Commentary Magazine


Posts For: February 22, 2012

Santorum Flops in the Debate Spotlight

After nine months on the periphery of the Republican race, tonight’s debate in Mesa, Arizona, was Rick Santorum’s opportunity to show he deserved to be considered a frontrunner. But instead of using the occasion to build on the surge that led him to the top of the national polls, the former senator flopped as Mitt Romney and Ron Paul pounded him unmercifully from the start of the evening to its finish. By the end of the night, the grim look on his face betrayed the effect of having to explain his stands on issues such as earmarks, being a “team player” in the Senate and his support for Arlen Specter and “No Child Left Behind.” Whereas in previous debates, he had been on the attack pointing out Romney’s inconsistencies, in Mesa, it was his turn to be on the defensive.

Though Romney was far from brilliant and took his own lumps over his own hypocritical positions on earmarks and healthcare, there was little question he emerged the victor if only because Santorum came across as both long-winded and surly. If recent polls in Michigan showed the Pennsylvanian’s momentum was slowing, this debate may have put a period on his brief moment in the lead. A good night for Santorum might have helped put him over the top in Michigan and maybe even in Arizona next week and done irreparable harm to Romney’s hopes. But we may look back at this night and say this moment was not only when Santorum began to fade but also when Romney salted away the nomination.

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After nine months on the periphery of the Republican race, tonight’s debate in Mesa, Arizona, was Rick Santorum’s opportunity to show he deserved to be considered a frontrunner. But instead of using the occasion to build on the surge that led him to the top of the national polls, the former senator flopped as Mitt Romney and Ron Paul pounded him unmercifully from the start of the evening to its finish. By the end of the night, the grim look on his face betrayed the effect of having to explain his stands on issues such as earmarks, being a “team player” in the Senate and his support for Arlen Specter and “No Child Left Behind.” Whereas in previous debates, he had been on the attack pointing out Romney’s inconsistencies, in Mesa, it was his turn to be on the defensive.

Though Romney was far from brilliant and took his own lumps over his own hypocritical positions on earmarks and healthcare, there was little question he emerged the victor if only because Santorum came across as both long-winded and surly. If recent polls in Michigan showed the Pennsylvanian’s momentum was slowing, this debate may have put a period on his brief moment in the lead. A good night for Santorum might have helped put him over the top in Michigan and maybe even in Arizona next week and done irreparable harm to Romney’s hopes. But we may look back at this night and say this moment was not only when Santorum began to fade but also when Romney salted away the nomination.

Ironically, it was on his weakest point — his position on contraception — that Santorum sounded the strongest when he parried a question on the issue and made the point that promiscuity and the breakdown of the family was doing great damage to society. No one on the stage disagreed with him on that.

Yet that was overshadowed by the way Santorum found himself getting buried on his Senate record of voting for spending bills and earmarks. Romney’s attack on this was, as Santorum pointed out, deeply hypocritical since he relied on congressional earmarks to fund the 2002 Winter Olympics that he led. But whatever good he did with that retort was lost by his angry replies to attacks on his record, especially the way he went along with the Senate leadership on a number of issues. Santorum was clearly exasperated by having to defend himself in this manner and it showed. He discovered it is a lot harder to score points in a debate when you are wearing the bull’s eye on your back that goes with being in the lead.

Santorum’s failure once again should allow Romney to vault back into the lead. It will also give him the momentum that may allow him to hold onto Michigan after falling behind there.

Newt Gingrich was back in strong debate form and even managed to do so while avoiding joining in the gang tackle of Santorum. Ron Paul also had a strong night belaboring Santorum on government spending from a purist point of view though whatever advantage he gained in the battle to avoid last place was lost by his attempt to rationalize Iran’s nuclear quest at the same time as the other three Republicans were uniting to blast President Obama’s failure to stop the Islamist regime.

But the only real winner was Romney, who was repeatedly able to take down the man who is leading him in Michigan. Rick Santorum had one shot at solidifying his status as a frontrunner but failed. The ripple effect of this defeat will be felt in every state where he hoped to compete.

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Live Blog: The GOP Debate

The debate ends. Winners: Romney Important victory for him. Gingrich does well. Loser: Santorum. A terrible night for him that may put an end to his surge.

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Paul claims its a myth he can’t win. Dream on libertarians. Romney ignores question about misconceptions and sticks to his stump speech. Santorum ends with his main points but the smile is gone.

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Paul slaughters Santorum on the idea of his being a “team player” while in the Senate leadership. Santorum is right but it sounds terrible. Another bad moment for Santorum.

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Question about “No Child Left Behind” another bad moment for Santorum who is forced to apologize again for his vote on it. Romney takes shot at teacher’s unions and says he is for school choice. Gingrich tearing into educational system. Another strong moment for him. Paul: no reason for the federal govt. to be involved in education. He’s right about that.

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Paul blames talk about stopping Assad on “neoconservatives.” Always comfortable bringing up conspiracy theories.

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Santorum blasts Obama’s timidity on Syria. Blames it on  his fear of Iran. Gingrich says dependence on foreign oil is part of the problem and blames Obama for stopping drilling. Says we should have our allies covertly knock off Assad. Gingrich: under Obama, as long as you’re an enemy of the U.S., you’re safe. Romney, Gingrich and Santorum all agree on Syria and Obama’s weakness.

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The debate ends. Winners: Romney Important victory for him. Gingrich does well. Loser: Santorum. A terrible night for him that may put an end to his surge.

