Commentary Magazine


Posts For: April 2012

Maybe Running on Bin Laden Won’t Work

To listen to some Democrats lately, President Obama’s re-election is in the bag. Most are convinced that Mitt Romney has too many problems connecting with ordinary Americans to be considered a serious threat to the president. Their confidence in their “cool kid” candidate and contempt for their opponents is such that many refuse to accept the possibility that the president is in for the fight of his life in an electoral environment that is radically different from the situation in the fall of 2008. And yet the evidence that the race is a virtual dead heat continues to be right there under their noses. The release today of tracking polls from the two leading firms confirms that the Democrats need to sober up about the competitive race that is about to unfold.

Gallup, whose results tend to skew slightly toward the Democrats, reports that Romney has a 47-46 edge for the period of April 24-29. Rasmussen, which tends to tilt slightly toward the Republicans, also shows Romney ahead for their last reporting period of April 27-29 by a similarly slim 47-45 margin. Both polls illustrate that the presumption that Romney has no chance is simply a Democratic fantasy that fails to take into account the general dissatisfaction with a failing economy.  It also may show that the administration’s decision to spend the last week trying to politicize the anniversary of the killing of Osama bin Laden by U.S. Navy Seals might have been a bad mistake.

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To listen to some Democrats lately, President Obama’s re-election is in the bag. Most are convinced that Mitt Romney has too many problems connecting with ordinary Americans to be considered a serious threat to the president. Their confidence in their “cool kid” candidate and contempt for their opponents is such that many refuse to accept the possibility that the president is in for the fight of his life in an electoral environment that is radically different from the situation in the fall of 2008. And yet the evidence that the race is a virtual dead heat continues to be right there under their noses. The release today of tracking polls from the two leading firms confirms that the Democrats need to sober up about the competitive race that is about to unfold.

Gallup, whose results tend to skew slightly toward the Democrats, reports that Romney has a 47-46 edge for the period of April 24-29. Rasmussen, which tends to tilt slightly toward the Republicans, also shows Romney ahead for their last reporting period of April 27-29 by a similarly slim 47-45 margin. Both polls illustrate that the presumption that Romney has no chance is simply a Democratic fantasy that fails to take into account the general dissatisfaction with a failing economy.  It also may show that the administration’s decision to spend the last week trying to politicize the anniversary of the killing of Osama bin Laden by U.S. Navy Seals might have been a bad mistake.

As Alana noted earlier, the fact that some influential liberal pundits are backing away from the Obama campaign’s claim that a President Romney would have let bin Laden live, illustrates the contempt that this shameless slur has generated. If Arianna Huffington thinks it’s a bad idea, imagine how the rest of the country thinks?

But, of course, perhaps the negative results in the tracking polls for Obama in the last several days, which contrast with the slight edge he held a week earlier might confirm that tactic has backfired.

The lead in the tracking polls has changed hands several times in the last few weeks, and we can expect it will continue to fluctuate in the coming months. As Gallup confirms, the matchup in the swing states that will decide the contest are as close as can be. If the Democrats think all Obama has to do is call the Republicans names and play the “cool kid” on late night television, they may be in for the shock of their lives when they discover that the competition for posts in his second administration is a waste of time.

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Dan Rather and His Great White Whale

Dan Rather was once at the top of the journalistic universe, having replaced Walter Cronkite as the anchor of the “CBS Evening News” (when network news broadcasts still meant something). But then came a story meant to smear President George W. Bush, based on forged documents that were almost immediately revealed as such. Then (as this Daily Beast story recounts) came the Rather apology; the revelation that CBS News could no longer vouch for their credibility; the CBS-commissioned investigation faulting Rather and his top producer, Mary Mapes; and finally, the end of Rather’s career at CBS.

Now nearly 80 years old and hawking a new book, Rather Outspoken: My Life in the News, Rather insists the forged documents are accurate. “I believe them to be genuine. I did at the time, I did in the immediate aftermath of it, and yes, I do now.”

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Dan Rather was once at the top of the journalistic universe, having replaced Walter Cronkite as the anchor of the “CBS Evening News” (when network news broadcasts still meant something). But then came a story meant to smear President George W. Bush, based on forged documents that were almost immediately revealed as such. Then (as this Daily Beast story recounts) came the Rather apology; the revelation that CBS News could no longer vouch for their credibility; the CBS-commissioned investigation faulting Rather and his top producer, Mary Mapes; and finally, the end of Rather’s career at CBS.

Now nearly 80 years old and hawking a new book, Rather Outspoken: My Life in the News, Rather insists the forged documents are accurate. “I believe them to be genuine. I did at the time, I did in the immediate aftermath of it, and yes, I do now.”

This claim is silly, as this 224-page Report of the Independent Review Panel makes clear. (While CBS’s independent panel report didn’t specifically take up the question of whether the documents were forgeries, it retained a document expert, Peter Tytell, who concluded that the documents in question were “not produced on a typewriter in the early 1970s and therefore were not authentic.”) Three years after the story, Rather filed a $70 million lawsuit against CBS and its parent company, Viacom, claiming he had been made a “scapegoat.” In 2009, a New York State Appeals Court said Rather’s $70 million complaint should be dismissed in its entirety, and that a lower court erred in denying CBS’s motion to throw out the lawsuit.

What appears to have happened is that Rather cannot emotionally or psychologically accept that the Bush National Guard story was built on lies, which ended up destroying his career. And so he has become a desperate, embittered man, frantically trying to vindicate his name, unable to see that his efforts merely remind us what a pitiable figure he has become.

“To the last I grapple with thee; from hell’s heart I stab at thee; for hate’s sake I spit my last breath at thee.”  These are the words of Captain Ahab as he tosses his harpoon toward the great white whale.

Dan Rather may want to reacquaint himself with Moby Dick. Things didn’t end well for the obsessive and revenge-seeking Captain Ahab. And they’re not ending well for Rather, either.

 

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Obama Mocks Boehner at Union Event

Last week, President Obama was focused on the student loan extension bill as he pursued the youth vote, and this week he’s back to talking about the transportation bill at a union event. It may be hard to keep up with the president’s ever-changing priorities, which shift depending on which demographic he needs to court at the moment, but one thing remains the same. Obama is still railing against the “Do Nothing Congress”:

Obama’s latest attack on [House Speaker John] Boehner is over construction projects, which the president says have been blocked by Republicans who have refused to take up a long-term highway bill approved in a bipartisan vote by the Senate.

The president said the stalled legislation is keeping millions of workers jobless, and is preventing necessary projects forward across the country, including in Boehner’s own district. …

On Monday, he also sought to portray Boehner as out of touch with the needs of his own district.

“I went to the Speaker’s hometown, stood under a bridge that was crumbling, everybody acknowledges it needs to be rebuilt,” Obama said. “Maybe he doesn’t drive anymore. Maybe he doesn’t notice how messed up it was … they still said no.”

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Last week, President Obama was focused on the student loan extension bill as he pursued the youth vote, and this week he’s back to talking about the transportation bill at a union event. It may be hard to keep up with the president’s ever-changing priorities, which shift depending on which demographic he needs to court at the moment, but one thing remains the same. Obama is still railing against the “Do Nothing Congress”:

Obama’s latest attack on [House Speaker John] Boehner is over construction projects, which the president says have been blocked by Republicans who have refused to take up a long-term highway bill approved in a bipartisan vote by the Senate.

The president said the stalled legislation is keeping millions of workers jobless, and is preventing necessary projects forward across the country, including in Boehner’s own district. …

On Monday, he also sought to portray Boehner as out of touch with the needs of his own district.

“I went to the Speaker’s hometown, stood under a bridge that was crumbling, everybody acknowledges it needs to be rebuilt,” Obama said. “Maybe he doesn’t drive anymore. Maybe he doesn’t notice how messed up it was … they still said no.”

If you really want to get technical about who is blocking what, the House actually has passed a highway bill with bipartisan support, the same one that Obama threatened to veto because it includes a provision that would force him to approve the Keystone XL pipeline. The bill is short-term compared to the one passed by the Senate, but both chambers are set to deliberate a compromise. Notice that Obama conveniently ignores these relevant facts.

And speaking of Do Nothing Congress, yesterday marked the three-year anniversary of the last time the Senate Democrats passed a budget. For whatever reason, our obstruction-decrying president didn’t feel the need to mention that holdup.

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The Principles of Benzion Netanyahu

The death of the father of Israel’s prime minister will likely set off a wave of comment focusing on the influence that Benzion Netanyahu  had on his son Benjamin and whether his passing will make the prime minister more amenable to pressure to make concessions to the Palestinians. But this popular interpretation of the relationship between the two men, which the prime minister rightly dismissed as “psychobabble,” misses the point both about the Netanyahus and the principles they embraced.

Benzion Netanyahu, who died in Israel today at the age of 102, was an important figure in Zionist activism and Jewish history in his own right. Benzion was a follower of Zeev Jabotinsky, one of the great figures in the history of Zionism whose Revisionist movement is the ancestor of the modern Likud. Many contemporary pundits saw him as a representative of a bygone era whose belief in the rigid ideology of that movement served as a human obstacle to peace, because they claimed his son would never embrace a two-state solution to the Middle East conflict as long as the father lived. This was false. Netanyahu signed peace agreements with Yasir Arafat during his first term in office in the 1990s and embraced the concept of a Palestinian state during his second. But the values and lessons his father did teach him will stay with the prime minister. The shame is that more Jews don’t understand them.

