so many years of international attention on the aspirations of the Palestinians, after Yasir Arafat’s betrayal of Oslo and his successor Mahmoud Abbas’s similar refusal to talk peace with Israel, it has become increasingly difficult for even Israel’s most persistent critics to hold the attention of Western policymakers. But by embracing Hamas while refusing to talk to Israel, Abbas has not only ended the peace process but cut the legs out from under those who hoped President Obama would maintain pressure on Israel to make more concessions for the sake of a peace the Palestinians clearly don’t want.

Even more to the point, the apathy with which the Fatah-Hamas unity pact has been viewed only makes it more obvious the world has more pressing concerns. Those who long argued the Palestinians were central to all Middle East conflicts have found their faulty arguments are no longer accepted at face value. At a time when it is clear to even the dimmest of foreign policy bulbs the real struggles in the Middle East are those between Islamists, autocrats and democracy activists as well as over the nuclear ambitions of Iran, the audience for the myth of Palestinian centrality has shrunk dramatically.

While peace between Israel and the Palestinians is still ardently desired by the West — and by Israelis — the unity pact just makes obvious what was actually already understood by savvy observers of the region. Peace will have to wait until a sea change in Palestinian political culture that will make it possible for the PA to sign a deal that recognizes the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn. Until then, there really is no use worrying about appeasing the Palestinians or coaxing them back to negotiations in which they have no interest.

It is true the presence of Hamas in the PA government presents a clear threat to Israel in terms of security on the West Bank. But in terms of diplomacy, all it has done is to confirm the irrelevance of the Palestinians. Until they mend their ways, not even a president as eager to help them as Barack Obama has been can do much for them. If they wish, they can flout the wishes of the West and see if they can make it without the aid that keeps their corrupt government afloat. But whether they do or not can no longer be assumed to be of any real importance to anyone but the Palestinians themselves.

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The Washington Free Beacon

Today marks the debut of the Washington Free Beacon, an innovative Website for news of a particular stripe—an anti-Leftist stripe. The editor is Matthew Continetti, long of the Weekly Standardand the author of a splendid book on the depradations of Jack Abramoff and a highly provocative one on the persecution of Sarah Palin. If you go to the site, you will find an abundance of early riches there. But by far the most interesting is Continetti’s own explanation for the Beacon’s existence, a tour de force essay called “Combat Journalism” that offers a history of the ideological wars within journalism and Washington and the non-profit world over the past 30 years. “What would happen,” Continetti asks, “if a website covered the left in the same way that the left covers the right? What picture of the world would one have in mind if the morning paper read like the New York Times—but with the subjects of the stories and the assumptions built into the text changed to reflect a conservative, not liberal, worldview? What would happen if the media wolf pack suddenly had to worry about an aerial hunting operation? You are about to find out.” The site seems to be having some birthing pains at the moment, but if you can’t reach it, bookmark it at www.freebeacon.com and visit it frequently. It’s certain to be a major player in this year’s battles.

Today marks the debut of the Washington Free Beacon, an innovative Website for news of a particular stripe—an anti-Leftist stripe. The editor is Matthew Continetti, long of the Weekly Standardand the author of a splendid book on the depradations of Jack Abramoff and a highly provocative one on the persecution of Sarah Palin. If you go to the site, you will find an abundance of early riches there. But by far the most interesting is Continetti’s own explanation for the Beacon’s existence, a tour de force essay called “Combat Journalism” that offers a history of the ideological wars within journalism and Washington and the non-profit world over the past 30 years. “What would happen,” Continetti asks, “if a website covered the left in the same way that the left covers the right? What picture of the world would one have in mind if the morning paper read like the New York Times—but with the subjects of the stories and the assumptions built into the text changed to reflect a conservative, not liberal, worldview? What would happen if the media wolf pack suddenly had to worry about an aerial hunting operation? You are about to find out.” The site seems to be having some birthing pains at the moment, but if you can’t reach it, bookmark it at www.freebeacon.com and visit it frequently. It’s certain to be a major player in this year’s battles.

