The imminent demise of the Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria has become such an article of faith among many American pundits that most have come to discuss the subject as no longer a matter of if, but merely when, his fall will occur. Unfortunately, for Western talking heads as well as President Obama, who has also predicted imminent regime change in Damascus, Assad has preferred to ignore their advice and instead stick to what his family has always done best: slaughter any and all domestic foes. After watching the fall of dictatorial regimes in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, the assumption was the logic of the Arab Spring would inevitably force out the Syrian member of a rapidly diminishing club of Arab autocrats. Few in the West believed Assad could survive. But it appears there was at least one group of observers who may have pegged the Syrian as a keeper: his Iranian allies.
The news that a pair of Iranian naval vessels just left a Syrian port and are now heading home through the Suez Canal ought to have brought home the fact that the Iranian ayatollahs may understand their client better than Western editorial writers. Combined with the decision of Russia to boycott a diplomatic effort aimed at bolstering Assad’s domestic foes, it is now clear that Syria’s two major foreign sponsors have not given up on the regime. Unlike Westerners who simply took it for granted that Assad must go, Ayatollah Khamenei and Vladimir Putin have remembered an ironclad rule of history: tyrants fall when they lose their taste for spilling their people’s blood, not when they loosen the reins.
After a brief visit to Bahrain earlier this month, it is clear the situation in Bahrain is reaching a head. February 14 marked the year anniversary of demonstrations at the Pearl Monument. Clashes and arrests continue. The Bahraini government has not been as proactive with reform as perhaps it might. Grievances in Bahrain—where the majority population is Shi’ite whereas the royal family and security forces are overwhelmingly Sunni—are real, and stability, security, and economic growth ultimately require they be addressed.
Bahrain might be the smallest Arab state, but it has disproportionate importance for American national security. It hosts the U.S. Fifth Fleet, a vital tool in securing the Persian Gulf to international shipping and also, potentially, in containing Iran. While American officials generally recognize Bahraini grievances and pressure the king and prime minister to become more proactive with reform, the future of the Fifth Fleet headquarters in Bahrain will ultimately shape American decision-making.
The Washington Examiner’s Conn Carroll flags this interesting item from the Washington Post’s report on the messy break-up between environmental groups and the natural gas industry:
Natural gas entrepreneur T. Boone Pickens gave $453,250 to the liberal think tank Center for American Progress (CAP) in 2008 and 2009 through his nonprofit groups, to support its National Clean Energy Project events. At the time, Pickens was pressing lawmakers to adopt a bill to subsidize construction of natural gas filling stations. The legislation would have directly helped a company Pickens co-founded called Clean Energy Fuels, which describes itself as “the leading provider of natural gas for transportation.”
One of the arguments Senator Rick Santorum made on behalf of his campaign was that if he were the nominee, he’d succeed in making Barack Obama the subject of the election, not himself.
That was before Santorum shot to the top of the GOP field. What candidates can never fully anticipate, until they’re considered a frontrunner, is the sheer intensity of the focus on their past record and words. That’s now happening to Santorum, and suddenly he’s on the defensive, despite his best efforts to avoid that from happening.
Just when the public was starting to get used to the idea of Rick Santorum perhaps becoming the new Republican presidential frontrunner, it appears that another momentum shift may be under way. After steady gains in national and state polls in the last two weeks, the Santorum juggernaut — which has been powered by both the passion of evangelicals and the widespread dissatisfaction on the right with Mitt Romney — may be starting to lose a bit of steam. Another new poll out of Michigan shows Romney gaining ground today and resuming a small lead over Santorum. When combined with other surveys showing the former Massachusetts governor assuming a sizeable lead in Arizona — which along with Michigan will hold primaries seven days from now — the Michigan polls ought to worry Santorum’s camp.
Up until late last week, Santorum had been leading a charmed life as far as avoiding negative publicity and engendering good will. But when the debate about contraception morphed from one about defending the religious freedom of the Catholic Church into one that centered on Santorum’s personal views on the matter, it served to remind Republicans his stands on social issues tend to be outside of the mainstream. While most Republicans do not hold his ideas about the importance of the family and opposition to abortion and gay marriage against him, the last week has been highly reminiscent of the way his 2006 Senate re-election campaign was dogged by controversial quotes from his book, It Takes a Family. Though Romney is still plagued by his inability to connect with ordinary voters and doubt has been cast on the notion of his greater electability, the kerfuffle about birth control may have been just enough to halt Santorum’s momentum and give his more moderate opponent a chance to save his candidacy before the voters in his home state of Michigan destroyed his hopes.
