Commentary Magazine


Posts For: February 29, 2012

Romney’s Big Step to the Nomination

Reviewing the exit poll data from last night’s primaries in Arizona and Michigan – which National Journal’s Ron Brownstein does with typical care and insight — it appears as if several things happened. Mitt Romney did well with demographic groups with which he’s done well in the past: voters who are white collar, upper income, college educated, non-evangelical Christians and somewhat conservative/moderate. For example, Romney beat Rick Santorum by roughly 20 percentage points in Oakland County, a white collar suburb outside of Detroit. Among self-identified Republicans in Michigan, Romney beat Santorum by an impressive 13 points (49 percent v. 36 percent).

Rick Santorum, on the other hand, did well, though not great, with people who consider themselves very conservative and who identify themselves as evangelical Christians. But where Santorum was hurt the most was with blue collar voters. He lost to Romney in Macomb County, a white working class suburb outside of Detroit, and barely won in Genesse Country, which incorporates the blue collar city of Flint. In Michigan, Santorum lost to Romney among Catholics (45 v. 37) and women (42 v. 37, including every category of women polled, including working women, single women, and married women). In Arizona in particular, but also in Michigan, Santorum simply was not able to cobble together a coalition that went much beyond the core of the GOP base.

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Reviewing the exit poll data from last night’s primaries in Arizona and Michigan – which National Journal’s Ron Brownstein does with typical care and insight — it appears as if several things happened. Mitt Romney did well with demographic groups with which he’s done well in the past: voters who are white collar, upper income, college educated, non-evangelical Christians and somewhat conservative/moderate. For example, Romney beat Rick Santorum by roughly 20 percentage points in Oakland County, a white collar suburb outside of Detroit. Among self-identified Republicans in Michigan, Romney beat Santorum by an impressive 13 points (49 percent v. 36 percent).

Rick Santorum, on the other hand, did well, though not great, with people who consider themselves very conservative and who identify themselves as evangelical Christians. But where Santorum was hurt the most was with blue collar voters. He lost to Romney in Macomb County, a white working class suburb outside of Detroit, and barely won in Genesse Country, which incorporates the blue collar city of Flint. In Michigan, Santorum lost to Romney among Catholics (45 v. 37) and women (42 v. 37, including every category of women polled, including working women, single women, and married women). In Arizona in particular, but also in Michigan, Santorum simply was not able to cobble together a coalition that went much beyond the core of the GOP base.

The result of this is that Romney has taken another important (if difficult) step to the nomination. Brownstein writes that while turning points have come and gone in this turbulent GOP race, “Mitt Romney’s narrow victory in Tuesday’s Michigan primary may represent a Battle of the Bulge moment in which he has tipped the balance of the fight by demonstrating the ability to amass a slightly broader coalition than his principal rival, Rick Santorum.”

If so, Santorum may live to regret his blistering attack on John F. Kennedy’s speech to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association (the one that almost caused Santorum to vomit) and his widely perceived assault on a college education (accusing President Obama of being a “snob” for encouraging people to go to college). At the most important moment in Santorum’s run for the presidency, when Republicans were willing to give him a fresh second look, he confirmed many of the impressions his critics have of him – that he’s a moralizing figure who sets people on edge rather than puts them at ease. It’s a shame, because Santorum is a man of many impressive parts. But one cannot also help but think the former Pennsylvania senator, who is nothing if not authentic, spoke what was in his heart.

A man like Santorum can play a valuable role in a society and a political movement. Few people in American public life are as willing as Santorum to tether political arguments to moral truths. But on the biggest stage of his life, with a chance for the nomination within his grasp, he simply wasn’t able to summon forth rhetoric that conveyed both moral seriousness and a spirit of grace and winsomeness.

The final word on this part of the contest goes to Romney, who said he didn’t win by a lot, but he won by enough.

 

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Romney Heads to Ohio a Weakened Winner

With polls showing Rick Santorum leading in Ohio, Mitt Romney has no time for a breather after his win last night. His challenge now is to keep up the bruising attacks on Santorum, while avoiding the same gaffes about his personal wealth that hurt him in Michigan:

Like Michigan, Ohio’s economy relies heavily on the auto industry, and Romney’s high-profile opposition of the government bailout of the industry is not likely to be received warmly by many voters. He supported an effort last year by Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R) to restrict public unions’ collective-bargaining rights — an effort that was overwhelmingly overturned in the fall by voters in this union-heavy state. And Romney’s courtship of religious voters by supporting, for instance, an antiabortion “personhood initiative,” risks alienating female voters. …

Perhaps more than anything else, however, Romney’s difficulty connecting with average Americans may hurt him in a state such as Ohio. Romney acknowledged on Tuesday that his gaffes — including mentioning his wife’s “couple of Cadillacs” — have not been helpful to his cause. Republicans in Ohio agreed.