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Iranian Opinion of U.S. Remains Stable

A new Gallup poll out today finds that the majority of Iranians are bracing for the latest round of sanctions imposed by the U.S. and Europe, while nearly half are already struggling economically. News of the financial hardships has the New York Times worrying the U.S. is breeding resentment in Iran:

Yet this economic burden is falling largely on the middle class, raising the prospect of more resentment against the West and complicating the effort to deter Iran’s nuclear program — a central priority for the Obama administration in this election year.

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A new Gallup poll out today finds that the majority of Iranians are bracing for the latest round of sanctions imposed by the U.S. and Europe, while nearly half are already struggling economically. News of the financial hardships has the New York Times worrying the U.S. is breeding resentment in Iran:

Yet this economic burden is falling largely on the middle class, raising the prospect of more resentment against the West and complicating the effort to deter Iran’s nuclear program — a central priority for the Obama administration in this election year.

Not to completely diminish concerns about anti-Western resentment, but in terms of Iranian public opinion, the U.S. can’t fare much worse than it already is. Today’s Gallup survey found that just 8 percent of Iranians approve of U.S. leadership, and 7 percent approve of U.K. leadership – numbers that have remained relatively flat since last year. There’s not much room for the West to drop (though it should also be noted that it is notoriously difficult to gauge the accuracy of public opinion polling in totalitarian societies).

And concerns over Iranian resentment aren’t enough of an argument for the West to retrench, especially when the latest sanctions already appear to be having the desired effect among the ruling class. The Times reports:

The rising economic panic has illustrated — and possibly intensified — the bitter divisions within Iran’s political elite. A number of insiders, including members of the elite Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, have begun openly criticizing Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, in recent weeks. One of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s aides indirectly accused Ayatollah Khamenei of needlessly antagonizing the West in ways that pushed down the rial’s value, the latest sign of a rift between the president and the supreme leader that is helping to define the parliamentary elections, which are scheduled for March 2.

With the Iranian parliamentary elections coming up next month, obviously there’s hope for a more successful rerun of the protest movement in 2009. While a military strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities would likely only delay the regime’s quest for nukes, the only long-term solution is regime change, and sanctions will play a big role in getting there.

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Tunisian Spring Turns Against Gays

Of all the Arab countries which have overthrown dictators, Tunisia probably provides the most cause for optimism, despite the election of an Islamist government. While the Arab Spring turns chilly in so many countries, the Tunisian government has appeared determined both to develop Tunisia and to accept the accountability for which the Tunisian people arose.

How disappointing it is, then, that Ennahda—Tunisia’s supposedly moderate Islamist party—has decided to divert attention from the real issues Tunisia faces with an anti-gay jihad. Samir Dilou, the former spokesman for Ennahda who now is the Tunisian minister for human rights, has reportedly argued that Tunisian gays should not have freedom of speech.

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Of all the Arab countries which have overthrown dictators, Tunisia probably provides the most cause for optimism, despite the election of an Islamist government. While the Arab Spring turns chilly in so many countries, the Tunisian government has appeared determined both to develop Tunisia and to accept the accountability for which the Tunisian people arose.

How disappointing it is, then, that Ennahda—Tunisia’s supposedly moderate Islamist party—has decided to divert attention from the real issues Tunisia faces with an anti-gay jihad. Samir Dilou, the former spokesman for Ennahda who now is the Tunisian minister for human rights, has reportedly argued that Tunisian gays should not have freedom of speech.

Most progressives remain silent on the plight of gays in Tunisia or, for that matter, Iran and other Islamist states. One of the ironies of the so-called progressive movement is the animus it holds toward Israel given that Israel embraces the liberalism and tolerance for which progressives say they stand.

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Are We Losing the War in Afghanistan?

An Army lieutenant colonel named Daniel L. Davis is attracting a lot of attention for this essay he has just published in Armed Forces Journal suggesting that, contrary to what he views as the official line, our forces are losing the war in Afghanistan. Davis traveled extensively around Afghanistan last year on behalf of the Army’s Rapid Equipping Force–designed to get troops the equipment they need–and came back dismayed by what he found. He claims he saw “the absence of success on virtually every level”:

I heard many stories of how insurgents controlled virtually every piece of land beyond eyeshot of a U.S. or International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) base.

I saw little to no evidence the local governments were able to provide for the basic needs of the people. Some of the Afghan civilians I talked with said the people didn’t want to be connected to a predatory or incapable local government.

