Commentary Magazine


Posts For: March 20, 2012

Illinois Shows Santorum’s Weaknesses

The exit polls of Illinois Republican primary voters seem to illustrate some basic facts on the race. For all of the complaints about Mitt Romney’s inability to seal the deal with the GOP base he has still managed to cobble together a coalition of moderates and mainstream conservatives that enabled him to continue to pile up victories. With the networks already projecting a big win for Romney tonight, the frontrunner is not only building his big delegate lead, he is also showing his ability to win large pluralities having long since broken through the ceiling of 25 percent that once characterized his support. The Santorum camp may say that losing a large blue state like Illinois doesn’t mean anything in the long run and complain about being outspent but this was probably his last chance to challenge and beat Romney in a state that wasn’t dominated by evangelicals and extreme “very conservative” voters — the only groups the Pennsylvanian wins. If the exit polls are anything close to accurate, then he has lost any opportunity to dent Romney’s aura of inevitability.

The other interesting takeaway from the exit poll is the disastrous showing of Newt Gingrich. As was the case in Michigan and Ohio, Gingrich was a non-factor in Illinois. Indeed, he is so far off the pace, that it may no longer be possible to argue that he is splitting the conservative vote and thereby allowing Romney to win instead of Santorum. Santorum may be looking forward to winning in Louisiana this weekend, but there just aren’t enough big states where he is likely to win to seriously believe that he can be stopped. When you consider that Santorum was looking very competitive in Illinois just a week ago, it appears that the tide has turned against him.

The exit polls of Illinois Republican primary voters seem to illustrate some basic facts on the race. For all of the complaints about Mitt Romney’s inability to seal the deal with the GOP base he has still managed to cobble together a coalition of moderates and mainstream conservatives that enabled him to continue to pile up victories. With the networks already projecting a big win for Romney tonight, the frontrunner is not only building his big delegate lead, he is also showing his ability to win large pluralities having long since broken through the ceiling of 25 percent that once characterized his support. The Santorum camp may say that losing a large blue state like Illinois doesn’t mean anything in the long run and complain about being outspent but this was probably his last chance to challenge and beat Romney in a state that wasn’t dominated by evangelicals and extreme “very conservative” voters — the only groups the Pennsylvanian wins. If the exit polls are anything close to accurate, then he has lost any opportunity to dent Romney’s aura of inevitability.

The other interesting takeaway from the exit poll is the disastrous showing of Newt Gingrich. As was the case in Michigan and Ohio, Gingrich was a non-factor in Illinois. Indeed, he is so far off the pace, that it may no longer be possible to argue that he is splitting the conservative vote and thereby allowing Romney to win instead of Santorum. Santorum may be looking forward to winning in Louisiana this weekend, but there just aren’t enough big states where he is likely to win to seriously believe that he can be stopped. When you consider that Santorum was looking very competitive in Illinois just a week ago, it appears that the tide has turned against him.

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More Democratic Lies Greet Ryan’s Medicare Plan

House Budget Committee Chair Paul Ryan’s latest budget plan includes a few deviations from last year, most notably to his Medicare reform proposal. Last spring, Democrats assailed Ryan and House Republicans for trying to “end Medicare” — a charge so false and prevalent that PolitiFact named it the “Lie of the Year.”

But the attacks from Democrats still hit their mark, and the new plan is a bit milder. Ryan still proposes a system in which senior citizens could purchase private insurance plans with Medicare vouchers. But this time around, he preserves the option for seniors to choose the public plan.

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House Budget Committee Chair Paul Ryan’s latest budget plan includes a few deviations from last year, most notably to his Medicare reform proposal. Last spring, Democrats assailed Ryan and House Republicans for trying to “end Medicare” — a charge so false and prevalent that PolitiFact named it the “Lie of the Year.”

But the attacks from Democrats still hit their mark, and the new plan is a bit milder. Ryan still proposes a system in which senior citizens could purchase private insurance plans with Medicare vouchers. But this time around, he preserves the option for seniors to choose the public plan.

At the Washington Examiner, Phil Klein raises a valid concern:

Preserving traditional Medicare as an option is politically safer. But I question whether there could ever be a truly level-playing field when a government plan is competing against private plans.

Ryan’s latest Medicare reform proposal borrows heavily from the plan he drafted with Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden late last year. But the plan’s bipartisan pedigree hasn’t prevented Democrats from launching dishonest attacks. At Forbes, Avik Roy skewers some of the false claims making the rounds on left-wing blogs:

Igor Volsky of ThinkProgress argues, erroneously, that [Path to Prosperity II] would allow private insurers to “cherry-pick the healthiest beneficiaries from traditional Medicare and leave sicker applicants to the government.” Indeed, the plan risk-adjusts the premium support levels so as to prevent that practice: a well-established methodology. Igor also worries that the plan wouldn’t reduce costs, but rather increase them, because he ignores the cost-reducing effects of competitive bidding. Gene Sperling, President Obama’s National Economic Director, repeats the adverse selection critique in Politico. This is clearly going to be the go-to line of attack for progressive wonks.

Last year the major media outlets failed miserably when it came to holding Democrats accountable for flat-out lies about Ryan’s plan. This year, the false claims are already spreading, and so far there’s no indication that the media coverage will be much better.

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Paul Ryan’s Extraordinary Budget

Today Paul Ryan, chairman of the House Budget Committee, released his budget. (For the full budget, see here; and for a summary, see Ryan’s Wall Street Journal op-ed here). About this remarkable document, I want to say two things.

The first is that Ryan’s budget does what Americans generally, and the pundit class in particular, says politicians don’t do. It tackles head on the issue of entitlements. It offers a real path to re-limiting government (over the next 10 years it cuts more than $5 trillion dollars from President Obama’s budget). It makes the “hard choices” that elected officials often avoid.

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Today Paul Ryan, chairman of the House Budget Committee, released his budget. (For the full budget, see here; and for a summary, see Ryan’s Wall Street Journal op-ed here). About this remarkable document, I want to say two things.

The first is that Ryan’s budget does what Americans generally, and the pundit class in particular, says politicians don’t do. It tackles head on the issue of entitlements. It offers a real path to re-limiting government (over the next 10 years it cuts more than $5 trillion dollars from President Obama’s budget). It makes the “hard choices” that elected officials often avoid.

To be specific, Mr. Ryan’s budget proposes structural reforms to Medicare, the highly popular program that is driving us toward fiscal ruin. The Ryan budget faces up to, rather than denies or ignores, certain mathematical and demographic realities. For a variety of complicated reasons, very few political leaders have been willing to do so.

In his 1986 book The Triumph of Politics, David Stockman, at the end of his 411-page lamentation, wrote this:

Why did the conservative, anti-spending party (GOP) end up ratifying a half-trillion dollar per year welfare state? In the answer lies the modern dirty little secret of the Republican Party: The conservative opposition helped build the American welfare state brick by brick during the three decades prior to 1980. The Reagan Revolution failed because the Republican Party decided to stick with its own historic handiwork. It could not and would not disown after November 1980 the “me-too” statism that had guided it for all those years in the political wilderness.

Now I strongly dissent from Stockman’s judgment that the Reagan Revolution failed; and I understand why people consider Stockman to be an unadmirable human being. But he was actually on to something important in his critique of Republicans, conservatives, and big government. An objective analysis of the Reagan years showed that the commitment to limited government was more rhetorical than real. There was no sustained effort to reform entitlement programs during the Reagan presidency. That may have been prudent, by the way. President Reagan was much more successful at, and much more committed to, cutting tax rates, reforming the tax code, and rebuilding the American military. There was simply no real public support for reforming the modern welfare state among the American polity.

Today we live in a different, and fiscally more perilous, moment. In the past, we could avoid dealing with entitlement programs, even if doing so wasn’t wise. But today dealing with them is a fiscal — and arguably a moral — imperative. That’s because right now we’re on a Greece-like trajectory.

More than any other single individual in American politics today — perhaps with the exception of Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels — Ryan understands this and is willing to do something about it. That was true last year with his budget; and it’s true again this year with his budget. (The Path to Prosperity, it should be said, includes significant proposals to spur economic growth, including intelligent changes to our tax code and ways to contain and undo crony capitalism.)

The second point worth making about Chairman Ryan’s budget is that a year after he released The Path to Prosperity 1.0, Ryan and House Republicans have not only not been politically crippled, they are actually winning the argument, as well as converts (like Democratic Senator Ron Wyden) to their cause.

One of the most significant political facts of the last year has been that despite efforts by the president and his party to slander the GOP (including by claiming that Republicans were taking a Darwinian approach to autistic and Down syndrome children), it simply hasn’t worked. Ads showing Representative Ryan tossing an elderly woman in a wheelchair off a cliff are so ludicrous and discrediting that it’s mentioned these days far more often by Republicans than Democrats. That dog, having been unleashed for the last four decades, may no longer hunt. We may well be living in an era of uncommon fiscal sobriety and maturity. It is possible that what John Adams called stubborn facts — about the size, scope, and reach of government; about our structural deficits and debt; about how we will face a calamity unless we reform Medicare — are now driving our political debate, at least to a degree that has been missing in the past.