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The death of the father of Israel’s prime minister will likely set off a wave of comment focusing on the influence that Benzion Netanyahu  had on his son Benjamin and whether his passing will make the prime minister more amenable to pressure to make concessions to the Palestinians. But this popular interpretation of the relationship between the two men, which the prime minister rightly dismissed as “psychobabble,” misses the point both about the Netanyahus and the principles they embraced.

Benzion Netanyahu, who died in Israel today at the age of 102, was an important figure in Zionist activism and Jewish history in his own right. Benzion was a follower of Zeev Jabotinsky, one of the great figures in the history of Zionism whose Revisionist movement is the ancestor of the modern Likud. Many contemporary pundits saw him as a representative of a bygone era whose belief in the rigid ideology of that movement served as a human obstacle to peace, because they claimed his son would never embrace a two-state solution to the Middle East conflict as long as the father lived. This was false. Netanyahu signed peace agreements with Yasir Arafat during his first term in office in the 1990s and embraced the concept of a Palestinian state during his second. But the values and lessons his father did teach him will stay with the prime minister. The shame is that more Jews don’t understand them.

As with other veterans of the pre-state Zionist movement, Benzion Netanyahu deserves the gratitude of the Jewish people for his labors. As the representative of Jabotinsky’s movement in the United States during World War Two, the Polish native who had moved to Palestine during his youth is credited with helping to persuade the Republican Party to adopt in 1944 an unprecedented pro-Zionist platform plank that caused the Democrats to follow suit. But he deserves just as much, if not more credit for his work as a scholar of Jewish history. And it is here, as much as in his embrace of Jabotinsky’s vision of a secure, liberal and democratic Jewish state in all of historic Palestine that his influence is felt.

In his seminal work, The Origins of the Inquisition in Fifteenth Century Spain, Benzion Netanyahu exploded myths about the persecution of Jews in Spain that saw most of those who converted to Christianity as a result of persecution as secretly practicing their old faith. Contrary to the long-held belief that the victims of the Inquisition were secret Jews or Marranos, Netanyahu proved that most were not. They were attacked by the Christian establishment not because of their religion but because Jews were seen as inherently evil. As with the Nazis who followed centuries later, the attack on the former Jews was the result of racism, not religious extremism.

While many Jews persist in believing that anti-Semitism as well as ant-Zionism is all a terrible misunderstanding, Benzion Netanyahu understood that hatred and intolerance lay at the roots of the difficulties of the Jews then as now. As his son noted at his funeral today , the challenge is to “face reality head on” and “draw the necessary conclusions.”

Doing so does not make one insensitive to the need for peace or to the legitimate desire of other peoples to live in peace. But it does force one to strip away illusions about the world and force us to come to grips with the modern versions of the ancient hatred that consumed the Jews of past eras. Peace with Palestinians who have not yet abandoned a belief that the Jews have no right to be in the country cannot be bought with good intentions. Until the day comes when the Palestinians are willing to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state, the people of Israel must shield themselves behind the “iron wall” that Jabotinsky envisioned and leaders like David Ben-Gurion built and now Benjamin Netanyahu must preserve.

The principles of a belief in the right of the Jews to their homeland and the need to defend them against the unreasoning hatred of their enemies will not die with Benzion Netanyahu. Nor should his son or any person of good will forget them.

May his memory be for a blessing.

 

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Huffington Slams Obama’s Osama Ad

Via Beltway Confidential: When even Ariana Huffington isn’t buying the premise of Obama’s campaign ad suggesting that Mitt Romney wouldn’t have ordered the Osama bin Laden raid, it’s probably time to re-evaluate that message:

“I agree with the Romney campaign, that using the Osama bin Laden assassination killing the great news that we had a year ago, in order to say basically that Obama did it and Romney may not have done it,” said Huffington. “It is one thing to celebrate the fact that they did such a great job…but to turn it into a campaign ad is one of the most despicable things you can do.”

If the message is so tasteless that it’s even offending Obama’s strident defenders, why did the campaign go ahead with it in the first place? Remember, this wasn’t just one commercial. Vice President Biden also brought up something similar in his foreign policy speech last week when he declared that “bin Laden is dead and GE is alive…If Romney was president, could we have used that same slogan in reverse?”

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Via Beltway Confidential: When even Ariana Huffington isn’t buying the premise of Obama’s campaign ad suggesting that Mitt Romney wouldn’t have ordered the Osama bin Laden raid, it’s probably time to re-evaluate that message:

“I agree with the Romney campaign, that using the Osama bin Laden assassination killing the great news that we had a year ago, in order to say basically that Obama did it and Romney may not have done it,” said Huffington. “It is one thing to celebrate the fact that they did such a great job…but to turn it into a campaign ad is one of the most despicable things you can do.”

If the message is so tasteless that it’s even offending Obama’s strident defenders, why did the campaign go ahead with it in the first place? Remember, this wasn’t just one commercial. Vice President Biden also brought up something similar in his foreign policy speech last week when he declared that “bin Laden is dead and GE is alive…If Romney was president, could we have used that same slogan in reverse?”

The way the Obama campaign has handled the bin Laden killing has been odd since the beginning. Sure, there were a few conservative detractors who tried to downplay Obama’s role, but for the most part the president was praised across the political spectrum for green-lighting the raid. He’s certainly received his fair share of credit.

But for some reason, the Obama campaign has needlessly tried to puff up the already-impressive mission, calling it the most “audacious plan” in “500 years” and overselling the risks of the president’s decision. Now they’re claiming that Romney wouldn’t have made the same call had he been president.

Why? Is Obama concerned that the raid itself isn’t extraordinary enough on its own? If that’s the case, ads like this certainly won’t help. Beyond the conceit contained in the anti-Romney message, the campaign calculation couldn’t be more transparent. The Obama campaign could have released an ad highlighting why the bin Laden raid was so momentous and what it meant for Americans in general and particularly 9/11 family members. Instead, it decided to go for a cheap and unsubstantiated attack on Romney. Huffington is right to call that despicable.

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Obama’s Goal is to Avoid Conflict With Iran

In the latest in a series of New York Times front-page features on U.S. policy toward Iran based on anonymous sources within the administration, the newspaper proclaimed today the chances of armed conflict with the Islamist state had markedly declined. The unnamed American officials did no more than state the obvious when they noted that the current diplomatic process initiated this month in Istanbul which will recommence in Baghdad after a long break in late May has made it less likely that anyone would attack Iran anytime soon. However, presenting this conclusion as an objective analysis begs the point. The reason why “the temperature has cooled,” as one anonymous Obama administration put it, is not because the West is any closer to actually persuading the Iranians to desist from their nuclear ambitions. Rather, it is the result of policies that have no larger goal than to ensure that there will be no confrontation over the nuclear issue during the president’s campaign.

None of the factors the administration officials put forward as evidence of a cooling of tensions give much hope of securing a non-nuclear Iran. The sanctions, diplomacy and the encouragement of dissent within Israel against the Netanyahu government aren’t likely to convince the Iranians they have no choice but to give up. Though the sanctions are taking their toll on the Iranian economy, that hasn’t stopped Iran’s nuclear program, and its Islamist leadership have every confidence they can outfox Obama and his partners in the P5+1 talks as they have in the past without giving up anything valuable. These factors all have a more immediate goal: rendering any attack on Iran out of the question, and thus enabling the president to face the voters without either a huge spike in oil prices or another Middle East conflict.

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In the latest in a series of New York Times front-page features on U.S. policy toward Iran based on anonymous sources within the administration, the newspaper proclaimed today the chances of armed conflict with the Islamist state had markedly declined. The unnamed American officials did no more than state the obvious when they noted that the current diplomatic process initiated this month in Istanbul which will recommence in Baghdad after a long break in late May has made it less likely that anyone would attack Iran anytime soon. However, presenting this conclusion as an objective analysis begs the point. The reason why “the temperature has cooled,” as one anonymous Obama administration put it, is not because the West is any closer to actually persuading the Iranians to desist from their nuclear ambitions. Rather, it is the result of policies that have no larger goal than to ensure that there will be no confrontation over the nuclear issue during the president’s campaign.

None of the factors the administration officials put forward as evidence of a cooling of tensions give much hope of securing a non-nuclear Iran. The sanctions, diplomacy and the encouragement of dissent within Israel against the Netanyahu government aren’t likely to convince the Iranians they have no choice but to give up. Though the sanctions are taking their toll on the Iranian economy, that hasn’t stopped Iran’s nuclear program, and its Islamist leadership have every confidence they can outfox Obama and his partners in the P5+1 talks as they have in the past without giving up anything valuable. These factors all have a more immediate goal: rendering any attack on Iran out of the question, and thus enabling the president to face the voters without either a huge spike in oil prices or another Middle East conflict.