From time to time, I observed Afghan Security forces collude with the insurgency.

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An Army lieutenant colonel named Daniel L. Davis is attracting a lot of attention for this essay he has just published in Armed Forces Journal suggesting that, contrary to what he views as the official line, our forces are losing the war in Afghanistan. Davis traveled extensively around Afghanistan last year on behalf of the Army’s Rapid Equipping Force–designed to get troops the equipment they need–and came back dismayed by what he found. He claims he saw “the absence of success on virtually every level”:

I heard many stories of how insurgents controlled virtually every piece of land beyond eyeshot of a U.S. or International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) base.

I saw little to no evidence the local governments were able to provide for the basic needs of the people. Some of the Afghan civilians I talked with said the people didn’t want to be connected to a predatory or incapable local government.

From time to time, I observed Afghan Security forces collude with the insurgency.

He concludes with a not-so-veiled accusation that officers such as David Petraeus and his replacement, Gen. John Allen, who say we are making progress are not just misinformed but mendacious: “The American people deserve better than what they’ve gotten from their senior uniformed leaders over the last number of years. Simply telling the truth would be a good start.”

Whoa. It’s one thing to claim senior officers are wrong–but calling them liars is something else, especially given how strongly all military personnel feel about their personal sense of honor and duty to the country. Is Davis suggesting that only he has the guts to tell it like it is while everyone else is blind or dishonest? That’s quite a stretch.

In point of fact, the armed forces are a big, diverse organization, and it is to be expected there will be differences of opinion. The fact that Davis is pessimistic doesn’t surprise me. I have heard many pessimistic assessments over the years from military personnel who were serving in Afghanistan–just as I did in Iraq. In fact, I vividly recall visiting Iraq in early 2007 and finding many officers even in Gen. Petraeus’s own headquarters convinced the surge was hopeless and that it was too late to contain the bloodbath engulfing Iraq. Gen. Petraeus and Gen. Ray Odierno, the two senior officers in command, obviously disagreed. Did that make them con artists who were deceiving the American people and leading their troops to slaughter for no good reason (as moveon.org intimated)? Hardly. Turns out they actually had greater insight into the situation than did the naysayers.

It is too soon to say whether the naysayers will be vindicated in Afghanistan, but it is worth noting that Davis’s pessimistic views are hardly universally held among troops with combat experience on the ground. For a counterpoint see this New York Times op-ed entitled, “This War Can Still Be Won,” by Fernando Lujan, an Army Special Forces major who spent 14 months traveling all over Afghanistan. Unlike Davis, Lujan speaks Dari and spent considerable time actually embedded with Afghan military units. He saw many of the problems that Davis alludes to but came back convinced the Taliban are losing, U.S. troops are making real gains, and the Afghan armed forces are developing into a credible fighting force.

Is Lujan lying too? Is Davis the only honest man in the entire army?

In reality, there is a healthy difference of opinion in the armed forces, and those who are tempted to take either the pessimistic or the optimistic view at face value need to contemplate all the evidence on both sides. Having done so, and having visited Afghanistan repeatedly, I have come to the conclusion that Petraeus and Allen are right–there is real progress, but it is fragile and reversible. If we pull out too quickly, the gains that have been made will be for naught. And that points to the greatest cause for pessimism about the war’s course: not the lack of progress on the ground, as Davis claims, but the lack of resolution displayed by a White House that seems determined to withdraw our forces as quickly as possible.

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Obama Campaign Embraces Super PACs

After blasting Super PACs as the source of everything evil in politics for the past two years, the Obama campaign has suddenly done an about face and openly started working with one. But, as Jim Messina stressed on the campaign blog last night, it’s not because Obama wants to. No, it’s because he needs to, in order to win the election. And as we all know, winning is more important anything, especially principles and personal integrity:

With so much at stake, we can’t allow for two sets of rules in this election whereby the Republican nominee is the beneficiary of unlimited spending and Democrats unilaterally disarm.

Therefore, the campaign has decided to do what we can, consistent with the law, to support Priorities USA in its effort to counter the weight of the GOP Super PAC. We will do so only in the knowledge and with the expectation that all of its donations will be fully disclosed as required by law to the Federal Election Commission.