We’ll know more after the first Tuesday in November. But for now, Wisconsin’s Paul Ryan has done something quite remarkable. A Member of the House of Representative has shifted the political axis. He has filled the breach left by an unusually irresponsible chief executive. All honor is due him.

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Neo-Nazis Versus Jihadists?

Over on Twitter, The Atlantic’s Jeff Goldberg and COMMENTARY contributor Jamie Kirchick have been debating whether the threat to the Jews from neo-Nazis is worse than that of Muslim Jihadists. This argument was brought up by the allegation, which may now turn out to have been a false lead, that the Toulouse massacre was perpetrated by neo-Nazis rather than Islamists. Goldberg’s point is a good one. The Nazis stand alone in history and ought not to be compared to any other genus of Jew-hater or tyrant. Goldberg is also right that Nazi analogies are almost always wrong since there really is nothing in history that compares to the Holocaust. As bad as Iran or Hamas or Hezbollah might be, and they are deadly threats, they are not the same thing as Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany.

However, if we are discussing what Jews and other civilized persons should be worrying most about today, the idea that there is any comparison between the danger posed by the scattered bands of neo-Nazi extremists and that of Islamism is not a serious proposition. The neo-Nazis are a nasty bunch and capable of violence. But Islamist terror has at its command, terrorist armies, control of sovereign territories (Gaza, Lebanon and a major state such as Iran) as well as the resources to finance a nuclear weapons project. While the persistence of Nazism, even in its current truncated form is upsetting and makes us wonder whether Western civilization really is in trouble, Islamism is a real threat, not a symbolic one.

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Over on Twitter, The Atlantic’s Jeff Goldberg and COMMENTARY contributor Jamie Kirchick have been debating whether the threat to the Jews from neo-Nazis is worse than that of Muslim Jihadists. This argument was brought up by the allegation, which may now turn out to have been a false lead, that the Toulouse massacre was perpetrated by neo-Nazis rather than Islamists. Goldberg’s point is a good one. The Nazis stand alone in history and ought not to be compared to any other genus of Jew-hater or tyrant. Goldberg is also right that Nazi analogies are almost always wrong since there really is nothing in history that compares to the Holocaust. As bad as Iran or Hamas or Hezbollah might be, and they are deadly threats, they are not the same thing as Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany.

However, if we are discussing what Jews and other civilized persons should be worrying most about today, the idea that there is any comparison between the danger posed by the scattered bands of neo-Nazi extremists and that of Islamism is not a serious proposition. The neo-Nazis are a nasty bunch and capable of violence. But Islamist terror has at its command, terrorist armies, control of sovereign territories (Gaza, Lebanon and a major state such as Iran) as well as the resources to finance a nuclear weapons project. While the persistence of Nazism, even in its current truncated form is upsetting and makes us wonder whether Western civilization really is in trouble, Islamism is a real threat, not a symbolic one.

While we may dismiss this argument as the sort of thing that is, as Goldberg joked, for people with nothing better to do, the fact is, a lot of liberal Jews really are more scared of the dangers that existed in the past than they are of their people’s current foes.

For many liberal Jews (a group that I should stipulate does not include Goldberg), raising the question of Islamist hate for Jews — something that is the source of the rising tide of anti-Semitic agitation around the globe — is somehow in bad taste if not evidence of the dread charge of Islamophobia. They are so conditioned to believe that Muslim distaste for Israel’s actions is the reason for enmity that they ignore the vicious stream of Jew-hatred coming out of the Middle East and prefer to worry about an altogether mythical post 9/11 backlash against Muslims.

Instead, they prefer to dwell on the far less potent danger posed by the tiny groups of Hitler-lovers who are generally too weak and isolated to do anything more than disturb the peace. While such groups are despicable and deserve the attention of law enforcement, to focus on them is to re-fight the last war.

We don’t know yet who committed the Toulouse massacre but we do know that it was the work of a Jew-hater who sought out and murdered Jewish children in cold blood solely because they were Jewish. It would have been reassuring in some ways to think that this crime was only the work of outliers like the neo-Nazis. The thought that it is part of a rising trend of Islamist hate — which has been aided and abetted by the anti-Zionist attitudes of European elites — is far more troubling.

Worrying about Nazis is an exercise that is far less distressing than forcing ourselves to deal with the real dilemmas of our age. Chasing ghosts may be of little utility for contemporary Jewish security, but it is easier to think about than coping with real live Muslim terror.

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On Iran Rights, Obama Finally Echoes Bush

As Alana noted, Barack Obama’s Nowruz message to Iran has evolved from being solicitous of the Iranian regime to supportive of the Iranian people. Good for him, I guess, in the way that it’s always considered “fair” to say “good for him” after Obama weakly imitates the right move too late.  But it should not be forgotten that this approach is precisely what George W. Bush used in 2008 as the first American president to extend Nowruz greetings directly to Iran. Bush said:

First of all, the United States of America wishes everybody a Happy New Year. Secondly, [the] people of the United States respect the great Iranian history and culture. We have great respect for the people, and we’ve got problems with the government. We have problems with the government because the government has been threatening, has made decisions that –and statements that — really have isolated the people of Iran.

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As Alana noted, Barack Obama’s Nowruz message to Iran has evolved from being solicitous of the Iranian regime to supportive of the Iranian people. Good for him, I guess, in the way that it’s always considered “fair” to say “good for him” after Obama weakly imitates the right move too late.  But it should not be forgotten that this approach is precisely what George W. Bush used in 2008 as the first American president to extend Nowruz greetings directly to Iran. Bush said:

First of all, the United States of America wishes everybody a Happy New Year. Secondly, [the] people of the United States respect the great Iranian history and culture. We have great respect for the people, and we’ve got problems with the government. We have problems with the government because the government has been threatening, has made decisions that –and statements that — really have isolated the people of Iran.

My message to the young in Iran is that someday your society will be free. And it will be a blessed time for you. My message to the women of Iran is that the women of America share your deep desire for children to grow up in a hopeful society and to live in peace.

The cowboy bellicosity of that man! Reaching out to oppressed Iranian women and children! Not to worry, one year later Obama, was sure to put the focus on the true sufferers — the disrespected mullahs:

[I]n this season of new beginnings I would like to speak clearly to Iran’s leaders.  We have serious differences that have grown over time.  My administration is now committed to diplomacy that addresses the full range of issues before us, and to pursuing constructive ties among the United States, Iran and the international community.  This process will not be advanced by threats.  We seek instead engagement that is honest and grounded in mutual respect.

Lest the mullahs doubted that respect, he adorned his message with Googleable Persian quotes. (The Obama speech writing team must retain a full-time foreign language phoneticist.)

Four months later, protecting a rigged election, the objects of Obama’s respect killed, jailed, and raped the objects of Bush’s concern in the streets of Tehran. Three years later, we’ve got an Iranian terror plot in D.C., a terrorist campaign against Israelis around the globe, a Hezbollah incursion into Latin America, a newly revealed enrichment facility, and a few months left on the Iranian nuclear countdown clock. That is some season of new beginnings.

Who among the vaunted liberal-smart power-realist foreign policy set will acknowledge that Obama spent years ignoring the Iranian people in favor of Iranian theocrats only to return—too late, naturally—to Bush’s approach?

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EU Shows its Hand on Anti-Israel Bias

Reacting to the murder of Jews in Toulouse yesterday, it didn’t take long for the Eurocracy to put its foot in it. But the statement by Baroness Ashton, the High Representative of the [European] Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy (not to be confused with any of the other myriad, inane foreign affairs positions), is perhaps more revealing than intended:

When we think about what happened today in Toulouse, we remember what happened in Norway last year, we know what is happening in Syria, and we see what is happening in Gaza and other places.

Having never been elected to any of the various British and European roles she has filled in her inexplicable career, she is perfectly placed to speak for the EU. And, making the statement on the sidelines of a meeting in Brussels with Palestinian Arab youths, she went on to contend that they, ‘‘against all odds, continue to learn, work, dream and aspire to a better future.’’ Read More

Reacting to the murder of Jews in Toulouse yesterday, it didn’t take long for the Eurocracy to put its foot in it. But the statement by Baroness Ashton, the High Representative of the [European] Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy (not to be confused with any of the other myriad, inane foreign affairs positions), is perhaps more revealing than intended:

When we think about what happened today in Toulouse, we remember what happened in Norway last year, we know what is happening in Syria, and we see what is happening in Gaza and other places.

Having never been elected to any of the various British and European roles she has filled in her inexplicable career, she is perfectly placed to speak for the EU. And, making the statement on the sidelines of a meeting in Brussels with Palestinian Arab youths, she went on to contend that they, ‘‘against all odds, continue to learn, work, dream and aspire to a better future.’’