As the Times points out, a couple of months ago when the president said he did not consider containment of a nuclear Iran a viable policy, speculation about the use of force against Iran skyrocketed. But by holding out hope for a “window of diplomacy,” Obama has given himself a convenient escape hatch from his ringing rhetoric on the topic. The negotiations merely provide Iran more time to continue refining uranium with impunity so long as the talks continue. The reports emanating from Tehran about the ayatollahs being willing to compromise is exactly what the person who is running the talks — E.U. foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton — wants to hear. All the positive atmospherics may make it possible to drag out the process all through the spring and summer if not the fall.

The Europeans are desperate for any sign of give on the Iranians’ part that will provide them with the excuse to back off their threat of an embargo of Iranian oil. And both the administration and the Iranians have the shared goal of keeping the talking going until after the November election when the president might have the “flexibility” to reconsider his promises.

As for the criticism against Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu from within his country’s security establishment, that is not something that is likely to affect his decision making process for a couple of reasons.

First, though Netanyahu’s concerns about the futility of the P5+1 talks are justified, there is very little chance that he would order a strike on Iran while they continue. An Israeli attack on Iran, assuming one ever happens, will only be possible during a period when there is no ongoing diplomatic process. Second, even if he were free to act now, it isn’t likely that the carping of a few disgruntled former officials would stop him. While the Israeli public would prefer an international coalition to take on Iran rather than to do it alone, Netanyahu knows he has public support for a proactive policy so long as he can show there is no alternative.

In this context, it is important to note that Netanyahu may choose to move up Israel elections to the fall from next year. With another mandate from the people (and polls show him to be an overwhelming favorite to lead the next government), he will have even more freedom to do as he thinks best.

But as even the Times noted this morning, Obama has potentially laid a trap for himself by embracing the P5+1 talks. Though it is possible the Iranians will be clever enough to string the West along for many months, they have also shown they are just as fond of embarrassing their diplomatic partners by reneging on their commitments or by simply refusing to go on negotiating. Though a break in diplomacy is seemingly not in their interests, it wouldn’t be unusual for them to seek to confuse or flummox the West by cutting the process off at some point. If they do, then Obama will be faced with the choice of reneging on his promises to stop Iran or to act. If that moment comes before November, it will be a very difficult choice indeed.

 

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All the Journalists’ Men

There are two revelations in Jeff Himmelman’s attention-getting piece in New York magazine, published last night online, about longtime Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee’s personal files and interviews on the Watergate scandal. It has been fascinating to watch the reaction to these new pieces of information–namely, which of the two stirred the hornet’s nest.

The first is that Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein’s source known as “Z” was actually a member of the case’s grand jury. The duo have always denied this, but when presented recently with the evidence, they confirmed it. The second is that Bradlee had shared the Doubt That Dare Not Speak Its Name: that Woodward and Bernstein had taken the soft clay of truth they had uncovered and molded it into a more visually appealing finished product. It was only common sense to harbor such doubts, given the claims being made, and certainly even more rational for the editor of the newspaper running these stories. But Woodward’s reaction has been a revelation of its own.

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There are two revelations in Jeff Himmelman’s attention-getting piece in New York magazine, published last night online, about longtime Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee’s personal files and interviews on the Watergate scandal. It has been fascinating to watch the reaction to these new pieces of information–namely, which of the two stirred the hornet’s nest.

The first is that Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein’s source known as “Z” was actually a member of the case’s grand jury. The duo have always denied this, but when presented recently with the evidence, they confirmed it. The second is that Bradlee had shared the Doubt That Dare Not Speak Its Name: that Woodward and Bernstein had taken the soft clay of truth they had uncovered and molded it into a more visually appealing finished product. It was only common sense to harbor such doubts, given the claims being made, and certainly even more rational for the editor of the newspaper running these stories. But Woodward’s reaction has been a revelation of its own.

On its face, the more damaging disclosure would seem to be that Z was a member of the grand jury. A case built on witnesses is only as strong as the credibility of those witnesses, and this story has two prominent sources: Z and “Deep Throat,” the FBI’s Mark Felt. Yet this year we have seen the credibility of both witnesses suffer greatly. Felt’s suffered from the publication of Max Holland’s Leak. Holland confirms that, in the reporting of the Watergate affair, unrelated details were forced into arranged marriages to tidy up the storyline, and that Felt was actually a disgruntled employee attempting to tarnish the reputations of those above him so he could replace them at the top of the heap. His selected leaking was designed to impugn the reputation of acting FBI Director L. Patrick Gray. And there was more, as Andrew Ferguson writes in COMMENTARY:

The notes Woodward took at this meeting with Felt, now in a university archive, differ markedly from the account that Woodward gives in All the President’s Men. “Many sentences [in the book] are moved around and the progression of Felt’s remarks rearranged,” Holland writes. “Occasionally the meaning of what [Felt] said is substantially changed….The account in the book contains words, phrases, and sometimes whole sentences that are not present in the type-written notes at all.” Here, then, is what we’ve been dealing with all these years: an inaccurate account explaining an erroneous newspaper article containing facts supplied by a double-dealing source who knew them to be untrue. A messy business, journalism.

But even with Felt’s integrity reeling, our heroic journalists still had the other source: Z. Woodward and Bernstein had always assured the public that Z was not a grand juror–that would have landed everyone involved in serious legal trouble. Just as significantly, in 1973 Woodward, in Himmelman’s description, “put Z’s information on the same level as Deep Throat’s. That’s a pretty high level.”

But now it seems Z’s cooperation on the story was unlawful, and that Woodward and Bernstein had been misleading the public about her true identity. That would call her credibility into serious question. In response, Woodward changed his tune. “This is a footnote to a footnote,” he said, dismissing her importance. (Politico quotes Woodward and Bernstein now saying Z was of “little consequence.”)

The controversy around Z, in the wake of Himmelman’s story, is being treated as a footnote itself, however. Logic would dictate that this piece of information is the true blockbuster. Instead, however, everyone involved is consumed by the human drama of Bradlee’s doubts. Bradlee is a mentor and something of a father figure to Woodward; Woodward was a mentor to Himmelman. And now there is a triangle of mistrust. Privately, to Himmelman and Bradlee, Woodward reacted as though there is now a knife in his back. Publicly, he has blamed Himmelman, because that is the easy thing to do. He lashed out at Himmelman after imploring him not to publish the fact that Bradlee once had doubts about Woodward’s story. But the knife is Bradlee’s–if there is a knife at all.

It turns out Woodward’s credibility isn’t faring much better than that of his sources. He says Bradlee’s doubts were fleeting, or never really there. He told Politico that there’s another interview in which Bradlee says he doesn’t doubt the veracity of the story. But he’s grasping at straws–Bradlee confirmed his doubts again more recently, in the runup to this story and in discussions about whether those doubts should be mentioned at all.

But then he drops the hammer: “It’s almost like the way Nixon’s tapings did him in, [Himmelman’s] own interview with Bradlee does him in.” Woodward, in his panicked paranoia, reaches for his vanquished enemy, because that victory is what still defines him. Later, he adds: “He can write what he wants, but his own transcript undercuts his premise. It’s one of those Perry Mason moments.”

Woodward, searching for comparisons, conjures a fictionalized television hero, who pieces together the evidence that the show’s Hollywood scriptwriters make sure fit neatly into place just as the viewers at home brace for the episode’s denouement.

Woodward is more right than he knows. This whole story is a lot like that–and Bradlee knew it.

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Obama Plays Up “Achievements” in New Ad

Obama’s critics have said that he can’t run a campaign based on his achievements, and he proved them right today with a new video ad. Entitled “Forward” – which is also the latest in a string of Obama campaign slogans – the ad’s basic message is “things aren’t great, but they could be worse, so let’s stop focusing on the past.” At the end, there’s an unimpressive scrolling list of Obama’s supposed presidential accomplishments:

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Obama’s critics have said that he can’t run a campaign based on his achievements, and he proved them right today with a new video ad. Entitled “Forward” – which is also the latest in a string of Obama campaign slogans – the ad’s basic message is “things aren’t great, but they could be worse, so let’s stop focusing on the past.” At the end, there’s an unimpressive scrolling list of Obama’s supposed presidential accomplishments:

Don’t get me wrong, the video is well done, and will probably be convincing to certain people who badly want to believe their 2008 vote didn’t go to waste. But the list of achievements is comically weak, mixing a sparse number of actual accomplishments (killing Osama bin Laden, ending Don’t Ask Don’t Tell) with vague or insignificant ones (“protected reproductive rights,” “fuel efficiency standards doubling” by 2025).

In the ad, Obama boasts that 4.2 million jobs have been saved, despite the 4.4 million jobs lost under President Bush. But he fails to mention that 4.3 million jobs were also lost during his first 13 months in office, and the unemployment rate is higher now than it was when he was inaugurated. Even the tax cuts for 160 million Americans that he mentions in the ad are really short-term payroll tax cut extensions that evade necessary long-term tax reform. And the U.S. oil production that’s at an “8-year high” is due in no part to Obama’s policies, which have been to impede domestic oil production whenever possible.

Some of his supposed accomplishments include a hodgepodge of random, low-impact measures he frantically instituted during the last six months or so (i.e., “incentives to hire unemployed veterans” and “guaranteed coverage for contraception”). The list reads as if the campaign was scraping bottom to dig up anything they could tout as a success. Those who want to believe Obama has had a triumphant first term probably will do so. But others aren’t likely to walk away convinced.

