Commentary Magazine


Posts For: March 22, 2012

OWS: Your 15 Minutes Are Up

Initially residents of the deeply blue cities of New York and Washington, DC were sympathetic to the message of Occupy Wall Street. Having dozens of unwashed campers with a history of rape and assault occupying their public parks for months on end, however, quickly evaporated any goodwill the city’s residents may have had towards the group. This week the patience the residents of New York City and Washington, DC was worn to the breaking point by members of the movement in two unrelated incidents that show just how little regard the campers have towards their fellow man.

In Washington the normally sympathetic DCist reports,

Last night, in the span of about two hours, Occupy D.C. managed to get on the nerves of two groups that tend to be progressive: LGBT activists who organized a 700-person march in support of hate-crime victims, and City Paper readers in attendance at a debate of at-large D.C. Council candidates sponsored by the alt-weekly.

The march last night was meant to be a mostly quiet affair, with some participants taping over their mouths as a way of expressing the silence they feel when a member of their community is attacked. The marchers who didn’t seal their mouths spoke quietly, save a few quick speeches by the organizers and some District officials.

But the 50 or so members of Occupy D.C. who joined up couldn’t stick to the script. They mic-checked, chanted and lingered in busy intersections as police officers escorting the march reopened the streets after rolling closures. Some said they were part of a “radical queer bloc” that was enjoined by members of Occupy D.C., but with the “mic checks” and chants that wouldn’t be out of place at an Occupy rally, the distinction was unclear.

This is far from the first time that Occupy D.C. has been loud and disruptive in a public meeting, nor is it the first time they have blocked traffic. It is the first time they’ve taken aim at their fellow liberals, and given the tone of the DCist’s coverage, liberals don’t like the taste of their own medicine.

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Initially residents of the deeply blue cities of New York and Washington, DC were sympathetic to the message of Occupy Wall Street. Having dozens of unwashed campers with a history of rape and assault occupying their public parks for months on end, however, quickly evaporated any goodwill the city’s residents may have had towards the group. This week the patience the residents of New York City and Washington, DC was worn to the breaking point by members of the movement in two unrelated incidents that show just how little regard the campers have towards their fellow man.

In Washington the normally sympathetic DCist reports,

Last night, in the span of about two hours, Occupy D.C. managed to get on the nerves of two groups that tend to be progressive: LGBT activists who organized a 700-person march in support of hate-crime victims, and City Paper readers in attendance at a debate of at-large D.C. Council candidates sponsored by the alt-weekly.

The march last night was meant to be a mostly quiet affair, with some participants taping over their mouths as a way of expressing the silence they feel when a member of their community is attacked. The marchers who didn’t seal their mouths spoke quietly, save a few quick speeches by the organizers and some District officials.

But the 50 or so members of Occupy D.C. who joined up couldn’t stick to the script. They mic-checked, chanted and lingered in busy intersections as police officers escorting the march reopened the streets after rolling closures. Some said they were part of a “radical queer bloc” that was enjoined by members of Occupy D.C., but with the “mic checks” and chants that wouldn’t be out of place at an Occupy rally, the distinction was unclear.

This is far from the first time that Occupy D.C. has been loud and disruptive in a public meeting, nor is it the first time they have blocked traffic. It is the first time they’ve taken aim at their fellow liberals, and given the tone of the DCist’s coverage, liberals don’t like the taste of their own medicine.

In New York City, since the return of the warm weather, OWS is back to its old tricks organizing marches and butting heads with the Police Department. In a stomach-turning protest against what one would assume to be against the banking industry, one member of Occupy Wall Street dragged a large tub of human waste through the city in order to pour it inside a Chase ATM vestibule in downtown Manhattan. Who was the first person to make this stomach-turning discovery? My guess: Not a member of the 1%. Whose job was it to clean up these gallons of human feces and urine from inside the ATM vestibule? My guess: Not a member of the 1%.

I’m not sure what Occupy Wall Street is protesting anymore and it doesn’t appear they do either. Their fifteen minutes are up and they know it. The only thing left to do now is stir up attention in any way possible, even if the attention is purely negative.

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Jews for Jesus and Santorum

Rick Santorum’s already minimal chances to win Jewish votes in November just got a tiny bit smaller. Politico reports that the GOP presidential candidate spoke in 2010 at a conference of the Messianic Jewish Alliance of America, a group whose adherents claim Jewish identity while also professing belief in the divinity of Jesus. Santorum picked up $6,000 for the speaking gig that went unnoticed at the time but now must be considered a minor embarrassment for the former senator.

Messianics, like the better-known group that calls themselves Jews for Jesus, are ardent supporters of the Jewish state and wanted Santorum to speak at their event because of his pro-Israel views. But Christians who may be puzzled by any Jewish resentment about his appearance need to understand two things about this controversy. The first is that the only one thing upon which virtually all Jews — no matter where they stand on the religious or political spectrum — agree on is that belief in Jesus makes a person a Christian rather than a Jew. There is also a strong consensus that Messianic groups are engaging in deceptive practices when they seek to proselytize Jews to join them. Therefore, any connection with such groups is bound to be seen as controversial.

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Rick Santorum’s already minimal chances to win Jewish votes in November just got a tiny bit smaller. Politico reports that the GOP presidential candidate spoke in 2010 at a conference of the Messianic Jewish Alliance of America, a group whose adherents claim Jewish identity while also professing belief in the divinity of Jesus. Santorum picked up $6,000 for the speaking gig that went unnoticed at the time but now must be considered a minor embarrassment for the former senator.

Messianics, like the better-known group that calls themselves Jews for Jesus, are ardent supporters of the Jewish state and wanted Santorum to speak at their event because of his pro-Israel views. But Christians who may be puzzled by any Jewish resentment about his appearance need to understand two things about this controversy. The first is that the only one thing upon which virtually all Jews — no matter where they stand on the religious or political spectrum — agree on is that belief in Jesus makes a person a Christian rather than a Jew. There is also a strong consensus that Messianic groups are engaging in deceptive practices when they seek to proselytize Jews to join them. Therefore, any connection with such groups is bound to be seen as controversial.

It should be specified that Messianics are as free as any other Americans to believe whatever they wish and to practice their faith as they see fit. But almost all Jews view Messianic campaigns to target them for conversion to Christianity — which are integral to the beliefs of these groups —as insidious efforts to undermine their survival as a community.

Part of this stems from demography. After 2,000 years of persecution that culminated in the Holocaust, any endeavor that seeks to further diminish the number of Jews is not taken lightly. Even more to the point, the long history of forced conversions to Christianity has left a foul taste in the mouths of Jews even if such memories have little to do with contemporary spiritual competition. Either way, it must be understood that the visceral distaste that the overwhelming majority of Jews have for the Messianics is not to be taken lightly.

It should also be understood that during his years in the House of Representatives and the Senate, no member worked harder to be a friend to the Jewish community than Santorum even though he never won a majority of their votes. While he was out of office, Santorum relied in part on speaking fees to support his large family and no one is alleging that he did anything unethical or improper here. Nor can he be accused of actually engaging in any proselytizing of Jews on the Messianics’ behalf.

Due to his conservative social views, Santorum had little chance of taking advantage of Jewish dissatisfaction with President Obama’s policies toward Israel. Jewish conservatives already inclined to back Santorum will probably understand that he meant no insult to the Jewish community so it’s not likely that this will cost him any votes. But this story won’t do anything to increase their numbers.

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Does Maher Have the Guts to Call Out Media Matters on Anti-Rush Campaign?

The progressive movement is really squeezing every last drop out mock outrage out of this increasingly-stale controversy:

Rush Limbaugh’s opponents are starting a radio campaign against him Thursday, seizing upon the radio star’s attack of a Georgetown law student as a “slut” to make a long-term effort aimed at weakening his business. …

Media Matters is spending at least $100,000 for two advertisements that will run in eight cities.

The ads use Limbaugh’s own words about student Sandra Fluke, who told congressional Democrats that contraception should be paid for in health plans. Limbaugh, on his radio programs, suggested Fluke wanted to be paid to have sex, which made her a “slut” and a “prostitute.” In return for the money, he said Fluke should post videos of herself having sex. Under sharp criticism, Limbaugh later apologized.

In one of the anti-Limbaugh ads, listeners are urged to call the local station that carries Limbaugh to say “we don’t talk to women like that” in our city.

Media Matters is placing the radio ads in cities with strong progressive activist networks and place where it believes Rush Limbaugh is particularly vulnerable. The group says it’s modeling this after its “Stop Beck” campaign, but that’s a little misleading. While Media Matters did target Glenn Beck’s advertisers, the main reason he was dropped from Fox News was because of his plummeting ratings. That had more to do with conservatives tuning out than anything Media Matters orchestrated.

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The progressive movement is really squeezing every last drop out mock outrage out of this increasingly-stale controversy:

Rush Limbaugh’s opponents are starting a radio campaign against him Thursday, seizing upon the radio star’s attack of a Georgetown law student as a “slut” to make a long-term effort aimed at weakening his business. …

Media Matters is spending at least $100,000 for two advertisements that will run in eight cities.

