Commentary Magazine


Posts For: March 4, 2012

White House Launches Hamfisted Campaign to Silence Iran Critics

President Obama tried to water down congressional sanctions last year and then declined to implement them last week, part of a long-term policy that leaves pressuring Iran to “leaders in Congress and Europe.” And because the administration has a political interest in convincing voters that it’s taking a hardline stance on Iran, it has a rhetorical and argumentative interest in silencing the critics who (a) point out how the opposite is true and (b) urge the president to do more.

Because intimidation comes naturally to this White House – witness last week’s demagoguery of the Koch Brothers and on birth control – their pushbacks have been marked by vague warnings delivered in tones of great significance. In his AIPAC speech this morning, Obama literally blamed high gas prices on Iran critics. Because why not?

I would ask that we all remember the weightiness of these issues, the stakes involved for Israel, for America, and for the world. Already, there is too much loose talk of war. Over the last few weeks, such talk has only benefited the Iranian government, by driving up the price of oil, which they depend on to fund their nuclear program. For the sake of Israel’s security, America’s security and the peace and security of the world, now is not the time for bluster.

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President Obama tried to water down congressional sanctions last year and then declined to implement them last week, part of a long-term policy that leaves pressuring Iran to “leaders in Congress and Europe.” And because the administration has a political interest in convincing voters that it’s taking a hardline stance on Iran, it has a rhetorical and argumentative interest in silencing the critics who (a) point out how the opposite is true and (b) urge the president to do more.

Because intimidation comes naturally to this White House – witness last week’s demagoguery of the Koch Brothers and on birth control – their pushbacks have been marked by vague warnings delivered in tones of great significance. In his AIPAC speech this morning, Obama literally blamed high gas prices on Iran critics. Because why not?

I would ask that we all remember the weightiness of these issues, the stakes involved for Israel, for America, and for the world. Already, there is too much loose talk of war. Over the last few weeks, such talk has only benefited the Iranian government, by driving up the price of oil, which they depend on to fund their nuclear program. For the sake of Israel’s security, America’s security and the peace and security of the world, now is not the time for bluster.

Lest you think this warning was anything but a calculated brushback, here’s Anthony Blinken, National Security Advisor to Vice President Biden and Deputy Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs, telling pro-Israel advocates last week that the Israelis may want to consider that Obama’s going to be reelected… if they know what’s good for them:

And he was unusually blunt about the partisan political attacks on the president’s Middle East record: he said what could really harm U.S.-Israeli relations and Israel’s national security is “subjecting either to the vagaries of partisan politics or election year talking points….” He also noted, without explicitly directing his comments at anyone in particular, that “there is a decent chance that the Obama-Biden administration will be around next November, so folks who are looking how to address these issues should probably factor that in as a reasonable possibility.”

Nice country you’ve got there. It’d be a shame if anything happened to it. How thoroughly charming.

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Does Obama Want to Contain a Nuclear-Capable Iran?

President Obama clarified today that he’s looking to prevent, not contain, a nuclear-armed Iran, during his speech to AIPAC. While this was a welcome acknowledgement, it’s not particularly meaningful. Containment policy toward Iran has become so unpalatable that even American apologists for the Iranian regime rarely openly advocate it in mainstream discourse.

Instead, these regime allies promote a different kind of containment policy: containment of a nuclear-capable Iran. In other words, the bomb is the redline – but everything that Iran does leading up to the bomb, including high-level enrichment, is acceptable.

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President Obama clarified today that he’s looking to prevent, not contain, a nuclear-armed Iran, during his speech to AIPAC. While this was a welcome acknowledgement, it’s not particularly meaningful. Containment policy toward Iran has become so unpalatable that even American apologists for the Iranian regime rarely openly advocate it in mainstream discourse.

Instead, these regime allies promote a different kind of containment policy: containment of a nuclear-capable Iran. In other words, the bomb is the redline – but everything that Iran does leading up to the bomb, including high-level enrichment, is acceptable.