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Netanyahu Isn’t Worried About Olmert

Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert spoke in New York yesterday at a conference organized by the Jerusalem Post. In his speech, Olmert attacked the policies of his successor Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak, defended President Obama against criticism and also called for dividing Jerusalem, which he once served as mayor. According to the New York Times, this is yet another blow to Netanyahu, coming as it did after similar statements from disgruntled former security officials who also trashed Israel’s current government. The Times devoted a fair amount of space to the story this morning and even speculated that Olmert’s remarks “reflected domestic political calculations of his own.”

But the idea that Olmert’s criticism means much in Israel is farcical. As the Times noted in a sentence tucked away in the middle of the story, Olmert is under indictment for corruption charges and faces prison if convicted. What they left out is that he left office in 2009 without even attempting to run for re-election not just because of his legal problems but because he was widely perceived as perhaps the most incompetent and unpopular prime minister in the country’s history. At a time when Netanyahu is riding high in the polls at home and considering moving up elections to strengthen his already tight grip on power for another four years, Olmert is a political pariah with no influence, no following and no future in public life. The only place he can get a hearing these days is in the United States where left-wing audiences enjoy his carping about those who do enjoy the confidence of the Israeli public who rejected him. The general lack of interest in this story on the part of the Israeli press confirms this.

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Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert spoke in New York yesterday at a conference organized by the Jerusalem Post. In his speech, Olmert attacked the policies of his successor Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak, defended President Obama against criticism and also called for dividing Jerusalem, which he once served as mayor. According to the New York Times, this is yet another blow to Netanyahu, coming as it did after similar statements from disgruntled former security officials who also trashed Israel’s current government. The Times devoted a fair amount of space to the story this morning and even speculated that Olmert’s remarks “reflected domestic political calculations of his own.”

But the idea that Olmert’s criticism means much in Israel is farcical. As the Times noted in a sentence tucked away in the middle of the story, Olmert is under indictment for corruption charges and faces prison if convicted. What they left out is that he left office in 2009 without even attempting to run for re-election not just because of his legal problems but because he was widely perceived as perhaps the most incompetent and unpopular prime minister in the country’s history. At a time when Netanyahu is riding high in the polls at home and considering moving up elections to strengthen his already tight grip on power for another four years, Olmert is a political pariah with no influence, no following and no future in public life. The only place he can get a hearing these days is in the United States where left-wing audiences enjoy his carping about those who do enjoy the confidence of the Israeli public who rejected him. The general lack of interest in this story on the part of the Israeli press confirms this.

As it happens, Olmert was heckled and booed yesterday by some in his audience. Uncivil behavior like that is unfortunate, and Olmert was right to chide those Americans who did so for trying to be more Israeli than the Israelis. But it should also be pointed out that Olmert, a former member of the Likud, spent decades making a good living (if the corruption charges against him are proven to be true) pandering to such audiences of American Jews and encouraging them to be as fervent as possible in their backing for Likud’s stands on settlements, a united Jerusalem and peace negotiations, so it’s more than a bit hypocritical for him to now tell them to shut up.

As for the some of the substance of his remarks, Olmert contradicted himself about the peace plan he offered to the Palestinians in 2008. He claimed Palestinian Authority head Mahmoud Abbas did not say “no” to the plan, saying that others in his government told him not to accept. But then he went on to say that the “Palestinians are guilty.” He went on to explain that, “They should have answered my plan, and they should have answered Barak’s plan” referring to the similarly generous peace offers made in 2000 and 2001 that would have given the Palestinians an independent state in Gaza, almost all of the West Bank and a share in Jerusalem. But because there is no difference between a “no” and simply walking away from the negotiations without an answer, this is a distinction without a difference.

Later in an interview with the Times, he also made the following astonishing statement in connection with Israel’s efforts to bring attention to the nuclear threat from Iran:

“America is not a client state of Israel — maybe the opposite is true,” he said. “Why should we want America to be put in a situation where whatever they do will be interpreted as if they obeyed orders from Jerusalem?”

Now when a former prime minister of Israel suggests his country is a “client state” of the United States and seeks to undermine the efforts of those who have pushed for a tougher stance on Iran, that is curious. Conspiracy theorists and anti-Semites are likely to validate Olmert’s concerns, but since when does an Israeli leader seek to make policy based on such considerations? But then perhaps that’s the point. Olmert isn’t an Israeli leader in any real sense anymore, and it’s ridiculous for the Times or anyone else to treat him as if he were.

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Romney Weighs in on Chinese Dissident

Mitt Romney spoke out yesterday about the case of Chen Guangcheng, the blind Chinese dissident who escaped house arrest and is reportedly seeking asylum at the U.S. embassy in Beijing:

“My concern at this moment is for the safety of Chen Guangcheng and his family,” Romney said in a statement released by his campaign on Sunday. “My hope is that U.S. officials will take every measure to ensure that Chen and his family members are protected from further persecution.” …

Weighing in on Sunday, Romney said Chen’s escape “points to the broader issue of human rights in China.”

“Our country must play a strong role in urging reform in China and supporting those fighting for the freedoms we enjoy,” Romney said.

Neither the White House nor President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign has officially weighed in on the issue.

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Mitt Romney spoke out yesterday about the case of Chen Guangcheng, the blind Chinese dissident who escaped house arrest and is reportedly seeking asylum at the U.S. embassy in Beijing:

“My concern at this moment is for the safety of Chen Guangcheng and his family,” Romney said in a statement released by his campaign on Sunday. “My hope is that U.S. officials will take every measure to ensure that Chen and his family members are protected from further persecution.” …

Weighing in on Sunday, Romney said Chen’s escape “points to the broader issue of human rights in China.”

“Our country must play a strong role in urging reform in China and supporting those fighting for the freedoms we enjoy,” Romney said.

Neither the White House nor President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign has officially weighed in on the issue.

Romney is right to say that the U.S. needs to do more to pressure China on democratic reforms, but it’s probably best for the White House and Obama campaign to say as little as possible about this issue, at least until after Secretary Clinton’s meetings in Beijing this week. As Max wrote yesterday, there is no question as to what the administration should do in this case. For the sake of our principles and national interests, the U.S. has to provide shelter to Chen.

Coming on the heels of the Bo Xilai scandal, Chen’s escape is yet another massive public embarrassment that seems to reveal serious cracks in the Chinese government. Is it really possible that a blind dissident was able to not only escape house arrest, but also travel 500 miles to the U.S. embassy – days before a prescheduled meeting with top U.S. administration officials – without inside help? It certainly doesn’t seem likely. And that will no doubt make for some dicey meetings between U.S. and Chinese officials this week.

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Wisconsin Recall Shows Citizens United Bolstered Democracy

Ironies abounded in the Sunday New York Times’ front-page feature about union efforts to force the recall of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker. The newspaper is right about the fact that the recall may turn out to be a warm up for the presidential election this fall, but it speaks volumes about both the bias of the piece that nowhere in it does the Times mention the fact that all the recent polls of the contest show him ahead and gaining ground. Flawed though the piece was, it also served to skewer one of the main political narratives that the Times has worked so hard to promote in the last year: that the Supreme Court’s Citizen United decision was undermining democracy.

As the article illustrates, far from the court’s defense of freedom of speech harming the political process, what it has done is to allow the free flow of ideas — and the cash that helps bring those ideas into the public square — to flourish as the public is presented with a clear choice between Walker’s attempt to reform public expenditures and the union movement’s effort to defend the status quo.

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Ironies abounded in the Sunday New York Times’ front-page feature about union efforts to force the recall of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker. The newspaper is right about the fact that the recall may turn out to be a warm up for the presidential election this fall, but it speaks volumes about both the bias of the piece that nowhere in it does the Times mention the fact that all the recent polls of the contest show him ahead and gaining ground. Flawed though the piece was, it also served to skewer one of the main political narratives that the Times has worked so hard to promote in the last year: that the Supreme Court’s Citizen United decision was undermining democracy.

As the article illustrates, far from the court’s defense of freedom of speech harming the political process, what it has done is to allow the free flow of ideas — and the cash that helps bring those ideas into the public square — to flourish as the public is presented with a clear choice between Walker’s attempt to reform public expenditures and the union movement’s effort to defend the status quo.

The Times makes clear that the unions, just like their conservative opponents, have been allowed by the law to put forward their positions unfettered by the attempt of liberal campaign finance laws to restrict expenditures. And while the paper does its best to bolster the contrived story line that this is a battle between working people and the billionaire Koch brothers, the political showdown in Wisconsin is one in which the voters will be allowed to decide whether state employees will be entitled to force the state into bankruptcy. The result is a political free-for-all in which both sides are having their say. Had the Times and other supporters of campaign finance laws had their way, the unions and the conservatives opposing them would have been largely silenced.

The Times does deserve credit for puncturing part of the left’s propaganda campaign against Charles and David Koch, the industrialists who have been falsely smeared as the plutocrats funding a vast right-wing plot to destroy democracy. It turns out liberals attempting to promote boycotts against companies owned by the brothers, including Georgia Pacific, have been criticized by the unions that represent the firm’s workers because the brothers’ companies treat their employees well and have negotiated fair contracts with them.