Jonathan noted earlier the offensive comparison of the discriminate murder of Jews with the usually exaggerated (on the Palestinian Arabs’ part), usually welcomed (on the Palestinian Arabs’ part) and always inadvertent (on Israel’s part) collateral damage in Gaza. But there is more: the subtle equation of this killer – whom the Baroness, following one of the working theories, assumes to be a neo-Nazi (rather than, say, an Islamist) – and the far-Right Anders Breivik, who murdered children in Norway, as well as the autocratic slaughterer of Syria, Bashar al-Assad, with Israel, betrayed the EU’s perception of Israel as a fascistic state.

Having been condemned by Israel’s Foreign Minister, Defense Minister, Interior Minister, and the Leader of the Opposition, Ashton’s office today released a quiet retraction, protesting the alleged distortion of her original statement. But in fact, Israel’s leaders were right to condemn this addition of insult to injury, these indefensible comparisons, and the EU’s pretension to honest brokerage in the Middle East. The EU has, once again, shown its hand.

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Romney Still Up By Double-Digits in Illinois

Mitt Romney is leading by 14-points in the American Research Group poll today, backing up yesterday’s Public Policy Polling survey that found Romney up by 15 points.

Mitt Romney leads the Illinois Republican presidential primary with 44%. Romney is followed by Rick Santorum with 30%, Newt Gingrich with 13%, and Ron Paul with 8%.

Romney leads Santorum 45% to 35% among self-identified Republicans, followed by Gingrich with 12% and Paul with 4%. Among self-identified independents and Democrats, Romney leads with 42%, followed by Paul with 20%, Gingrich with 17%, and Santorum with 16%.

Also note the gap between Santorum and Romney when it comes to women voters:

Romney leads Santorum 46% to 29% among women, followed by Gingrich with 12% and Paul with 8%.

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Mitt Romney is leading by 14-points in the American Research Group poll today, backing up yesterday’s Public Policy Polling survey that found Romney up by 15 points.

Mitt Romney leads the Illinois Republican presidential primary with 44%. Romney is followed by Rick Santorum with 30%, Newt Gingrich with 13%, and Ron Paul with 8%.

Romney leads Santorum 45% to 35% among self-identified Republicans, followed by Gingrich with 12% and Paul with 4%. Among self-identified independents and Democrats, Romney leads with 42%, followed by Paul with 20%, Gingrich with 17%, and Santorum with 16%.

Also note the gap between Santorum and Romney when it comes to women voters:

Romney leads Santorum 46% to 29% among women, followed by Gingrich with 12% and Paul with 8%.

Keep in mind; Santorum has performed better than polling projections, particularly in Alabama and Mississippi. And when it came to predicting the outcome in the Magnolia state, both PPP and ARG were way out of range, as Ed Morrissey explains:

Let’s not forget that both PPP and ARG didn’t exactly cover themselves in glory when it came to polling Mississippi.  Four days before the primaries, ARG had Santorum 15 points off the lead, with Gingrich edging Romney 35/31 and Santorum at 20%.  The day before the primary, PPP had Santorum trailing by six in third place.  Santorum ended up winning Mississippi by two points and 4500 votes.  That counts as a pretty big swing and a miss, even in primary polling.

But it’s less likely there will be a big discrepancy between the polling and final outcome in Illinois. At the Washington Post, Scott Clement notes that Alabama and Mississippi polls under-sampled evangelical turnout, a group Santorum tends to have broad support with.

This phenomenon may be muted in Illinois for at least one reason. The Huffington Post’s Mark Blumenthal finds a correlation between Santorum’s outperformance and the percentage of evangelicals in the state. As noted earlier, Illinois was about average in the percentage of evangelicals in 2008, while Alabama and Mississippi set records for the most evangelical electorates this year.

PPP found that evangelicals in Illinois support Santorum over Romney, but the margins aren’t wide enough to make much of a difference in the state.

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Asking the Wrong Question About Gingrich

For weeks, pundits have been wondering when Newt Gingrich will admit that he’s licked and give up his presidential campaign. After losses in Mississippi and Alabama last week — which were probably the last states in which he could have been said to have a decent chance of victory — many wrongly assumed that he would draw the proper conclusions and withdraw. But he hasn’t and despite abysmal poll ratings, there’s no sign that he will. Why? Politico offers a reasonable answer: He’s having too good a time running.

The piece, titled “New Gingrich’s Twin Campaigns,” poses the contradiction between the happy warrior on the hustings and the financial realities of an enterprise that appears to have gone bust months ago. While vendors, staffers and consultants are being stiffed for their expenses and salaries, the candidate and his wife are enjoying what the article aptly calls “Newt and Callista’s Excellent Adventure,” in which they combine fine dining, numerous visits to zoos (Newt’s favorite pastime) and other site-seeing activities with speeches before increasingly sparse audiences. Viewed in this light, the Gingrich campaign appears to be more of a paid vacation for the happy couple than a quixotic quest for the presidency. Under these circumstances, we can expect him to keep running as long as there is enough money in the till to pay for hotels and restaurant tabs.

The political calculus that outside observers have tried to use to determine Gingrich’s intentions appears to have no relation at all to his decision-making process. Gingrich is smart enough to know he can’t win but seems oblivious to the impact of his continued presence in the race on the other candidates. Though his animus for Mitt Romney is obvious, rather than seeing him as a conservative whose priority was to stop the frontrunner in the way that Rick Santorum’s effort has been pitched, it might be more apt to see him in the same light as the far more marginal Ron Paul.

Paul’s continued run has nothing to do with the practicalities of the race or whether he will win or lose. He’s running to promote his extremist libertarian ideology and can be expected to keep going until the nomination of another candidate forces him to stop. Gingrich is also being propelled by a personal agenda rather than political strategy. The only difference is that Gingrich’s personal agenda is about Gingrich and nothing else. Despite his talk about his wish list of presidential initiatives that he will undertake in the event he is elected, Gingrich has been running for the fun of being in the race and little else.

The only thing that could force him to get off the road is if he runs out of money. Since his campaign is using all available cash to fund the Newt and Callista tour, it’s possible there’s enough to keep him on his long vacation for some time to come. However the day will come when the piper will have to be paid and one imagines that Gingrich is counting on some of the wealthy friends that have helped finance him so far to step in after the fact and pay off what may prove to be an onerous campaign debt. Candidates are personally responsible for these debts. That’s why most drop out quickly once it is clear they can’t win since they dread spending the next decade desperately fundraising to pay for an effort that has already failed.

While Newt and Callista are having a great time, one wonders if it is has occurred to her that if he really intends to keep it up until the September convention, she may have to pawn some of those trinkets that Newt bought for her at Tiffany’s.

For weeks, pundits have been wondering when Newt Gingrich will admit that he’s licked and give up his presidential campaign. After losses in Mississippi and Alabama last week — which were probably the last states in which he could have been said to have a decent chance of victory — many wrongly assumed that he would draw the proper conclusions and withdraw. But he hasn’t and despite abysmal poll ratings, there’s no sign that he will. Why? Politico offers a reasonable answer: He’s having too good a time running.

The piece, titled “New Gingrich’s Twin Campaigns,” poses the contradiction between the happy warrior on the hustings and the financial realities of an enterprise that appears to have gone bust months ago. While vendors, staffers and consultants are being stiffed for their expenses and salaries, the candidate and his wife are enjoying what the article aptly calls “Newt and Callista’s Excellent Adventure,” in which they combine fine dining, numerous visits to zoos (Newt’s favorite pastime) and other site-seeing activities with speeches before increasingly sparse audiences. Viewed in this light, the Gingrich campaign appears to be more of a paid vacation for the happy couple than a quixotic quest for the presidency. Under these circumstances, we can expect him to keep running as long as there is enough money in the till to pay for hotels and restaurant tabs.

The political calculus that outside observers have tried to use to determine Gingrich’s intentions appears to have no relation at all to his decision-making process. Gingrich is smart enough to know he can’t win but seems oblivious to the impact of his continued presence in the race on the other candidates. Though his animus for Mitt Romney is obvious, rather than seeing him as a conservative whose priority was to stop the frontrunner in the way that Rick Santorum’s effort has been pitched, it might be more apt to see him in the same light as the far more marginal Ron Paul.

Paul’s continued run has nothing to do with the practicalities of the race or whether he will win or lose. He’s running to promote his extremist libertarian ideology and can be expected to keep going until the nomination of another candidate forces him to stop. Gingrich is also being propelled by a personal agenda rather than political strategy. The only difference is that Gingrich’s personal agenda is about Gingrich and nothing else. Despite his talk about his wish list of presidential initiatives that he will undertake in the event he is elected, Gingrich has been running for the fun of being in the race and little else.

The only thing that could force him to get off the road is if he runs out of money. Since his campaign is using all available cash to fund the Newt and Callista tour, it’s possible there’s enough to keep him on his long vacation for some time to come. However the day will come when the piper will have to be paid and one imagines that Gingrich is counting on some of the wealthy friends that have helped finance him so far to step in after the fact and pay off what may prove to be an onerous campaign debt. Candidates are personally responsible for these debts. That’s why most drop out quickly once it is clear they can’t win since they dread spending the next decade desperately fundraising to pay for an effort that has already failed.