This strategy brings Iran within arms-length of obtaining a nuclear weapon (which is also well after Israel would have the ability to take military action). And it gives regime apologists more time to argue that a nuclear-armed Iran is less of a threat to the world than commonly believed.

The National Iranian-American Council, an American group that advocates for pro-regime policies, has been one of the most vocal supporters of this policy of containing a “nuclear-capable” Iran. The organization has pushed back against a Senate resolution that would specify Iran’s capability to build a weapon as a redline:

“This measure contradicts and confuses the existing United States ‘redline’ that Iranian acquisition of a nuclear weapon is unacceptable. Instead of reinforcing existing standards, the measure lowers the bar to assert that even the capability to pursue a nuclear weapon would be grounds for war.  This is dangerous policy to be toying with.

“Acquisition is very different from capability.  Nuclear weapons capability is a nebulous term that could theoretically be applied to every state from Canada to the Netherlands that possesses civilian nuclear capabilities.  We should not be staking questions of war on such a shaky foundation.”

So while Obama was right to reject containment of a nuclear-armed Iran today, it’s noteworthy (and concerning) that he declined to rule out containment of a nuclear-capable Iran:

Iran’s leaders should know that I do not have a policy of containment; I have a policy to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. And as I’ve made clear time and again during the course of my presidency, I will not hesitate to use force when it is necessary to defend the United States and its interests.

Trita Parsi, the president of NIAC, praised Obama for keeping the door open to containment. He wrote in the Huffington Post today:

The Obama administration puts the red line not at enrichment — which is permitted under international law — but at nuclear weapons. This is a clearer, more enforceable red line that also has the force of international law behind it.

While expressing his sympathy and friendship with Israel, Obama did not yield his red line at AIPAC. With the backing of the U.S. military, he has stood firm behind weaponization rather than weapons capability as the red line.

The fact that the head of NIAC drew this conclusion from the president’s AIPAC speech is something that should deeply worry supporters of Israel.

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German Paper: North Korea Tested Nuclear Warhead for Iran

Blogger John Galt picks up this story from the Austrian newspaper Wiener Zietung:

North Korea detonated two secret tests of atomic warheads with highly enriched uranium in 2010, according to a German press report. The newspaper Welt am Sonntag reported with reference to western security circles, as some secret services assumed that the government in P’yongyang at least one of these tests had carried out for the Iranians. This would mean that Teheran, with North Korean aid, has constructed and already tested an atomic warhead. According to the newspaper Welt am Sonntag, this assumption is based on data of the Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO).

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Blogger John Galt picks up this story from the Austrian newspaper Wiener Zietung:

North Korea detonated two secret tests of atomic warheads with highly enriched uranium in 2010, according to a German press report. The newspaper Welt am Sonntag reported with reference to western security circles, as some secret services assumed that the government in P’yongyang at least one of these tests had carried out for the Iranians. This would mean that Teheran, with North Korean aid, has constructed and already tested an atomic warhead. According to the newspaper Welt am Sonntag, this assumption is based on data of the Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO).

Nothing but nothing will get Iran’s media and academic apologists to admit that the mullahs are pursuing a nuclear weapon. Their newest semantic trick is to post up on the word “building” and insist that the Iranians aren’t physically constructing a bomb, which is silly inasmuch as of course it’s true. They’re merely building all the parts that go into creating a nuclear weapon – detonators, warheads, highly enriched nuclear material – and when those are finished, then they’ll assemble them all together.

But the apologists are part of a coordinated campaign to downplay the Iranian threat. They’ve got their talking points, and they’re going to push them. And – when Iran does go nuclear – these self-styled experts will transition seamlessly to insisting that Iran will never use the nuclear weapons that they said Iran was never going to build.