The attempt to demonize the brothers because of their support for conservative think tanks has flopped. So, too, may the recall, in large measure because Wisconsin voters, who elected Walker and a Republican legislature in 2010 when they campaigned on the measures that they have since passed, understand what is at stake in the election. The recall is nothing less than an all-out power play by unions who realize that their grip on power and the public purse is slipping. Reformers like Walker are determined to put in place a process that will prevent Wisconsin from being pushed to insolvency by public worker contracts that are negotiated with a figurative gun to the state’s head in the form of strikes.

That the Times can write more than 1,200 words about this without mentioning the fact that Walker is leading in the polls says something interesting about the paper’s bias. But it is even more interesting that the thrust of the piece proves that the editorial position of the paper about Citizens United trashing democracy is utterly without basis.

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Obama Hardly a Hawkish Warrior-in-Chief

In today’s New York Times, terrorism expert Peter Bergen, whose work I respect, presents an image of Barack Obama as he would like to be presented to the electorate–as a “warrior-in-chief” who has turned out to be far more hawkish than either liberal supporters or conservative critics anticipated. There is some truth to this portrait, but it is incomplete. It would have been considerably more convincing if written last year, immediately after the raid that killed Osama bin Laden and seemed to liberate Obama’s inner dove, rather than today.

Here is how Bergen makes his case:

Mr. Obama decimated al-Qaeda’s leadership. He overthrew the Libyan dictator. He ramped up drone attacks in Pakistan, waged effective covert wars in Yemen and Somalia and authorized a threefold increase in the number of American troops in Afghanistan. He became the first president to authorize the assassination of a United States citizen, Anwar al-Awlaki, who was born in New Mexico and played an operational role in al-Qaeda, and was killed in an American drone strike in Yemen. And, of course, Mr. Obama ordered and oversaw the Navy SEAL raid that killed Osama bin Laden.

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In today’s New York Times, terrorism expert Peter Bergen, whose work I respect, presents an image of Barack Obama as he would like to be presented to the electorate–as a “warrior-in-chief” who has turned out to be far more hawkish than either liberal supporters or conservative critics anticipated. There is some truth to this portrait, but it is incomplete. It would have been considerably more convincing if written last year, immediately after the raid that killed Osama bin Laden and seemed to liberate Obama’s inner dove, rather than today.

Here is how Bergen makes his case:

Mr. Obama decimated al-Qaeda’s leadership. He overthrew the Libyan dictator. He ramped up drone attacks in Pakistan, waged effective covert wars in Yemen and Somalia and authorized a threefold increase in the number of American troops in Afghanistan. He became the first president to authorize the assassination of a United States citizen, Anwar al-Awlaki, who was born in New Mexico and played an operational role in al-Qaeda, and was killed in an American drone strike in Yemen. And, of course, Mr. Obama ordered and oversaw the Navy SEAL raid that killed Osama bin Laden.

The first thing that jumps out at me from this litany is that there is a lot of double-counting involved. There are seven discrete claims in this paragraph. Of these all but two–overthrowing Qaddafi and increasing American troop numbers in Afghanistan–relate to pinpoint CIA and/or Special Operations strikes against al-Qaeda leaders. No question, Obama has stepped up the program of covert drone strikes he inherited from Bush. And, also, no question, he authorized a risky raid to kill bin Laden. He deserves full credit for these steps, but it is also worth noting that they are not terribly difficult steps for an American president to take in the post-9/11 climate. Who, aside from some extreme ACLU types, actually opposes doing whatever we can to kill the leaders of a terrorist network responsible for the worst terrorist attack in history? There have been debates about the wisdom of particular operations–many senior officials opposed sending SEALs after bin Laden, favoring instead dropping a bomb on his head–but on the overall rightness of the campaign there is little dissension in the mainstream of American politics.

Much riskier would be to expand the drone strikes to groups, such as the Quetta Shura Taliban and Haqqani Network, which have not targeted the American homeland and are openly supported by our supposed ally Pakistan. This Obama has largely not done, which helps to explain why Islamist terrorist organizations such as the Haqqanis (responsible for killing lots of Americans in Afghanistan) continue to get stronger, even as al-Qaeda’s central core shrinks.

What of Bergen’s other claims? Yes, Obama deserves credit for more than tripling the number of American forces in Afghanistan. But he has also sharply time-limited their involvement, and he has begun withdrawing them faster than militarily prudent, which undercuts the effectiveness of his initial policies and suggests a deep-seated ambivalence on the part of this brainy former law professor. However steely in the battle against al-Qaeda, he has not been an unwavering war leader in the battle against the Taliban and Haqqani network; he has hardly even bothered to speak to the public to rally support for this war effort.

Obama also deserves credit for intervening to topple Qaddafi although his desire to “lead from behind” made the campaign more costly (for Libyans) and more protracted than it need have been, and our lack of follow through may yet doom Libya to years of chaos and in-fighting. Bergen contrasts Obama’s quick action in Libya with President Clinton’s two-year delay before acting in Bosnia. But what of Obama’s year-long delay in Syria where the killing goes on–and we are in serious danger of missing a major opportunity to shift the strategic balance in the Levant in our favor? There Obama’s actions are sadly reminiscent of Clinton’s–he, too, is marrying strong words (Bashar Assad must go, he has said) with weak actions that rely on ineffectual UN monitors.

And what of Obama’s pull-out from Iraq after he did not try terribly hard to negotiate an agreement that would allow our troops to stay? That jeopardizes a war effort that made impressive gains, but it goes unmentioned in Bergen’s op-ed.

There is also little or no mention in Bergen’s article of North Korea, where Obama just tried and failed to conclude the latest ill-advised attempt to bribe the regime into stopping its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs; of Iran, where Obama opposed strong sanctions on the Central Bank that were ultimately passed by Congress, and where he has tried to pressure Israel not to strike while all but ruling out the use of American force against this dangerous nuclear program; of Israel, whose leaders Obama has pressured into halts to West Bank settlements while not exerting comparable pressure on the Palestinians to make peace; or of Eastern European nations which have felt abandoned by Obama’s “reset” with Russia and his cancellation of missile interceptors that were to be deployed in Poland and the Czech Republic.

Finally, Bergen ignores Obama’s support for crippling cuts in our defense budget–nearly $500 billion in cuts was legislated last summer with Obama’s support and another $600 billion or so of cuts could start to hit in January if sequestration, which Obama supports, takes place. Obama’s own defense secretary and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff have warned that those cuts could have “catastrophic” consequences for the armed forces yet Obama has done nothing so far to head them off.

These are hardly the actions of a hawkish commander-in-chief. (At least in my view as a Romney defense adviser.) Yet the reality of Obama’s foreign and defense policy, which especially because the death of bin Laden has turned notably more dovish, has been obscured by the president’s attempt to focus most of the public’s attention on his drone strikes and commando raids on al-Qaeda.

 

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Will Obama’s “Cool Kid” Strategy Backfire?

Rather than seeking to challenge President Obama for the title of the “cool kid” in the race, the Mitt Romney campaign will seek to win the adult vote. That’s the spin from Romney senior advisor Eric Fehrnstrom, whom Politico quotes as telling a Washington gathering yesterday that his candidate won’t seek to top the president when it comes to “slow jamming the news,” as Obama did this past week on the “Late Night With Jimmy Fallon” show. That’s a good idea, because although Obama may not be as cool as he or his idolaters think he is, the incredibly square Romney isn’t likely to convince anyone that he is hip. The real question is whether coolness will matter as much in 2012 as it did in 2008.

As Politico notes, the John McCain campaign also found itself facing a coolness deficit vis-à-vis Obama and sought to brand the Democrat as a mere “celebrity” that wasn’t fit for the White House. But in a year in which an extraordinary turnout of young and minority voters besotted with the “hope and change” mantra were a key factor in the outcome, the attempt to make the election a contest between a war hero and a celebrity backfired, as the latter won easily. Writing the day after the White House Correspondents Dinner, an event whose purpose seems to be to link politics with celebrity, the notion that sober policy may trump coolness may seem heretical. Yet after four years of an ineffectual administration with few achievements to its credit, coolness may not be as important as the fact that the economy has stalled again.

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Rather than seeking to challenge President Obama for the title of the “cool kid” in the race, the Mitt Romney campaign will seek to win the adult vote. That’s the spin from Romney senior advisor Eric Fehrnstrom, whom Politico quotes as telling a Washington gathering yesterday that his candidate won’t seek to top the president when it comes to “slow jamming the news,” as Obama did this past week on the “Late Night With Jimmy Fallon” show. That’s a good idea, because although Obama may not be as cool as he or his idolaters think he is, the incredibly square Romney isn’t likely to convince anyone that he is hip. The real question is whether coolness will matter as much in 2012 as it did in 2008.