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Paul claims its a myth he can’t win. Dream on libertarians. Romney ignores question about misconceptions and sticks to his stump speech. Santorum ends with his main points but the smile is gone.

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Paul slaughters Santorum on the idea of his being a “team player” while in the Senate leadership. Santorum is right but it sounds terrible. Another bad moment for Santorum.

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Question about “No Child Left Behind” another bad moment for Santorum who is forced to apologize again for his vote on it. Romney takes shot at teacher’s unions and says he is for school choice. Gingrich tearing into educational system. Another strong moment for him. Paul: no reason for the federal govt. to be involved in education. He’s right about that.

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Paul blames talk about stopping Assad on “neoconservatives.” Always comfortable bringing up conspiracy theories.

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Santorum blasts Obama’s timidity on Syria. Blames it on  his fear of Iran. Gingrich says dependence on foreign oil is part of the problem and blames Obama for stopping drilling. Says we should have our allies covertly knock off Assad. Gingrich: under Obama, as long as you’re an enemy of the U.S., you’re safe. Romney, Gingrich and Santorum all agree on Syria and Obama’s weakness.

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John King poses question about Iran by saying do you agree with Netanyahu or Joint Chiefs. Gingrich rightly says that Pentagon was crazy to refer to think Iran is a rational actor. Gingrich presents a strong argument for preempting nuclear Iran. Romney says a nuclear Iran is a bigger danger than rising gas prices. Romney then says Iran has been Obama’s biggest failure. Gives laundry list of Obama’s record on Iran. Strong moment for Romney. Santorum says he was early to get in on the issue. Cites Biden’s opposition. If you want to know what to do on foreign policy, find out what Biden says and do the opposite. Talks about failure to promote democracy in Iran. Ron Paul defends appeasement of Iran. Shameful.

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Romney seems to be supporting women in combat. Pivots to criticize Obama on defense cuts. Gingrich says ask the military about role of women, not the social engineers. Says there are no more front lines in an age of terror. Good answer. Santorum sounds defensive about his “concerns” about the issue.

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One word bios: Paul: consistent: Santorum: courage; Romney: resolute; Gingrich: cheerful.

At the second break, it’s clear that Santorum has been put on the defensive and isn’t enjoying it. He could use some humor but instead has responded to attacks with his characteristic long-winded defensiveness. So far, Romney’s the clear winner.

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Gingrich parries question about Rubio’s concerns about GOP baiting Hispanics by saying that Obama has been a demagogue on the issue.

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Romney endorses Arizona approach to immigration. Santorum says states should be allowed to enforce the law against illegals.

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Paul attacks Santorum for voting for appropriation bills that included other vital measures. Absolutist stand putting Santorum on defensive. Romney nails Santorum as hypocrite on contraception funding. Santorum pivots and reminds everyone that the whole issue came up because of Romneycare that led to Obamacare. Romney blames Santorum for Obamacare because he supported Arlen Specter in 2004. Santorum answers saying Specter ensured nomination of Alito and Roberts to Supreme Court.

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Romney cites his record defending the Catholic Church on adoptions. Gingrich attacks Romney on his record on forcing the church to pay for contraception.

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Santorum asked about his views about contraception. He answers by citing Charles Murray and the impact of promiscuity and children having children on society. Says the family is fracturing. His views on birth control are extreme but this is a powerful answer and speaks to a real issue. Says the difference between him and the left is that just because he’s talking about a problem doesn’t mean he wants a govt. program to fix it. Paul says don’t blame the problem on the pills. Romney agrees with Santorum.

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Crowd boos John King for asking a question about birth control. Newt seizes control of the moment by attacking media for never asking Obama in 2008 about infanticide. Romney chimes in by saying the question came up because of Obama’s attack on the church. Says the issue is religious freedom.

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At the first break, it’s clear that Romney is doing his best to pound Santorum. Santorum holding his own but just barely. Romney ahead so far on points but not by much. Gingrich sounds okay but the format and his subdued attitude tonight making it hard for him to rev up the crowd as he has done in the past.

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Santorum says bailout of airlines after 9/11 was not comparable to Wall Street bailout or the auto industry. Gingrich chimes in with Romney to say that auto bailout was a gift to the UAW.

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Santorum states the conservative case against bailouts. Lucky for him, he wasn’t in the Senate in 2008 to vote for TARP. Romney defends his record of opposing auto bailouts but supporting TARP because it was the responsible thing to do.

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Gingrich says Congress needs to reserve the right to hamstring the president, especially if he’s named Obama. Agrees that Romney is being a hypocrite on this issue. Paul defends earmarks because if they are gone, the executive gets more power.

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Santorum has a losing hand defending earmarks on any ground no matter how transparent the process. Romney’s being very aggressive.

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Santorum talks about the earmarks that helped put the 2002 Olympics in the black. Defends the idea that there are good earmarks and bad ones. Says earmark saved vital defense project under Bush41. Good answer but he went on too long.

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Gingrich looks subdued. Claims he and Paul are close in terms of their desire for change. A reminder of the fact that the pair are fighting to avoid last place.

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Romney tries to explain why he was a “severely conservative” governor of Mass. Silly phrase and also a bit disingenuous because we know that being a conservative in Mass. means being a liberal in red states.

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Santorum says he had the most conservative record on spending in the Senate and notes it was harder to do it while serving Pennsylvania.

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Paul calls Santorum a fake. Santorum striving to keep his patience. So far succeeding.