Meanwhile, the administration is misleading the public about Iran’s hegemonic intentions and regional posture, according to the inside-baseball security bulletin NightWatch:

The U.S. spokesman said there was nothing particularly noteworthy about the latest deployment of the warships. That statement is not accurate because the Iranians showed they are prepared to use military power, such as it is, in support of their allies. That is not a trivial demonstration of intent. The navy’s execution seems to have fallen short, but the leadership’s intention is clear, which is backed up by the decision to cut crude exports to France and the UK. Iranian threats look serious, never mind that they also are potentially suicidal.

The hope, of course, is that the administration is just being disingenuous. The president’s bumbling diplomacy has resulted in an Iran that’s able to deploy warships on behalf of allies and a regional situation amenable to same. So the White House obviously has an interest in waving that away.

But there’s always the possibility they really do believe having Iranian ships deployed in the eastern Mediterranean on behalf of Syria is just how things are. That would be worrisome. The next step after helping allies is targeting enemies, and Iran has already threatened to use its naval assets to start a war with Israel. So it would be better if the White House does in fact understand the significance of Iran’s naval deployments, is planning accordingly, and is just lying to the rest of us about it.

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Assad Forces Brag About Mass “Cleansing”

The Obama administration has begun planning how they’re going to prevent Bashar al-Assad’s chemical weapons from falling into terrorist hands. If they succeed, it’ll be the first time, and meanwhile, the president’s continuing flirtation with the Muslim Brotherhood is chilling the chances for any U.S./Russian cooperation on Syria:

A key problem, however, is that we have put our chips on Muslim Brotherhood groups and the brokerage of the Erdogan government in Turkey. That is a very bad policy move, one guaranteed to generate enemies (Russia, China, Iran) for our non-policy policy while giving nations like Saudi Arabia less reason to endorse our activities… If the U.S. policy were to fence in and discourage the Muslim Brotherhood, while bolstering liberalizing elements instead — elements that exist in every nation of the Middle East – we would make it more desirable for a nation like Russia to collaborate with us on the Syria problem.

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The Obama administration has begun planning how they’re going to prevent Bashar al-Assad’s chemical weapons from falling into terrorist hands. If they succeed, it’ll be the first time, and meanwhile, the president’s continuing flirtation with the Muslim Brotherhood is chilling the chances for any U.S./Russian cooperation on Syria:

A key problem, however, is that we have put our chips on Muslim Brotherhood groups and the brokerage of the Erdogan government in Turkey. That is a very bad policy move, one guaranteed to generate enemies (Russia, China, Iran) for our non-policy policy while giving nations like Saudi Arabia less reason to endorse our activities… If the U.S. policy were to fence in and discourage the Muslim Brotherhood, while bolstering liberalizing elements instead — elements that exist in every nation of the Middle East – we would make it more desirable for a nation like Russia to collaborate with us on the Syria problem.

On the ground, Assad’s regime is digging in for a long-term Bosnia-style war and is bragging about mass “cleansing,” months after the Arab League already declared the conflict a “genocide”:

The Syrian regime showed a new determination Wednesday to crush its opponents, vowing to “cleanse” a rebel-held district in the besieged central city of Homs after nearly four weeks of shelling. Government troops massed outside the embattled neighborhood of Baba Amr, raising fears among activists of an imminent ground invasion that could endanger thousands of residents, as well as two trapped Western journalists, who have been under heavy bombardment.

It’s a small point in the greater disaster that is Syria, and it’s impossible to prove inasmuch as it is a counter-factual, but: had human rights organizations spent the last two decades focusing on Syria instead of obsessing over Israel, maybe – maybe – some of this could have been avoided. Giving those groups the benefit of the doubt, they merely were spectacularly wrong about where the greatest threat to human rights was centered.

A similar argument holds, by-the-by, for the not insignificant swaths of the Democratic Party who thought Assad was some kind of “reformer.” Their “smart power” foreign policy acumen seems to have gotten this one wrong.