While Newt and Callista are having a great time, one wonders if it is has occurred to her that if he really intends to keep it up until the September convention, she may have to pawn some of those trinkets that Newt bought for her at Tiffany’s.

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Toulouse a Reminder of the Need to Refute Jewish Cowardice

Many probably think, but fewer have the arrogance to write, that the recent shooting deaths of at least four Jews at a Jewish school in Toulouse, France are Israel’s fault. The thinking goes that Jews inevitably are associated with the self-declared Jewish state, whose alleged crimes enrage its supposed victims, who then lash out at the Jews close by, which are often those living in smaller diaspora communities. Because it shoulders the blame, Israel should also therefore take responsibility for the danger it poses to worldwide Jewry by properly amending its policies or even dissolving itself, thereby curing the world of its desire to hunt Jews.

Even if we accept the questionable assumptions behind this view, it represents a stunning endorsement of Jewish cowardice.

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Many probably think, but fewer have the arrogance to write, that the recent shooting deaths of at least four Jews at a Jewish school in Toulouse, France are Israel’s fault. The thinking goes that Jews inevitably are associated with the self-declared Jewish state, whose alleged crimes enrage its supposed victims, who then lash out at the Jews close by, which are often those living in smaller diaspora communities. Because it shoulders the blame, Israel should also therefore take responsibility for the danger it poses to worldwide Jewry by properly amending its policies or even dissolving itself, thereby curing the world of its desire to hunt Jews.

Even if we accept the questionable assumptions behind this view, it represents a stunning endorsement of Jewish cowardice.

The basic ideas were probably most clearly articulated by the late Tony Judt in his 2003 Jewish anti-Israelist New York Review of Books essay of the season, “Israel: The Alternative.” Effectively catapulting Judt into a non-academic fame he had not otherwise known, this and his other assorted anti-Israel writings were driven primarily by the conviction that Israel, as he put it, “is bad for the Jews.”

Why? “The behavior of a self-described Jewish state affects the way everyone else looks at Jews. The increased incidence of attacks on Jews in Europe and elsewhere is primarily attributable to misdirected efforts, often by young Muslims, to get back at Israel.”

There is one Zionist truth that Judt and his ilk pin their hat on, which is that the goal of the Jewish state is indeed and always has been, since Leo Pinsker put pen to paper, to change the way the world looks at Jews. For Pinsker, it was the unique quality of Jewish statelessness that prevented “a certain equality in rank” between Jews and non-Jews, a condition that fostered Jew-hatred and led to the terrible violence of Russian pogroms. For Theodor Herzl, his far more famous successor in Zionist pamphleteering, it was simply the presence of Jews that enraged the masses. He wrote, “We are naturally drawn into those places where we are not persecuted, and our appearance there gives rise to persecution.”

The thing Pinsker, Herzl, and their followers got sadly wrong was the idea that Jews could be saved from Jew-hatred by creating a state of their own, either by “normalizing” the Jewish condition or by providing completely for their physical security. No state, though, can provide for the complete safety of all its citizens, let alone its ethnic kin abroad. And hatred of Jews, as should be beyond plain by now, clearly draws from deeper waters than the Jewish political condition, whatever it may be.

We should call the fantasy that Jews would be able to live in peace if only they gave up their claim to independence cowardice because that is the term we reserve for those who willingly give up what is theirs in the hope that by so doing that may be freed of physical danger. The Jewish state may not be able to resolve the non-Jewish problem of hatred of Jews, but it can – as has been the case these last ten years in an Israel that has woken up to the truth that many of its enemies can be appeased only by its death – cure the Jews of their fascination with weakness.

That is, if we have the courage to stand united against the irrational attacks launched against us and our children.

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Obama’s Slams Iran’s “Electronic Curtain”

President Obama’s annual message commemorating Nowruz, the Persian New Year, is packed with sharp condemnation of the Iranian regime’s human rights abuses, marking the second year in a row that he’s has made human rights the focus of his Nowruz address. It’s a clear contrast to his 2009 and 2010 messages, which were intended to extend an olive branch to the regime, and glossed over its oppressiveness and belligerence.

This year, Obama also specifically called out Iran on its nuclear program, though he framed his criticism carefully:

“The Iranian government has a responsibility to respect its rights. Just as it has a responsibility to meet its responsibilities in regard to its nuclear program. Let me say again if the Iranian government pursues a responsible path it will be welcome once more among the community of nations and the Iranian people will have greater opportunities to prosper.”

He also slammed the regime’s censorship and control of the Internet, describing it as an “electronic curtain,” in an allusion to the Iron Curtain:

“Yet increasingly the Iranian people are denied the basic freedom to access the information that they want. Instead, the Iranian government jams satellite signals to shut down television and radio broadcasts. It censors the internet to control what the Iranian people can see and say. The regime monitors computers and cell phones for the sole purpose of protecting its own power. And in recent weeks the Internet restrictions have become so severe that Iranians can’t communicate freely with their loved ones in Iran or beyond its borders. Technologies that should empower citizens are being used to repress them. Because of the actions of the Iranian regime, an electronic curtain has fallen around Iran, a barrier that stops the free flow of information and ideas into the country and denies the rest of the world the benefit of interacting with the Iranian people who have so much to offer.”

Obama finally spoke about his administration’s “virtual embassy” for Iranians, a website intended to reach out to the Iranian people directly.

As frustrating and naïve as the administration’s comments on Iran still are at times, it really is remarkable how much worse it was back in 2009. Watching how the president’s Nowruz messages have changed over the past four years highlights how far he’s backed away from his misguided outreach to the regime. The recent focus on human rights and the candid assessment of the regime’s repression is very encouraging – especially when framed in terms of internet freedom – and hopefully signals that the administration will do more to assist Iranian dissidents on this front.

President Obama’s annual message commemorating Nowruz, the Persian New Year, is packed with sharp condemnation of the Iranian regime’s human rights abuses, marking the second year in a row that he’s has made human rights the focus of his Nowruz address. It’s a clear contrast to his 2009 and 2010 messages, which were intended to extend an olive branch to the regime, and glossed over its oppressiveness and belligerence.

This year, Obama also specifically called out Iran on its nuclear program, though he framed his criticism carefully:

“The Iranian government has a responsibility to respect its rights. Just as it has a responsibility to meet its responsibilities in regard to its nuclear program. Let me say again if the Iranian government pursues a responsible path it will be welcome once more among the community of nations and the Iranian people will have greater opportunities to prosper.”

He also slammed the regime’s censorship and control of the Internet, describing it as an “electronic curtain,” in an allusion to the Iron Curtain:

“Yet increasingly the Iranian people are denied the basic freedom to access the information that they want. Instead, the Iranian government jams satellite signals to shut down television and radio broadcasts. It censors the internet to control what the Iranian people can see and say. The regime monitors computers and cell phones for the sole purpose of protecting its own power. And in recent weeks the Internet restrictions have become so severe that Iranians can’t communicate freely with their loved ones in Iran or beyond its borders. Technologies that should empower citizens are being used to repress them. Because of the actions of the Iranian regime, an electronic curtain has fallen around Iran, a barrier that stops the free flow of information and ideas into the country and denies the rest of the world the benefit of interacting with the Iranian people who have so much to offer.”

Obama finally spoke about his administration’s “virtual embassy” for Iranians, a website intended to reach out to the Iranian people directly.

As frustrating and naïve as the administration’s comments on Iran still are at times, it really is remarkable how much worse it was back in 2009. Watching how the president’s Nowruz messages have changed over the past four years highlights how far he’s backed away from his misguided outreach to the regime. The recent focus on human rights and the candid assessment of the regime’s repression is very encouraging – especially when framed in terms of internet freedom – and hopefully signals that the administration will do more to assist Iranian dissidents on this front.

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Smear Supporters to Get Hearing at J Street

Even J Street critics were baffled last January when the group’s founder and President Jeremy Ben-Ami more or less randomly decided to defend “Israel-Firster” rhetoric against pro-Israel Americans. The term was condemned as anti-Semitic by the American Jewish Committee, the Anti-Defamation League, and the Simon Wiesenthal Center, and its use by Center for American Progress contributors eventually caused the White House to distance itself from the organization. Self-professed pro-J Street blogger Jeffrey Goldberg expressed himself “surprised” by Ben-Ami’s stance.

The mystery became somewhat less mysterious after Alana pointed out a potential financial incentive behind J Street’s position, connecting J Street with groups that use the term. The link helps explain why mere hours after publicly walking back Ben-Ami’s statements, J Street took to Facebook to blast Sheldon Adelson as an “Israel-Firster” and to push a piece attacking anti-Semitism watchdogs for “Likudnik Paranoia.”

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Even J Street critics were baffled last January when the group’s founder and President Jeremy Ben-Ami more or less randomly decided to defend “Israel-Firster” rhetoric against pro-Israel Americans. The term was condemned as anti-Semitic by the American Jewish Committee, the Anti-Defamation League, and the Simon Wiesenthal Center, and its use by Center for American Progress contributors eventually caused the White House to distance itself from the organization. Self-professed pro-J Street blogger Jeffrey Goldberg expressed himself “surprised” by Ben-Ami’s stance.