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Romney attacks Santorum for spending in Congress and for voting to raise the debt ceiling. Santorum answers that Romney was in favor of voting to raise the debt ceiling last summer because government has to pay its bills. Strong rejoinder. Also says he never voted to raise taxes. Romney shoots back that he only favored the increase in the debt ceiling under certain conditions which were not met.

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Santorum answers a question about the debt by talking about entitlements and Obamacare. Says he’s the one who has the experience to deal with the problem. Claims if you think the defense budget is the problem, you need a class in remedial math. Differentiates himself from Paul Ryan by saying he will tackle entitlements now not in the future.

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Santorum starts off the evening smiling. He’s going to need to keep that upbeat mood to survive the evening. Romney quotes a Seinfeld character and Gingrich gets applause about not bowing to the king of Saudi Arabia.

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We’re just a few moments away from the start of the Arizona GOP debate. Santorum, and Romney all have a lot to prove tonight with the polls showing them neck and neck in the next crucial Michigan and Arizona primaries. Gingrich is hoping to get back in the battle and Ron Paul will still be there advocating his extreme libertarian beliefs. Let’s see what happens.

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Will Rep. Pascrell Denounce “Israel-Firster” Rhetoric Against Opponent?

New Jersey Rep. Bill Pascrell – who’s currently locked in a brutal primary battle with Rep. Steve Rothman because of state redistricting – is in hot water after a prominent supporter accused Rothman-backers of being more loyal to Israel than the United States.

Arab-American activist Aref Assaf penned a column blasting those who support Rothman over Pascrell, claiming their choice is solely based on “blind support for Israel”:

“As total and blind support for Israel becomes the only reason for choosing Rothman, voters who do not view the elections in this prism will need to take notice. Loyalty to a foreign flag is not loyalty to America’s,” Assaf wrote in an article for the New Jersey Star-Ledger.

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New Jersey Rep. Bill Pascrell – who’s currently locked in a brutal primary battle with Rep. Steve Rothman because of state redistricting – is in hot water after a prominent supporter accused Rothman-backers of being more loyal to Israel than the United States.

Arab-American activist Aref Assaf penned a column blasting those who support Rothman over Pascrell, claiming their choice is solely based on “blind support for Israel”:

“As total and blind support for Israel becomes the only reason for choosing Rothman, voters who do not view the elections in this prism will need to take notice. Loyalty to a foreign flag is not loyalty to America’s,” Assaf wrote in an article for the New Jersey Star-Ledger.

Now Rothman, one of the staunchest Israel defenders in the Democratic Party, is calling on Pascrell to denounce the “bigoted” rhetoric, reports the Washington Free Beacon’s Adam Kredo:

“Congressman Pascrell should disavow these attacks and ask his supporters to stop this harmful, dishonest, and bigoted rhetoric,” Rothman spokesperson Aaron Keyak said in a statement to the Washington Free Beacon. “Even during tough elections we should be able to debate policy without having our political opponents question our patriotism.”

After the controversy over Democratic-linked organizations engaging in dual-loyalty charges, it’s problematic that one of Pascrell’s supporters would make such inflammatory claims. This also isn’t the first time Pascrell has come under fire for anti-Israel associations. In 2010, he signed the controversial “Gaza 54 letter,” which was harshly critical of Israel. Pascrell’s best move may be to take Rothman’s advice and distance himself from Assaf’s toxic rhetoric, unless he wants to be seen as tacitly approving these allegations.

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Live Blogging the GOP Debate

Join us tonight as senior online editor Jonathan S. Tobin live blogs the Republican presidential debate taking place tonight in Mesa, Arizona. So tune in to CNN at 8 pm and then log on to Commentarymagazine.com for live insights as the final four candidates have at it once again in their first gathering in nearly a month and the last debate before the crucial Arizona and Michigan primaries next week.

Join us tonight as senior online editor Jonathan S. Tobin live blogs the Republican presidential debate taking place tonight in Mesa, Arizona. So tune in to CNN at 8 pm and then log on to Commentarymagazine.com for live insights as the final four candidates have at it once again in their first gathering in nearly a month and the last debate before the crucial Arizona and Michigan primaries next week.

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Non-Violent Protests No Substitute for Palestinian Will to Make Peace

On today’s New York Times op-ed page, Palestinian parliamentarian Mustafa Barghouti makes the argument that what his people need to do is to eschew terrorism and to concentrate their efforts on promoting peaceful protests against Israel. Barghouti believes the limited success of a hunger strike by a Palestinian imprisoned by Israel ought to show the way for an escalation of non-violent demonstrations that will embarrass the Jewish state and pave the way for statehood for his people.

This is something supporters of the Palestinians have long wished for because the obsession with violence that has characterized the Arab national movement’s politics has been difficult to defend. Israelis would also cheer an abandonment of terrorism even if it would boost the international standing of the Palestinians. But the notion that a new round of peaceful protests against Israel has anything to do with the promotion of peace or the creation of an independent Palestinian state is pure fiction. That’s because the Palestinians need not resort to terror or to non-violent demonstrations or protests of any kind in order to achieve those goals. All they have to do is have their leaders negotiate with Israel and to be willing to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state, no matter where its borders are drawn. Unfortunately, that is the one thing no Palestinian leader or activist such as Barghouti appears willing to do.

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On today’s New York Times op-ed page, Palestinian parliamentarian Mustafa Barghouti makes the argument that what his people need to do is to eschew terrorism and to concentrate their efforts on promoting peaceful protests against Israel. Barghouti believes the limited success of a hunger strike by a Palestinian imprisoned by Israel ought to show the way for an escalation of non-violent demonstrations that will embarrass the Jewish state and pave the way for statehood for his people.