The ads use Limbaugh’s own words about student Sandra Fluke, who told congressional Democrats that contraception should be paid for in health plans. Limbaugh, on his radio programs, suggested Fluke wanted to be paid to have sex, which made her a “slut” and a “prostitute.” In return for the money, he said Fluke should post videos of herself having sex. Under sharp criticism, Limbaugh later apologized.

In one of the anti-Limbaugh ads, listeners are urged to call the local station that carries Limbaugh to say “we don’t talk to women like that” in our city.

Media Matters is placing the radio ads in cities with strong progressive activist networks and place where it believes Rush Limbaugh is particularly vulnerable. The group says it’s modeling this after its “Stop Beck” campaign, but that’s a little misleading. While Media Matters did target Glenn Beck’s advertisers, the main reason he was dropped from Fox News was because of his plummeting ratings. That had more to do with conservatives tuning out than anything Media Matters orchestrated.

And Media Matters also risks overreaching with the anti-Rush campaign. Not all liberals are comfortable with the idea of trying to push Limbaugh off the air. In the New York Times today, Bill Maher writes:

The answer to whenever another human being annoys you is not “make them go away forever.” We need to learn to coexist, and it’s actually pretty easy to do. For example, I find Rush Limbaugh obnoxious, but I’ve been able to coexist comfortably with him for 20 years by using this simple method: I never listen to his program. The only time I hear him is when I’m at a stoplight next to a pickup truck.

When the lady at Costco gives you a free sample of its new ham pudding and you don’t like it, you spit it into a napkin and keep shopping. You don’t declare a holy war on ham.

I don’t want to live in a country where no one ever says anything that offends anyone. That’s why we have Canada.

Maher makes good points, though he also places far more emphasis on the fake outrage from conservatives than he does on the fake outrage coming from liberals. Sure, conservatives overreact to comments and demand apologies from their political opponents all the time, welcome to politics. But the major campaign to shut down a talk show host for disagreeable language is being orchestrated and funded by the left. Maher should at least have the guts to call out Media Matters by name.

As an aside, would it even matter anymore if Media Matters somehow managed to get Rush kicked off the air (an extremely unlikely possibility at this point)? Sure, it would be a symbolic victory for the left and set a disastrous precedent for entertainers. But Rush has a massive, devoted audience and could probably maintain similar ratings on an online-only platform. The biggest loser in that scenario would be radio, which needs hosts like Rush far more than he needs the medium.

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A Defeat for Democracy in Mali Coup

Soldiers in Mali have overthrown that West African nation’s government, claiming that the elected government has incompetently managed efforts to defeat the long-running Tuareg insurgency. Mali may not often be on American policymakers’–let alone the public’s–radar, but it was important for a number of reasons. One of the world’s poorest countries, Mali was consistently not only ranked free by Freedom House, but it was also the world’s freest majority Muslim country—much freer than Turkey, and freer than both Bosnia and Albania.

About a decade ago, I was fortunate to spend some time in Mali, where I got to visit Timbuktu—to see just where my parents had always threatened to send me when I misbehaved. I wrote this piece at the time, lamenting how the squeaky wheels in Sudan and Lebanon got the American grease, but the quiet democrats in Bamako were ignored. Mali was the perfect antidote to the diplomatic tripe that poverty—rather than ideology—caused terrorism. Mali was dirt poor, but aside from very specific and isolated pockets, Saudi-funded imams had made little headway. Still, it was shortsighted for American officials to basically cede Mali to the Libyans and the Saudis to proselytize and indoctrinate.

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Soldiers in Mali have overthrown that West African nation’s government, claiming that the elected government has incompetently managed efforts to defeat the long-running Tuareg insurgency. Mali may not often be on American policymakers’–let alone the public’s–radar, but it was important for a number of reasons. One of the world’s poorest countries, Mali was consistently not only ranked free by Freedom House, but it was also the world’s freest majority Muslim country—much freer than Turkey, and freer than both Bosnia and Albania.

About a decade ago, I was fortunate to spend some time in Mali, where I got to visit Timbuktu—to see just where my parents had always threatened to send me when I misbehaved. I wrote this piece at the time, lamenting how the squeaky wheels in Sudan and Lebanon got the American grease, but the quiet democrats in Bamako were ignored. Mali was the perfect antidote to the diplomatic tripe that poverty—rather than ideology—caused terrorism. Mali was dirt poor, but aside from very specific and isolated pockets, Saudi-funded imams had made little headway. Still, it was shortsighted for American officials to basically cede Mali to the Libyans and the Saudis to proselytize and indoctrinate.

Let us hope on this tragic day for the Malian people that this coup is quickly reversed, and that decades of letting the Saudis and Libyans play uncontested in the Malian sandbox does not come back to haunt us. If the coup succeeds, it will also provide ammunition for the rubbish put forward by those who argue that Muslims are incapable of being democrats. The world has lost a democracy today and despite the progress of recent years, we cannot afford to watch any country—even Mali—fall backwards.

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Is it Ever Okay to Nominate a RINO?

The transformation of the Republican Party in the mid to late 20th century from one dominated by a moderate-liberal Eastern establishment to the current conservative model is a historic fact. Even the mere hint of moderation on the part of a Republican candidate is enough to send the party’s grass roots into conniption fits. The most damning accusation that can be lodged against anyone in the GOP these days is that of being a RINO — Republican in name only — a term that is synonymous with betrayal of principle and mushy statism. But two important Senate contests this year raises an interesting question that Republicans ought to seriously consider: is it ever okay for the party to nominate a moderate?

In Connecticut, two candidates are contesting the Republican nomination for the Senate seat being vacated by Joe Lieberman: Wrestling mogul Linda McMahon and former congressman Chris Shays. For conservatives in this very blue state, the choice may be an easy one since McMahon is a Tea Party sympathizer. By contrast, Shays is more or less what most people think of when they hear the term RINO. In his 21 years representing Fairfield County in Congress Shays voted more often with liberals than conservatives. Yet a Quinnipiac University poll showing the pair in matchups against the two prospective Democratic challengers in the race ought to give even the most ardent RINO-haters pause. The survey shows Shays in a virtual dead heat against either Democrat while McMahon is badly beaten in both matchups. Should that influence GOP voters?

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The transformation of the Republican Party in the mid to late 20th century from one dominated by a moderate-liberal Eastern establishment to the current conservative model is a historic fact. Even the mere hint of moderation on the part of a Republican candidate is enough to send the party’s grass roots into conniption fits. The most damning accusation that can be lodged against anyone in the GOP these days is that of being a RINO — Republican in name only — a term that is synonymous with betrayal of principle and mushy statism. But two important Senate contests this year raises an interesting question that Republicans ought to seriously consider: is it ever okay for the party to nominate a moderate?

In Connecticut, two candidates are contesting the Republican nomination for the Senate seat being vacated by Joe Lieberman: Wrestling mogul Linda McMahon and former congressman Chris Shays. For conservatives in this very blue state, the choice may be an easy one since McMahon is a Tea Party sympathizer. By contrast, Shays is more or less what most people think of when they hear the term RINO. In his 21 years representing Fairfield County in Congress Shays voted more often with liberals than conservatives. Yet a Quinnipiac University poll showing the pair in matchups against the two prospective Democratic challengers in the race ought to give even the most ardent RINO-haters pause. The survey shows Shays in a virtual dead heat against either Democrat while McMahon is badly beaten in both matchups. Should that influence GOP voters?

By the time he lost his seat in 2008, Shays had become a poster child for a nearly extinct species: moderate to liberal Republicans. On abortion, gun control, campaign finance reform and other conservative litmus test issues, Shays was on the liberal side of the spectrum. He also angered many by ditching his party on the war in Iraq in 2006 by calling for a troop withdrawal, a tilt to the left that helped hold onto his seat for one more term. Ironically, that was the same year Lieberman refused to bend to pressure from left to oppose the war and thereby lost his party’s nomination before winning re-election as an independent.

McMahon has no such liabilities as far as conservatives are concerned. But she does have two big problems. One is that her past as the head of a business as disreputable as professional wrestling makes her a tough sell in the state that calls itself the “land of steady habits.” The other is that her raw conservative populism is politically radioactive in liberal Connecticut. It should be remembered that during her initial foray into electoral politics in 2010 she faced off against an ethically damaged Democrat (Richard Blumenthal had been caught on tape lying about his service in Vietnam) in a year in which the Republicans made historic gains but was still beaten in a landslide. There’s no reason to think she will do any better this time around. Shays has, at worst, an even chance at stealing a seat the Democrats are counting on in a desperate battle to hold onto their Senate majority.