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With polls showing Rick Santorum leading in Ohio, Mitt Romney has no time for a breather after his win last night. His challenge now is to keep up the bruising attacks on Santorum, while avoiding the same gaffes about his personal wealth that hurt him in Michigan:

Like Michigan, Ohio’s economy relies heavily on the auto industry, and Romney’s high-profile opposition of the government bailout of the industry is not likely to be received warmly by many voters. He supported an effort last year by Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R) to restrict public unions’ collective-bargaining rights — an effort that was overwhelmingly overturned in the fall by voters in this union-heavy state. And Romney’s courtship of religious voters by supporting, for instance, an antiabortion “personhood initiative,” risks alienating female voters. …

Perhaps more than anything else, however, Romney’s difficulty connecting with average Americans may hurt him in a state such as Ohio. Romney acknowledged on Tuesday that his gaffes — including mentioning his wife’s “couple of Cadillacs” — have not been helpful to his cause. Republicans in Ohio agreed.

With each victory, Romney has become a weaker general election candidate. He’s unlikely to be attacked for his support for the “personhood initiative” in Ohio, especially because Santorum holds stronger views by comparison. But if he’s goaded into a game of one-upmanship with Santorum on the issue, he could turn off independent voters. Beyond that, Romney’s opponents – both in the GOP field and in the Democratic Party – will jump on any comment that relates to his personal wealth or makes him sound out-of-touch with average voters.

Despite Romney’s weakened status, he’s still arguably the most electable out of the field, and that remains one of his strongest arguments for the nomination. He touched on that in a new ad today, which includes interviews with Democrats who voted for Santorum because they say he’ll be the “weakest” candidate against Obama. This is the point Romney needs to hammer home. If he can quickly convince GOP voters that Santorum is a less viable general election candidate, he’ll be able to stop his own blood loss in the primaries before it does permanent damage.

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Egypt’s Lift on Travel Ban Ends Crisis

Score one for the Obama administration. Egypt has agreed to lift the travel ban on seven Americans charged with a variety of trumped up offenses for promoting democracy. That prevents their being convicted in a show trial and allows them to leave the country. Thus, the administration has avoided an Egyptian hostage crisis.

Unfortunately, there is no indication that the Egyptian government is dropping its case against the many Egyptian co-defendants. The U.S. must continue to exert its muscle to protect those civil society activists from retribution for their admirable activities.

Score one for the Obama administration. Egypt has agreed to lift the travel ban on seven Americans charged with a variety of trumped up offenses for promoting democracy. That prevents their being convicted in a show trial and allows them to leave the country. Thus, the administration has avoided an Egyptian hostage crisis.

Unfortunately, there is no indication that the Egyptian government is dropping its case against the many Egyptian co-defendants. The U.S. must continue to exert its muscle to protect those civil society activists from retribution for their admirable activities.

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Obama Admin Admits Goal Isn’t to Reduce Oil Prices

It’s long been obvious the Obama administration is more interested in reducing oil dependency than reducing gasoline prices. But now Republican operatives have a sound bite to go with it, after Department of Energy Secretary Steven Chu acknowledged the policy while addressing Congress this morning:

But Americans need relief now, Rep. Alan Nunnelee (R-Miss.) said — not high gasoline prices that could eventually push them to alternatives. …

Chu expressed sympathy but said his department is working to lower energy prices in the long term. …

“But is the overall goal to get our price” of gasoline down? asked Nunnelee.

“No, the overall goal is to decrease our dependency on oil, to build and strengthen our economy,” Chu replied. “We think that if you consider all these energy policies, including energy efficiency, we think that we can go a long way to becoming less dependent on oil and [diversifying] our supply and we’ll help the American economy and the American consumers.”