This is something supporters of the Palestinians have long wished for because the obsession with violence that has characterized the Arab national movement’s politics has been difficult to defend. Israelis would also cheer an abandonment of terrorism even if it would boost the international standing of the Palestinians. But the notion that a new round of peaceful protests against Israel has anything to do with the promotion of peace or the creation of an independent Palestinian state is pure fiction. That’s because the Palestinians need not resort to terror or to non-violent demonstrations or protests of any kind in order to achieve those goals. All they have to do is have their leaders negotiate with Israel and to be willing to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state, no matter where its borders are drawn. Unfortunately, that is the one thing no Palestinian leader or activist such as Barghouti appears willing to do.

What makes Barghouti’s appeal so disingenuous is that it ignores the fact that the Palestinians have repeatedly turned down Israel’s offers of peace and statehood. Whereas once it could have been argued that the Jewish state had to be persuaded to contemplate a two-state solution, in the wake of the Palestinian Authority’s refusal to accept independence in almost all of the West Bank, Gaza and a share of Jerusalem in 2000, 2001 and 2008, it is impossible to claim the obstacle to statehood is anything other than a Palestinian political culture that cannot accept peace with Israel.

Barghouti’s piece draws comparisons between the situation of the Palestinians and the Arab Spring revolts against autocracies throughout the Middle East. He also cites the philosophy of Mohandas Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr., as inspirations for the Palestinians and throws in the tactics of Irish Republican Army terrorists for good measure. Yet the only thing Mubarak’s Egypt, Northern Ireland, British-ruled India and the segregation-era American South have in common is that none of these examples are remotely analogous to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

If, as their repeated refusal to contemplate a peace that includes their recognition of Israel’s legitimacy makes clear, the Palestinians’ ultimate goal is the Jewish state’s destruction, the debate about the use of violence or non-violence merely becomes one of which tactic is more useful to obtain that end. That is an interesting discussion, but it is one that has little to do with peace.

Indeed, rather than focus their non-violent protests against an Israel that is willing to compromise on territory (though perhaps not quite so much as the Palestinians may wish) to obtain peace, what Barghouti and other like-minded Palestinians should do is to conduct a civil disobedience program whose purpose will be to persuade PA President Mahmoud Abbas and his new Hamas allies to go back to the negotiating table and sign a peace that will end the conflict.

Considering the nature of a Palestinian political culture that has always glorified violence and treated the murder of Jews as a source of prestige and legitimacy, such a campaign would be an uphill struggle. And given the ruthlessness with which Abbas and Hamas have always stamped out any dissent from their rule, Barghouti’s reluctance to try their patience with a Gandhi-like campaign is understandable. But anyone who thinks non-violent protest against Israel will help bring peace or Palestinian independence is ignoring the reality of the conflict.

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Slain Iranian Nuclear Scientist’s Goal: Annihilate Israel

If Iran’s goal is to convince the world its nuclear program is not aimed at creating a weapon to use against Israel, it’s going about it the wrong way. Tehran’s government-run Farsi News Agency has published an interview with the widow of one the nuclear scientists who was recently killed under mysterious circumstances that most observers believe is the work of Israel’s Mossad or some group in its employ. But rather than attempt to tug at the heartstrings of the West or to convince the world her husband was innocent of any intention of using his work to attack the Jewish state, Fatemeh Bolouri Kashani’s statement will have quite the opposite effect.

According to Kashani, her late husband, Mostafa Ahmadi Roshan Behdast, a chemistry professor and a deputy director of commerce at Natanz uranium enrichment facility until he was killed last month, had strong feelings about his work: “Mostafa’s ultimate goal was the annihilation of Israel.”

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If Iran’s goal is to convince the world its nuclear program is not aimed at creating a weapon to use against Israel, it’s going about it the wrong way. Tehran’s government-run Farsi News Agency has published an interview with the widow of one the nuclear scientists who was recently killed under mysterious circumstances that most observers believe is the work of Israel’s Mossad or some group in its employ. But rather than attempt to tug at the heartstrings of the West or to convince the world her husband was innocent of any intention of using his work to attack the Jewish state, Fatemeh Bolouri Kashani’s statement will have quite the opposite effect.

According to Kashani, her late husband, Mostafa Ahmadi Roshan Behdast, a chemistry professor and a deputy director of commerce at Natanz uranium enrichment facility until he was killed last month, had strong feelings about his work: “Mostafa’s ultimate goal was the annihilation of Israel.”

Though Iran’s apologists continue to attempt to cast doubt on intelligence sources that have made clear the regime’s goals, what comes out of Tehran continues to feed the world’s fears about the ayatollahs’ intentions. The piece described the late scientist as a “martyr” for Iran. But what is striking about this and other Iranian accounts of the men targeted for assassination because of their work on Iran’s efforts to acquire nuclear weapons is the regime’s lack of interest in trying to prove the victims were working on peaceful uses of nuclear power. It is to be expected that all those speaking to the government-run press in Iran must pay lip service to the regime’s obsession with Israel, but the widow’s statement merely acknowledges what is common knowledge in Iran and elsewhere. Israel remains the focus of the Islamist government’s hate and is the ultimate target of any weapon their scientists can produce.