When internal fundraising and strategy documents from the Heartland Institute, a conservative group skeptical of man-made climate change, were leaked online last week, global warming activists were ecstatic. That excitement ended today when a prominent climate scientist, Peter Gleick, admitted to using a fake identity to obtain donor and budget records from Heartland, supposedly in order to “confirm” an explosive internal memo on the group’s 2012 Climate Strategy, which he claims was sent to him anonymously.
Heartland has disputed the veracity of the memo, which was leaked to the press along with the other documents.
Today, BuzzFeed released “25 Photos of Mitt Romney Looking Normal,” and — to my surprise — he actually looks normal! Along with the photo series, one of BuzzFeed’s political reporters wrote a column highlighting the Romney family’s social media prowess, wondering why the candidate can’t connect as well as his family members seem to (without ever seeming to reach a conclusion). BuzzFeed reports:
Mary Romney’s blog, Kendrick said, is a “very typical” example of the genre. Titled “Me & My Boys,” it has apparently been open to public view for years, drawing occasional interest from the political class. The blog was made private shortly after BuzzFeed asked the campaign about it, and about the Romney family’s social media presence in general.
During the first three years of the Obama administration, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s visits to the White House have been the occasion for some memorable fights with the president. He has been ambushed, insulted, lectured and, on at least one occasion, gave back as good as he got as he pushed back against Obama’s attempt to undercut Israel’s negotiating position with the Palestinians and its rights in Jerusalem. But Netanyahu’s next visit to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue will probably be a very different one entirely. With the president fighting hard to retain the votes and the financial support of American Jews and other friends of Israel, Netanyahu can expect that Obama will be on his very best behavior when he arrives next month for a visit that was announced yesterday.
With the threat of a nuclear Iran hanging over both nations and with the United States eager to dissuade Israel from striking first on its own, the two men have some serious business to conduct. But it is impossible to ignore the political implications of this summit. With evidence mounting that Obama and the Democrats have been bleeding Jewish support in the last year, the visit will take the president’s charm offensive aimed at convincing the Jewish community he is Israel’s best friend to a new level. Netanyahu has good reason to play along with Obama’s pretense, as he may have to go on dealing with him until January 2017. But the question remains whether the two men can sufficiently paper over their personal hostility and policy differences in order for the visit to have the effect the president’s political handlers are aiming for.
Last week, I noted how Geneive Abdo, a journalist and liaison to the UN’s “Dialogue of Civilizations” program, had promoted the wacky conspiracy theory on Australia’s national radio that Israel had bombed their own diplomats.
Increasingly, it appears as if the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) is trying to give National Public Radio a run for its money in the promotion of some really off-kilter analysis. On February 20, for example, ABC asked Robert Fisk for his analysis of Syria. Fisk tried to shift the focus to condemnation of Israel—which he suggested was Assad’s big backer—and the United States.
A New York Times story during the weekend begins this way: “It used to be called illegitimacy. Now it is the new normal. After steadily rising for five decades, the share of children born to unmarried women has crossed a threshold: more than half of births to American women under 30 occur outside marriage.”
The story goes on to point out that “motherhood without marriage has settled deeply into middle America.” The fastest growth in the last two decades has occurred among white women in their 20s who have some college education but no four-year degree, according to Child Trends, a Washington research group. The Times points out “the surge of births outside marriage among younger women — nearly two-thirds of children in the United States are born to mothers under 30 — is both a symbol of the transforming family and a hint of coming generational change.” Researchers have “consistently found that children born outside marriage face elevated risks of falling into poverty, failing in school or suffering emotional and behavioral problems.”
Did the Santorum campaign team call President Obama an “Islamic extremist” and “Hitler”? Based on the media coverage during the weekend, you’d think so. Of course, neither of the charges actually check out. Rick Santorum denies he compared Obama to Hitler during a recent speech, and based on the text it sounds like he may have just been making a WWII reference. Meanwhile, Santorum’s aide says she accidentally called Obama’s policies “radical Islamic” when she really meant “radical environmental” – and from the context, her excuse actually does makes sense.