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It’s long been obvious the Obama administration is more interested in reducing oil dependency than reducing gasoline prices. But now Republican operatives have a sound bite to go with it, after Department of Energy Secretary Steven Chu acknowledged the policy while addressing Congress this morning:

But Americans need relief now, Rep. Alan Nunnelee (R-Miss.) said — not high gasoline prices that could eventually push them to alternatives. …

Chu expressed sympathy but said his department is working to lower energy prices in the long term. …

“But is the overall goal to get our price” of gasoline down? asked Nunnelee.

“No, the overall goal is to decrease our dependency on oil, to build and strengthen our economy,” Chu replied. “We think that if you consider all these energy policies, including energy efficiency, we think that we can go a long way to becoming less dependent on oil and [diversifying] our supply and we’ll help the American economy and the American consumers.”

President Obama’s delay on the Keystone XL decision has already shown the administration doesn’t view gas price reduction as a top priority. In fact, they tend to embrace high gas prices as a way to reduce usage in the U.S. (at least in non-election years).

But while Chu’s comments will be attacked by Republicans as an example of Obama’s radical environmental agenda, this may actually end up helping the president. His recent decision to support partial construction on the Keystone XL pipeline has hurt his credibility with environmentalists. Chu’s admission that the administration is still more focused on cutting down on gasoline consumption than lowering prices is a signal to green groups that the administration is still with them in overall policy.

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NYC Teachers’ Union’s First Priority Still Isn’t Students

For the sixth time in recent weeks, an employee of the New York City school system has been arrested for allegedly sexually abusing students. This latest case involved an instructor reportedly forcibly touching a 14-year old student at the High School for Graphic Communication Arts. The city is proud that such cases are down from 2007′s high of 619 complaints; last year there were 561 formal complaints filed, a 9 percent decrease. While not all of these formal complaints were found to be of merit, there are certainly unreported cases each year as well. In the midst of this flurry of negative publicity involving the city’s teachers, the main union representing the city’s teachers is actually on the offensive against the city.

This week, the names and scores of 18,000 of the city’s teachers were published, outraging the city’s teachers’ union that has battled for two years to keep the information private. The New York Times reports:

In the days leading up to the release on Friday of the city’s Teacher Data Reports, which are an effort to assess how much individuals added to the progress of students in their charge, many critics worried about the shame and humiliation low-scoring teachers would be subjected to, especially given the ratings’ wide margins of error.

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For the sixth time in recent weeks, an employee of the New York City school system has been arrested for allegedly sexually abusing students. This latest case involved an instructor reportedly forcibly touching a 14-year old student at the High School for Graphic Communication Arts. The city is proud that such cases are down from 2007′s high of 619 complaints; last year there were 561 formal complaints filed, a 9 percent decrease. While not all of these formal complaints were found to be of merit, there are certainly unreported cases each year as well. In the midst of this flurry of negative publicity involving the city’s teachers, the main union representing the city’s teachers is actually on the offensive against the city.

This week, the names and scores of 18,000 of the city’s teachers were published, outraging the city’s teachers’ union that has battled for two years to keep the information private. The New York Times reports:

In the days leading up to the release on Friday of the city’s Teacher Data Reports, which are an effort to assess how much individuals added to the progress of students in their charge, many critics worried about the shame and humiliation low-scoring teachers would be subjected to, especially given the ratings’ wide margins of error.

Critics of the release are concerned about hurting the feelings of adults who have been told they are not effectively doing their jobs. The formation of the ratings, however, seems more than fair to this former grade school teacher. Forty percent of the score is based on test performance; half of this is based on students’ progress from one year to the next on state standardized tests. The other 20 percent allows school districts to measure achievement based on their own benchmarks, for example,”the progress of specific groups of students, like those who are not proficient in English or have special needs. They also could devise their own tests, or use tests developed by a third party, provided that the tests were approved by the state.”

Teachers often complain about the inability of tests to measure student growth, knowledge and achievement. The ratings aim to make up for this by basing the remaining 60 percent of the rating on principal observations, which teachers then complain are too subjective. If they don’t want tests (even if they design them themselves) and they don’t want observations, how exactly are their performances supposed to be measured?

Teachers who are rated as “ineffective” can appeal to an independent panel and outside observers, in addition to the principals who decided 60 percent of the rating, who would reevaluate performance after a development plan is devised. The real issue, I suspect, is the leverage the scores now gives the city in hiring and firing decisions:

In cases in which the observers back the principals’ findings, the city would move to fire the teacher with a presumption of incompetence and an expedited procedure. Currently, the city has the burden of proof, making dismissal much more difficult.

