Much of the attention devoted to U.S.-Israel diplomacy in recent months has been on whether the United States will seek to prevent the Jewish state from acting on its own to forestall an Iranian nuclear weapon. The differences between President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu over the utility of sanctions or diplomacy and how much more time these measures should be allowed before force can be used have not been resolved. Nevertheless, it is more likely than not that the Israelis are going to give the president a bit more time before launching their own strike.
But despite the near obsessive focus on the fractious Obama-Netanyahu relationship, the most important messages being sent from the speeches at the annual AIPAC conference in Washington were not those exchanged between those two leaders. Instead, it was the clear warning to Iran by Netanyahu that the Jewish people will not live under the shadow of annihilation. For all of the justified concern about what Obama will or will not do to try to impede the Israelis as he hangs on to the forlorn hope of a diplomatic solution to the problem, the fate of the Middle East hangs on whether Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, comprehended Netanyahu’s clarion call to action during his Monday night speech to the conference. Tehran must either stand down on its nuclear ambition or face an Israeli attack at some point in the not too distant future.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s hawkish and exceptional speech at AIPAC tonight will no doubt set off days of speculation about whether or not he’s moving toward a strike on Iran’s nuclear program. There’s plenty of fodder to support either side of the argument. But these two quotes seem to indicate that Netanyahu is at least strongly leaning toward going it alone on an Iran strike:
“Unfortunately, Iran’s nuclear program continues to march forward…We’ve waited for diplomacy to work. We’ve waited for sanctions to work. None of us can afford to wait much longer. As prime minister of Israel, I will never let my people live in the shadow of annihilation.”
No diplomacy and no sanctions leave just one other option on the table. And the line at the end shows that Netanyahu hasn’t made Obama any promises against taking unilateral action.
Rep. Nancy Pelosi’s speech at AIPAC tonight was as tough as it gets coming from her: she rejected containment of Iran’s nuclear program, reiterated that a nuclear Iran is a threat to the world, and praised the latest round of “crippling sanctions” on Iran. But her comments about Iran “returning to the negotiating table” because of these sanctions seemed Pollyannaish, and coming on the heels of Senator McConnell’s barnburner, the speech seemed like a snooze.
“We’re seeing results. The Iranian economy and energy industry are suffering. Iran’s partners are cutting off ties of trade and commerce,” said Pelosi. “We are undermining the funding of Iran’s nuclear activities. In short, Iran is feeling the bite of our sanctions. Our actions reaffirm our message–it is time for Iran to suspend uranium enrichment, return to the negotiating table, and abandon its reckless pursuit of nuclear weapons.”
In a clear contrast to President Obama’s speech yesterday, Sen. Mitch McConnell gave a hard-hitting speech to AIPAC tonight, promising to use the tools at his disposal to pressure the administration to take military action against Iran if it passes specific “red lines” that he outlined.
While Obama has also made it clear he’s open to using force against Iran, he has declined to explicitly state what Iranian actions would trigger a U.S. military response. But McConnell did not have the same reluctance.
As James Taranto notes in his Best of the Web column in today’s Wall Street Journal, the left is crowing today about putting Rush Limbaugh on the run. As Taranto writes, “The kerfuffle was no fluke but a left-liberal set piece” in which a concerted effort was made by liberal members of Congress to spin the Obama administration’s attack on the Catholic Church as a defense of women’s rights. But liberals aren’t satisfied with just their success in changing the conversation from one about religious freedom to one centered on the mythical attack on the right to contraception by the church and conservative opponents of ObamaCare. The real prize in this controversy is not the way the left has enabled the president to avoid taking responsibility for the way his signature health care bill will subvert liberty but the chance to take down the most popular conservative talk show host for the last 20 years.
The flight of Limbaugh’s advertisers under the storm of pressure orchestrated against the radio personality is significant. Since Limbaugh’s tasteless comments about Sandra Fluke’s testimony in which the Georgetown University Law student complained about the cost of birth control, nine of his sponsors have pulled their ads from his show. Limbaugh’s belated apology to Fluke was not enough to stop the bleeding because some of those who dumped him did so after his attempt to walk back his foolish and vulgar jibes. But by pushing so hard to knock off the king of talk radio, the liberal chorus of outrage may have gone a bit too far.