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After blasting Super PACs as the source of everything evil in politics for the past two years, the Obama campaign has suddenly done an about face and openly started working with one. But, as Jim Messina stressed on the campaign blog last night, it’s not because Obama wants to. No, it’s because he needs to, in order to win the election. And as we all know, winning is more important anything, especially principles and personal integrity:

With so much at stake, we can’t allow for two sets of rules in this election whereby the Republican nominee is the beneficiary of unlimited spending and Democrats unilaterally disarm.

Therefore, the campaign has decided to do what we can, consistent with the law, to support Priorities USA in its effort to counter the weight of the GOP Super PAC. We will do so only in the knowledge and with the expectation that all of its donations will be fully disclosed as required by law to the Federal Election Commission.

This has been coming down the line for awhile, ever since two key Obama staffers left the White House and immediately formed Priorities USA, a pro-Obama Super PAC, last April. But it makes sense that the Obama campaign would wait until the start of the general election before announcing its support for the group. Why make such a controversial announcement any earlier than you have to?

As for the backlash against the decision, it’ll probably come mainly from the left, because it’s hard for conservatives to really criticize Obama for this move. In fact, conservatives should applaud him for seeing the light. It’s nice that he’s finally come around to embracing Super PACs, even if his reasons for doing so are based less on a principled defense of First Amendment rights and more on a craven thirst for maintaining power. Way to go.

That said, it will be interesting to see how this is received on the left. After the Democrats spent years rallying their base against Citizens United, the idea that Super PACs equal evil is mentally ingrained with progressives. In fact, it was one of the biggest issues at Occupy Wall Street. Will the progressive movement turn against Obama for working with Priorities USA? Or will it be enough for them that he says he still opposes Super PACs in theory?

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Keep an Eye on Eastern Saudi Arabia

Cameras don’t lie, but they also do not give the full perspective. The Palestinian-Israeli conflict has often received disproportionate attention in the world media because Israel allows freer access to the press than any Arab state.

Perhaps the hardest place to report from is Saudi Arabia, which, according to Reporters Without Frontiers, ranks 158 out of 178 in press freedom. With Libya’s Muammar Qaddafi in the grave, and Syria’s Bashar al-Assad’s grasp on Syria rapidly slipping, Saudi Arabia is perhaps the Middle East’s most authoritarian state. In a region of artificial states, Saudi Arabia is perhaps the most artificial. A general rule-of-thumb is that whenever anyone names a country after himself, that’s an artificial country. Ibn Saud’s creation of Saudi Arabia, in that way, is not unlike “Petoria” in the television show “Family Guy.”

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Cameras don’t lie, but they also do not give the full perspective. The Palestinian-Israeli conflict has often received disproportionate attention in the world media because Israel allows freer access to the press than any Arab state.

Perhaps the hardest place to report from is Saudi Arabia, which, according to Reporters Without Frontiers, ranks 158 out of 178 in press freedom. With Libya’s Muammar Qaddafi in the grave, and Syria’s Bashar al-Assad’s grasp on Syria rapidly slipping, Saudi Arabia is perhaps the Middle East’s most authoritarian state. In a region of artificial states, Saudi Arabia is perhaps the most artificial. A general rule-of-thumb is that whenever anyone names a country after himself, that’s an artificial country. Ibn Saud’s creation of Saudi Arabia, in that way, is not unlike “Petoria” in the television show “Family Guy.”

While many diplomats and analysts discuss Saudi Arabia in terms of both tension and embrace between the monarchy and religious authorities, there are deeper fissures among Saudi Arabia’s distinct regions. In her 2004 book Cradle of Islam: The Hijaz and the Quest for an Arabian Identity, Mai Yamani aptly illustrated the importance of Hijazi regional identity in western Saudi Arabia.

Much of the street talk last week when I was traveling in the Persian Gulf revolved around the current—and very underreported—unrest in the largely Shi’ite Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia. While twitter, press access and, for the sake of international journalists also an English-speaking opposition, has propelled Bahraini unrest into the international headlines, eastern Saudi Arabia is boiling. Bahraini authorities may use tear gas and rubber bullets; Saudi police use live ammunition against unarmed protesters.

Eventually, the Arab Spring will come to Saudi Arabia. Grievances in Saudi Arabia are huge. When it does, it will make Syria look like a Quaker meeting.

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