New York City is famous for its “rubber rooms” – a place for teachers to read, sleep and play games on the city’s payroll to spend the day outside the classroom because they have been deemed unfit to teach. While the rooms have since shuttered, teachers are now assigned office busy work while the Department of Education pursues cases to fire teachers on the basis of incompetence or misconduct, which on average takes 18 months to accomplish.

Unfortunately for New York’s students, their teachers’ union prioritizes keeping every teacher in the classroom and on the payroll, fighting to make sure teachers can hide their incompetence. A recent story from the school district of the city of Rochester exemplifies just how difficult firing teachers for alleged sexual misconduct can be. How many of the teachers with complaints made against them in recent weeks will be kept on the city’s payroll for months or years more, incapable of being fired? How many will be let back into the classroom to perhaps abuse again?

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A Defense of Robocalls to Democrats

As the Romney campaign prepares to make Rick Santorum’s robocalls to Democratic voters a regular issue on the trail, the Santorum campaign tells BuzzFeed’s Rosie Gray that it doesn’t regret the tactic – and may use it in the future:

The robocalls have been seen as something of a flop — attracting too much attention and not turning out enough Democrats to actually tip the scales in favor of Santorum. But two high-level campaign staffers defended the calls and downplayed the controversy surrounding them.

Santorum spokeswoman Alice Stewart said the campaign isn’t concerned about the Romney side’s plans to make the calls more of an issue in the run-up to Super Tuesday. …

She didn’t rule out the possibility of more calls in that vein. “In terms of what we do next in terms of making those particular kinds of calls, we’ll decide that in the next few days.”

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As the Romney campaign prepares to make Rick Santorum’s robocalls to Democratic voters a regular issue on the trail, the Santorum campaign tells BuzzFeed’s Rosie Gray that it doesn’t regret the tactic – and may use it in the future:

The robocalls have been seen as something of a flop — attracting too much attention and not turning out enough Democrats to actually tip the scales in favor of Santorum. But two high-level campaign staffers defended the calls and downplayed the controversy surrounding them.

Santorum spokeswoman Alice Stewart said the campaign isn’t concerned about the Romney side’s plans to make the calls more of an issue in the run-up to Super Tuesday. …

She didn’t rule out the possibility of more calls in that vein. “In terms of what we do next in terms of making those particular kinds of calls, we’ll decide that in the next few days.”

Santorum has nothing to apologize for here. Robocalls that are intentionally designed to cause mischief, a laOperation Hilarity,” are one thing. But it’s hard to criticize Santorum for getting his message out to Democrats, who may honestly be open to supporting a Republican this season. Polls have shown nearly 20 percent of Democrats don’t approve of Obama’s job performance. Reaching out to these people early is just smart politics.

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Time to End the Killing in Syria

Marc Lynch, a blogger and professor of Middle Eastern studies, has penned a lengthy policy brief about Syria for the Center for a New American Security. It is comprised of two parts that appear to be at war with one another. The first part lays out all the reasons why the West must do something about the escalating violence in Syria.

He warns that Syria is descending into a full-blown “internal war” that “could shatter the possibility of a peaceful resolution to the crisis in Syria and reverberate across the region.” He even says “Syria could replicate Lebanon of the 1980s, on steroids.” “Beyond these strategic concerns,” he continues, “there is a humanitarian imperative to help the Syrian people. The horrifying evidence of massacres and regime brutality make it difficult – and wrong – for the world to avert its gaze.”

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Marc Lynch, a blogger and professor of Middle Eastern studies, has penned a lengthy policy brief about Syria for the Center for a New American Security. It is comprised of two parts that appear to be at war with one another. The first part lays out all the reasons why the West must do something about the escalating violence in Syria.

He warns that Syria is descending into a full-blown “internal war” that “could shatter the possibility of a peaceful resolution to the crisis in Syria and reverberate across the region.” He even says “Syria could replicate Lebanon of the 1980s, on steroids.” “Beyond these strategic concerns,” he continues, “there is a humanitarian imperative to help the Syrian people. The horrifying evidence of massacres and regime brutality make it difficult – and wrong – for the world to avert its gaze.”