The last few weeks haven’t been banner ones for political discourse in America. Representative Maxine Waters recently referred to Representatives John Boehner and Eric Cantor as “demons.” Slate’s Matt Yglesias, upon learning of the death of Andrew Breitbart, tweeted, “Conventions around dead people are ridiculous. The world outlook is slightly improved with @AndrewBrietbart dead.” Matt Taibbi, who blogs for Rolling Stone, wrote, “Good! I couldn’t be happier that he’s dead.” (That’s the least offensive part of what Taibbi wrote). New York magazine’s John Heilemann, co-author of Game Change and an MSNBC contributor, picked up on the spirit of things when on HBO’s “Real Time” he said, “This phrase, that people often say that we should not speak ill of the dead, right? I mean, when is a better time to speak ill of someone than when they’re dead?” This led to a fairly extraordinary moment, when Bill Maher (!), James Carville, and the astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson had to explain to Heilemann that, among other things, there are the sensibilities of a grieving wife and four young children to take into account.
On the other side of the philosophical divide, columnist Cal Thomas, in referring to Rachel Maddow, said she “is the best argument in favor of her parents using contraception. I would be all for that and all the rest of the crowd at MSNBC too for that matter.” (Thomas called Maddow afterward to apologize and also wrote a gracious and honest column doing the same.) And earlier today Rush Limbaugh, having issued an apology on Saturday for calling Georgetown University Law student Sandra Fluke a “slut” and a “prostitute,” elaborated on that apology on his program, admitting the terms he used were wholly inappropriate and derogatory. (If Yglesias, Taibbi, and Heilemann have issued apologies for their comments, I’m not aware of them.)
Robert Samuelson has a typically excellent column in the Washington Post today where he points out the dangers of looming sequestration–the requirement, enacted by Congress last summer, that more than $500 billion in defense spending will be cut next January along with the nearly $500 billion that has already been cut this year. Many lawmakers are talking as if it’s a done deal that sequestration will be put off at least for one year, but Samuelson isn’t so sure and neither am I. He writes that in November,
[o]ne party and perhaps both will be embittered by the election’s outcome. Congress will face two and possibly three highly contentious issues: the expiration of the Bush tax cuts of 2001 and 2003 at year-end; the looming start of the sequester; and, possibly, the need to raise the federal debt ceiling (the Bipartisan Policy Center estimates this could occur in November).
The confluence of so many big issues — with timetables — could inspire a grand compromise. It also could produce chaos. The sequester could take effect by default and confusion. The Obama administration’s continuing embrace of the sequester as a political lever, when it clearly hasn’t worked, makes this outcome more, not less, likely.
If both the White House and the entourage of the prime minister of Israel are smart, they’ll keep a tight lid on accounts of the meeting today between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu. That will leave the press to continue speculating on the statements the two men made before the doors were closed. Though, as both were eager to point out, there is much common ground between the two nations’ positions, a number of items of contention remain. Chief of them is President Obama’s assertion that “We do believe there is still a window that allows for a diplomatic resolution to this issue.”
The alternative to diplomacy isn’t pleasant for either country to contemplate, but one is forced to ask on what basis does the administration’s belief in such a window rest? Failing a rational explanation for their point of view, Israelis and others who rightly suspect the Americans’ insistence that their belated support for tough sanctions will lead to a resolution of the Iran problem cloaks a desire to merely kick the can down the road until after the November election.
The Emergency Committee for Israel has published the full version of its documentary Daylight, chronicling what happened after candidate Obama, who used to reference the U.S./Israel relationship as a “constant wound… this constant sore,” became President Obama, doggedly trying to detonate the U.S.-Israeli relationship.
A lot of people are going to focus on how the president intentionally delegitimized Israel and incompetently suffocated the peace process because of the now debunked theory that Israeli supermarket construction in Jerusalem causes cave-dwellers in Afghanistan to launch rockets and fanatics in Iran to build nuclear weapons. Ergo his repeated and one-sided diplomatic offensives against Israel over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which the documentary duly spends a lot of time exploring.
If you are to read only one article on where Iraq stands today, I heartily recommend this Foreign Affairs essay, “The Iraq We Left Behind: Welcome to the World’s Next Failed State,” by Ned Parker, a former Los Angeles Times correspondent in Baghdad who is now spending a year at the Council on Foreign Relations (where I am a senior fellow). Parker accurately sums up the country as follows:
Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki presides over a system rife with corruption and brutality, in which political leaders use security forces and militias to repress enemies and intimidate the general population. The law exists as a weapon to be wielded against rivals and to hide the misdeeds of allies. The dream of an Iraq governed by elected leaders answerable to the people is rapidly fading away.