While some have characterized Israel’s alleged role in the assassinations of Iran’s nuclear scientists as terrorism, the regime makes little secret of their desires. Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei recently said, “The Zionist regime is a cancerous tumor and it will be removed.” When placed in that perspective, any person who was dedicated to Israel’s destruction and who was active in a program whose goal is to place a nuclear weapon in the hands of such a person as Khamenei is committing a crime and should be dealt with in the same manner with which the Obama administration dispatches al-Qaeda terrorists. The targeted killing of Mostafa Ahmadi Roshan Behdast is no different than the terrorists marked for death by American missiles.

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Planned Parenthood Says it Won’t Do Abortions Without Ultrasounds

Pro-choice groups have been pushing back against a Virginia bill that would require women to undergo ultrasounds before an abortion procedure. The complaints are the ultrasounds are needlessly invasive, not medically necessary, and would be forced on women seeking abortions, even if they don’t want them.

This criticism misses one crucial point: Planned Parenthood policy already requires ultrasounds before abortion procedures.

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Pro-choice groups have been pushing back against a Virginia bill that would require women to undergo ultrasounds before an abortion procedure. The complaints are the ultrasounds are needlessly invasive, not medically necessary, and would be forced on women seeking abortions, even if they don’t want them.

This criticism misses one crucial point: Planned Parenthood policy already requires ultrasounds before abortion procedures.

“That’s just the medical standard,” said Adrienne Schreiber, an official at Planned Parenthood’s Washington, D.C., regional office. “To confirm the gestational age of the pregnancy, before any procedure is done, you do an ultrasound.”

According to Schreiber, Planned Parenthood does require women to give signed consent for abortion procedures, including the ultrasound. But if the women won’t consent to the ultrasound, the abortion cannot take place, according to the group’s national standards.

Schreiber said there are several options at that point. If the woman is uncomfortable with a transvaginal ultrasound, which is more invasive, she can wait until the fetus is large enough to opt for a transabdominal ultrasound.

“But if she’s uncomfortable with a transvaginal ultrasound, then she’s not going to be comfortable with an equally invasive abortion procedure,” Schreiber told me.

Planned Parenthood’s policy undermines a key sticking point for the Virginia legislation. Opponents of the mandatory ultrasound bill say the law would take away a woman’s right to consent to an ultrasound.

“Planned Parenthood gets patient consent. Virginia bill requires ultrasound regardless of consent,” Virginia Delegate David Englin, an opponent of the bill, told me yesterday.

While Planned Parenthood technically does get the patient’s consent, it will not go ahead with the abortion procedure without an ultrasound – which, as it so happens, is virtually the same policy that’s proposed in the Virginia bill.

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Leave it to Chris Christie

Leave it to Chris Christie to say what all the other Republican politicians are thinking, but don’t have the guts to say about Warren Buffett:

Piers Morgan: Warren Buffett keeps screaming to be taxed more.

Chris Christie: Yeah, well, he should just write a check and shut up. Really. And just contribute. Okay? I mean, the fact of the matter is, that I’m tired of hearing about it. If he wants to give the government more money, he has the ability to write a check. Go ahead and write it.

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Leave it to Chris Christie to say what all the other Republican politicians are thinking, but don’t have the guts to say about Warren Buffett:

Piers Morgan: Warren Buffett keeps screaming to be taxed more.

Chris Christie: Yeah, well, he should just write a check and shut up. Really. And just contribute. Okay? I mean, the fact of the matter is, that I’m tired of hearing about it. If he wants to give the government more money, he has the ability to write a check. Go ahead and write it.

It’s no wonder Christie is still being asked – by the public and media alike – whether he’ll reconsider and run for president. After a week of Rick Santorum’s gaffes, and Mitt Romney’s floundering, Christie’s interview with Piers Morgan only heightens the sense that the best Republican candidates are not in the race.

So what is it about Christie that makes him so likable, even when he’s taking shots at the opposition? And what exactly does he have that the presidential candidates are lacking?

Obviously there’s his confidence, the sense that he has a real comfort with his own beliefs. He’s grounded enough in his principles to actually listen to the critique from the other side, which is how he ends up cutting through the nonsense that a lot of other politicians overlook or get bogged down in. That solid foundation is missing in both Romney and Gingrich. For Romney, it means he can’t effectively articulate the principles he claims to believe in. For Gingrich, it means he switches sides without explanation when it’s politically opportune.

Gingrich and Santorum also seem to lack Christie’s faith in the rationality of the public. They condescend to voters. Gingrich often panders. Meanwhile, Santorum can come off as bitter and defensive during arguments, giving the impression that he feels his ideas are under siege by a large portion of the public who can’t be reasoned with.

Christie’s strengths are ones most lacking in the current field. And that’s why the calls for him to run won’t let up, even when it’s clearly not going to happen.

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NYTimes: War, Again?

The New York Times has a “news analysis”–usually code for “front-page, signed editorial”–lamenting the American public’s appetite for countering the Iranian regime’s attempts to build nuclear weapons. The conceit of the story is that this is a rerun of the war in Iraq, where the supposed existence of a nuclear weapons program spurred the West to form a coalition to depose Saddam Hussein.

“Echoes of the period leading up to the Iraq war in 2003 are unmistakable,” Scott Shane tells us, “igniting a familiar debate over whether journalists are overstating Iran’s progress toward a bomb.” And who is debating the veracity of reporters’ accounts? “Both the ombudsman of the Washington Post and the public editor of the New York Times in his online blog have scolded their newspapers since December for overstating the current evidence against Iran in particular headlines and stories.” So it is the New York Times accusing the New York Times of beating the drums of war. Let’s take a look at some of the other parallels.