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Obama’s Telling Silence

The Palestinian refusal to recognize Israel as a Jewish State – reiterated last month by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas – is the core of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Huge majorities of Palestinians refuse to accept “Israel as the homeland for the Jewish people,” instead keeping alive the dream of demographically overrunning Israel and restoring the land to some kind of pre-1948 utopia with bucolic post-Ottoman architecture and no running water. The erstwhile Palestinian negotiating position – “recognize Israel, but not as a Jewish State, in exchange for maximum territorial concessions” – very deliberately preserves the ideological basis for future war against the Jewish State. That’s why recognition of Israel’s Jewish character has been a central Israeli demand since at least the Olmert government.

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The Palestinian refusal to recognize Israel as a Jewish State – reiterated last month by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas – is the core of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Huge majorities of Palestinians refuse to accept “Israel as the homeland for the Jewish people,” instead keeping alive the dream of demographically overrunning Israel and restoring the land to some kind of pre-1948 utopia with bucolic post-Ottoman architecture and no running water. The erstwhile Palestinian negotiating position – “recognize Israel, but not as a Jewish State, in exchange for maximum territorial concessions” – very deliberately preserves the ideological basis for future war against the Jewish State. That’s why recognition of Israel’s Jewish character has been a central Israeli demand since at least the Olmert government.

The French long ago came around to Israel’s position on recognition, with Foreign Minister Alain Juppe establishing it in a speech and then circulating the text for emphasis. President Obama, in his AIPAC speech today, pointedly did not. From the prepared text:

That’s why – just as we encourage Israel to be resolute in the pursuit of peace – we have continued to insist that any Palestinian partner must recognize Israel’s right to exist, reject violence, and adhere to existing agreements. And that is why my administration has consistently rejected any efforts to short-cut negotiations or impose an agreement on the parties.

The omission wasn’t an accident. The Palestinians’ refusal to recognize Israel’s Jewish character came up last time Prime Minister Netanyahu was in town as well. And if I heard Obama correctly, the line was even more awkward as delivered. It came out something like: “… must recognize Israel [clumsy, halting full stop].” I may be misremembering though, simply because it sounded so stilted to have the usual phrase – “recognize Israel, as a Jewish State” – just hanging there, half-delivered.

This issue matters. If it was a minor rhetorical matter – as Palestinian apologists blandly insist – then the Palestinians would accept the Israeli position and reap the subsequent propaganda windfall. Instead, they’ve outright ruled out recognizing Israel as a Jewish State again and again. The terms under which they want peace are ones that leave available the central pretext for war.

Just to be clear: the president certainly recognizes Israel as a Jewish State. He just doesn’t seem to think the Palestinians should have to. That’s a recipe for continued distrust between America and the Jewish State – the Israelis will find themselves unable to rely on American backing on even the most basic issues – which in turn will ensure that the peace process remains moribund.

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What’s Missing From Obama’s AIPAC Speech? Red Lines on Iran and Palestinians

President Obama’s charm offensive with Jewish voters was again in evidence today during his speech to the AIPAC conference. The president’s bragging of his “deeds” left little doubt that his desire to be seen as Israel’s best friend ever in the White House is due to fears of a decline in support from Jewish voters this year. Obama’s doubling down on his tough rhetoric on Iran — he specifically disavowed any thought of “containing” Tehran — and the complete absence in the speech of any of any interest in pressuring Israel to make concessions to the Palestinians– (a hallmark of his administration’s policies during his first three years in office) was a signal defeat for Jewish leftists like the J Street lobby that once hoped to wean the Democrats from AIPAC.

But even more significant was the fact that despite his repeated vows to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, there was little indication that Obama is prepared to make the leap from talking about the danger to actually doing something. His call for continued efforts towards negotiations on the issue undermined all the hard line rhetoric intended to appease wavering Jewish Democrats. Though his campaign will spin this speech as more proof that Obama has “Israel’s back,” Iran’s leaders may read it very differently and assume they are free to go on building their weapon with little fear the U.S. really is contemplating the use of force.