I couldn’t agree more. Where I disagree is in his recommendations for what to do about this calamity which is now unfolding. He argues against military intervention—even against arming the Syrian opposition—in favor of, you guessed it, more robust diplomacy. He proposes to do the following:

First, the international community should present Assad with an ultimatum: Since Assad can no longer participate in a legitimate Syrian government, he, his vice president and a limited group of top regime officials must resign or be referred to the International Criminal Court for War Crimes (ICC). Second, the international community should continue to tighten the economic and financial sanctions against the Assad regime, its senior leaders and the most senior members of the Syrian military. Third, the international community should conduct a sustained and vigorous effort to isolate the Assad regime diplomatically. Fourth, the international community should strengthen the opposition and encourage it to develop a unified political voice. Finally, the United States and its partners should support a strategic communications campaign to publicize the regime’s atrocities, shame those who continue to support the regime and encourage regime members to defect.

All of these steps are worth taking, but they are not very different from what is currently being done—with scant impact. The Assad regime is able to stay in power because it can count on the loyalty of a substantial portion of its security forces and the backing of unsavory regimes such as Russia and Iran. Lynch himself dismisses airy talk from the administration “that the collapse of the Assad regime is only a matter of time.” He notes, rightly, that “Assad’s fall could take a long time. In the interim, many Syrians will die, and the conflict could evolve into an extended regional proxy war that victimizes the Syrian people.” But if that’s the consequence of our current policy, which is focused exclusively on diplomatic efforts to oust Assad, what reason is there to think more diplomacy will make a difference?

Lynch is right to warn that we need to think through the consequences of various military options such as air strikes, no fly zones, safe havens, and arming of the opposition. All of those policies carry potential downsides that need to be carefully considered. But in the end, I don’t find his objections to any military action terribly compelling, because if we don’t act then we are de facto accepting the unacceptable—i.e., a prolongation of the current civil war, which, aside from being a humanitarian disaster, is likely to further atomize Syrian society and provide an opening for extremists.

No one wants more war. But at this point the international community’s best bet (as it was in Bosnia in 1995 and Kosovo in 1999), is to act to end the killing. Yes, there are significant risks in a post-Assad regime, but by playing an active role in helping the opposition, including providing military help, the U.S. and our allies can win influence to shape the future of Syria.

Lynch himself admits that even if we don’t arm the opposition “arms are likely to flood the country if the civil war continues, regardless of U.S. preferences.” What he neglects to mention is where those arms will come from. A likely source: Gulf regimes such as Qatar and Saudi Arabia and radical groups loosely affiliated with al-Qaeda and its ilk, such as al-Qaeda in Iraq. The longer we stay on the sidelines, the more influence they will exert.

There is no ideal option in Syria, and I commend Lynch for warning about the potential pitfalls of military action, but at this point, I don’t see a good alternative.

 

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Media Undermines its Case Against Israel

The media pressure on Israel to refrain from launching a preemptive strike on Iranian nuclear facilities continues apace. The New York Times and Washington Post each have stories dedicated to either downplaying the Iranian threat or exaggerating the costs of attacking Iran, and both stories undermine their arguments.

First, the Times seeks to lay on the guilt with an article titled “U.S. Sees Iran Attacks as Likely if Israel Strikes.” It is a warning to Israel to consider the fact that the U.S. would also be a target of Iranian attacks if the country’s nuclear installations are bombed. But then the reporters seem to make the opposite case:

While a missile retaliation against Israel would be virtually certain, according to these assessments, Iran would also be likely to try to calibrate its response against American targets so as not to give the United States a rationale for taking military action that could permanently cripple Tehran’s nuclear program. “The Iranians have been pretty good masters of escalation control,” said Gen. James E. Cartwright, now retired, who as the top officer at Strategic Command and as vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff participated in war games involving both deterrence and retaliation on potential adversaries like Iran.

The Iranian targets, General Cartwright and other American analysts believe, would include petroleum infrastructure in the Persian Gulf, and American troops in Afghanistan, where Iran has been accused of shipping explosives to local insurgent forces.

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The media pressure on Israel to refrain from launching a preemptive strike on Iranian nuclear facilities continues apace. The New York Times and Washington Post each have stories dedicated to either downplaying the Iranian threat or exaggerating the costs of attacking Iran, and both stories undermine their arguments.