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The New York Times has a “news analysis”–usually code for “front-page, signed editorial”–lamenting the American public’s appetite for countering the Iranian regime’s attempts to build nuclear weapons. The conceit of the story is that this is a rerun of the war in Iraq, where the supposed existence of a nuclear weapons program spurred the West to form a coalition to depose Saddam Hussein.

“Echoes of the period leading up to the Iraq war in 2003 are unmistakable,” Scott Shane tells us, “igniting a familiar debate over whether journalists are overstating Iran’s progress toward a bomb.” And who is debating the veracity of reporters’ accounts? “Both the ombudsman of the Washington Post and the public editor of the New York Times in his online blog have scolded their newspapers since December for overstating the current evidence against Iran in particular headlines and stories.” So it is the New York Times accusing the New York Times of beating the drums of war. Let’s take a look at some of the other parallels.

“The intelligence on weapons of mass destruction, which was one of the Bush administration’s main rationales for the invasion, proved to be devastatingly wrong,” Shane writes. Not just wrong, but devastatingly wrong. I’ll leave it to others to check the Times style guide for the spectrum of wrongness, but “devastatingly wrong” must be among the wrongest you can be, in the Times’s opinion.

Moving on, we’re also experiencing a time “in which each side has only murky intelligence, tempers run high and there is the danger of a devastating outcome,” Shane writes, paraphrasing the opinion of Harvard’s Graham Allison. Well actually, that’s not Allison comparing Iran to Iraq; he’s comparing the Iran conflict to a “slow-motion Cuban Missile Crisis.” Fearing that the analogy is becoming strained, Allison summons a stirring appeal to his own authority: “As a student of history, I’m certainly conscious that when you have heated politics and incomplete control of events, it’s possible to stumble into a war.”

Of course, “heated politics” and “incomplete control of events” are staples of both foreign affairs and domestic politics–something a student of history should probably have picked up on. Unconvinced? Let the common sense of academia wash over you:

“I find it puzzling,” said Richard K. Betts of Columbia University, who has studied security threats since the cold war. “You’d think there would be an instinctive reason to hold back after two bloody noses in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

Still skeptical? What if I told you Betts is a student of history? In fact, he spent the better part of a decade since the Bush administration’s first term as part of something called the “Coalition for a Realistic Foreign Policy,” made up of “scholars, policy makers and concerned citizens united by our opposition to an American empire.” The group was indeed worried about the possibility of an American empire–its statement warning against it used the word “empire” or “imperial” 16 times.

That American empire never came to be, so what else did the Realistic Realists have to say about American foreign policy? In 2005, the group released an open letter criticizing the Bush administration’s support for Israel, saying it hinders our ability to fight al-Qaeda if terrorists see us as “supporting Israel’s continued occupation of Arab lands–including Islam’s third-most holy site in Jerusalem,” and that Bush was too close to Ariel Sharon and other proponents of a “greater Israel.”

As we soon found out, Sharon was actually willing to once and for all bury the idea of a “greater Israel” by initiating his historic disengagement plan, removing every last Jew from Gaza and parts of the West Bank. You might say Betts and his co-authors were devastatingly wrong. You might also be surprised to know that Betts’s co-authors of that letter included John Mearsheimer, Stephen Walt, and Juan Cole. Or you might not be surprised.

In any event, the intelligence on Iran isn’t all that murky. What the Times is saying is that even when we can all agree on what the intelligence shows, we can’t trust it, because of Iraq. The Times is actually building a case here against military action even if Iran is about to achieve nuclear capability. As the article notes, however, that’s a view shared by some academics from Harvard and Columbia, but opposed by a majority of Americans.

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The Establishment, Compromise and Conservatives

Among conservatives today, there’s a phrase that has become an all-purpose term of derision: “the establishment.” The purpose of the charge is to call into question the bona fides of self-proclaimed conservatives and Republicans. The choice is supposed to be between “true” conservatives and “establishment” ones.

I wonder, though, how many conservatives who rail against the establishment these days realize they are appropriating language from the 1960s, when the New Left attacked the authority structures in society and presented themselves as “anti-establishment.” Back in those days, it was conservatism which saw its role to protect society from the radical tendencies of those on the left and defend the beneficial social effects of an establishment. Yet today, even so quintessential an establishment figure as Newt Gingrich explains opposition to his candidacy chiefly in terms of opposition by the “Washington establishment” rising up to block “bold change.”

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Among conservatives today, there’s a phrase that has become an all-purpose term of derision: “the establishment.” The purpose of the charge is to call into question the bona fides of self-proclaimed conservatives and Republicans. The choice is supposed to be between “true” conservatives and “establishment” ones.

I wonder, though, how many conservatives who rail against the establishment these days realize they are appropriating language from the 1960s, when the New Left attacked the authority structures in society and presented themselves as “anti-establishment.” Back in those days, it was conservatism which saw its role to protect society from the radical tendencies of those on the left and defend the beneficial social effects of an establishment. Yet today, even so quintessential an establishment figure as Newt Gingrich explains opposition to his candidacy chiefly in terms of opposition by the “Washington establishment” rising up to block “bold change.”

But that’s where this critique begins to break down. Many members of the conservative establishment, after all, were hoping Mitch Daniels or Paul Ryan would run for president because Daniels and Ryan are arguably the most committed and best informed when it comes to the most urgent and difficult domestic issue of our time, which is reforming the entitlement state, and Medicare in particular.