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President Obama’s charm offensive with Jewish voters was again in evidence today during his speech to the AIPAC conference. The president’s bragging of his “deeds” left little doubt that his desire to be seen as Israel’s best friend ever in the White House is due to fears of a decline in support from Jewish voters this year. Obama’s doubling down on his tough rhetoric on Iran — he specifically disavowed any thought of “containing” Tehran — and the complete absence in the speech of any of any interest in pressuring Israel to make concessions to the Palestinians– (a hallmark of his administration’s policies during his first three years in office) was a signal defeat for Jewish leftists like the J Street lobby that once hoped to wean the Democrats from AIPAC.

But even more significant was the fact that despite his repeated vows to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, there was little indication that Obama is prepared to make the leap from talking about the danger to actually doing something. His call for continued efforts towards negotiations on the issue undermined all the hard line rhetoric intended to appease wavering Jewish Democrats. Though his campaign will spin this speech as more proof that Obama has “Israel’s back,” Iran’s leaders may read it very differently and assume they are free to go on building their weapon with little fear the U.S. really is contemplating the use of force.

The first conclusion to be drawn from the speech is that Obama’s all-out effort to create more distance between the U.S. and Israel and to hound the Israelis to make concessions on borders, Jerusalem and settlements is dead for the moment. A re-elected Obama may take up this dead-end argument with Israel again this year, but for now, all that is forgotten. This is a crushing blow to J Street, who wrongly interpreted the 2008 election as signaling the end of the pro-Israel consensus in this country. Obama’s focus on Iran shows not only is he aware of the potential for a significant loss in his percentage of the Jewish vote this year, but that he must ignore those left-wingers calling for a less tough stand on Iran if he is to maintain the Democrats’ Jewish advantage.

But this renewed charm offensive should not be mistaken for a coherent strategy on Iran. The ayatollahs have been listening to Obama’s tough talk about them for years. But unlike those who may take the president’s claims about all his administration has done on the issue at face value, they have not forgotten years of Obama’s effort to “engage” them as well as a feckless diplomatic campaign that has not scared them much. The president’s Jewish admirers may believe his assertion that Russia and China have joined his coalition to isolate Iran, but the ayatollahs know that both countries are opposed to any further sanctions and that China stands ready to buy the oil the U.S. and Europe might boycott later this year.

Moreover, their ears must have lit up when in the course of a speech aimed at proving how little daylight exists between the administration and Israel, they heard the president continuing to argue in favor of further diplomacy. The Iranians regard any further negotiations as merely another opportunity to run out the diplomatic clock as they get closer to realizing their nuclear ambitions. The assumption that reliance on sanctions or more talking can get the Iranians to back down is without substance.

They also noticed what Obama’s Democratic cheerleaders will diligently try to ignore: the absence in the speech of any indication that the United States is willing to lay down “red lines” that mark the limit of how far Iran may go without obligating Washington to take action. Though the president deprecated the “loose talk” about war that has been heard lately, the only way to avoid such a conflict is to demonstrate to Iran that if it continues, as it has, to increase its efforts toward nuclear capability, it will bring down upon itself the wrath of the West.

Obama rightly restated the proposition that an Iranian nuclear weapon posed a threat to the United States and the West as much as it does to Israel. The logic of Obama’s rhetoric about the folly of containment — a point many in his administration don’t seem to accept — ought to point him toward abandoning his faith in a diplomatic effort that was doomed even before he began repeating the mistakes of the Bush administration on Iran.

Despite all the happy talk about Obama emanating from Israeli sources at AIPAC, Prime Minister Netanyahu understands that a policy of waiting for the U.S. to take action on Iran is tantamount to a decision to sit back and wait for Tehran to announce it has a bomb. Though there is no telling yet what Netanyahu’s decision on striking Iran may turn out to be, Israel’s friends can take little comfort from the president’s speech.