As Politico notes, the John McCain campaign also found itself facing a coolness deficit vis-à-vis Obama and sought to brand the Democrat as a mere “celebrity” that wasn’t fit for the White House. But in a year in which an extraordinary turnout of young and minority voters besotted with the “hope and change” mantra were a key factor in the outcome, the attempt to make the election a contest between a war hero and a celebrity backfired, as the latter won easily. Writing the day after the White House Correspondents Dinner, an event whose purpose seems to be to link politics with celebrity, the notion that sober policy may trump coolness may seem heretical. Yet after four years of an ineffectual administration with few achievements to its credit, coolness may not be as important as the fact that the economy has stalled again.

Critics of Fehrnstrom’s strategy rightly note that it may be easier for Democrats to demonize the wealthy GOP nominee than it will be for the Republicans to make Americans think ill of Obama. Yet that challenge cuts both ways. By attempting to revisit his 2008 style, the president may learn that the “cool kid” trick doesn’t play as well the second time around.

The coolness factor isn’t so much a presidential qualification as it is may be a prerequisite for a high turnout of the liberal voters who form the Democrats’ base. President Obama has always been better at campaigning than governing, so the return to the late night comedy shows is a natural for him. Given the liberal bias of these venues, they are also a safe haven for a president who can’t run on his record.

Though Fehrnstrom is hoping that the grown ups rather than the cool kids will predominate in 2012, what the GOP is counting on is an electorate that is more fed up with the country’s fiscal illness than the president’s celebrity quotient. Given the general dissatisfaction with Obama’s job performance and the prospect of continued slow growth in everything except gas prices, this is not an unreasonable expectation.

While Republicans are right that few outside of the chattering classes care what Obama said last night at the “nerd prom” or even what the actresses who were recruited to show up at the event wore, the president won’t lose in November because of a backlash against his faux hipster persona. If Romney is to prevail it will be because Obama will be seen as a failed president. The outcome in November will be decided strictly on the basis of perceptions of the economy, not which of the two candidates is the coolest.

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Standing Up for Human Rights in China

The Obama administration has talked a great deal about a “pivot to Asia,” meaning, presumably a policy of getting tough with China. Now it faces an unexpected but significant test of just how tough it will get. Chen Guangcheng, a blind lawyer, has put the administration on the spot with his unlikely and daring escape from home arrest and his flight of more than 300 miles, apparently culminating in safety at the U.S. embassy in Beijing.

The Chinese security services have large helpings of egg on their face after having  let a blind man beat their tight surveillance, and in a society that values “face”–to say nothing of societal control–as much as China does, they will presumably stop at little to get him back. That could make for some uncomfortable meetings in Beijing, where Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and other administration officials are about to arrive. But both American honor and American interests mean that Chen must be allowed to shelter on American territory as long as he wants.

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The Obama administration has talked a great deal about a “pivot to Asia,” meaning, presumably a policy of getting tough with China. Now it faces an unexpected but significant test of just how tough it will get. Chen Guangcheng, a blind lawyer, has put the administration on the spot with his unlikely and daring escape from home arrest and his flight of more than 300 miles, apparently culminating in safety at the U.S. embassy in Beijing.

The Chinese security services have large helpings of egg on their face after having  let a blind man beat their tight surveillance, and in a society that values “face”–to say nothing of societal control–as much as China does, they will presumably stop at little to get him back. That could make for some uncomfortable meetings in Beijing, where Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and other administration officials are about to arrive. But both American honor and American interests mean that Chen must be allowed to shelter on American territory as long as he wants.

The U.S, is after all, the greatest champion of human rights in the world. We would have little credibility to advocate on human rights if we were to throw such a brave and prominent exponent of human rights in China–a man who has challenged the forced sterilization and abortion policies of the Communist regime–to the wolves. Just as bad, we would have little strategic credibility with China’s neighbors, who look to American leadership to stand up to Chinese adventurism–if we were to cave in and supinely allow China to get its way with someone who has sought–and deserves–our protection. However much the administration may not be happy about it, it must offer long-term protection to Chen.

 

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Israeli Spook Revolt is Politics as Usual

The international press is doing its best to hype critical remarks about Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu uttered by Yuval Diskin, the retired head of the Shin Bet security service, into a sign the government is in trouble. Diskin, a respected figure who retired last year, is the latest veteran spook to express his disdain for Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak and their stance on the nuclear threat from Iran. That there is a debate in the highest intelligence circles about the best strategy for dealing with Iran has never been a secret. But what Diskin’s comments and other attacks on Netanyahu from former Mossad chief Meir Dagan reflect is not so much a revolt of the experts against the politicians but a standard trope of Israeli politics in which those who are frustrated about the fact that their ideas have not won the support of the Israeli public seek to overturn the verdict of democracy by appealing to the press and international opinion. It is no more likely to succeed now than in the past.

Though foreign news outlets treated Diskin’s remarks as a huge story that can be spun as part of a negative trend for Netanyahu, even the left-wing press in Israel is skeptical about that. Haaretz’s Yossi Verter noted that the personal nature of Diskin’s rant against Netanyahu and Barak at what he termed a “gathering of defense establishment pensioners” undermined their credibility. Unlike the foreign press, most Israelis are aware that Dagan’s animus against Netanyahu and Barak stems from the fact that he was fired from his post. That Diskin was passed over to replace Dagan may also explain his hard feelings. Moreover, the utter lack of public support for alternatives to Netanyahu or his policies makes farcical the claim in today’s New York Times that there is an “avalanche” of criticism about his stand on Iran.

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The international press is doing its best to hype critical remarks about Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu uttered by Yuval Diskin, the retired head of the Shin Bet security service, into a sign the government is in trouble. Diskin, a respected figure who retired last year, is the latest veteran spook to express his disdain for Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak and their stance on the nuclear threat from Iran. That there is a debate in the highest intelligence circles about the best strategy for dealing with Iran has never been a secret. But what Diskin’s comments and other attacks on Netanyahu from former Mossad chief Meir Dagan reflect is not so much a revolt of the experts against the politicians but a standard trope of Israeli politics in which those who are frustrated about the fact that their ideas have not won the support of the Israeli public seek to overturn the verdict of democracy by appealing to the press and international opinion. It is no more likely to succeed now than in the past.

Though foreign news outlets treated Diskin’s remarks as a huge story that can be spun as part of a negative trend for Netanyahu, even the left-wing press in Israel is skeptical about that. Haaretz’s Yossi Verter noted that the personal nature of Diskin’s rant against Netanyahu and Barak at what he termed a “gathering of defense establishment pensioners” undermined their credibility. Unlike the foreign press, most Israelis are aware that Dagan’s animus against Netanyahu and Barak stems from the fact that he was fired from his post. That Diskin was passed over to replace Dagan may also explain his hard feelings. Moreover, the utter lack of public support for alternatives to Netanyahu or his policies makes farcical the claim in today’s New York Times that there is an “avalanche” of criticism about his stand on Iran.

It’s important to reiterate that the disagreements in Israel about Iran policy are not about the nature of the threat or even whether anything should be done about it as is often claimed by those seeking to downplay the issue. The question is about the timing of an attack, with Netanyahu’s critics claiming he is wrong to push for one now.

But this is an entirely false issue. It is highly unlikely that Israel would attack Iran while the U.S. is negotiating with it even if Netanyahu rightly suspects the current P5+1 talks are an Iranian ruse. The attacks on Netanyahu are merely a way for disgruntled former employees to vent their spleen at the prime minister’s political success and to try and hurt his standing abroad.

The animus against Netanyahu and his center-right government from the defense establishment and the government bureaucracy as well as most of the country’s traditional media outlets is well-known. Their frustration about his survival in power is compounded by the fact that he appears to be set for a cakewalk in the next elections which, incredibly, some opposition parties are pushing to be advanced from their scheduled date next year. As journalist Amir Mizroch writes, Dagan and Diskin — two men with axes to grind against the prime minister – may be “smelling elections in the air.”

Although the Dagan and Diskin affairs are in a sense unprecedented, because until now Israeli defense and security officials have not misbehaved in this manner, what is going on is just Israeli politics as usual. If these men and those Israeli and foreign journalists who are trying to make this into a major story are frustrated and angry now, just imagine how they’ll feel after Netanyahu is re-elected.

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Obama, Truman and Israel: An Unfortunate Comparison

As I wrote earlier today, most Israelis are unimpressed with the Obama administration’s Jewish charm offensive which is aimed at convincing Jews that the president’s first three years of fights with the Jewish state was a figment of our collective imagination. But the fact that three quarters of Israelis don’t seem him as friend isn’t stopping the Democratic campaign from doubling down on this push. Predictably, Vice President Joe Biden, a man for whom hyperbole is as natural as breathing, is taking this effort to extremes. While, as Alana noted, most of Biden’s foreign policy address at New York University yesterday was devoted to trashing Mitt Romney, one passage in which he waxed lyrical about the president’s devotion to Israel deserves our notice. In it, he not only exaggerated Obama’s record in terms of helping Israel, he went way out on a rhetorical limb and declared, “no president since Harry Truman has done more for Israel’s security than Barack Obama.” Read More

As I wrote earlier today, most Israelis are unimpressed with the Obama administration’s Jewish charm offensive which is aimed at convincing Jews that the president’s first three years of fights with the Jewish state was a figment of our collective imagination. But the fact that three quarters of Israelis don’t seem him as friend isn’t stopping the Democratic campaign from doubling down on this push. Predictably, Vice President Joe Biden, a man for whom hyperbole is as natural as breathing, is taking this effort to extremes. While, as Alana noted, most of Biden’s foreign policy address at New York University yesterday was devoted to trashing Mitt Romney, one passage in which he waxed lyrical about the president’s devotion to Israel deserves our notice. In it, he not only exaggerated Obama’s record in terms of helping Israel, he went way out on a rhetorical limb and declared, “no president since Harry Truman has done more for Israel’s security than Barack Obama.”