The mystery became somewhat less mysterious after Alana pointed out a potential financial incentive behind J Street’s position, connecting J Street with groups that use the term. The link helps explain why mere hours after publicly walking back Ben-Ami’s statements, J Street took to Facebook to blast Sheldon Adelson as an “Israel-Firster” and to push a piece attacking anti-Semitism watchdogs for “Likudnik Paranoia.”

Given where the organization ended up — not only smearing Jewish groups as feverish Israel Lobby mouthpieces, but actively throwing around anti-Semitic language — it’s no wonder that the upcoming 2012 J Street Conference is stacked with defenders of those kinds of conspiracy theories and that kind of rhetoric.

Sarah Posner and Sarah Wildman, who each attacked anti-Semitism concerns in print and then on a bloggheads.tv episode, are on the speakers’ list. Ditto for Eric Alterman, who declared himself “uncomfortable” with anti-Semitic language but insisted that conspiracy theories about dual loyalists are true of a “great many people.” Ditto for Ari Rabin-Havt, who considers concerns about the term to be right-wing trolling. Ditto for Geneive Abdo, whose feverish conspiracy theories are frankly weird. And so on.

All of which is by way of saying: lots of people have pointed out how risible it is for J Street to claim to speak for a silent majority of Jewish Americans, given that their conference will promote Peter Beinart’s work in the face of an impressively broad beat-down. But let’s not forget that J Street also promotes plenty of other disgraceful positions that are also also rejected by huge majorities in the American-Jewish community.

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The Cost of Inaction on Iranian Nukes

Jeffrey Goldberg, Ronen Bergman, and various other commentators believe that an Israeli strike on Iran is more likely than not this year. I agree that the odds are in favor of such a preemptive strike, and that there are compelling reasons for Israel to act before November—not only because of the progress Iran is likely to make in its nuclear program by the fall but also because of a widespread perception that President Obama will have to be more supportive of America’s closest ally in the region before the election than after it. What I don’t know—know one does—is what the impact of such strikes would be: how much would they set back the Iranian nuclear program and how would Iran respond?

Goldberg reports that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak are fairly optimistic about the damage that Israel could do to Iran’s nuclear complex and sanguine about the prospects of Iranian retaliation: “Some Israeli officials believe that Iran’s leaders might choose to play down the insult of a raid and launch a handful of rockets at Tel Aviv as an angry gesture, rather than declare all-out war,” Goldberg writes. Moreover, he adds: “Some Israeli security officials also believe that Iran won’t target American ships or installations in the Middle East in retaliation for a strike, as many American officials fear, because the leadership in Tehran understands that American retaliation for an Iranian attack could be so severe as to threaten the regime itself.

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Jeffrey Goldberg, Ronen Bergman, and various other commentators believe that an Israeli strike on Iran is more likely than not this year. I agree that the odds are in favor of such a preemptive strike, and that there are compelling reasons for Israel to act before November—not only because of the progress Iran is likely to make in its nuclear program by the fall but also because of a widespread perception that President Obama will have to be more supportive of America’s closest ally in the region before the election than after it. What I don’t know—know one does—is what the impact of such strikes would be: how much would they set back the Iranian nuclear program and how would Iran respond?

Goldberg reports that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak are fairly optimistic about the damage that Israel could do to Iran’s nuclear complex and sanguine about the prospects of Iranian retaliation: “Some Israeli officials believe that Iran’s leaders might choose to play down the insult of a raid and launch a handful of rockets at Tel Aviv as an angry gesture, rather than declare all-out war,” Goldberg writes. Moreover, he adds: “Some Israeli security officials also believe that Iran won’t target American ships or installations in the Middle East in retaliation for a strike, as many American officials fear, because the leadership in Tehran understands that American retaliation for an Iranian attack could be so severe as to threaten the regime itself.

The New York Times reports that a Central Command war game raised greater concerns about Iranian retaliation including possibly missile strikes on U.S. facilities and warships in the Persian Gulf. Those are legitimate concerns but Iran would be making a serious miscalculation if it gave the U.S. an excuse to unleash our own, much more formidable air forces against its nuclear installations. That doesn’t mean that Iran won’t do it—its leadership has miscalculated before and will do so again—but it should caution against assuming that the U.S. will automatically become embroiled in a war with Iran after an Israeli attack. I think Iran is more likely to unleash a massive missile barrage against Israel using its Hezbollah proxies and to step up terrorist attacks on U.S. targets in the region.

Whatever the risks of Israeli action, we must never lost sight of the disastrous consequences of inaction—namely the almost certain acquisition of nuclear weapons by the world’s No. 1 state sponsor of terrorism. That is a frightening thought that should put the fallout from any military action into perspective. Ehud Barak, Israel’s most decorated living soldier and a man who knows a thing or two about warfare, says, “A war is no picnic,” but he believes the consequences of action—which are certain to be far greater for Israel than for the U.S.—will be manageable: “There will not be 100,000 dead or 10,000 dead or 1,000 dead. The state of Israel will not be destroyed.” The other possibility is that if Iran does acquire nukes, then the destruction of Israel becomes a much more imaginable possibility.

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Has Romney Found A Message?

The risk in pegging an election campaign to a specific issue is that the issue will be eclipsed by another or will fade in importance on its own. The campaigns of Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum have responded in different ways to slightly better jobs numbers. The Washington Post yesterday asked if foreign policy could end up playing a more significant role in the election than previously expected, though the Post notes that exit polling has not backed this up.

Economic fluctuation and the constant interpretation and reinterpretation of data make economic forecasting a less stable foundation of an election campaign than, say, asking simply if the public thinks they are better off now than they were four years ago. Gas prices have dented President Obama’s poll numbers recently, but that, too, may change. Romney, the more likely nominee, will have a less compelling argument against ObamaCare, for obvious reasons, though he can still run on his promise to repeal it. But beyond that, the question remains what kind of general election message will Romney present? He seems to have located one yesterday, and will be helped by Paul Ryan’s budget speech today.

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The risk in pegging an election campaign to a specific issue is that the issue will be eclipsed by another or will fade in importance on its own. The campaigns of Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum have responded in different ways to slightly better jobs numbers. The Washington Post yesterday asked if foreign policy could end up playing a more significant role in the election than previously expected, though the Post notes that exit polling has not backed this up.

Economic fluctuation and the constant interpretation and reinterpretation of data make economic forecasting a less stable foundation of an election campaign than, say, asking simply if the public thinks they are better off now than they were four years ago. Gas prices have dented President Obama’s poll numbers recently, but that, too, may change. Romney, the more likely nominee, will have a less compelling argument against ObamaCare, for obvious reasons, though he can still run on his promise to repeal it. But beyond that, the question remains what kind of general election message will Romney present? He seems to have located one yesterday, and will be helped by Paul Ryan’s budget speech today.

Felicia Sonmez reports:

“I joke, and I don’t mean to be flip with this — because I actually see truth in it — I don’t see how a young American can vote for a Democrat,” Romney said when asked what economic message he would have for young people.

“I apologize for being so offensive in saying that, but I catch your attention. But I mean, in the humor, there’s some truth there. And I say that for this reason: that party is focused on providing more and more benefits to my generation, and amounting trillion-dollar annual deficits my generation will never pay for.”

He argued that while Democrats support “the greatest inter-generational transfer of wealth in the history of humankind,” the Republican Party is “consumed with the idea of getting federal spending down and creating economic growth and opportunity so we can balance our budget and stop putting these debts on you.”

“These debts are not frightening to people my age, because we’ll be gone,” he said.

This is an issue that will not go away, because rather than pass their own budget (which they haven’t done in more than 1,000 days) Democrats prefer to attack Ryan for trying to solve problems instead of Washington’s usual tradition of kicking every can in sight farther down the road. The Democrats, led by Harry Reid, have even targeted members of their own party who tried to work with Ryan to formulate a solution to the country’s debt and entitlement crises.

On that score, Ryan today introduced his newest budget plan. As Jim Pethokoukis notes:

Longer term, the differences between the Ryan Path and the Obama budget are even starker. By 2030, debt-to-GDP would be 53% under Ryan, 128% under Obama. By 2040, debt-to-GDP would be 38% under Ryan, 194% under Obama. By 2050, debt-to-GDP would be 10% under Ryan, over 200% under Obama – assuming that under the Obama scenario, the economy hasn’t collapsed.

That last line is key to Ryan and Romney’s overall message—that you can only calculate long-term projections of Obama’s spending plans by assuming the economy hasn’t collapsed from them yet.

In 2008, the general election time frame saw one foreign policy crisis and one economic crisis. John McCain looked better on the foreign policy issue because Obama ended up changing his original response to eventually align with the response McCain gave immediately. Obama looked better on the financial crisis because of McCain’s haphazard and frantic response. The candidate who won the economic issue won the election (as usual). Foreign policy will not be high enough on the American voters’ list of priorities to focus on that, but Romney’s pitch to the disaffected youth vote and his party’s attempts to establish itself as a forward-looking group of reformers may offer a serious message that doesn’t depend on monthly jobs numbers or the price of gas.