Across the state line to the east, Republicans won a huge victory a year ago when Scott Brown won Ted Kennedy’s old Senate seat. Brown comes across as a populist, but once you get beyond his opposition to ObamaCare and his truck, he is pretty much a standard issue New England moderate. Brown might be what passes for a conservative in Cambridge but does anyone think the GOP would have even a ghost of a chance of holding that seat in November against Elizabeth Warren with someone conservatives might like better? Its not likely Shays’ votes would be all that different from Brown’s or those of the retiring Olympia Snowe in Maine.

Having worked hard to purge the RINOs some conservatives are so offended by moderates that they are prepared to sacrifice electability for purity. They will argue, as some have in this year’s presidential primaries, that Republicans lose when they nominate moderates. But whatever one might think of the veracity of that claim on a national level, it makes no sense when you are discussing states that simply will never elect a conservative like Connecticut.

South Carolina Senator Jim DeMint famously said in 2010 that he’d “rather have 30 Marco Rubios [in the Senate with him in the Republican caucus] than 60 Arlen Specters.” But while his distaste for Specter was understandable, does that mean he and others on the right would really prefer to have a standard-issue liberal Democrat representing Connecticut rather than a squishy Republican who might make Mitch McConnell the Majority Leader rather than Harry Reid? Does no one in the GOP remember the seats they tossed away by nominating unsuitable right-wing candidates in Nevada and Delaware in 2010 rather than moderates or the advantage that gave Barack Obama in a score of legislative fights in 2011 and 2012?

Democrats won back the Congress in 2006 largely through a policy of nominating conservatives to run on their line in red states (think Heath Shuler in North Carolina). While Shays has an uphill battle to overcome McMahon’s enormous financial advantage in a GOP primary, that’s a lesson Connecticut Republicans might do well to remember.

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The Liberal War on Rush Limbaugh

About this Washington Times story regarding efforts by the left to silence Rush Limbaugh, I had some thoughts.

The first is that we know by now that the outrage on the left about Limbaugh’s comments about Sandra Fluke was largely false and feigned. We know this because if the fury were genuine, it would extend to vulgar comments leveled against all women, not just liberal ones. But the refusal of the Obama campaign team to return Bill Maher’s $1 million Super PAC contribution, combined with their silence in the wake of other attacks on conservative women, has given away the game. I’m reminded of how the feminist movement reacted to Anita Hill’s charges against Clarence Thomas v. the actions of Bill Clinton. Even if you believed everything Ms. Hill said (and I do not), Thomas’s actions paled in comparison to how Clinton has treated women. And yet the former was vilified and the latter was celebrated.

Second, liberals have failed to beat Limbaugh at his own game (talk radio) for almost three decades now. The left tried Air America and all sorts of other routes; none has worked. So they have settled on this one. What they are aiming to do is to delegitimize Limbaugh, to silence him because they hate him, his style, and his ideas.

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About this Washington Times story regarding efforts by the left to silence Rush Limbaugh, I had some thoughts.

The first is that we know by now that the outrage on the left about Limbaugh’s comments about Sandra Fluke was largely false and feigned. We know this because if the fury were genuine, it would extend to vulgar comments leveled against all women, not just liberal ones. But the refusal of the Obama campaign team to return Bill Maher’s $1 million Super PAC contribution, combined with their silence in the wake of other attacks on conservative women, has given away the game. I’m reminded of how the feminist movement reacted to Anita Hill’s charges against Clarence Thomas v. the actions of Bill Clinton. Even if you believed everything Ms. Hill said (and I do not), Thomas’s actions paled in comparison to how Clinton has treated women. And yet the former was vilified and the latter was celebrated.

Second, liberals have failed to beat Limbaugh at his own game (talk radio) for almost three decades now. The left tried Air America and all sorts of other routes; none has worked. So they have settled on this one. What they are aiming to do is to delegitimize Limbaugh, to silence him because they hate him, his style, and his ideas.

I would think that even some of those who don’t cotton to Limbaugh might be a bit uneasy about the tactics the left is using. They’re not illegal, but they reveal a somewhat troubling cast of mind.

Limbaugh’s critics have every right to go after him on the merits and to their heart’s content; that’s what a robust, free, self-governing nation does. David Brooks of the New York Times argues that Limbaugh has hurt conservatism, and he’s articulated his case on several occasions. That’s all fine and good. But the impulse on the left is more authoritarian than that. Many liberals have long been disposed to use whatever means they can — including the power of government, if necessary (see the so-called Fairness Doctrine for more) — to silence the voices and views of those with whom they disagree.

My own sense is that the left scored some damaging blows against Limbaugh early on but has since overplayed its hand; and that the blinding hypocrisy of Limbaugh’s critics has undermined their cause. Their attacks aren’t really about morality or civil public discourse; they are about power and the will to power. That is what separates Brooks from, say, Media Matters.

I’ll even make a prediction: Rush Limbaugh will be sitting behind the Golden EIB microphone years from now, still with a large and loyal audience in place, still arguing with David Brooks about this and that issue. And that is, as it ought to be.

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Obama Still Not Fooling Anyone on Israel

When foreign policy “realists,” pseudo-realists, and leftists claim that the pro-Israel establishment is preventing an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal, their argument fails to account for one aspect of recent Mideast history: During the administrations of American presidents seen as favoring Israel, the Jewish state’s leaders made serious offers for a final-status agreement.

So the argument that more “daylight” is needed between the U.S. and Israel is generally met with proper skepticism. So is the declaration that President Obama is just as pro-Israel as his predecessors, he’s just showing his friends a bit of tough love–heavy on the tough, light on the love. Aaron David Miller, part of Bill Clinton’s Mideast negotiating team, doesn’t think there’s any reason to fool yourself about that last point. He has written an article for Foreign Policy’s website detailing the six most damaging myths of the U.S.-Israel relationship. No. 6 is: “Barack Obama is just as pro-Israel as Bill Clinton or George W. Bush.” Miller writes:

There’s no question that Obama understands and appreciates the special relationship between Israel and the United States. But Obama isn’t Bill Clinton or George W. Bush when it comes to Israel — not even close. These guys were frustrated by Israeli prime ministers too, but they also were moved and enamored by them (Clinton by Yitzhak Rabin, Bush by Ariel Sharon). They had instinctive, heartfelt empathy for the idea of Israel’s story, and as a consequence they could make allowances at times for Israel’s behavior even when it clashed with their own policy goals. Obama is more like George H.W. Bush when it comes to Israel, but without the strategy…

If Obama had a chance to reset the U.S.-Israel relationship and make it a little less special, he probably would. But I guess that’s the point: He probably won’t have the chance.

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When foreign policy “realists,” pseudo-realists, and leftists claim that the pro-Israel establishment is preventing an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal, their argument fails to account for one aspect of recent Mideast history: During the administrations of American presidents seen as favoring Israel, the Jewish state’s leaders made serious offers for a final-status agreement.

So the argument that more “daylight” is needed between the U.S. and Israel is generally met with proper skepticism. So is the declaration that President Obama is just as pro-Israel as his predecessors, he’s just showing his friends a bit of tough love–heavy on the tough, light on the love. Aaron David Miller, part of Bill Clinton’s Mideast negotiating team, doesn’t think there’s any reason to fool yourself about that last point. He has written an article for Foreign Policy’s website detailing the six most damaging myths of the U.S.-Israel relationship. No. 6 is: “Barack Obama is just as pro-Israel as Bill Clinton or George W. Bush.” Miller writes:

There’s no question that Obama understands and appreciates the special relationship between Israel and the United States. But Obama isn’t Bill Clinton or George W. Bush when it comes to Israel — not even close. These guys were frustrated by Israeli prime ministers too, but they also were moved and enamored by them (Clinton by Yitzhak Rabin, Bush by Ariel Sharon). They had instinctive, heartfelt empathy for the idea of Israel’s story, and as a consequence they could make allowances at times for Israel’s behavior even when it clashed with their own policy goals. Obama is more like George H.W. Bush when it comes to Israel, but without the strategy…

If Obama had a chance to reset the U.S.-Israel relationship and make it a little less special, he probably would. But I guess that’s the point: He probably won’t have the chance.

Miller has made this point before. And when he says “He probably won’t have the chance,” that’s because the American public and their representatives in the Congress don’t want to downgrade the U.S.-Israeli relationship, so they will work to prevent Obama from doing so. The problem for the president is that he cannot argue that his way is more effective—he thus far has moved the parties in the conflict further away from where they’ve been in the past—or that he is the victim. After all, even Clinton—who never hid his disdain for Benjamin Netanyahu–got Netanyahu to sign a deal, and with Yasser Arafat no less.

Under the previous two administrations—one Democratic, one Republican–the Israeli right, left, and center have all signed agreements, made final-status offers, or led Israel to make unprecedented sacrifices for the peace process. As Yossi Klein Halevi wrote recently: “Israelis still recall with disbelief how Obama refused to honor Bush’s written commitment to Ariel Sharon—that the U.S. would support settlement blocs being incorporated into Israel proper. And never has an American president treated an Israeli prime minister with such shabbiness as Obama has treated Netanyahu. Indeed one gets the impression that of all the world’s leaders, Obama most detests the prime minister of Israel.”