To complicate things even more: polls tell us that many members of the Tea Party, which embodies anti-establishment feelings, are lukewarm when it comes to reforming programs like Medicare. And many of the loudest voices against the establishment have spent relatively little time laying out the case for structurally reforming Medicare. In fact, some of these conservatives have criticized President Obama for cutting Medicare (albeit to pay for the Affordable Care Act rather than as part of a broader reform agenda).

I wouldn’t deny for a moment that criticisms of the current establishment and political class have some merit. I’d simply suggest that the picture is incomplete. There’s an important role for the establishment in American politics. For one thing, it’s comprised of people who have substantive mastery over issues. Think of the difference between, say, Christine O’Donnell and Herman Cain, who embodied an anti-establishment style but who were not fluent on policy, and Representative Paul Ryan, who qualifies as part of the establishment under any meaningful definition of the term. (Ryan worked at a Washington, D.C. think tank and as a staffer on Capitol Hill in the 1990s, he was elected to Congress in 1998, he’s now chairman of an important committee and is undeniably a part of the governing elite.) The establishment, at its best, provides experience and guidance, a stabilizing presence and a practical (rather than a rigidly ideological) outlook, all of which should appeal to conservatives.

As in so many areas, we can learn something from the wisdom of the founders. In her book “Miracle at Philadelphia,” Catherine Drinker Bowen wrote this:

Most members of the [1787]) Philadelphia Convention … were old hands, politicians to the bone. That some of them happened also to be men of vision, educated in law and the science of government, did not distract them from the matters impending. There was a minimum of oratory or showing off. Each time a member seemed about to soar into the empyrean of social theory — the eighteenth century called it “reason” – somebody brought him round, and shortly. “Experience must be our only guide,” said John Dickinson of Delaware. “Reason may mislead us.”

Many of the most impressive individuals in political history were “establishment” figures, including Burke and Madison. They knew a great deal about government. And very few, if any, of the founders would have would argued that less government experience would make people better fit to govern. It requires a different skill set to comment on politics than it does to govern, including (among other things) the ability to make wise compromises.

Speaking of which: among some conservatives these days “compromise” is considered an offense almost equal to being a member of The Establishment. So it’s once again worth recalling the elegant words of Bowen, who wrote, “In the Constitutional Convention, the spirit of compromise reigned in grace and glory. As Washington presided, it sat on his shoulder like the dove. Men rise to speak and one sees them struggle with the bias of birthright, locality, statehood…. One sees them change their minds, fight against pride and when the moment comes, admit their error.”

To be clear: members of the Washington establishment can be knaves and fools. Compromise can be just another word for capitulation. And there are reasons to be frustrated with the way things are done. At the same time, reflexive attacks on both “the establishment” and compromise are unwise. We were fortunate at the founding of America to have a political class consisting of individuals with governing experience, scholarly insights, and strong convictions. The best among them took the long view. They were conversant in both theory and practice. They were also undeniably members of the establishment of their era. And their compromises – including between those who favored adding a Bill of Rights and those who did not, between big states and small ones, and between northern and southern states – led to the greatest governing charter in history. These things are worth bearing in mind even, and maybe especially, for conservatives.

 

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Which Rick Shows Up Tonight in Arizona?

Tonight’s presidential debate in Mesa, Arizona, is rightly be touted as a crucial moment in the Republican race. Much has changed in the weeks since the GOP candidates were brought together in front of the television cameras. Rick Santorum, whose strong showings in the Florida debates were not thought to signify any real hope of his being the nominee, is now leading in the national polls. Mitt Romney, who was hoping to create an aura of inevitability, is now struggling to stay ahead of Santorum in his home state of Michigan, and Newt Gingrich has sunk to last place in some surveys and must fight the belief he no longer has a ghost of a chance of victory.

But while Santorum will enjoy being in the center of the stage rather, as up until now he has been relegated to the sides, he will also have to cope with being the object of attacks from both Romney and Gingrich in a way that he has never had to deal with in the many debates that have preceded this one. While all the participants, save Ron Paul, have something to prove tonight, the outcome may turn largely on one question: which Rick Santorum shows up in Mesa? Will it be the confident, relaxed and personable Santorum who has done so well in the previous encounters and whose image is as a caring father and clean politician who is not willing to engage in mudslinging? Or will it be the angry culture warrior whose obsessions with gays, contraception and abortion have become the liberal caricature of conservatism in the last week?

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Tonight’s presidential debate in Mesa, Arizona, is rightly be touted as a crucial moment in the Republican race. Much has changed in the weeks since the GOP candidates were brought together in front of the television cameras. Rick Santorum, whose strong showings in the Florida debates were not thought to signify any real hope of his being the nominee, is now leading in the national polls. Mitt Romney, who was hoping to create an aura of inevitability, is now struggling to stay ahead of Santorum in his home state of Michigan, and Newt Gingrich has sunk to last place in some surveys and must fight the belief he no longer has a ghost of a chance of victory.

But while Santorum will enjoy being in the center of the stage rather, as up until now he has been relegated to the sides, he will also have to cope with being the object of attacks from both Romney and Gingrich in a way that he has never had to deal with in the many debates that have preceded this one. While all the participants, save Ron Paul, have something to prove tonight, the outcome may turn largely on one question: which Rick Santorum shows up in Mesa? Will it be the confident, relaxed and personable Santorum who has done so well in the previous encounters and whose image is as a caring father and clean politician who is not willing to engage in mudslinging? Or will it be the angry culture warrior whose obsessions with gays, contraception and abortion have become the liberal caricature of conservatism in the last week?