As I have written previously, there is a case to be made for Obama as a friend of Israel or at least not a foe. But Biden’s taking credit for the Iron Dome missile defense system without noting that the project was conceived, initiated and funded first by the Bush administration is absurd. His claims about Obama’s efforts to isolate Iran have a leg to stand on but may also be undermined by the fact that the diplomatic process the president has embarked on is more likely to lead to a result that will please Iran than Israel. But by claiming that Obama is a better friend to Israel than any president since Truman — and that includes men like Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush who were ardent friends of Israel — the vice president is making an assertion that is so detached from reality that it boggles the mind. Yet even as we sort out this piece of hyperbole it should also be pointed out that the comparison with Truman is not as flattering as Obama’s fans might think.

President Truman is rightly revered by friends of Israel for his courage in standing up to the foreign policy establishment when he chose to support the partition of Palestine into one Jewish state and one Arab state in 1947. He also bucked the State Department and his Secretary of State, General George Marshall, a legendary figure whom Truman practically idolized, when he famously became the first to recognize the newborn State of Israel on May 15, 1948. These acts, which help set in motion the process whereby Israel joined the community of nations were of inestimable help to Israel and for doing so he is rightly honored as among the great friends of the Jewish people in the 20th century.

But to claim, as Biden did, that Truman aided Israel’s security more than his successors — or did anything in that regard — is simply not true.

It is generally forgotten but prior to the Six Day War, the United States offered little aid to Israel of any sort. John F. Kennedy was the first president to authorize the sale of weaponry to Israel when he okayed a limit package of anti-aircraft equipment. It was only after 1967 that Washington began to look at Israel as a strategic asset and Lyndon Johnson helped lay the foundation for the alliance that blossomed under Ronald Reagan and was strengthened in turn by each successive administration.

As for Truman, as much as his diplomatic support was important, the United States never lifted a finger to help Israel during the life and death struggle of its War of Independence when approximately one percent of its population was killed. No arms were given or sold to Israel nor did the United States use its superpower clout to stop the Arab nations that invaded the new Jewish state on the date of its birth. In terms of its security situation, Israel was on its own during that war. Though Truman certainly wished it well, something that could not be said of his State Department, he was merely a bystander as the besieged and bombed new country fought for its existence.

Indeed, in a touch of historical irony that is rarely appreciated, it might be said that the Soviet Union did more for Israel’s security in 1948 than the United States since it allowed its Czech satellite to sell vital arms and ammunition to the Jews that it could not obtain from any Western source. It was those guns and bullets and not Truman’s telegram of recognition that saved Israel on the battlefield. Indeed, as Israeli veterans of that conflict will invariably point out, it was the sacrifice of thousands of Jewish youngsters — the “Silver Platter” immortalized in verse by poet Natan Alterman — that secured the Jewish state, not the words of diplomats.

In the years after the War of Independence, Truman offered Israel no assistance and, despite his goodwill, it often found itself isolated in the diplomatic world with even the U.S. calling for it to retreat from the 1949 armistice lines to accommodate the Arabs.

As for Obama, it must be said that Truman did far less than the current resident of the White House for Israel’s security. But as far as the Israelis are concerned the question is whether, like Truman, he will stand by and watch passively, if their lives are placed in jeopardy. That is hardly a comparison that Biden or any other Democrat should wish to make.

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What Do Israelis Know About Obama that American Jews Are Missing?

The Obama administration has been conducting an all-out charm offensive in recent months aimed at convincing American Jews that the president is Israel’s best friend. Polls have shown that the effort has not been enough to prevent a precipitous drop in his share of the prospective Jewish vote from the 78 percent he garnered in 2008. However, it will probably help him maintain a comfortable majority of Jewish votes in November as most of this predominantly liberal demographic is prepared to either ignore his past history of conflict with Israel or actually believes in the sincerity of his election-year conversion. But even as American Jews argue about Obama’s attitude toward Israel, the intended objects of the supposed solicitude continue to hold starkly different views about him.

A new Smith Research poll sponsored by the Jerusalem Post shows that although perceptions of Obama in Israel have improved in the last year, most Israelis don’t consider him much of a friend. The survey showed that 36 percent of Israelis believe Obama is neutral in the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians with 24 percent seeing him as pro-Palestinian and an equal number perceiving him as pro-Israel while 16 percent expressed no opinion. These numbers make one wonder what it is that the three quarters of Israelis who don’t see him as being in favor of their country know that the majority of American Jews who think he is pro-Israel haven’t figured out.

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The Obama administration has been conducting an all-out charm offensive in recent months aimed at convincing American Jews that the president is Israel’s best friend. Polls have shown that the effort has not been enough to prevent a precipitous drop in his share of the prospective Jewish vote from the 78 percent he garnered in 2008. However, it will probably help him maintain a comfortable majority of Jewish votes in November as most of this predominantly liberal demographic is prepared to either ignore his past history of conflict with Israel or actually believes in the sincerity of his election-year conversion. But even as American Jews argue about Obama’s attitude toward Israel, the intended objects of the supposed solicitude continue to hold starkly different views about him.

A new Smith Research poll sponsored by the Jerusalem Post shows that although perceptions of Obama in Israel have improved in the last year, most Israelis don’t consider him much of a friend. The survey showed that 36 percent of Israelis believe Obama is neutral in the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians with 24 percent seeing him as pro-Palestinian and an equal number perceiving him as pro-Israel while 16 percent expressed no opinion. These numbers make one wonder what it is that the three quarters of Israelis who don’t see him as being in favor of their country know that the majority of American Jews who think he is pro-Israel haven’t figured out.

The contrast between Israeli public opinion of the president and the views of American Jews is all the more startling when one realizes that these dismal numbers are actually a vast improvement for Obama over past polls conducted by the same firm. In the summer of 2009 after the first fight picked by the president with Israel and his Cairo speech to the Arab world in which he equated the plight of the Palestinians with the Holocaust, only 6 percent of Israelis saw him as their ally while 50 percent saw him as pro-Palestinian. Last year after his ambush of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu in which he expressed support for the 1967 borders being the starting point for future Middle East negotiations, only 12 percent of Israelis saw him as pro-Israel.

While few American Jews are single issue voters and most consider liberal positions on domestic issues a higher priority than support for the Jewish state when choosing a president, Israelis are only focused on whether the resident of the White House is seeking to undermine their security or force them into unwanted and dangerous concessions. That’s why, although it is fair for Democrats to argue that Obama has not sought to unravel the U.S.-Israel security alliance, most Israelis still see the president as either neutral or hostile to their fate.

The opinions of Israelis ought not be dispositive to American voters on any issue. But those Democrats who will spend the year loudly proclaiming Obama to be Israel’s best friend ever to sit in the White House might want to take a moment and consider the fact that most of the people who they claim to support have a very different view of the question.

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Rubio and the Mexican-American Vote

At CNN, Ruben Navarrette dismisses the notion that tapping Marco Rubio for the VP nomination would give Republicans an edge with Hispanic voters. Navarrette writes that the preferred status given to Cuban immigrants is a sore spot with the Mexican-American community, and that rift could become an election issue if Rubio’s the VP pick:

When it comes to immigrating to the United States, Cubans get preferred status. Thanks to the Cuban Adjustment Act, which was enacted in 1966 — or four years after Rubio’s grandfather came to the United States — Cuban refugees who flee the Island and reach the U.S. shoreline have a clear path to legal residency and eventual citizenship.

Mexican immigrants aren’t so fortunate. So when Cuban-Americans do what Rubio has done since arriving in the Senate 16 months ago and take a hard line against illegal immigration, Mexicans and Mexican-Americans have been known to cringe. After all, that’s easy for them to say. …

What good does it do the ticket for Rubio to be popular with whites and Cuban-Americans? Republicans are likely to get the majority of those votes anyway. His value is all wrapped up in how well he plays with Mexicans and Mexican-Americans. And right now, the answer is “not well.”

Navarrette’s point on the Cuban-American vote is important. While Obama swept the Hispanic vote in 2008, John McCain still won with the conservative Cuban-American community. The Romney campaign’s big electoral argument for choosing Rubio as VP would be that he could deliver Florida, and in that scenario, winning the Cuban-American vote by a landslide is redundant.

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At CNN, Ruben Navarrette dismisses the notion that tapping Marco Rubio for the VP nomination would give Republicans an edge with Hispanic voters. Navarrette writes that the preferred status given to Cuban immigrants is a sore spot with the Mexican-American community, and that rift could become an election issue if Rubio’s the VP pick:

When it comes to immigrating to the United States, Cubans get preferred status. Thanks to the Cuban Adjustment Act, which was enacted in 1966 — or four years after Rubio’s grandfather came to the United States — Cuban refugees who flee the Island and reach the U.S. shoreline have a clear path to legal residency and eventual citizenship.