First, the Times seeks to lay on the guilt with an article titled “U.S. Sees Iran Attacks as Likely if Israel Strikes.” It is a warning to Israel to consider the fact that the U.S. would also be a target of Iranian attacks if the country’s nuclear installations are bombed. But then the reporters seem to make the opposite case:

While a missile retaliation against Israel would be virtually certain, according to these assessments, Iran would also be likely to try to calibrate its response against American targets so as not to give the United States a rationale for taking military action that could permanently cripple Tehran’s nuclear program. “The Iranians have been pretty good masters of escalation control,” said Gen. James E. Cartwright, now retired, who as the top officer at Strategic Command and as vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff participated in war games involving both deterrence and retaliation on potential adversaries like Iran.

The Iranian targets, General Cartwright and other American analysts believe, would include petroleum infrastructure in the Persian Gulf, and American troops in Afghanistan, where Iran has been accused of shipping explosives to local insurgent forces.

That is, Iran may possibly target American troops overseas, which it is already doing. Additionally, the U.S. recently prevented a massive Iranian terrorist operation on U.S. soil, so an attack on the homeland would not be an escalation. And Cartwright’s quote suggests an attack on Iran might have the reverse effect. As does this quote from the story:

Both American and Israeli officials who discussed current thinking on the potential ramifications of an Israeli attack believe that the last thing Iran would want is a full-scale war on its territory…. If Israel did attack, officials said, Iran would be foolhardy, even suicidal, to invite an overpowering retaliation by directly attacking United States military targets — by, for example, unleashing its missiles at American bases on the territory of Persian Gulf allies.

So in fact, an attack on Iran might encourage the Iranians to stand down for fear of inviting more attacks on their soil. The Washington Post story, on the other hand, tries to portray Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as the boy who cried wolf. He’s been warning the world of an Iranian nuclear threat for 16 years now, the article notes. Most of the story is armchair psychoanalysis that is almost entirely irrelevant, now that we know Iran has indeed been working toward a nuclear weapon all these years. The article also spends some time ridiculing the notion that Netanyahu, for some strange reason, believes that as prime minister of Israel his job entails the protection and safety of the Jewish people.

But the last two paragraphs of the story are where the action is. Here’s the first:

Aluf Benn, editor-in-chief of the liberal daily Haaretz, who covered Netanyahu for years as the newspaper’s diplomatic correspondent, said the prime minister had succeeded in shifting the diplomatic conversation, after the Obama administration had been focused previously on peace efforts with the Palestinians. Then, Netanyahu’s rhetoric on Iran was seen as an effort to divert attention from Israeli settlement building in the West Bank, which was loudly opposed by Washington.

Leave aside the fact that Netanyahu’s concentration on Iran “was seen as an effort to divert attention from Israeli settlement building” only by extreme partisans on the left who obsess about Jews adding rooms to their homes in West Bank towns that will be part of Israel in any peace agreement anyway. Also leave aside the fact that anyone who thinks that clearly doesn’t take the Iranian threat seriously, and is thus not paying much attention to reality. The claim itself is disputed by the entire article leading up to it. If Netanyahu has been obsessing about the Iranian threat for 16 years, then it long preceded President Obama’s bizarre decision to pick a fight with Netanyahu about settlements.

And here’s the final paragraph:

“He did a very good job of changing the world’s priorities,” Benn said, “and he achieved that by saber-rattling vis-à-vis Iran. The problem is that you can reach a point when the political price of not going to war becomes too much to bear. If the Iranian nuclear program is a Holocaust, then the question becomes: What did you do, Mr. Netanyahu, to prevent it? You have to deliver.”

Here’s a riddle for you: When, in a democracy, does the political price of not doing something become too much to bear? Answer: When the public overwhelmingly supports that action. The ongoing attempt to paint Netanyahu as the leader of some kind of military junta is exactly the sort of thing you expect to hear from a Haaretz editor, but it’s not something that will earn the Washington Post or its reporter much credibility.

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Obama’s Monday Meeting with Netanyahu

In 2009, after his first White House meeting with Benjamin Netanyahu, Barack Obama told the press he hoped to begin a “serious process of engagement” with Iran within months, and would give Iran “what I believe will be a persuasive argument, that there should be a different course to be taken.” Iran turned out to be uninterested in his argument, much less a serious process of engagement.