Read that last sentence again and understand why it matters that Obama thinks less of Israel than his predecessors did, and why he has failed both the Israelis and the Palestinians because of it.

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Is the West Winning a New Cold War?

Max Boot believes that France is a success at counter-terrorism, despite “bungling” the case of Mohammad Merah. “Indeed France’s real mistake is not doing more to assimilate Muslims which ensures a constant supply of plotters,” Max writes; “the blame is more on society and government as a whole than on the security forces which are on the whole quite effective.”

Perhaps he is right. I am reminded, though, of something that Jean-François Revel wrote for COMMENTARY nearly three decades ago. The philosopher and former Résistance fighter who succeeded Raymond Aron as France’s most trenchant political commentator, Revel warned that Western democracies have a susceptibility to internal threats written into their genetic code. A democratic state can mobilize against external enemies, but:

can defend itself from within only very feebly; its internal enemy has an easy time of it because he exploits the right to disagree that is inherent in democracy. His aim of destroying democracy itself, of actively seeking an absolute monopoly of power, is shrewdly hidden behind the citizen’s legitimate right to oppose and criticize the system. Paradoxically, democracy offers those seeking to abolish it a unique opportunity to work against it legally.

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Max Boot believes that France is a success at counter-terrorism, despite “bungling” the case of Mohammad Merah. “Indeed France’s real mistake is not doing more to assimilate Muslims which ensures a constant supply of plotters,” Max writes; “the blame is more on society and government as a whole than on the security forces which are on the whole quite effective.”

Perhaps he is right. I am reminded, though, of something that Jean-François Revel wrote for COMMENTARY nearly three decades ago. The philosopher and former Résistance fighter who succeeded Raymond Aron as France’s most trenchant political commentator, Revel warned that Western democracies have a susceptibility to internal threats written into their genetic code. A democratic state can mobilize against external enemies, but:

can defend itself from within only very feebly; its internal enemy has an easy time of it because he exploits the right to disagree that is inherent in democracy. His aim of destroying democracy itself, of actively seeking an absolute monopoly of power, is shrewdly hidden behind the citizen’s legitimate right to oppose and criticize the system. Paradoxically, democracy offers those seeking to abolish it a unique opportunity to work against it legally.

Even worse, officials in a democracy who would call for harsher measures against internal threats would themselves be denounced as undemocratic. There is no easy exit from this “topsy-turvy situation,” especially in a country like France where rights and anti-racism are national obsessions second only to soccer.

What should democracies do? Revel’s first answer is a wake-up call: “don’t do what you are doing now.” And here I must respectfully dissent from Max’s conclusion. Whatever its past successes, France’s handling of Mohammad Merah suggests that it is helpless before the “lone wolves” of Islamic radicalism, who number in the hundreds of thousands. What France is doing about them now is not succeeding.

The second choice (to adapt Revel to the present moment) is to hope that, somehow, someday, the Islamists will voluntarily change their ways and agree to stop murdering Jews and anyone else who resists, simply by virtue of being who they are, the “household of Islam.” This of course is a fond but naive hope.

The third and final option is to accept the fact that the West is at war with Islamism. Among other things, this would entail the recognition that those who enlist with Islamism are the sworn enemies of democracy, who are no longer merely “expressing opinions” and exercising their right to disagree, but are seeking the violent downfall of democracy itself. In Revel’s terms, what is required is a new Cold War — against Islamism this time around.

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Gallup: 57% Favor Keystone Construction

Not surprisingly, the support is highest among Republicans. But a majority of independents and plurality of Democrats support the pipeline construction as well, highlighting just how much of a political miscalculation President Obama made by standing in the way of the Keystone XL.

And while Obama has claimed his objections to the pipeline stem from concern over the safety of the proposed route, the Keystone XL receives the highest support in the states it would cut through. The reason is obvious: the pipeline would bring jobs to areas of the country that badly need them.

The pipeline would travel through the Midwest and the South, and Americans in those two regions are the most likely to approve of the project. Nearly 7 in 10 Midwesterners want the government to approve the building of the pipeline and 61% of those in the South do as well. There has been discussion in Washington and in the media about the potential new jobs the pipeline project would create, which may partly explain the higher support seen in those regions. Americans in the West and East are less likely to approve.

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Not surprisingly, the support is highest among Republicans. But a majority of independents and plurality of Democrats support the pipeline construction as well, highlighting just how much of a political miscalculation President Obama made by standing in the way of the Keystone XL.

And while Obama has claimed his objections to the pipeline stem from concern over the safety of the proposed route, the Keystone XL receives the highest support in the states it would cut through. The reason is obvious: the pipeline would bring jobs to areas of the country that badly need them.

The pipeline would travel through the Midwest and the South, and Americans in those two regions are the most likely to approve of the project. Nearly 7 in 10 Midwesterners want the government to approve the building of the pipeline and 61% of those in the South do as well. There has been discussion in Washington and in the media about the potential new jobs the pipeline project would create, which may partly explain the higher support seen in those regions. Americans in the West and East are less likely to approve.

The pressure is mounting on Obama, and he’s turning to his usual defense strategy of shifting the blame. According to the president, the Republicans are responsible for killing the Keystone XL permit, and all because they wanted to play politics with the issue:

Deep in Republican oil country, Obama said lawmakers refused to give his administration enough time review the controversial Keystone pipeline in order to ensure that it wouldn’t compromise the health and safety of people living in surrounding areas.

“Unfortunately, Congress decided they wanted their own timeline,” Obama said. “Not the company, not the experts, but members of Congress who decided this might be a fun political issue decided to try to intervene and make it impossible for us to make an informed decision.”

How’s that for projection? Obama created this entire mess for himself by playing politics in the first place. He didn’t want to make a decision on an issue that pitted two of his major groups of supporters against each other during an election year, so he tried to extend the evaluation process until 2013. All Republicans forced him to do was make a decision. And unfortunately for him, he chose the side that the majority of Americans now say they disagree with.

The Obama campaign obviously realizes how toxic this issue is for the president, or they wouldn’t have him out on the campaign trail trying to frantically spin his administration’s energy failures. How desperate is his campaign getting? Based on this video of Obama’s stump speech, it looks like they’re on the edge of panic mode:

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Defense Burden Isn’t Getting Lighter

In a great op-ed at Fox News, Mackenzie Eaglen points out the degree to which Barack Obama’s passion for underfunding the Pentagon is at odds with America’s defense obligations. In March of last year, “for the first time, according to the Pentagon’s Transportation Command chief, every combatant commander had a priority one mission requiring the help of the Air Force,” she notes. Even with an administration whose first foreign-policy priority is to curtail intervention abroad, air power was maxed out.

And, in historical terms, it didn’t take much: Leading from behind in Libya, the surge in Afghanistan, support in Japan after the tsunami, and air support for Obama’s trip to South America. We did it all and we did it well but unless you believe in the end of humanitarian disaster and international conflict, America’s defense load is never going to lighten to the point that the Obama budget envisions. Instead, we’ll just be unable to carry it.

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In a great op-ed at Fox News, Mackenzie Eaglen points out the degree to which Barack Obama’s passion for underfunding the Pentagon is at odds with America’s defense obligations. In March of last year, “for the first time, according to the Pentagon’s Transportation Command chief, every combatant commander had a priority one mission requiring the help of the Air Force,” she notes. Even with an administration whose first foreign-policy priority is to curtail intervention abroad, air power was maxed out.

And, in historical terms, it didn’t take much: Leading from behind in Libya, the surge in Afghanistan, support in Japan after the tsunami, and air support for Obama’s trip to South America. We did it all and we did it well but unless you believe in the end of humanitarian disaster and international conflict, America’s defense load is never going to lighten to the point that the Obama budget envisions. Instead, we’ll just be unable to carry it.

The administration’s unprecedented defense cuts mean an unprecedented handicap for the U.S. Air Force, the hardest hit of all the armed services. “Today’s Air Force faces serious challenges: a rapidly shrinking size of its inventory and the slow loss of its cutting-edge capabilities,” Eaglen writes. And Obama’s much-vaunted Asian pivot will be DOA at this rate. “As the Obama administration looks increasingly to the Pacific, it is failing to ensure that it will have enough resources for its new strategy. At a time when the U.S. military desperately needs next-generation technologies to meet the challenges posed by proliferating precision munitions and anti-access and denial capabilities, the administration has repeatedly chosen to delay, reduce, or even kill most of the military’s high-tech modernization programs.”

Forget the sci-fi weapons. Conventional resources are disappearing. In the Vietnam era, we had over 500 B-2 bombers. Today we have 20.

You don’t have to be a warmonger to do math.

We’re entering an age of disorienting global chaos. At the same time the Obama administration is enforcing unprecedented defense cuts.  The volatility in Iran, the Arab world, Russia, and North Korea isn’t going to abate because Americans want it to. And those are just the places we can currently imagine erupting.  The harder challenges are going to come from corners and parties we’ve not been paying attention to. We could be in for a day that makes March 2011 look like a beach vacation. When America can’t rise to it, we’ll find ourselves in a different world.