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The Audacity of Hype: Biden and Bin Laden

The Obama campaign must have thought it was giving Vice President Biden a job that even he couldn’t mess up. All he had to do was go out to fundraisers and remind everyone how impressive the bin Laden raid was.

It sounds simple enough in concept. Then again, this is Biden we’re talking about here:

Vice President Joseph Biden on Monday night upped the ante around the already quite-dramatic assassination of Osama bin Laden.

From the pool report of Biden’s comments during a fundraising event in New Jersey come these quotes.

“You can go back 500 years. You cannot find a more audacious plan. Never knowing for certain. We never had more than a 48 percent probability that he was there.”

Not to take anything away from the bin Laden raid, which certainly carried its own risks, but seriously? Never a more audacious plan in 500 years? National Review’s Daniel Foster reminds Biden of a few he apparently overlooked:

Arguably, Operation Desert Storm — with pre-invasion coalition casualties projected into the thousands and fears of a protracted maneuver war and the deployment chemical/biological weapons — was more audacious. Unarguably, the Inchon landing and the breakout of the Pusan perimeter were.

In World War II alone: Overlord. The British commando raids. The miracle at Dunkirk. Okinawa. Jimmy friggin Doolittle.

Five hundred years is a long time. From Patton to Napoleon, John Paul Jones to Sir Francis Drake. I’m sure all you history buffs out there can think of another battle plan at least in the running to be more audacious than Operation Geronimo.

At New York Magazine, Dan Amira writes, “By the time the election season is over, Biden will be calling the bin Laden raid the ‘single most incredible feat performed by a sentient being, here on Earth or throughout the cosmos, at any time in the last 15 billion years.’”

Nobody should diminish Obama’s decision to order the raid on bin Laden’s compound. But that’s exactly what Biden ended up doing – unintentionally – by hyping it to the extreme. The raid was a success in its own right, and needs no additional embellishment.

The Obama campaign must have thought it was giving Vice President Biden a job that even he couldn’t mess up. All he had to do was go out to fundraisers and remind everyone how impressive the bin Laden raid was.

It sounds simple enough in concept. Then again, this is Biden we’re talking about here:

Vice President Joseph Biden on Monday night upped the ante around the already quite-dramatic assassination of Osama bin Laden.

From the pool report of Biden’s comments during a fundraising event in New Jersey come these quotes.

“You can go back 500 years. You cannot find a more audacious plan. Never knowing for certain. We never had more than a 48 percent probability that he was there.”

Not to take anything away from the bin Laden raid, which certainly carried its own risks, but seriously? Never a more audacious plan in 500 years? National Review’s Daniel Foster reminds Biden of a few he apparently overlooked:

Arguably, Operation Desert Storm — with pre-invasion coalition casualties projected into the thousands and fears of a protracted maneuver war and the deployment chemical/biological weapons — was more audacious. Unarguably, the Inchon landing and the breakout of the Pusan perimeter were.

In World War II alone: Overlord. The British commando raids. The miracle at Dunkirk. Okinawa. Jimmy friggin Doolittle.

Five hundred years is a long time. From Patton to Napoleon, John Paul Jones to Sir Francis Drake. I’m sure all you history buffs out there can think of another battle plan at least in the running to be more audacious than Operation Geronimo.

At New York Magazine, Dan Amira writes, “By the time the election season is over, Biden will be calling the bin Laden raid the ‘single most incredible feat performed by a sentient being, here on Earth or throughout the cosmos, at any time in the last 15 billion years.’”

Nobody should diminish Obama’s decision to order the raid on bin Laden’s compound. But that’s exactly what Biden ended up doing – unintentionally – by hyping it to the extreme. The raid was a success in its own right, and needs no additional embellishment.

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NY Times Simulates Journalism on Iran

There’s a moment in the middle of Ian Fleming’s Goldfinger where Auric Goldfinger, now thoroughly annoyed with how Bond keeps turning up, tells 007 that “Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. The third time it’s enemy action.” That’s how readers of the New York Times must feel when confronted with the paper’s unsubtle front page campaign to brush back Israeli action against Iran.

Last month the Times ran a double bylined A1 article by James Risen and Mark Mazzetti, headlined “U.S. Agencies See No Move by Iran to Build a Bomb.” Just to make sure readers knew how to contextualize the de facto talking points, the article kicked off with: “even as the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog said in a new report Friday that Iran had accelerated its uranium enrichment program…” The disclaimer was a reference to IAEA investigations, which the Times had previously buried on A8, cataloging the evidence of an Iranian nuclear weapons program.

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There’s a moment in the middle of Ian Fleming’s Goldfinger where Auric Goldfinger, now thoroughly annoyed with how Bond keeps turning up, tells 007 that “Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. The third time it’s enemy action.” That’s how readers of the New York Times must feel when confronted with the paper’s unsubtle front page campaign to brush back Israeli action against Iran.

Last month the Times ran a double bylined A1 article by James Risen and Mark Mazzetti, headlined “U.S. Agencies See No Move by Iran to Build a Bomb.” Just to make sure readers knew how to contextualize the de facto talking points, the article kicked off with: “even as the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog said in a new report Friday that Iran had accelerated its uranium enrichment program…” The disclaimer was a reference to IAEA investigations, which the Times had previously buried on A8, cataloging the evidence of an Iranian nuclear weapons program.

A more interesting approach, and one thoroughly within the abilities of the two experienced journalists, would have been to report out which U.S. agencies were at odds with the notoriously cautious IAEA. But explaining how U.S. officials were provided to the paper as part of a more or less open anti-Israel campaign wouldn’t really fit into the broader theme. So instead readers were led through a fantasy world in which Iran had never been caught working on nuclear explosive devices, or holding damning weapons blueprints, or investigating how to mate nuclear warheads to missiles, or enriching nuclear material past what’s necessary for medical research and energy production.

Fast forward to the yesterday, with the Times weirdly declaring from the front page that American Jews are divided on an Iranian attack. Jonathan promptly dismantled that claim.

And now this morning, with the Times publishing another double bylined Mazzetti piece, this time with Thom Shanker, on the front page. Whereas last time the talking point was “Iran isn’t going nuclear,” this time its charming assumption is that “Israeli self-defense will get American boys and girls killed:”

A classified war simulation held this month to assess the repercussions of an Israeli attack on Iran forecasts that the strike would lead to a wider regional war, which could draw in the United States and leave hundreds of Americans dead, according to American officials… The two-week war game, called Internal Look, played out a narrative in which the United States found it was pulled into the conflict after Iranian missiles struck a Navy warship in the Persian Gulf, killing about 200 Americans.

You have to keep reading to find out that the simulation was:

(1) Not designed to evaluate the effects of an Israeli strike – “the exercise was designed specifically to test internal military communications and coordination among battle staffs.”

(2) Inconclusive on the effects of an Israeli strike – “the exercise’s results were not the only possible outcome of a real-world conflict.”

(3) Likely wrong – “many experts have predicted that Iran would try to carefully manage the escalation after an Israeli first strike in order to avoid giving the United States a rationale for attacking… it is impossible to know the internal thinking of the senior Iranian leadership… Israeli intelligence estimates, backed by academic studies, have cast doubt on the widespread assumption that a military strike on Iranian nuclear facilities would set off a catastrophic set of events like a regional conflagration.”

The military invented — not evaluated, not declared likely, but deliberately invented — a scenario where Iran attacked and killed 200 Americans, so it could test how U.S. military communication would hold up if Iran attacked and killed 200 Americans. On the basis of that artificial, simulated, and by-admission improbable Iranian escalation, the Times wrote a story in which Iran would attack and kill 200 Americans.

The story is the equivalent of the U.S. military testing how its internal communication system would respond to an alien invasion in the aftermath of a solar storm, and the Times reporting that the U.S. military believes the next solar storm will trigger an alien invasion. The scenario might not be false, but it’s the premise not the conclusion of the simulation.

It’s hard to escape the conclusion that the Paper of Record was out to preemptively blame Israel for the deaths of Americans, and that this story was the best they had on hand this morning.

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Obama’s Debt: More Red Ink Than Bush

The Obama administration has encountered another pothole on the road to re-election.  CBS is reporting that the national debt taken on in the three years and two months of the Obama administration now exceeds the debt added during the Bush administration’s entire eight years in office: $4.899 trillion for Bush, $4.939 for Obama.

In other words, Bush ran up the tab at the rate of $51 billion a month, while Obama is running it up at the rate of $137 billion a month, 2.6 times as fast.  The debt now stands at $15.566 trillion, over 100 percent of GDP for the first time since the immediate aftermath of World War II. Obama’s own budget projections show no end in sight: $16.3 trillion by the end of 2012, $17.5 in 2013, $20 trillion by the end of Obama’s second term if, heaven forefend, he wins one. That would mean an increase of 87 percent in the total debt over Obama’s two terms.