On Monday, Obama hopes to make a persuasive argument to continue a course that has now failed for more than three years – a “two track” process of engagement (which has yet to occur) and sanctions (which bite but do not deter). Sanctions failed in North Korea (which produced nuclear weapons notwithstanding), Cuba (where they are going on 50 years), and Iraq (where Saddam profited from them). They may benefit China (who will use them to get better terms from Iran for oil purchases) and Russia (who will benefit, as the largest oil producer in the world, from higher oil prices). They will likely not stop Iran.

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In 2009, after his first White House meeting with Benjamin Netanyahu, Barack Obama told the press he hoped to begin a “serious process of engagement” with Iran within months, and would give Iran “what I believe will be a persuasive argument, that there should be a different course to be taken.” Iran turned out to be uninterested in his argument, much less a serious process of engagement.

On Monday, Obama hopes to make a persuasive argument to continue a course that has now failed for more than three years – a “two track” process of engagement (which has yet to occur) and sanctions (which bite but do not deter). Sanctions failed in North Korea (which produced nuclear weapons notwithstanding), Cuba (where they are going on 50 years), and Iraq (where Saddam profited from them). They may benefit China (who will use them to get better terms from Iran for oil purchases) and Russia (who will benefit, as the largest oil producer in the world, from higher oil prices). They will likely not stop Iran.

Diplomacy is unlikely to succeed without the “triple track” process recommended by the Bipartisan Policy Center earlier this month, which adds a third track to the first two: “credible, visible preparations for military action on the part of the United States or Israel.” But not only has the Obama administration failed to adopt a third track; it has gone out of its way to reject it. It says all options are on the table, but has studiously avoided any commitment to actually use the ultimate one. It publicly lectures Israel against using it itself.

It has been clear for a long time – well before Benjamin Netanyahu became prime minister – that Israel will not stand by as Iran becomes capable of producing sufficient material for a nuclear weapon, much less actually construct one. In Statecraft, his book published in 2007, the year before he became one of Obama’s principal foreign policy advisers, Dennis Ross wrote as follows:

As one leading Israeli defense official said to me, “We think the Iranians intend to use nuclear weapons against us, and we won’t wait for that to happen.” The Israeli impulse toward preemption is likely to be on a hair trigger should its leaders come to believe that Iran is on the verge of producing fissile material by itself. That, alone, argues for preventing Iran’s acquisition of such a capability. [Emphasis added]

The current argument by U.S. intelligence officials that there is no “hard” evidence Iran has made a “final” decision to build a bomb is beside the point. Israel focuses on capability, and its red line is set before Iran actually starts building a bomb. It is unlikely to allow Iran to complete an underground facility that can produce fissile material unobserved and effectively safe from attack, any more than it allowed Iraq and Syria to finish their facilities.

In Monday’s meeting, Netanyahu will likely seek to have the U.S.  add the third track and set a deadline for force — as the last best chance for diplomacy to succeed and the assurance that, if it does not, the final option on the table to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran will in fact be taken.

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The Candidates’ Wives

Out of all the speakers last night, Ann Romney stole the show when she gave an introduction of her husband, replete with an impossibly long thank you list for their Michigan victory:

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Out of all the speakers last night, Ann Romney stole the show when she gave an introduction of her husband, replete with an impossibly long thank you list for their Michigan victory:

Ann has a personal confidence and easy rapport with the audience that her husband, as much as he’s improved as a speaker, has never been able to master. She’s just likeable. When you see her speak, you think, “Well, I guess if she married him, he can’t be all bad.” And Mitt seems to realize his good fortune. As Jonathan tweeted last night, “Mitt looks at Ann the way Nancy looked at Ronald Reagan.”

Meanwhile, Rick Santorum took some time during his concession speech to talk about the “strong women” in his own life, a well-timed move considering that his controversial comments on women in the workplace are still getting picked over by pundits. It was a way for Santorum to try to erase the perception that he’s anti-women, without directly mentioning any hot-button topics. Here’s what he had to say about his mother, a woman who juggled a career and her family at a time when doing both was rare:

But my mom’s in a very — well, unusual person for her time. She’s someone who — who did get a college education in the — in the 1930s, and was a nurse, and got a graduate’s degree, even, as a nurse, and worked full time. And when she married my dad, they worked together at the Veterans Administration. That’s where they met, right after the war.

And later on, they were — they had me and the rest of the family, my brother and sister, and my mom continued to work. She worked all of my childhood years. She balanced time, as my dad did, working different schedules, and she was a very unusual person at that time. She was a professional who actually made more money than her husband.