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No Basis for Skepticism About Inevitability

The widespread consensus among pundits and political operators that Mitt Romney’s nomination is no longer in doubt has generated some predictable pushback from conservatives who are still trying to convince themselves that it is possible to stop him. Some seized on this analysis by the Wall Street Journal of the delegate math from earlier in the week as proof that the road ahead for the frontrunner was still steep since it made it clear that Romney had to keep winning at least 50 percent of the delegates in play to clinch before the Tampa convention. When you combine that with the dismay over the Etch A Sketch gaffe as well as the ongoing angst about the candidate’s bona fides still being expressed by respected commentators such as William Kristol, it is possible to imagine there is still room for skepticism about the inevitability of the outcome.

But the are two problems for those trying to concoct such a scenario. The first is that no matter how you play around with the delegate math, nothing short of a Romney collapse will prevent him from getting a majority of convention delegates by the end of June. The second is that even if you think Romney will still find a few more banana peels to slip on in the upcoming weeks, a deadlocked convention requires one of his competitors to catch fire during this period. Yet the only possible alternative is Rick Santorum, a candidate who has already proven repeatedly that he cannot compete in any state that isn’t dominated by evangelicals.

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The widespread consensus among pundits and political operators that Mitt Romney’s nomination is no longer in doubt has generated some predictable pushback from conservatives who are still trying to convince themselves that it is possible to stop him. Some seized on this analysis by the Wall Street Journal of the delegate math from earlier in the week as proof that the road ahead for the frontrunner was still steep since it made it clear that Romney had to keep winning at least 50 percent of the delegates in play to clinch before the Tampa convention. When you combine that with the dismay over the Etch A Sketch gaffe as well as the ongoing angst about the candidate’s bona fides still being expressed by respected commentators such as William Kristol, it is possible to imagine there is still room for skepticism about the inevitability of the outcome.

But the are two problems for those trying to concoct such a scenario. The first is that no matter how you play around with the delegate math, nothing short of a Romney collapse will prevent him from getting a majority of convention delegates by the end of June. The second is that even if you think Romney will still find a few more banana peels to slip on in the upcoming weeks, a deadlocked convention requires one of his competitors to catch fire during this period. Yet the only possible alternative is Rick Santorum, a candidate who has already proven repeatedly that he cannot compete in any state that isn’t dominated by evangelicals.

As Nate Silver writes in today’s New York Times, all Romney has to do to win the nomination is to win 46 percent of the delegates still up for grabs. But even a pessimistic evaluation of his chances in the remaining states to vote would give him far more than 50 percent. Romney has already won more than double those won by his competitors and the tough part of the calendar for him will be over this weekend after Louisiana votes. Silver estimates his chances now of gaining a majority of delegates at 91 percent, which strikes me as reasonable if a bit on the low end. The odds of Santorum getting a majority are virtually zero. In politics, as in sports, you have to always remember that anything can happen. Yet the only ways by which Romney is beaten now involves scenarios that are about as likely as his campaign bus getting struck by a meteorite.

It should also be remembered that none of this is happening in a vacuum. As John Podhoretz wrote in today’s New York Post, those hoping for a brokered convention haven’t thought through the consequences of their dream coming true. Irrespective of what anybody thinks about Romney, such a thing would be, as John pointed out, nothing short of a catastrophe for the GOP and guarantee Barack Obama’s re-election as well as doom the party’s Congressional hopes.

One of the reasons why the discussion about the race has moved to one about how exactly the endgame will play out it is that everyone knows this. The idea that Rick Santorum would act in such a way as to deliberately sabotage Romney’s chances in November merely to make an ideological point or out of spite is absurd and shows little insight into his character or record as a politician. Once it’s clear that his hand has been played out, he will withdraw to preserve his future in the party. I’d estimate that moment comes in mid-May at the latest. But whether I’m right about that date or not, unless Santorum miraculously starts winning the sort of states where he has been consistently beaten this year, he will not seek to prolong the race beyond the point where he has no chance of winning.

That might not be what some bitter-end opponents of Romney want to hear but the sooner they make their peace with the inevitable GOP nominee, the better his chances of winning in November will be.

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Did Oil Production Increase Under Obama?

One of the themes of President Obama’s energy tour this week is that oil production increased under his watch. Speaking in Boulder, Colorado, he claimed:

“We’re going to continue to produce oil and gas at a record pace,” he told one crowd.

The president first paid a visit to the largest solar plant of its kind in the country, in Boulder City, Nev., a city southeast of Las Vegas. The plant is home to nearly a million solar panels.

He blasted Republicans, who he says have favored oil companies over investments in alternative energy.

“The current members of the Flat Earth Society in Congress,” Mr. Obama said, “they would rather see us continue to provide $4 billion in tax subsidies, tax giveaways to the oil companies.”

Domestic oil production may have increased under Obama, but it has absolutely nothing to do with his policies.

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One of the themes of President Obama’s energy tour this week is that oil production increased under his watch. Speaking in Boulder, Colorado, he claimed:

“We’re going to continue to produce oil and gas at a record pace,” he told one crowd.

The president first paid a visit to the largest solar plant of its kind in the country, in Boulder City, Nev., a city southeast of Las Vegas. The plant is home to nearly a million solar panels.

He blasted Republicans, who he says have favored oil companies over investments in alternative energy.

“The current members of the Flat Earth Society in Congress,” Mr. Obama said, “they would rather see us continue to provide $4 billion in tax subsidies, tax giveaways to the oil companies.”

Domestic oil production may have increased under Obama, but it has absolutely nothing to do with his policies.

As the Washington Free Beacon reports today, just 4 percent of the total increase in domestic oil production occurred on federal land:

The study, prepared by the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service (CRS), examined oil production on federal and non-federal land between 2007-2011. Approximately 96 percent of the total increase in domestic oil production occurred on non-federal land, CRS found.

Earlier this month, the Energy Information Administration reported that oil and natural gas production on federal land declined 40 percent over the past decade and 14 percent in 2011 alone.

So not only did almost all of the production take place on land beyond the Obama administration’s control, but it decreased significantly on land within his control.

It’s unclear whether Obama’s defense of his energy policies will be convincing to voters, or at least persuasive enough to mollify public anger over rising gas prices. But I wonder whether Obama’s doing himself any favors by referring to congressional Republicans in such antagonistic terms. Obviously Obama wasn’t going to be able to run on the post-partisan, civil discourse platform this time around. But he’s taking things to an extreme that seems politically unhelpful.

Acting frustrated by congressional Republicans, which Obama has done in the past, isn’t likely to turn off voters. But calling his political opponents “members of the Flat Earth Society” – has that even been funny since 1992? – just comes off as snarky and self-satisfied. He’s used it enough times in the last few days that it’s clearly intentional. But if Obama’s communication skills are as brilliant as his supporters believe, he should at least be able to explain his disagreement with Republicans without leaning on stale sarcastic insults as a crutch.

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Middle East Peace Won’t End Terrorism

Just as there was a certain segment of the intelligentsia which claimed after 9/11 that the U.S. “had it coming,” so too there will no doubt be some who claim that the Jews somehow had it coming because the Toulouse gunman, Mohammed Merah, cited the plight of the Palestinians along with other issues (e.g., the public ban on the veil in France) to justify his murderous rampage. The best riposte to this despicable line of argument comes from none other than Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad who says as Jonathan noted yesterday: “It is time for these criminals to stop marketing their terrorist acts in the name of Palestine and to stop pretending to stand up for the rights of Palestinian children who only ask for a decent life.”

This will not, of course, silence the anti-Israel lobby which will claim that Israeli “occupation” of the West Bank and Gaza will continue to drive would-be terrorists around the bend until a real Palestinian state is established. The argument, plausible on its face, falls apart at the slightest examination.

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Just as there was a certain segment of the intelligentsia which claimed after 9/11 that the U.S. “had it coming,” so too there will no doubt be some who claim that the Jews somehow had it coming because the Toulouse gunman, Mohammed Merah, cited the plight of the Palestinians along with other issues (e.g., the public ban on the veil in France) to justify his murderous rampage. The best riposte to this despicable line of argument comes from none other than Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad who says as Jonathan noted yesterday: “It is time for these criminals to stop marketing their terrorist acts in the name of Palestine and to stop pretending to stand up for the rights of Palestinian children who only ask for a decent life.”

This will not, of course, silence the anti-Israel lobby which will claim that Israeli “occupation” of the West Bank and Gaza will continue to drive would-be terrorists around the bend until a real Palestinian state is established. The argument, plausible on its face, falls apart at the slightest examination.