But unfortunately for the Santorum campaign, the gaffes still provided tons of fodder for media speculation:
Rick Santorum on Monday denied he was comparing President Barack Obama to Adolf Hitler while using a World War II analogy the previous day.
During a speech at a Georgia church on Sunday, Santorum paralleled the election to America’s slow response to the swelling Nazi presence during the late 1930s. He urged his audience to get involved and not sit on the sidelines like “the greatest generation” did for a year and a half while “Europe was under darkness.”
“China will never be a superpower and it opposes hegemony and power politics of any kind.” So reads the “Shanghai Communiqué,” the joint statement released by President Nixon and Chairman Mao Tse-tung during Nixon’s famous trip to China, which began exactly 40 years ago today. The street value of diplomatic joint statements is always lower than their face value, of course. Nonetheless, an argument can be made (and is being made far and wide) that there are no more pressing concerns for the West in this still-young century than China’s taste for hegemony and power politics, not to mention the possibility of parity with the world’s current sole superpower.
Nixon’s propensity for the historic left its mark on our political lexicon. Any scandal, no matter how ridiculous, earns a “-gate” suffix, and any major politician’s rebuke to his ideological compatriots, no matter how superficial, is a “Nixon-to-China moment.” But while Nixon’s critics are, for all the obvious reasons, reluctant to give him recognition for his accomplishments, Nixon deserves the credit for the China trip. (As he does, as we now know, for Operation Nickel Grass, the weapons airlift to Israel during the Yom Kippur War.) What was so notable about Nixon’s desire to work with China for mutual benefit is not that Nixon considered China a paper tiger—quite the opposite. Nixon understood China’s potential, once unlocked, to dominate, and worked to facilitate it anyway. As Niall Ferguson said in his opening remarks at last year’s Munk Debate on China:
Four decades ago Richard Nixon got this point sooner than most: [Nixon said,] “Well you can just stop and think of what would happen if anybody with a decent system of government got control of that mainland. Good God, there’d be no power in the world that could even…I mean, you put 800 million Chinese to work under a decent system and they will be the leaders of the world.”
The Washington Post has a fascinating story based on an examination of papers collected over nearly three decades, documents compiled by a former Newt Gingrich aide and archived at the University of West Georgia, where Gingrich was an assistant professor in the 1970s. What they reveal, according to the Post, is “a politician of moderate-to-liberal beginnings, a product of the civil rights era who moved to the right with an eye on political expediency — and privately savaged Republicans he was praising in public. Even as he gained a reputation as a conservative firebrand, the documents show Gingrich was viewed by his staff primarily as a tactician — the ‘tent evangelist’ of the conservative movement, one staffer said — with little ideological core.”
There’s a lot to sort through, but two things in particular stood out to me. One is that Gingrich’s chief of staff in 1983, Frank Gregorsky, said (according to a transcript of a staff meeting) that Gingrich “assumed that he’s the whole Republican Party. He knows more than the president [Ronald Reagan], the president’s people, [Robert H.] Michel, [James] Baker. He calls them stupid all the time, and I think that’s going to get him into big trouble someday.”
The backlash against the new Virginia legislation requiring ultrasounds before an abortion procedure – which some have bizarrely compared to “forcible rape” – may be even more overblown than initially thought. Apparently, ultrasounds are already part of the abortion procedures at Virginia Planned Parenthoods.
The Virginia League for Planned Parenthood didn’t immediately return calls yesterday. But here’s what it said on the recording for its abortion services information hotline:
“Patients who have a surgical abortion generally come in for two appointments. At the first visit we do a health assessment, perform all the necessary lab work, and do an ultrasound. This visit generally takes about an hour. At the second visit, the procedure takes place. This visit takes about an hour as well. For out of town patients for whom it would be difficult to make two trips to our office, we’re able to schedule both the initial appointment and the procedure on the same day.
Medical abortions generally require three visits. At the first visit, we do a health assessment, perform all the necessary lab work, and do an ultrasound. This visit takes about an hour. At the second visit, the physician gives the first pill and directions for taking two more pills at home. The third visit is required during which you will have an exam and another ultrasound.”