I grew up with a very strong mom, someone who was a professional person who taught me a lot of things about how to balance work and family, and doing it well, and doing it with a big heart and commitment.

Santorum also spoke about his wife Karen, and her own decision to give up her career to raise her children:

You know, that’s probably one of the reasons that I ended up marrying the person I married here, Karen, someone… someone who’s as strong as they get, someone who is — I met when we were — when she was just about to start the practice of law and I was doing the same. I recruited her, in more ways than one, to my law firm.

Karen was a professional, worked as a nurse for nine years, and then after that, she — she — we got married, and she walked away. And she decided to stay home and raise her children, but she didn’t quit working, obviously. Raising seven children is a lot of work, but she found time also to be an author of two books, those books about — really went to the heart of the family and something that she knows a lot about.

Santorum should be telling these stories whenever he gets a chance, because they’ll help dispel the notion he’s uncomfortable with women in the workplace. As he’s said in the past, he doesn’t object to women working, but to the idea that a career is the sole path to fulfillment.

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Sabbath Observing Texas High School Does More for Faith Than Tebow

The role of faith in the public square has become an issue in the presidential campaign recently, but no candidate has done more to advance the cause of freedom of religion in this country than a Houston-area Jewish school. The Robert M. Beren Academy had won a chance to play in the state’s parochial school basketball championships semi-finals this weekend. But since their game is scheduled for Friday night during the observance of the Sabbath, the team will not compete.While the Texas Association of Private and Parochial Schools is facing some justified criticism for its refusal to make any accommodation for the Jewish team, the honor the school will win for standing up for their principles far exceeds any glory they might have gotten by playing the game.

The Anti-Defamation League has weighed in on the controversy and asked the organizers of the championships to bend a little and find a way to reconfigure their schedule to allow the Beren Academy their chance. The group’s position is the same rules should apply to all schools, but Beren’s win in the state quarterfinals was made possible because their opponent, Our Lady of the Hills, which is a Catholic school, were willing to move the starting time up last Friday to the afternoon before the Sabbath started. But because the private and parochial school group is a voluntary rather than a state-run outfit, the Jewish school cannot legally demand a reasonable accommodation. The association’s decision seems hard-hearted. But if they choose not to budge, it must be acknowledged that sometimes there is a price to be paid for loyalty to faith and principle. That’s disappointing for the kids at Beren, but it’s also something for them to be proud of.

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The role of faith in the public square has become an issue in the presidential campaign recently, but no candidate has done more to advance the cause of freedom of religion in this country than a Houston-area Jewish school. The Robert M. Beren Academy had won a chance to play in the state’s parochial school basketball championships semi-finals this weekend. But since their game is scheduled for Friday night during the observance of the Sabbath, the team will not compete.While the Texas Association of Private and Parochial Schools is facing some justified criticism for its refusal to make any accommodation for the Jewish team, the honor the school will win for standing up for their principles far exceeds any glory they might have gotten by playing the game.

The Anti-Defamation League has weighed in on the controversy and asked the organizers of the championships to bend a little and find a way to reconfigure their schedule to allow the Beren Academy their chance. The group’s position is the same rules should apply to all schools, but Beren’s win in the state quarterfinals was made possible because their opponent, Our Lady of the Hills, which is a Catholic school, were willing to move the starting time up last Friday to the afternoon before the Sabbath started. But because the private and parochial school group is a voluntary rather than a state-run outfit, the Jewish school cannot legally demand a reasonable accommodation. The association’s decision seems hard-hearted. But if they choose not to budge, it must be acknowledged that sometimes there is a price to be paid for loyalty to faith and principle. That’s disappointing for the kids at Beren, but it’s also something for them to be proud of.

In his book The Gift of Rest, Senator Joseph Lieberman spoke of the beauty of Sabbath observance. But he also demonstrated that his insistence on not working or conducting business as usual for the 25 hours that stretch from sundown on Friday to the appearance of the first star on Saturday has won him the respect of the non-Jewish majority in his state and the nation. There are times when being faithful to one’s principles will necessitate sacrifice, and it’s a shame the kids at Beren are learning that this week. Yet, in refusing to bend to the dictates of the majority, they have done more to honor the cause of faith than the histrionics of football star Tim Tebow. No matter who wins the state basketball championship in Texas this year, the Beren team is the true champion.

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