Just imagine that Fayyad and his boss, Palestinian Authority President Mohammed Abbas, had actually reached a “final status” deal with the Israelis. I know: it’s hard to imagine but suspend disbelief for a second. No one knows exactly what such a deal would entail but it’s safe to guess that, to be acceptable to any Israeli government, it would have to maintain Israeli sovereignty over much of Jerusalem and the large settlement blocs in the West Bank which are next to Israel’s pre-1967 boundaries. This would mean incorporating perhaps 5% of the West Bank into Israel proper with possible offsets elsewhere. The settlement would also presumably require Palestinians to recognize Israel’s existence as a Jewish state, to agree to live in peace with Israel, and (hardest to swallow) to renounce any right of return. Moreover Israel would probably insist–and rightly so–that any future Palestinian state be prevented from acquiring certain military capabilities (e.g., no anti-aircraft missiles that could shoot down jetliners landing at Ben Gurion Airport) and that Israel maintain some kind of security presence along the border between Jordan and the West Bank. Whatever happens with the Palestinians, the Golan Heights would remain under Israeli control at least pending a deal with Syria, which at the moment seems impossible to imagine.

Again, there is no realistic prospect of such a deal being done anytime soon; there is, for example, the inconvenient fact that Gaza is under the control of Hamas which won’t recognize Israel’s right to exist. But even if such a deal were done and the “peace processers” were to succeed beyond their wildest dreams—even if that were to occur, does anyone imagine that future Mohammed Merahs would react by saying: “I give up my jihad and am reconciled to the state of Israel. The Jews are now my friends.” The thought is absurd. What the Merahs of the world would say instead is: “An apostate regime of traitors has sold out the Palestinian birthright to avaricious sons of apes and I will never accept this sacrilege. The Jews remain my enemies.” In short what the Merahs object to is the existence of the state of Israel under any conditions, not its existence under its post-1967 borders.

To me this is so obvious that it barely needs saying. Yet a significant portion of the foreign policy establishments in the U.S. and Europe still don’t seem to get it. There is nothing wrong with pressing for a Palestinian-Israeli settlement; a deal, if it is a good one, is in the best long term interests of both sides. But no one would should imagine that any deal will deny extremists the ability to exploit the Palestinian cause to justify their own killer rage at the world in general and Jews in particular.

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Jeb Bush’s Good Advice on Education

Salena Zito has posted her full interview with former Florida governor Jeb Bush, in which Bush suggests there is no need to look further for a vice presidential nominee than Florida Senator Marco Rubio. Rubio has been among the most common suggestions for the GOP nominee’s running mate, but now that Romney appears to have wrapped up the nomination, the calls for Rubio to join the ticket are growing louder. (Romney’s blandness has encouraged some commentators to caution him away from choosing Bob McDonnell or Rob Portman.)

But Bush’s other comments in the interview offer some good advice for Romney as well. Romney has been hoping to run against Obama’s record–massive deficits, unsustainable entitlements, high gas prices, high unemployment, etc. But he has already begun conceding the economy’s improvement and searching for someone other than the president to credit. Paul Ryan gave Romney an opportunity to make this election about advocating for future generations when Ryan released his budget aiming to steer the country away from crushing deficits and entitlement insolvency. If Romney follows Ryan in this direction, Bush gave him some more to work with yesterday:

Bush said he is confident Romney would advocate for education issues, an issue the former governor said he was “passionate” about.

“He knows the proper role of government in education, which is limited,” Bush said. “You do not have to have an interventionist federal policy to make something as important as education a national priority.”

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Salena Zito has posted her full interview with former Florida governor Jeb Bush, in which Bush suggests there is no need to look further for a vice presidential nominee than Florida Senator Marco Rubio. Rubio has been among the most common suggestions for the GOP nominee’s running mate, but now that Romney appears to have wrapped up the nomination, the calls for Rubio to join the ticket are growing louder. (Romney’s blandness has encouraged some commentators to caution him away from choosing Bob McDonnell or Rob Portman.)

But Bush’s other comments in the interview offer some good advice for Romney as well. Romney has been hoping to run against Obama’s record–massive deficits, unsustainable entitlements, high gas prices, high unemployment, etc. But he has already begun conceding the economy’s improvement and searching for someone other than the president to credit. Paul Ryan gave Romney an opportunity to make this election about advocating for future generations when Ryan released his budget aiming to steer the country away from crushing deficits and entitlement insolvency. If Romney follows Ryan in this direction, Bush gave him some more to work with yesterday:

Bush said he is confident Romney would advocate for education issues, an issue the former governor said he was “passionate” about.

“He knows the proper role of government in education, which is limited,” Bush said. “You do not have to have an interventionist federal policy to make something as important as education a national priority.”

It’s unclear why the GOP candidates have not been talking more about education. President Obama’s budget eliminates the D.C. scholarship program that offered many minority students a much-needed lifeline out of failing schools, and his outspoken opposition to the program has infuriated black and Hispanic leaders. And Chris Christie’s reforms in New Jersey have shown the benefit of bringing teacher’s union contracts closer to reality and freeing up funding for the students. (As someone who has covered education in New Jersey, I can tell you that students were stuck using outdated textbooks and had after-school tutoring and sports programs cut because the state’s Democrats saw unions, not students, as their constituency.)

Romney can also take a look at a new report released by a committee chaired by Condoleezza Rice (another common suggestion for vice president) and former New York City schools chancellor Joel Klein. The report makes for grim reading, and the task force concludes that the dire state of American education is a national security threat as well:

The lack of preparedness poses threats on five national security fronts: economic growth and competitiveness, physical safety, intellectual property, U.S. global awareness, and U.S. unity and cohesion, says the report. Too many young people are not employable in an increasingly high-skilled and global economy, and too many are not qualified to join the military because they are physically unfit, have criminal records, or have an inadequate level of education.

“Human capital will determine power in the current century, and the failure to produce that capital will undermine America’s security,” the report states. “Large, undereducated swaths of the population damage the ability of the United States to physically defend itself, protect its secure information, conduct diplomacy, and grow its economy.”

The broad implications of this issue make it ready-made for an election campaign focused on increasing opportunities for future generations. Bush, Christie, and Rice may not be running, but the rest of the conservative movement and its ascendant standard bearers should be listening carefully.

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The Secret of French Success on Terror

D.G. Myers is right that French authorities bungled badly in the affair of Mohamed Merah who was on a terrorist watch list but was allowed to roam freely. That terrible mistake was obviated somewhat by the swift and massive French response after the terrible shootings at the Jewish day school; Merah was identified and cornered within two days of that attack and stopped before he could kill again.

But whatever the French did wrong in this case — and there is no doubt that a terrible oversight occurred — on the whole French counter-terrorism is a success story. I recommend reading this 2008 article by Reuel Marc Gerecht and Gary Schmitt that calls France “the European country most serious about counterterrorism.” The secret of French success has been their willingness “to grant highly intrusive powers to their internal security service, the Direction de la Surveillance du Territoire (DST), and to their counterterrorist, investigative magistrates, the juges d’instruction” — powers that far exceed any authorities given U.S. government officials even under the Patriot Act. With those powers, French forces have done an impressive job of stopping terrorist plots of which there is no shortage because of the large number of marginalized and aggrieved Muslim immigrants living there. Indeed France’s real mistake is not doing more to assimilate Muslims which ensures a constant supply of plotters; the blame is more on society and government as a whole than on the security forces which are on the whole quite effective.

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D.G. Myers is right that French authorities bungled badly in the affair of Mohamed Merah who was on a terrorist watch list but was allowed to roam freely. That terrible mistake was obviated somewhat by the swift and massive French response after the terrible shootings at the Jewish day school; Merah was identified and cornered within two days of that attack and stopped before he could kill again.

But whatever the French did wrong in this case — and there is no doubt that a terrible oversight occurred — on the whole French counter-terrorism is a success story. I recommend reading this 2008 article by Reuel Marc Gerecht and Gary Schmitt that calls France “the European country most serious about counterterrorism.” The secret of French success has been their willingness “to grant highly intrusive powers to their internal security service, the Direction de la Surveillance du Territoire (DST), and to their counterterrorist, investigative magistrates, the juges d’instruction” — powers that far exceed any authorities given U.S. government officials even under the Patriot Act. With those powers, French forces have done an impressive job of stopping terrorist plots of which there is no shortage because of the large number of marginalized and aggrieved Muslim immigrants living there. Indeed France’s real mistake is not doing more to assimilate Muslims which ensures a constant supply of plotters; the blame is more on society and government as a whole than on the security forces which are on the whole quite effective.

The Toulouse tragedy merely goes to show that any system, no matter how vigilant, cannot prevent all terrorist attacks. As the saying has it, the security forces have to be right all the time; the terrorists have to be right only once. The real test now for the French authorities will be how they conduct their “lessons learned” exercises and what they do to patch the holes uncovered by Mohamed Merah.