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J Street Spin Can’t Obscure Obama’s Jewish Vote Troubles

The left-wing J Street lobby has failed to gain much traction on Capitol Hill in its four years of existence. So it was hardly surprising that it would attempt to gain some publicity on the eve of the annual conference of AIPAC, the organization it once hoped to supplant. The group released a memo by its pollster Jim Gerstein that, it claims, debunks the notion that President Obama is in any danger of losing his stranglehold on the Jewish vote this fall.

Gerstein’s numbers and analysis are, however, merely a rehashing of much of what we already knew about the Jewish vote. It also largely mischaracterizes the debate about the issue. No one is disputing that Obama or any Democrat with a pulse will get a majority of Jewish votes in 2012. But neither is there much doubt that there is much chance that he will not get the same 78 percent of Jewish support that he got in 2008. The question is, after three years of distancing himself from Israel and engaging in disputes with the Jewish state, how big will be the drop off this year? The jury is obviously still out on that, but Gerstein’s assumption that it will not be much seems unfounded. Equally unreliable, as well as telling, is his argument that few Jews vote on the basis of U.S. policy toward Israel. Given the all-out charm offensive that the Obama administration has been directing toward Jewish voters in the last few months — which will reach another crescendo today as President Obama addresses the AIPAC Conference — it would seem the White House has a different view of the question than its J Street idolaters.

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The left-wing J Street lobby has failed to gain much traction on Capitol Hill in its four years of existence. So it was hardly surprising that it would attempt to gain some publicity on the eve of the annual conference of AIPAC, the organization it once hoped to supplant. The group released a memo by its pollster Jim Gerstein that, it claims, debunks the notion that President Obama is in any danger of losing his stranglehold on the Jewish vote this fall.

Gerstein’s numbers and analysis are, however, merely a rehashing of much of what we already knew about the Jewish vote. It also largely mischaracterizes the debate about the issue. No one is disputing that Obama or any Democrat with a pulse will get a majority of Jewish votes in 2012. But neither is there much doubt that there is much chance that he will not get the same 78 percent of Jewish support that he got in 2008. The question is, after three years of distancing himself from Israel and engaging in disputes with the Jewish state, how big will be the drop off this year? The jury is obviously still out on that, but Gerstein’s assumption that it will not be much seems unfounded. Equally unreliable, as well as telling, is his argument that few Jews vote on the basis of U.S. policy toward Israel. Given the all-out charm offensive that the Obama administration has been directing toward Jewish voters in the last few months — which will reach another crescendo today as President Obama addresses the AIPAC Conference — it would seem the White House has a different view of the question than its J Street idolaters.

One of the main fallacies in Gerstein’s memo seems to be his assertion that the Republicans are unlikely to do better in 2012 with Jewish voters than they did in their 2010 midterm landslide. Gerstein rightly says that the Democrats held most of the Jewish vote in 2010 even as they were getting slaughtered nationally. But the 2010 ballot was largely a referendum on Obama’s domestic policies like ObamaCare that were far more popular among Jews than among the general population. The presidential vote this year will provide pro-Israel Jewish moderates and Democrats an opportunity to register their dismay at Obama’s attitude toward Israel prior to his re-election campaign. Though he attempts to ignore data that contradicts his predictions, such as the Pew Research Study that showed a dramatic decline in Jewish affiliation toward the Democrats in the last four years, the administration’s obvious concern about the Jewish vote this year belies Gerstein’s false optimism on this score.

Gerstein is right when he says that Democrats retain the almost blind loyalty of a majority of American Jews. As I write in my feature in the March issue of COMMENTARY, “Jews, Money and 2012,” there is virtually nothing Obama could do or say in the next eight months that would cause him to get less than 50-60 percent of the Jewish vote. But the difference between that base line and the 78 percent he got in 2008 is very much up for grabs. Though those numbers may not be enormous, contrary to Gerstein’s argument, they are enough to make a difference in a number of crucial states such as Florida and Pennsylvania.