The Iraqi state cannot provide basic services, including regular electricity in summer, clean water, and decent health care; meanwhile, unemployment among young men hovers close to 30 percent, making them easy recruits for criminal gangs and militant factions. Although the level of violence is down from the worst days of the civil war in 2006 and 2007, the current pace of bombings and shootings is more than enough to leave most Iraqis on edge and deeply uncertain about their futures. They have lost any hope that the bloodshed will go away and simply live with their dread. Acrimony in the political realm and the violence in the cities create a destabilizing feedback loop, whereby the bloodshed sows mistrust in the halls of power and politicians are inclined to settle scores with their proxies in the streets.
You can say this about President Obama’s fans in the media: They can be a humorless bunch, but that doesn’t stop them from providing moments of unintentional comedy. A very enjoyable example today comes from the Atlantic’s James Fallows. Fallows heard something he liked in Obama’s speech yesterday to the annual AIPAC conference: “There is too much loose talk of war,” the president said about the Iranian threat.
“Good for President Obama for saying this,” Fallows writes today in a post titled–I kid you not–“Iran Drumbeat Watch: AIPAC Edition.” Yes, there does seem to be a lot of loose talk about war with Iran, much of it, it turns out, coming from publications like the one James Fallows writes for. Heading into the weekend, he filed a post chock-full of links to other stories about war with Iran. His fellow Atlantic blogger Robert Wright has filed four posts on the subject in the last week. But the two, it must be said, are not the pioneers of this mania. They were probably set off by the New York Times, the Washington Post, Haaretz, and other such newspapers that bloggers for the Atlantic might read carefully. And here’s what they likely found.
President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke briefly to the press before their meeting at the White House today. The points they each chose to emphasize were telling and provide insight into their mindsets going into the high-pressure Iran discussion.
Obama spoke first, and stressed the bond between Israel and the U.S., as well as its close military coordination.
I know that both the prime minister and I prefer to resolve this diplomatically. We understand the costs of any military action. And I want to assure both the American people and the Israeli people that we are in constant and close consultation. I think the levels of coordination and consultation between our militaries and our intelligence not just on this issue but on a broad range of issues has been unprecedented. And I intend to make sure that that continues during what will be a series of difficult months, I suspect, in 2012.
Last week, I wrote a post praising Romney, Santorum, Gingrich and Paul for their willingness to put themselves through an exhausting, grinding presidential campaign rather than staying on the sidelines. I pointed out that it’s easy for politicians and political commentators to focus on the foibles, mistakes and awkward language that sometimes characterize the current crop of GOP candidates. And I added that it’s a lot easier to analyze candidates from behind a keyboard, microphone, and television studio than it is to actually run day after day, speaking at event after event, taking question after question.
And just like that, who pops up but former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, who on Friday told Fox’s Greta Van Susteren, “At this point we are watching Obama with his naive apologies to savages in Afghanistan who turn around and kill our soldiers. We look at things like that, the actions of our sitting president and we say, ‘anybody but Obama.’ And that is why Greta, that Alaskans whom I speak with — we’re so tired of the pettiness within that GOP process. You know, the folks are bickering back and forth about different tactics taken within their campaigns and in this nominating process. We’re trying to remind these candidates: Stay focused on the main thing and that is get a commander in chief who our troops deserve.”
President Obama met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu this morning, and the looming question is whether Obama was able to convince the Israeli leader to hold off on an attack on Iran’s nuclear program, in exchange for assurances that the U.S. will take care of the problem militarily if necessary.
Obama was clear during his AIPAC speech yesterday that he won’t hesitate to use force to prevent Iran from obtaining a bomb, but the near-zero level trust between the president and Netanyahu may make it difficult for the prime minister to take this promise seriously.
The absurdity of this weekend’s Russian presidential election began in earnest on Sunday, when a Twitter account claiming to be that of U.S. Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul tweeted at an identical Twitter account claiming to be that of Michael McFaul, accusing the latter of being fake. One of the two accounts obviously was fake, but it was difficult to tell. The real account’s name is @McFaul; the fake one used an uppercase “i” at the end. On Twitter, the two letters are identical.
But the scene–in which the real McFaul tweeted at the fake McFaul “This is a false account. You all obviously know I dont write that well in Russian!”–was the bizarre beginning to a bizarre election day. The fake account even tweeted some early criticism of the Russian elections, leading a pro-Kremlin television anchor to criticize the American interlopers who apparently didn’t even have the decency to wait until the elections were over to cast doubt on the process.
Welcome to Vladimir Putin’s Russia, 2012.