Mexican immigrants aren’t so fortunate. So when Cuban-Americans do what Rubio has done since arriving in the Senate 16 months ago and take a hard line against illegal immigration, Mexicans and Mexican-Americans have been known to cringe. After all, that’s easy for them to say. …

What good does it do the ticket for Rubio to be popular with whites and Cuban-Americans? Republicans are likely to get the majority of those votes anyway. His value is all wrapped up in how well he plays with Mexicans and Mexican-Americans. And right now, the answer is “not well.”

Navarrette’s point on the Cuban-American vote is important. While Obama swept the Hispanic vote in 2008, John McCain still won with the conservative Cuban-American community. The Romney campaign’s big electoral argument for choosing Rubio as VP would be that he could deliver Florida, and in that scenario, winning the Cuban-American vote by a landslide is redundant.

Rubio is a strong candidate and there are plenty of other reasons for Romney to consider him. He’s charismatic, serious, bridges the conservative grassroots and the Republican establishment, and has a compelling personal narrative. Of course, there are plenty of other potential VP choices out there with comparable qualities. As Karl Rove argued persuasively in the Wall Street Journal yesterday, choosing the best person for the job should outweigh political considerations when picking a VP. Rubio’s ability to help Republicans make inroads with the Hispanic vote shouldn’t be the chief factor in the equation.

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Obama’s Super PAC Problems

President Obama has a huge lead on Mitt Romney when it comes to campaign fundraising, but that margin shrinks significantly when Super PACs are added into the pictures. Pro-Romney Super PACs have been raising cash steadily, but the pro-Obama Priorities USA group has had trouble bringing in donors, Bloomberg reports:

Through March, only 12 of Obama’s 532 top fundraisers had donated to Priorities USA Action, a super political action committee created to support his re-election. Priorities has only raised about $9 million compared to a combined $80 million brought in by the two main super-PACs dedicated to defeating Obama: American Crossroads, formed by Karl Rove, and Restore Our Future, a group backing presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney.

The leaders of Priorities have asked former President Bill Clinton to tap the pool of donors who helped fund his campaign and Hillary Clinton’s White House run. Yet Priorities lacks on its donor list most of the core group of Chicagoans who backed Obama’s presidential ambitions four years ago.

One government professor quoted in the story speculated that Democrats are wary about giving money to Priorities USA because they feel that negative advertising is unseemly. That’s absurd. Democrats are just as ruthless when it comes to negative ads as Republicans are. But there are other political reasons these Democrats might be hesitant about donating to Super PACs. Liberals almost universally condemn the Citizens United ruling. People give to politicians in part because it makes them feel good, like they’re behind a worthy cause. But many liberals would probably feel like hypocrites – like they’re betraying their ideals – if they give through a fundraising channel they’ve claimed is corrupting politics.

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President Obama has a huge lead on Mitt Romney when it comes to campaign fundraising, but that margin shrinks significantly when Super PACs are added into the pictures. Pro-Romney Super PACs have been raising cash steadily, but the pro-Obama Priorities USA group has had trouble bringing in donors, Bloomberg reports:

Through March, only 12 of Obama’s 532 top fundraisers had donated to Priorities USA Action, a super political action committee created to support his re-election. Priorities has only raised about $9 million compared to a combined $80 million brought in by the two main super-PACs dedicated to defeating Obama: American Crossroads, formed by Karl Rove, and Restore Our Future, a group backing presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney.

The leaders of Priorities have asked former President Bill Clinton to tap the pool of donors who helped fund his campaign and Hillary Clinton’s White House run. Yet Priorities lacks on its donor list most of the core group of Chicagoans who backed Obama’s presidential ambitions four years ago.

One government professor quoted in the story speculated that Democrats are wary about giving money to Priorities USA because they feel that negative advertising is unseemly. That’s absurd. Democrats are just as ruthless when it comes to negative ads as Republicans are. But there are other political reasons these Democrats might be hesitant about donating to Super PACs. Liberals almost universally condemn the Citizens United ruling. People give to politicians in part because it makes them feel good, like they’re behind a worthy cause. But many liberals would probably feel like hypocrites – like they’re betraying their ideals – if they give through a fundraising channel they’ve claimed is corrupting politics.

Some may also be nervously eyeing the attacks the Obama campaign has launched against top pro-Romney donors. Kimberly Strassel reports that the campaign is targeting these donors on its website, criticizing their businesses and work histories:

Save Mr. Obama, who acknowledges no rules. This past week, one of his campaign websites posted an item entitled “Behind the curtain: A brief history of Romney’s donors.” In the post, the Obama campaign named and shamed eight private citizens who had donated to his opponent. Describing the givers as all having “less-than-reputable records,” the post went on to make the extraordinary accusations that “quite a few” have also been “on the wrong side of the law” and profiting at “the expense of so many Americans.”

These are people like Paul Schorr and Sam and Jeffrey Fox, investors who the site outed for the crime of having “outsourced” jobs. T. Martin Fiorentino is scored for his work for a firm that forecloses on homes. Louis Bacon (a hedge-fund manager), Kent Burton (a “lobbyist”) and Thomas O’Malley (an energy CEO) stand accused of profiting from oil. Frank VanderSloot, the CEO of a home-products firm, is slimed as a “bitter foe of the gay rights movement.”

These are wealthy individuals, to be sure, but private citizens nonetheless. Not one holds elected office. Not one is a criminal. Not one has the barest fraction of the position or the power of the U.S. leader who is publicly assaulting them.

Donors to political campaigns and Super PACs are required to disclose for a reason. Journalists, watchdog groups, and opposing campaigns are certainly within their rights to report on conflicts of interest, ethics issues, or the backgrounds of these donors. But the Obama campaign goes too far with this. Claiming someone is “less-than-reputable” or “on the wrong side of the law” when he has committed no crime – outside of the offense of giving large sums of money to a political opponent – is not appropriate behavior by a political campaign. If Obama is setting this precedent, it’s no wonder Democrats are reluctant to cut large checks to his supporting Super PAC.

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Crucifying the Oil and Gas Industry

It is often said that the definition of the word gaffe in Washington-speak is when someone accidentally tells the truth. Al Armendariz, the EPA administrator for Texas and surrounding states, certainly made a gaffe when he said in a speech in 2010, that the best way to enforce environmental laws was to crucify a few oil companies so that the rest will fall in line. He noted that the Romans used this technique when they conquered a new town, crucifying the first five people they could get their hands on so that the place would be very easy to manage for the next few years. (I expect that that is actually a slander against the Romans, although they had no scruples against selling whole populations into slavery.)

Armendariz was, let us hope, using a metaphor. But his actions indicate that he is all too willing to act first and get, well, evidence of wrong doing, later. The New York Times reported on December 8th, 2010, that he had signed an emergency order:

Dallas-based EPA Regional Director Al Armendariz issued an emergency order yesterday against Range Resources Corp., charging that its drilling in the Barnett Shale contaminated at least two water wells with methane and benzene. The order gave Range 48 hours to provide clean drinking water to affected residents and begin taking steps to resolve the problem.

Armendariz’s order is not simply an action against the company, but a slap at regulators at the Texas Railroad Commission, whom he accused of not doing enough to help the people living near the drilling operations in the Fort Worth area.

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It is often said that the definition of the word gaffe in Washington-speak is when someone accidentally tells the truth. Al Armendariz, the EPA administrator for Texas and surrounding states, certainly made a gaffe when he said in a speech in 2010, that the best way to enforce environmental laws was to crucify a few oil companies so that the rest will fall in line. He noted that the Romans used this technique when they conquered a new town, crucifying the first five people they could get their hands on so that the place would be very easy to manage for the next few years. (I expect that that is actually a slander against the Romans, although they had no scruples against selling whole populations into slavery.)

Armendariz was, let us hope, using a metaphor. But his actions indicate that he is all too willing to act first and get, well, evidence of wrong doing, later. The New York Times reported on December 8th, 2010, that he had signed an emergency order:

Dallas-based EPA Regional Director Al Armendariz issued an emergency order yesterday against Range Resources Corp., charging that its drilling in the Barnett Shale contaminated at least two water wells with methane and benzene. The order gave Range 48 hours to provide clean drinking water to affected residents and begin taking steps to resolve the problem.

Armendariz’s order is not simply an action against the company, but a slap at regulators at the Texas Railroad Commission, whom he accused of not doing enough to help the people living near the drilling operations in the Fort Worth area.

Earlier this month, the EPA finally withdrew the order, having been able to produce no evidence whatever that Range Resources was in any way responsible.  (It might be noted in passing that while the emergency order was a major story in the Times, its withdrawal was not news fit to print. Nor is the news of  Armendariz’s recently revealed remarks.)

The United States, which invented both the petroleum industry, in 1859, and the transportation of natural gas over long distances by pipeline, in 1891, is on the cusp of what could be the greatest boom in energy production in its history, a boom that would not only reduce the price of energy—a major input into the struggling economy–but would greatly improve the country’s trade balance, help the dollar, and improve America’s foreign policy options.

The Obama administration, in thrall to the anti-capitalist environmental lobby, is doing everything possible to prevent it.

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