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Obama’s Useless Keystone Review

The good news is that President Obama will announce his plan to expedite the review process for the southern leg of the Keystone pipeline at a campaign stop in Cushing, Oklahoma. The bad news is that it will have absolutely no impact on the timeline for pipeline construction, which was already on track to begin as early as June:

TransCanada’s president of energy and oil pipelines, Alex Pourbaix, said in an interview March 6 that construction on the Cushing phase of Keystone could begin as soon as June. The company doesn’t expect the new review process to change that schedule, Cunha said yesterday. …

Since the Cushing phase doesn’t cross an international border, it doesn’t require permission from the U.S. Department of State and president, as the full project did. Nonetheless, the Obama administration immediately endorsed TransCanada’s Cushing plan and released a statement in February saying the White House will “take every step possible to expedite the necessary federal permits.”

So Obama is endorsing a portion of the Keystone pipeline that doesn’t even need his consent for construction, while refusing to approve the only part of the pipeline that actually needs State Department permission. In other words, he’s shuffling around a lot of papers and trying to make it look like he’s doing something.

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The good news is that President Obama will announce his plan to expedite the review process for the southern leg of the Keystone pipeline at a campaign stop in Cushing, Oklahoma. The bad news is that it will have absolutely no impact on the timeline for pipeline construction, which was already on track to begin as early as June:

TransCanada’s president of energy and oil pipelines, Alex Pourbaix, said in an interview March 6 that construction on the Cushing phase of Keystone could begin as soon as June. The company doesn’t expect the new review process to change that schedule, Cunha said yesterday. …

Since the Cushing phase doesn’t cross an international border, it doesn’t require permission from the U.S. Department of State and president, as the full project did. Nonetheless, the Obama administration immediately endorsed TransCanada’s Cushing plan and released a statement in February saying the White House will “take every step possible to expedite the necessary federal permits.”

So Obama is endorsing a portion of the Keystone pipeline that doesn’t even need his consent for construction, while refusing to approve the only part of the pipeline that actually needs State Department permission. In other words, he’s shuffling around a lot of papers and trying to make it look like he’s doing something.

It sounds like the only reason the southern portion of the Keystone pipeline is slated for construction so soon is because the Obama administration’s permission wasn’t necessary in the first place. Of course, now that rising gas prices are cutting into the president’s poll numbers, he’s gratuitously intervening in a project that was already progressing along nicely – and will no doubt try to claim credit for its speedy progress.

House Speaker John Boehner’s spokesman Brendan Buck said it best: “The approval needed for this leg of the project is so minor and routine that only a desperate administration would inject the president of the United States into the process. This is like the governor holding a press conference to renew my driver’s license — except this announcement still leaves American energy and jobs behind.”

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Toulouse Shows Importance of Vigilance

The siege in Toulouse ended with rough justice delivered to Mohammed Merah, the terrorist responsible for murdering three French soldiers, a rabbi, and three Jewish schoolchildren. He died battling the French security forces that stormed his apartment. But the debate over his heinous acts will live for some time. No doubt we will hear many voices raised to counsel against anti-Arab or anti-Muslim bigotry because Merah was of Algerian descent and a follower of al Qaeda’s twisted ideology. And those voices will be absolutely right: Fanatics like Merah are a tiny portion of the world’s billion-plus Muslims and even a tiny portion of Europe’s Muslim population of more than 50 million (excluding Turkey). The vast majority of Muslims are law-abiding and utterly unsympathetic to the siren call of extremism–indeed polls shows that Muslim opinion has turned firmly against Al Qaeda and its ilk over the past decade.

Yet it is undeniable that the most prominent acts of terrorism in the past several decades have been committed by Islamists, whose ideology has displaced Marxism and even nationalism as the primary propellant for terrorism, as it was in the 1960s-1970s. That is no reason to discriminate against Muslims; indeed the best protection against violence is to assimilate Muslim immigrants so that they have a stake in society–something that the U.S. has done notably better than Europe, which is why Europe has to worry about homegrown terrorism more than we do.

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The siege in Toulouse ended with rough justice delivered to Mohammed Merah, the terrorist responsible for murdering three French soldiers, a rabbi, and three Jewish schoolchildren. He died battling the French security forces that stormed his apartment. But the debate over his heinous acts will live for some time. No doubt we will hear many voices raised to counsel against anti-Arab or anti-Muslim bigotry because Merah was of Algerian descent and a follower of al Qaeda’s twisted ideology. And those voices will be absolutely right: Fanatics like Merah are a tiny portion of the world’s billion-plus Muslims and even a tiny portion of Europe’s Muslim population of more than 50 million (excluding Turkey). The vast majority of Muslims are law-abiding and utterly unsympathetic to the siren call of extremism–indeed polls shows that Muslim opinion has turned firmly against Al Qaeda and its ilk over the past decade.

Yet it is undeniable that the most prominent acts of terrorism in the past several decades have been committed by Islamists, whose ideology has displaced Marxism and even nationalism as the primary propellant for terrorism, as it was in the 1960s-1970s. That is no reason to discriminate against Muslims; indeed the best protection against violence is to assimilate Muslim immigrants so that they have a stake in society–something that the U.S. has done notably better than Europe, which is why Europe has to worry about homegrown terrorism more than we do.

But even here the threat is real as seen from incidents such as the foiled Times Square bombing in 2010 or the shootings by Major Nidal Malik Hasan at Fort Hood in 2009. Incidents such as these, along with the Toulouse attacks, reinforce the arguments of analysts such as Marc Sageman who speak of “leaderless jihad” being the wave of the future — i.e., lone-wolf jihadists carrying out atrocities with little if any central direction. The danger is real and yet it is not entirely disconnected from the existence of terrorist sanctuaries, as witness the fact that Merah traveled to Pakistan and Afghanistan allegedly to receive terrorist training or from the fact that Hasan was inspired by the preaching of American-born Al Qaeda Anwar al-Awlaki who found sanctuary in Yemen until he was killed in a U.S. drone strike last year.

The ability of Afghanistan to serve as a training ground for terrorists is strictly limited at the moment because of the presence of more than 100,000 NATO troops: U.S. Special Operations Forces, in particular, will target and kill or capture any substantial gathering of foreign terrorists. Yet it is salutary to remember that in the 1990s under Taliban rule Afghanistan served as a training ground for thousands of jihadist killers; it could play that role again if the U.S. pulls out prematurely because the Taliban and related groups such as the Haqqani Network have done nothing to repudiate Al Qaeda in the intervening years. Indeed some local terrorist groups, such as the Pakistani Taliban, are branching out into international terrorism; it was one of their members who tried to set off the Times Square car bomb.

The answer to this diffuse threat is simple to state but hard to execute: We must remain vigilant both at home and abroad. That means trying to prevent the creation of terrorist sanctuaries in countries such as Afghanistan where it is in our power to do so and to disrupt terrorist sanctuaries that already exist in places like Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia. It also means maintaining the vigilant homeland defense policies that were instituted after 9/11, many of which have come under fire from civil libertarians who contend that the threat of terrorism is vastly exaggerated. The New York Police Department, for one, has come under fire lately for its use of undercover officers and informants to infiltrate various Muslim institutions to ferret out possible terrorist plots. Such steps are understandably controversial but they are also necessary if we are to avoid seeing New York turned into Toulouse.

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Verdict on Toulouse: French Incompetence

Mohammad Merah, the self-confessed murderer of Jewish schoolchildren and French soldiers, died while jumping from his bathroom window in a torrent of police gunfire around 11:30 this morning in Toulouse. “This man doesn’t interest me,” Nicole Yardeni, the president of the regional Council of Jews, scoffed after the 32-hour siege had finally ended. “He is only an instrument of death.” But the French press seemed plenty interested. “Itinerary of a killer,” Le Parisien headlined its story over a front-page photo of a smirking Merah. “End of the road for a killer,” L’Humanite trumpeted. “Trajectory of hatred,” Libération blared.

Perhaps it was well that the French had become interested in Merah at last. Although he was on a Direction Centrale du Renseignement Intérieur “watch list” since 2008, no one was apparently watching him.

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Mohammad Merah, the self-confessed murderer of Jewish schoolchildren and French soldiers, died while jumping from his bathroom window in a torrent of police gunfire around 11:30 this morning in Toulouse. “This man doesn’t interest me,” Nicole Yardeni, the president of the regional Council of Jews, scoffed after the 32-hour siege had finally ended. “He is only an instrument of death.” But the French press seemed plenty interested. “Itinerary of a killer,” Le Parisien headlined its story over a front-page photo of a smirking Merah. “End of the road for a killer,” L’Humanite trumpeted. “Trajectory of hatred,” Libération blared.

Perhaps it was well that the French had become interested in Merah at last. Although he was on a Direction Centrale du Renseignement Intérieur “watch list” since 2008, no one was apparently watching him.

Claude Guéant, the interior minister, defended the French intelligence agency’s failure by saying it follows “a lot of people engaged in radical Islamism. Expressing ideas and manifesting Salafist opinions is not grounds enough for prosecution,” he explained.

Maybe not, but Merah did more than merely express Salafist opinions. A neighbor in Toulouse filed two police complaints after Merah had tried to recruit her son to jihad by showing him Al Qaeda videos of murders and beheadings, Haaretz reported earlier today. A petty criminal who was known to police for his violent streak from childhood, Merah was radicalized in prison, traveled to Pakistan and Afghanistan to receive terrorist training at the hands of Al Qaeda, and returned to France determined to kill.