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The Obama administration has encountered another pothole on the road to re-election.  CBS is reporting that the national debt taken on in the three years and two months of the Obama administration now exceeds the debt added during the Bush administration’s entire eight years in office: $4.899 trillion for Bush, $4.939 for Obama.

In other words, Bush ran up the tab at the rate of $51 billion a month, while Obama is running it up at the rate of $137 billion a month, 2.6 times as fast.  The debt now stands at $15.566 trillion, over 100 percent of GDP for the first time since the immediate aftermath of World War II. Obama’s own budget projections show no end in sight: $16.3 trillion by the end of 2012, $17.5 in 2013, $20 trillion by the end of Obama’s second term if, heaven forefend, he wins one. That would mean an increase of 87 percent in the total debt over Obama’s two terms.

Obama, to be sure, faced a tough economic situation when he was inaugurated in January 2009. The economy was shrinking rapidly, the stock market was down by nearly fifty percent, and unemployment was headed towards 10.2 percent. Deficit spending is inescapable in those circumstances and, in fact, desirable. And Obama has rarely missed a chance to let us know that he faced the worst economy since the Great Depression, although as Peter Wehner has pointed out, that is, to say the least, an arguable proposition.

But not even Obama argues that he faced a worse situation than Franklin Roosevelt faced in March 1933. The GDP had fallen by half, unemployment was above 25 percent, and the stock market was down not by 50 percent but by 90 percent. Farms were being foreclosed at the rate of 20,000 a month. Banks were entirely closed in 38 states and in only very limited operation in the other ten. Hoovervilles dotted the landscape of American cities.

So how did FDR do in his first three years? The debt increased in those years by 73 percent, but from a very low base (only 33.6 percent of GDP). While Obama’s debt/GDP ratio has increased 33 percentage points, FDR’s increased only 7 percentage points in the same time frame. In his first eight years, as the Great Depression lingered on and on, FDR presided over an increase in the debt of 124 percent and saw the debt rise as a percentage of GDP from 33.6 percent to 50.85 percent. As a percentage of GDP, in other words, Obama has increased the national debt more in three years of moderate economic troubles than FDR did in eight years of economic catastrophe.

Not much of a record to run on, is it?

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Holder Better Hope He’s Right on MEK Probe

Because if not, the Attorney General just made some really powerful enemies:

Speaking firms representing ex-FBI Director Louis Freeh and former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Hugh Shelton have received federal subpoenas as part of an expanding investigation into the source of payments to former top government officials who have publicly advocated removing an Iranian dissident group from the State Department list of terrorist groups, three sources familiar with the investigation told NBC News.

The investigation, being conducted by the Treasury Department, is focused on whether the former officials may have received funding, directly or indirectly, from the People’s Mujahedin of Iran, or MEK, thereby violating longstanding federal law barring financial dealings with terrorist groups. The sources, all of whom spoke on condition of anonymity, said that speaking fees given to the former officials total hundreds of thousands of dollars.

In total, MSNBC reports that 40 former senior U.S. government officials participated in the lobbying campaign for the People’s Mujahedin of Iran (MEK), a cult-like organization that was listed as a terrorist group under the Clinton administration. The MEK was involved in attacks on American citizens in the 1970s, but has since attempted to ally itself with the United States in the fight against the Iranian regime. According to reports, the group may also be aiding Israel’s covert assassination campaign against Iranian nuclear scientists.

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Because if not, the Attorney General just made some really powerful enemies:

Speaking firms representing ex-FBI Director Louis Freeh and former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Hugh Shelton have received federal subpoenas as part of an expanding investigation into the source of payments to former top government officials who have publicly advocated removing an Iranian dissident group from the State Department list of terrorist groups, three sources familiar with the investigation told NBC News.

The investigation, being conducted by the Treasury Department, is focused on whether the former officials may have received funding, directly or indirectly, from the People’s Mujahedin of Iran, or MEK, thereby violating longstanding federal law barring financial dealings with terrorist groups. The sources, all of whom spoke on condition of anonymity, said that speaking fees given to the former officials total hundreds of thousands of dollars.

In total, MSNBC reports that 40 former senior U.S. government officials participated in the lobbying campaign for the People’s Mujahedin of Iran (MEK), a cult-like organization that was listed as a terrorist group under the Clinton administration. The MEK was involved in attacks on American citizens in the 1970s, but has since attempted to ally itself with the United States in the fight against the Iranian regime. According to reports, the group may also be aiding Israel’s covert assassination campaign against Iranian nuclear scientists.

In addition to Freeh and Shelton, other ex-government officials snagged in the investigation include former DNC chairman Edward Rendell, former Attorney General Michael Mukasey, and former Department of Homeland Security chief Tom Ridge.

But it’s still unclear how far the Department of Justice will go on its investigation. So far, there haven’t been any reports that Jim Jones, former National Security advisor to President Obama, has been issued a subpoena, despite his reported involvement in the MEK lobbying effort. Will Jones be subpoenaed by Holder as well? And if not, why not?

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Hamas Loses Popular Support for Not Shooting Rockets at Israel

If you’re looking for insight into the Palestinians’ mindset, a new poll by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research offers some fascinating glimpses into their views on everything from killing Jews to fiscal responsibility.

The poll found “a significant decline” in Hamas’s popularity in the Gaza Strip and “a decrease in the positive evaluation” of Gaza’s Hamas government. Only 27% of Gazans said they would vote Hamas if elections were held today, down from 35% three months ago, while only 36% approved of the Hamas government’s performance, down from 41%. Sounds encouraging, right?

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If you’re looking for insight into the Palestinians’ mindset, a new poll by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research offers some fascinating glimpses into their views on everything from killing Jews to fiscal responsibility.

The poll found “a significant decline” in Hamas’s popularity in the Gaza Strip and “a decrease in the positive evaluation” of Gaza’s Hamas government. Only 27% of Gazans said they would vote Hamas if elections were held today, down from 35% three months ago, while only 36% approved of the Hamas government’s performance, down from 41%. Sounds encouraging, right?

But here’s the kicker: The poll was taken immediately after Islamic Jihad’s recent rocket assault on Israel, and the pollsters said the drop in Hamas’s support was “probably due [partly] to Hamas’ behavior, standing on the sideline, during Gaza’s rocket war with Israel.” In other words, according to a leading Palestinian pollster, the way to win the Palestinian public’s affection is by indiscriminate rocket fire on Israeli cities, and Hamas’s popularity suffered because it sat this round out. And we’re supposed to believe a Palestinian state would live in peace with Israel?

No less enlightening, however, were the questions about the Palestinian Authority’s financial crisis. The PA has a $1.1 billion hole in its $3.5 billion budget for 2012, mainly due to a drop in international donations. Yet when it tried to solve the problem with a mix of tax increases and spending cuts, a public outcry forced it to retreat. So the poll asked how Palestinians thought the problem should be solved.

It turns out that only a minority (38%) favor any kind of self-help measure: 9% back tax increases, while 29% support cutting expenditures by putting civil servants on early retirement. The majority, 52%, prefer “returning to negotiations with Israel in order to obtain greater international financial support.”

At first glance, this doesn’t seem all bad. True, it raises questions about Palestinians’ readiness to run their own state, since they clearly prefer living off international handouts to taking responsibility for their own budget. But at least they understand that the price of international support is talking with Israel, and favor doing so, right?

Well, not quite, the pollsters acknowledged: “It is worth noting that about half of those who favor return to negotiations oppose unconditional return that does not insure an Israeli settlement freeze and an acceptance of the 1967 borders.” So not only do the Palestinians want to continue living off international handouts, but they aren’t even willing to make any concessions in exchange for the money. Instead, they think Israel should pay for the privilege of having international donors fund them by making major concessions even before negotiations begin. And we’re supposed to believe a people this unwilling to take responsibility for itself is ready for statehood?

Finally, here’s a nugget for Westerners who extol the PA’s “democratic reforms” or Hamas’s “democratic election:” Only 22% of Gazans, and 30% of West Bankers, say they “can criticize the authorities” in their respective locales “without fear.” In short, far from being democratic, both halves of the Palestinian polity are classic “fear societies,” in which people dare not criticize their governments.

So to sum up, we have an undemocratic polity whose residents reward indiscriminate rocket fire on civilians and refuse to take any financial responsibility for themselves. And then people wonder why Israelis are leery about having a Palestinian state for a neighbor.

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Anatomy of a Slander: EU Official Compares Toulouse to Gaza

The after shocks of the terrorist attack at a Jewish school in Toulouse are still being felt as French authorities seek the person or persons responsible for the murder of three children and a teacher. But for the European Union’s foreign policy chief, this anti-Semitic atrocity was just grist for the rhetorical mill in her ongoing campaign against the state of Israel. Baroness Catherine Ashton used the occasion of a speech to a Palestinian group in Brussels to compare the deliberate targeting of Jewish children to recent events in Gaza.

The idea that there is any moral equivalence between a person stalking and killing kids in cold blood at a school house door and casualties that were incurred when the Israel Defense Force responding to missile attacks on other Jewish children in Southern Israel is an outrageous slander. It reflects the view of European elites that while the killing of Jews may be regrettable, the spectacle of other Jews defending themselves is inadmissible.