President Obama’s fortunes are on the upswing due to slightly better economic numbers and the fallout from a bitter Republican primary battle. But it’s a long way to November, and the standoff with Iran and the president’s willingness to back up his talk on the nuclear question with action, will have a major impact on the Jewish vote this year. The potential for a significant drop off from Obama’s 78 percent — especially if the GOP nominates a candidate not identified with the Christian right — is something that more realistic Democratic sources than J Street and Gerstein are right to take very seriously.

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Romney’s Real Riches

I don’t care how many Cadillacs Mitt Romney owns, how many earmarks he requested, or how many individual mandates he approved. This is an extraordinary man.

We first heard about it in the 2008 campaign: how Romney saved the teenaged daughter of a Bain Capital colleague in 1996. Here’s what Mitt did when he learned the girl had gone missing after sneaking from her home in Connecticut to a party in New York City: he shut down the whole office and flew the staff from Boston to New York; he had fliers printed up and got employees at Duane Reade (in which Bain invested) to stuff one into every customer’s bag; he set up a phone hotline; he personally, along with his Bain people and their New York accountants and lawyers, pounded the city’s pavements looking for the girl and asking teenagers if they’d seen her. After a few days of all this – and the publicity it generated – they traced the hotline call of someone asking for a reward and found the girl, who had overdosed on Ecstasy, in the basement of a New Jersey home.

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I don’t care how many Cadillacs Mitt Romney owns, how many earmarks he requested, or how many individual mandates he approved. This is an extraordinary man.

We first heard about it in the 2008 campaign: how Romney saved the teenaged daughter of a Bain Capital colleague in 1996. Here’s what Mitt did when he learned the girl had gone missing after sneaking from her home in Connecticut to a party in New York City: he shut down the whole office and flew the staff from Boston to New York; he had fliers printed up and got employees at Duane Reade (in which Bain invested) to stuff one into every customer’s bag; he set up a phone hotline; he personally, along with his Bain people and their New York accountants and lawyers, pounded the city’s pavements looking for the girl and asking teenagers if they’d seen her. After a few days of all this – and the publicity it generated – they traced the hotline call of someone asking for a reward and found the girl, who had overdosed on Ecstasy, in the basement of a New Jersey home.

The New York Times is treating the campaign’s current retelling of the story with predictable snide cynicism (“Pressed for Anecdote, Romney Recounts Tale of Missing Girl”); and — surprise, surprise – is trying to gin up some controversy around the ad one of his super PACs is running about it.

The Washington Post describes it thus:  “Mitt Romney is striving to show voters that he is more than the Mitt Romney they think they know. He wants to demonstrate that he’s human, too.”

Um.  He is?  Really??  Who’d have thunk???

Now, I’ve been working for a few decades, and I’ve been fortunate enough to have some really nice bosses and colleagues. But I can’t imagine a single one of them going so far just to help me – not to mention having the calm wherewithal to come up with a workable and effective plan.   And I can’t quite imagine our great philanthropists Warren Buffett and Bill Gates doing it either. Or even that paragon of humanness, Barack Obama himself.

Yes, it’s true that the campaign is using the story to counter the rich-technocrat Romney caricature promoted by opponents on the left and the right. But that’s what campaigns are supposed to do, isn’t it? One can only wonder why it’s taken them so long. Could it be a certain – gasp – modesty on the part of the candidate? Or possibly a reluctance to parade the teen trauma of someone who may well be a happy and healthy young woman today? I wouldn’t be surprised.

Mitt Romney isn’t just human; he’s a very good, decent human. And we could do much, much worse than that in a president.