Even when they had Merah cornered, the French authorities did not appear to know what to do with him. After two gunshots were heard from Merah’s apartment shortly before 1:00 in the morning, Guéant wondered aloud if Merah had killed himself. French commandos waited another ten hours, with no communication from Merah, before assaulting his apartment. A special camera was inserted into the apartment, but Merah could not be found. Finally he fired upon them from the balcony and retreated to his bathroom to await them. When the commandos burst in, Merah emerged from the bathroom, firing ferociously, wounding one officer in the foot. Then he dashed back to the bathroom and flung himself from the window.

A columnist for the Telegraph described Merah as a Nike or “Just Do It” terrorist. “[I]ntelligence experts believe al-Qaeda no longer has the organisational capacity to conduct [spectacular] attacks [like 9/11],” Con Coughlin wrote. “Instead they are focusing their energy on softer targets.” Merah may be among the first of a new wave of “lone wolf” terrorists, experts fear.

That’s one fear. My fear is that French powerlessness — the French inability to stop Merah before he murdered Jews and soldiers, the French incompetence at preventing him from writing the last chapter of his own story, going out in a blaze of gunfire, refusing to be taken alive — will only encourage more Islamist terrorists. Whether France has shown that it cannot protect its Jews remains an open question. What France has abundantly demonstrated, however, is that it cannot prevent known Islamists from carrying out terrorist attacks on French soil, nor capture them alive once they have done so.

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Working With the MEK is Bad Policy

Alana Goodman is correct to highlight the current battle between Attorney-General Eric Holder and a bipartisan array of prominent former U.S. officials who have accepted hefty honoraria from Mujahedin al-Khalq (MEK) front groups, even though the State Department lists the MEK as a terrorist group. While cultivating prominent endorsers is one front in the group’s public relations battle, the largest war – and the reason the MEK has spent millions on former American officials – is for their support in its battle to be delisted as a terrorist entity.

There is no doubt that in the past, the MEK engaged in terrorism against Americans and that it has embraced a fiercely anti-Western ideology. Proponents of delisting the MEK, however, argue that the group has not engaged in terrorism against the United States or its interests for decades. The State Department may eventually be forced by the letter of the law to delist the MEK. That does not mean the group is entitled to any American support.  The group’s culpability in recent terrorist attacks in Iran is murkier. Still, it would be a mistake to boil the MEK issue—and the question of U.S. support—down to the terrorism listing, however. Working with the MEK is simply bad policy.

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Alana Goodman is correct to highlight the current battle between Attorney-General Eric Holder and a bipartisan array of prominent former U.S. officials who have accepted hefty honoraria from Mujahedin al-Khalq (MEK) front groups, even though the State Department lists the MEK as a terrorist group. While cultivating prominent endorsers is one front in the group’s public relations battle, the largest war – and the reason the MEK has spent millions on former American officials – is for their support in its battle to be delisted as a terrorist entity.

There is no doubt that in the past, the MEK engaged in terrorism against Americans and that it has embraced a fiercely anti-Western ideology. Proponents of delisting the MEK, however, argue that the group has not engaged in terrorism against the United States or its interests for decades. The State Department may eventually be forced by the letter of the law to delist the MEK. That does not mean the group is entitled to any American support.  The group’s culpability in recent terrorist attacks in Iran is murkier. Still, it would be a mistake to boil the MEK issue—and the question of U.S. support—down to the terrorism listing, however. Working with the MEK is simply bad policy.

Military action against Iran would delay the program only by a few years. True, the same estimate was made before Israel’s strike on the Iraqi nuclear reactor and Saddam Hussein never managed to rebuild his program, but it would be foolish to assume the same would occur. After all, the Iranians will not be stupid enough to invade Kuwait.

The problem in Iran today is not simply the regime’s nuclear ambitions, but rather the regime itself. To use the military to delay Iran’s nuclear program—effectively kicking the can down the road—would be an irresponsible use of the military unless there is a policy in place to take advantage of the time won in any strike.

The problem with those who would embrace the MEK is that it would undercut the chance for regime collapse. To ally the United States with the MEK would be as shameful as President Obama’s moral inaction during the 2009 protests.

Iranians living under the regime’s yoke hate the MEK. That is not regime propaganda; it is fact, one to which any honest analyst who has ever visited Iran can testify.  Ordinary Iranians deeply resent the MEK’s terrorism, which has targeted not only regime officials, but also led to the deaths of scores of civilians. During the Iran-Iraq War—a conflict that decimated cities and led to tens of thousands of civilian deaths—the MEK sided with Saddam Hussein. No Iranian will ever forgive that treason. Iranians see the MEK in the same manner that Americans view American Taliban John Walker Lindh.

If the MEK is delisted, let the MEK celebrate. But whether listed as a terrorist group or not, it would be wrong and counterproductive to embrace the group unless, of course, the goal of those for officials on the group’s payroll is simply to aid the current regime in its efforts to rally its subjugated masses around the flag.

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The Anti-Semitism Double Standard

Yesterday, after erroneous reports that the Toulouse shooter was a neo-Nazi, the New York Times speculated that the attack was inspired by anti-immigrant rhetoric from right wing politicians. The paper hinted that the incident was a sign of larger societal problems in France, and would prompt public soul-searching:

But the political debate around the shootings, and whether the deaths of an instructor and three young children were somehow inspired by anti-immigrant political talk, is likely to continue — both as a weapon in the presidential campaign and as a more general soul-searching about the nature of France.

You would think the Times would come to a different conclusion yesterday, after the French authorities announced the suspect was a radicalized Muslim with possible al Qaeda ties. And yet its latest article still seems to blame the attack on right-wing, anti-immigrant rhetoric:

After the shootings on Monday, the main candidates in the French presidential campaign, including Mr. Sarkozy, suspended their campaigns as political debate swirled around whether the killings were somehow inspired by anti-immigrant rhetoric. The campaign has been long and heated, and Mr. Sarkozy has been trying to win back voters who drifted to the far-right National Front party.

It remained unclear what the effect of the killings would be on the election, which is only a few weeks away. Nor was it clear whether they would further stoke anti-Muslim rhetoric in the country. Muslims complain widely of feeling vilified by some political elements, on the right in particular, and the anti-immigration far right has been gaining unprecedented popularity in recent months. Some analysts have suggested that the deaths could cause a calming of the political discourse.

The Times has a double standard on Jew-hatred.

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Yesterday, after erroneous reports that the Toulouse shooter was a neo-Nazi, the New York Times speculated that the attack was inspired by anti-immigrant rhetoric from right wing politicians. The paper hinted that the incident was a sign of larger societal problems in France, and would prompt public soul-searching:

But the political debate around the shootings, and whether the deaths of an instructor and three young children were somehow inspired by anti-immigrant political talk, is likely to continue — both as a weapon in the presidential campaign and as a more general soul-searching about the nature of France.

You would think the Times would come to a different conclusion yesterday, after the French authorities announced the suspect was a radicalized Muslim with possible al Qaeda ties. And yet its latest article still seems to blame the attack on right-wing, anti-immigrant rhetoric:

After the shootings on Monday, the main candidates in the French presidential campaign, including Mr. Sarkozy, suspended their campaigns as political debate swirled around whether the killings were somehow inspired by anti-immigrant rhetoric. The campaign has been long and heated, and Mr. Sarkozy has been trying to win back voters who drifted to the far-right National Front party.

It remained unclear what the effect of the killings would be on the election, which is only a few weeks away. Nor was it clear whether they would further stoke anti-Muslim rhetoric in the country. Muslims complain widely of feeling vilified by some political elements, on the right in particular, and the anti-immigration far right has been gaining unprecedented popularity in recent months. Some analysts have suggested that the deaths could cause a calming of the political discourse.

The Times has a double standard on Jew-hatred.

When neo-Nazis were supposedly behind the anti-Semitic attack, the paper immediately sought out societal origins of the problem, and wondered whether it was part of a broader national trend. But now that the attack appears to have been carried out by a Muslim extremist, the Times acts as if this radicalism developed in a vacuum; as if the larger community played no role.

And it’s not just the Times. Progressives clamored for national soul-searching after the Tucson shooting and Anders Breivik’s terror attack in Norway, but seem to have little interest in analyzing what drives some young American and European Muslims to embrace radicalism, anti-Semitism and terrorism.

And the reason is clear: If you claim the radicalization of young Muslims is a sign of larger societal problems (in the U.S., France, or elsewhere) that require public soul-searching, then you may as well be House Homeland Security Committee Chair Peter King. Not only would you be raising uncomfortable questions about the Muslim community, you’d also be implying that some members of the Muslim community aren’t already doing everything they can to prevent radicalization. And as the New York Times has editorialized in the past, that’s outside the bounds of politically correct discourse.

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