Santorum will likely be pressed tonight to explain his views on all these issues as well as his views of Satan’s role in public life. The trick for him will be whether he can stick to his views on social issues without coming across as the sort of person whom mainstream America fears will impose his personal beliefs on the nation. Conservatives want a candidate who shares their values, but most Republicans understand the last thing their party needs is to allow the 2012 election to be a referendum on the culture war about sex rather than on President Obama’s failed record on the economy and foreign policy.

Until now, Santorum has had the luxury of being able to concentrate his energies on pointing out the hypocrisy of both Romney and Gingrich on Obamacare and highlighting the weaknesses in their stands on taxes and spending. Tonight it will be his turn to be the focus of attacks, and his reaction to this will be instructive. If he is able to avoid being sidetracked by attacks and to avoid sounding defensive, he can emerge even stronger and place himself in position for a sweep of both Arizona and Michigan.

But if he is goaded into showing us the less attractive side of his personality and comes across as the public scold who will provide Democrats with campaign fodder, it may signal the beginning of the end of his short stay at the top of the GOP race.

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A Bad Week for Santorum

Rick Santorum is trying to dodge questions about a 2008 speech, where he suggested that “Satan” was planning to infiltrate the United States. If he thought he’d be able to avoid addressing this during a general election campaign, he was kidding himself. Americans may be religious, but they’re not looking for a president who chalks up our societal problems to meddling by the devil.

The Satan comments aren’t Santorum’s only problem this week. His alleged private conversation with Sheriff Joe Arpaio about the veracity of Obama’s birth certificate is also something he needs to respond to:

Arpaio said he plans to endorse one of the four remaining GOP candidates in the coming weeks. But the sheriff added he would not make his choice known before he announces the findings of his birth certificate probe at a news conference set for March 1. This endorsement would be his second in the race; in November 2011, he endorsed then-candidate Rick Perry.

Santorum, he said, seemed to have no problem with the nature of his investigation.

“He had no problems with what I told him that I may be doing,” Arpaio told reporters.

The sheriff said he is conducting the investigation after receiving requests from “the Tea Party.”

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Rick Santorum is trying to dodge questions about a 2008 speech, where he suggested that “Satan” was planning to infiltrate the United States. If he thought he’d be able to avoid addressing this during a general election campaign, he was kidding himself. Americans may be religious, but they’re not looking for a president who chalks up our societal problems to meddling by the devil.

The Satan comments aren’t Santorum’s only problem this week. His alleged private conversation with Sheriff Joe Arpaio about the veracity of Obama’s birth certificate is also something he needs to respond to:

Arpaio said he plans to endorse one of the four remaining GOP candidates in the coming weeks. But the sheriff added he would not make his choice known before he announces the findings of his birth certificate probe at a news conference set for March 1. This endorsement would be his second in the race; in November 2011, he endorsed then-candidate Rick Perry.

Santorum, he said, seemed to have no problem with the nature of his investigation.

“He had no problems with what I told him that I may be doing,” Arpaio told reporters.

The sheriff said he is conducting the investigation after receiving requests from “the Tea Party.”

The Birther conspiracies are an embarrassment to conservatives. The paranoid delusions of a fringe few have been a disgrace to the entire conservative brand. If Arpaio wants to endorse Santorum, and Santorum accepts, that’s fine. There’s nothing wrong with that. But if Arpaio did discuss his investigation into Obama’s birth certificate with the candidate, and if Santorum really did have “no problem” with it, that’s a big concern. It’s an issue he’ll need to clarify. Republicans need to know whichever candidate gets the nomination isn’t going to go off the rails and start pandering to the Birther crowd like Donald Trump.

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A Lieutenant Colonel’s Unfounded Accusations

I have previously blogged on the unfounded accusations being made by Lieutenant Colonel Daniel Davis, an army acquisitions officer who claims the entire high command in Afghanistan is guilty of lying because it sees progress, admittedly fragile and reversible, but progress nevertheless. He has been hailed as a great whistle-blower in the New York Times and the halls of Congress, but he is hardly that. Joe Collins, a retired army colonel who now teaches at the National War College, does a masterly job of dismantling Davis’s specious report called, “Dereliction of Duty II.” Collins writes:

I was prepared for a real critique and came away profoundly disappointed. Every veteran has an important story, but this work is a mess. It is not a successor piece to HR McMaster’s book on the Joint Chiefs during Vietnam, or Paul Yingling’s critique of U.S. generalship that appeared in Armed Forces Journal a few years back.

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I have previously blogged on the unfounded accusations being made by Lieutenant Colonel Daniel Davis, an army acquisitions officer who claims the entire high command in Afghanistan is guilty of lying because it sees progress, admittedly fragile and reversible, but progress nevertheless. He has been hailed as a great whistle-blower in the New York Times and the halls of Congress, but he is hardly that. Joe Collins, a retired army colonel who now teaches at the National War College, does a masterly job of dismantling Davis’s specious report called, “Dereliction of Duty II.” Collins writes:

I was prepared for a real critique and came away profoundly disappointed. Every veteran has an important story, but this work is a mess. It is not a successor piece to HR McMaster’s book on the Joint Chiefs during Vietnam, or Paul Yingling’s critique of U.S. generalship that appeared in Armed Forces Journal a few years back.

The entire Collins article is well-worth reading–especially if you hear more congressmen and anti-war critics praising Davis’s supposed truth-telling.

 

 

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