In a year in which the Republican Party’s proportional delegate allocation rules have ruled out a quick end to the presidential race, it isn’t possible for any candidate to use this week’s Super Tuesday primaries to lock up the GOP nomination. With new polls showing he has either caught or surpassed Rick Santorum in the crucial Ohio and Tennessee primaries, Mitt Romney can take a crucial step toward the nomination in tomorrow’s 10-state showdown. If Romney wins in both of those states, that may mean Santorum could end the day without a single triumph to his name. With the fading Newt Gingrich ahead in his adopted home state of Georgia, a Super Tuesday shutout might be a telling blow to Santorum. By tomorrow night, Santorum’s February surge may well be replaced by a March collapse.
The reason for Romney’s growing strength isn’t hard to discern. The frontrunner’s problems have not gone away. He still has trouble connecting with voters and conservatives have yet to accept him as one of their own. But the continued presence of two weak conservative rivals in the field have nevertheless put Mitt Romney in position to solidify his delegate lead as well as strengthen the impression he is the inevitable Republican standard bearer.
Most pro-Israel president evuh:
“We’re trying to make the decision to attack as hard as possible for Israel,” said an administration official… he suggested that any Israeli strike on Iran before international oil and gas sanctions take effect this summer would undermine the tenuous unity the United States and its allies have built to oppose Iran’s nuclear ambitions. Privately, White House officials say the coalition would explode with the first Israeli airstrike.
In a fiery speech at the AIPAC conference this morning, executive director Howard Kohr praised the Obama administration for its efforts to prevent Iran from going nuclear, but warned that the progress so far “has not been enough.”
President Obama and his administration are to be commended. They have – more than any other administration — more than any other country – brought unprecedented pressure to bear on Tehran through the use of biting economic sanctions. …
The problem is–progress is not enough. … The reality today is that the Iranian regime is not frightened enough. We must increase the pressures on the mullahs to the point where they fear failure to comply will lead to their downfall.
That is why we must bring even more pressure to bear. Four tracks are critical: tough, principled diplomacy, truly crippling sanctions, disruptive measures and establishing a credible threat to use force. All four are necessary. All four are essential, to underscore, beyond any doubt, that the United States and the west are serious – serious about stopping Iran. And all four, taken together, offer the best chance to avoid a war that no one – not the United States, not Israel — seeks.
That is why all U.S. officials must speak with one voice – so Tehran clearly hears that America is unified in its determination to prevent a nuclear capable Iran.
Well, I’m back from my 12-day cruise off South America, lecturing with a Hillsdale College group. Except for two ten-hour flights on American Airlines in economy-class seats that would, were I a prisoner of war, violate the Geneva Convention, it was a great trip, with a great crowd.
Much to my surprise, on my return I found that the New York Times’s editorial page is still utterly predictable. The lead editorial this morning for instance, contains absolutely nothing new regarding drilling in the United States and U.S. waters. The Times writes:
It’s campaign season and the pandering about gas prices is in full swing. Hardly a day goes by that a Republican politician does not throw facts to the wind and claim that rising costs at the pump are the result of President Obama’s decisions to block the Keystone XL pipeline and impose sensible environmental regulations and modest restrictions on offshore drilling.
The annual AIPAC conference now taking place in Washington is the year’s flagship display of American support for Israel, so it’s an appropriate time to consider the roots of this support. To that end, a recent Gallup poll offers some strikingly counterintuitive data: In contrast to the conventional wisdom, which holds that support for Israel depends on its willingness to pursue peace with the Palestinians, it turns out that support for Israel has historically been lowest precisely when it pursues peace most vigorously.
The Gallup data includes a graph displaying 25 years of responses, from 1988 through 2012, to the question of whether Americans’ sympathies lie more with Israel or the Palestinians. It turns out the all-time peak for pro-Israel sympathies, 64 percent, was hit in 1991 – two years before the Oslo Accord was signed. Granted, that was the year of the Gulf War, when Palestinians outraged Americans by backing Saddam Hussein. But it was also the era of Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, who flatly refused to talk to the PLO or even consider territorial concessions, and expanded settlements at a pace no subsequent government has approached. If pursuit of peace were the defining factor in mobilizing American support for Israel, pro-Israel sentiment should have soared after Yitzhak Rabin signed Oslo. Instead, it remained 20 to 25 points below the peak throughout Rabin’s term, and only during the last three years – with peace talks frozen and much of the world blaming Israel – has it once again surpassed 60 percent.