 

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Romney’s Winning Streak Strengthens Notion of Inevitability

Due to its being squeezed in between the crucial Michigan and Arizona primaries and Super Tuesday, not much attention was paid to the Washington state caucus by either the Republican presidential candidates or the media. But while the voting, which took the form of a straw poll at caucuses where delegates to a state convention were chosen, presented the now familiar pattern of chaos that we have to expect from GOP caucuses, the result went pretty much as expected as Mitt Romney cruised to an easy win. Romney took 38 percent of the vote. Second place went to Ron Paul, who narrowly edged out Rick Santorum by a 25-24 percent margin. The fading Newt Gingrich finished last with 10 percent. Along with recent wins in Maine, Wyoming, Arizona and Michigan, this gives Romney a modest five-state winning streak heading in to Super Tuesday with most of the focus on Ohio where he hopes to once again head off a strong challenge from Santorum.

Though Romney’s critics can look at these results and point to the same lack of enthusiasm and inability to win the affection of conservatives that have plagued him elsewhere, his win in Washington highlights the fact that he remains the strongest candidate in the field with the organization and resources to fight and win contests all over the map. Accumulating victories of this sort doesn’t change the narrative about Romney’s personal shortcomings, but it does reinforce the notion of the inevitability of his being nominated by the Republicans.

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Due to its being squeezed in between the crucial Michigan and Arizona primaries and Super Tuesday, not much attention was paid to the Washington state caucus by either the Republican presidential candidates or the media. But while the voting, which took the form of a straw poll at caucuses where delegates to a state convention were chosen, presented the now familiar pattern of chaos that we have to expect from GOP caucuses, the result went pretty much as expected as Mitt Romney cruised to an easy win. Romney took 38 percent of the vote. Second place went to Ron Paul, who narrowly edged out Rick Santorum by a 25-24 percent margin. The fading Newt Gingrich finished last with 10 percent. Along with recent wins in Maine, Wyoming, Arizona and Michigan, this gives Romney a modest five-state winning streak heading in to Super Tuesday with most of the focus on Ohio where he hopes to once again head off a strong challenge from Santorum.

Though Romney’s critics can look at these results and point to the same lack of enthusiasm and inability to win the affection of conservatives that have plagued him elsewhere, his win in Washington highlights the fact that he remains the strongest candidate in the field with the organization and resources to fight and win contests all over the map. Accumulating victories of this sort doesn’t change the narrative about Romney’s personal shortcomings, but it does reinforce the notion of the inevitability of his being nominated by the Republicans.

This momentum will be crucial on Tuesday as Romney seeks more victories that will make it clear he is the only possible winner of the GOP race, no matter how long his rivals drag out the battle. In particular, a win in Ohio over Rick Santorum will come as close as any to sealing the deal. Santorum has been leading the polls in Ohio for most of the last month. As was the case in Michigan, the state’s blue-collar voters are perfect targets for Santorum’s appeal to the working class. But the Pennsylvanian’s perceived extremism on social issues that helped Romney come from behind in Michigan appears to be a factor in Ohio, too. Romney is closing in the polls and one more win in his pocket over the weekend will only strengthen the impression Santorum has already lost his one chance to knock off the frontrunner.

Santorum continues to complain, much as Gingrich has done, about Romney’s lack of authenticity. But though Romney’s attempt to portray himself as a true conservative has often come across as phony, despite an unprecedented number of lead changes and twists and turns, the basic outline of the race has remained constant since the fall. Romney continues to take advantage of the fact that there is no single credible conservative challenger who can match him when it comes to electability. Much like Gingrich’s personal baggage and inconsistent record, Santorum’s self-inflicted wounds have left most Americans viewing him as running more for the post of national scold than president, leaving Romney as the only plausible Republican candidate in the race.

This may bitterly disappoint many conservatives, but the mathematics of the delegate race is starting to shape up as a formula that will leave them little choice but to make their peace with Romney or settle down for another four years of Barack Obama in the White House. Another few victories on Tuesday for Romney should lead many Republicans to understand that this reconciliation process must begin as soon as possible.

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