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The after shocks of the terrorist attack at a Jewish school in Toulouse are still being felt as French authorities seek the person or persons responsible for the murder of three children and a teacher. But for the European Union’s foreign policy chief, this anti-Semitic atrocity was just grist for the rhetorical mill in her ongoing campaign against the state of Israel. Baroness Catherine Ashton used the occasion of a speech to a Palestinian group in Brussels to compare the deliberate targeting of Jewish children to recent events in Gaza.

The idea that there is any moral equivalence between a person stalking and killing kids in cold blood at a school house door and casualties that were incurred when the Israel Defense Force responding to missile attacks on other Jewish children in Southern Israel is an outrageous slander. It reflects the view of European elites that while the killing of Jews may be regrettable, the spectacle of other Jews defending themselves is inadmissible.

Ashton is now claiming she was misunderstood but even when you read her remarks in context they are damning:

When we remember young people who have been killed in all sorts of terrible circumstances — the Belgian children having lost their lives in a terrible tragedy, and when we think of what happened in Toulouse today, when we remember what happened in Norway a year ago, when we know what is happening in Syria, when we see what is happening in Gaza and in different parts of the world — we remember young people and children who lose their lives.

Of course, the loss of all life is regrettable. One can certainly draw some sort of parallel between the Toulouse crime and the mass murder in Norway as well as the slaughter of civilians by the brutal Assad regime in Syria. But what has happened in Gaza is nothing like that.

The conflict in Gaza is the result of Israel’s total withdrawal from the territory in the hope of peace which led to the takeover of the strip by the Hamas terrorist group which, along with its Islamist competitors, now uses that area as a launching pad for missile attacks on Israeli territory. The Israeli army is forced to shoot back at the terrorists in order to suppress the fire and sometimes civilians are hurt since Hamas and the other groups use the people of Gaza as human shields. However, it should be noted that while 25 Palestinians were killed in the aftermath of the 200-missile barrage on Israel last week, virtually all were part of the terrorist groups launching the missiles. While the Palestinians claimed that the Israelis also killed a child, it turned out that the fatality was the result of Palestinian gunfire at a funeral for one of the terrorists.

During her tenure as the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Ashton, a Labor Party politician, has been both a relentless critic of Israel while sparring the Palestinians and expressing neutrality about the prospect of Hamas joining the Palestinian Authority.

No matter which group carried out the Toulouse attack, it must be understood that the crime happened in an atmosphere in which the delegitimization of Israel by European elites has given some sanction for a new wave of anti-Semitism. Those who cannot condemn this crime without also attempting to draw a false analogy with Israeli actions are part of the problem, not the solution. Such canards are nothing less than a modern version of the medieval blood libel aimed at Jews.

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J Street’s False Foundational Myth

The Alienation Thesis or the Distancing Thesis or the Detachment Thesis or whatever we’re calling it this week — the claim American Jews are increasingly estranged from Israel because of Israeli policies — is the central dogma of the anti-Israel left. If it’s true then groups like J Street are engaged in the salutary work of broadening pro-Israel Jewish politics to include traditionally anti-Israel positions. If it’s false then those groups are taking Jews who would have ended up with muddy pro-Israel sentiments and are needlessly bombarding them with anti-Israel propaganda. “Alienation” or “distancing” or “detachment” is the argumentative premise at the source of everything that happens downstream.

It’s not an accident that sophisticated erstwhile J Street defenders like Jeffrey Goldberg instinctively throw it in whenever they try to defend the organization. J Street itself, for all of the organization’s borderline aggressive lack of tactical acumen, makes a point of blandly asserting that the thesis is true. Hand wringing pathos-soaked “why must Israel do things that make me sad” Jews like Peter Beinart have been blandly pretending it’s valid for the better part of a decade.

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The Alienation Thesis or the Distancing Thesis or the Detachment Thesis or whatever we’re calling it this week — the claim American Jews are increasingly estranged from Israel because of Israeli policies — is the central dogma of the anti-Israel left. If it’s true then groups like J Street are engaged in the salutary work of broadening pro-Israel Jewish politics to include traditionally anti-Israel positions. If it’s false then those groups are taking Jews who would have ended up with muddy pro-Israel sentiments and are needlessly bombarding them with anti-Israel propaganda. “Alienation” or “distancing” or “detachment” is the argumentative premise at the source of everything that happens downstream.

It’s not an accident that sophisticated erstwhile J Street defenders like Jeffrey Goldberg instinctively throw it in whenever they try to defend the organization. J Street itself, for all of the organization’s borderline aggressive lack of tactical acumen, makes a point of blandly asserting that the thesis is true. Hand wringing pathos-soaked “why must Israel do things that make me sad” Jews like Peter Beinart have been blandly pretending it’s valid for the better part of a decade.

Except it’s false. It’s so false that when you unpack it into constituent parts it’s false in multiple distinct and borderline contradictory ways, none of which manage to cancel each other out. In the most generous case J Street-style partisans assume American Jews are alienated from Israel because all the American Jews they personally know are alienated from Israel (figuring out the precise degree to which that’s breathtakingly revelatory is left as an exercise for the reader). In the less generous case they’re hoping against hope that no one ever scrutinizes their pretexts for uniquely mainstreaming anti-Israel smears into the American Jewish community.

Fundamentally there are two claims being made by J Street and their ilk. The first is that American Jews are increasingly estranged from Israel, which is a flatly empirical claim. The second is that American Jews’ ostensibly increasing estrangement is on account of Israeli policies, which is a causal claim. Neither is tenable.

On the latter question of causality, let’s put aside the overarching silliness of pretending that railing against real and imagined Israeli sins will somehow make conference attendees more sympathetic to Israel. J Street’s subtler causal claim is about the source of alienation – Israeli policies – rather than what might solve it. But they’re making that up.

We’ve known for years that identification with Israel varies with Jewish identification. Especially for younger Jews, it’s a consequence of Jewish identity not its cause, which is why Beinart’s implicit claim otherwise triggered extensive on-point blogging on the link between Zionism and different strains of Judaism. Even Beinart, in contrast to J Street, has given up the ghost on there being a link between political views and emotional ties to Israel — which is only fair inasmuch as the best studies say no link exists:

On the right, in particular, writers describe the recent successes of J Street as an indicator of Jewish alienation from Israel (there is no evidence that it is so). The left also promotes the distancing narrative but mainly as a political weapon against Israeli government policies, which are described as alienating the next generation from Zionist and Jewish identities. Add to the mix the perennial interest of Jewish organizations in fundraising and you have a very potent set of interests driving the distancing narrative.

If there was decreasing American-Jewish attachment to Israel — i.e. the basic empirical claim, which is false — it still wouldn’t be because of Israeli policies. But there isn’t. In January Matthew Ackerman posted numbers on young Jewish identification that showed that a “feeling of attachment to the Jewish state is at least as strong among young Jews as it is for older Jews [and] has been gaining traction of late.” As for American Jews of all ages, AJC polling shows that pro-Israel attachment hasn’t changed in a decade. When asked how close they feel to Israel, between 65% and 75% of American Jews respond “very close” or “fairly close” (2011: 68%, 2010: 74%, 2009: 69%, 2008: 67%, 2007: 70%, 2006: 76%, 2005: 77%, 2004: 75%, 2003: 74%, 2002: 73%, 2001: 72%).

A 2011 poll of American Jewish voters unpacked that support in terms of concrete positions: 93% of respondents were concerned that Israel is “being threatened by Arab nations and Iran that want to destroy Israel,” 81% were opposed to “Israel being forced to return to its pre-1967 borders,” 73% supported Jerusalem “remaining the united capital of Israel,” and, critically, 88% of respondents insisted that “recognition of Israel as a Jewish State” had to be a “prerequisite for Palestinian Statehood.” Media outlets continue unblinkingly assert otherwise – see Jonathan’s post from yesterday on Iran polling – but that doesn’t make their oh-so-convenient wishful thinking any less false.

That poll was largely in line with a CAMERA poll taken about the same time. When asked, “If Israel no longer existed tomorrow, I would consider it to be…” 58% of American Jews answered “a major tragedy that personally concerned me” and another 24% went further and described it as “the biggest tragedy of my lifetime.” Again alienation pushers like Nicholas Kristof kept writing as if the CAMERA poll and several others didn’t exist, because why not?

Perhaps most critically, CAMERA poll respondents did not believe — as J Street pretends American Jews do — that Israel was responsible for the breakdown of the peace process. Instead they indicated that the Israeli government (84%) and its people (85%) are committed to establishing genuine peace, and a large majority blamed Palestinian incitement for the deadlock (77%).

Only 12% of respondents thought that either settlements or the “occupation” were responsible, which is exactly the opposite of what J Street pretends American Jews believe. There’s a reason, after all, why Obama lost almost half of his Jewish support at the height of his diplomatic offensives on settlement construction. It’s not because Jews feel alienated from Israel on account of settlement construction.

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