Commentary Magazine


Posts For: April 10, 2012

Why U.S. Is Not Helping Syrian Rebels

The White House appears to be digging in its heels against any further aid to the Syrian rebels beyond the provision of communications equipment. It is hard to know how lasting this position will be as the president had previously touted Bashar al-Assad as a negotiating partner before calling for his departure from office. And last year, the administration resisted weeks of entreaties to intervene in Libya before deciding to do so. Events in Syria may dictate a more forceful White House response–events such as the recent firing across the Turkish border by Syrian security forces. A few more incidents like that and Turkey may decided to establish “safe zones” within Syria–a move that would probably drag the U.S. along given the close ties between President Obama and Prime Minister Erdogan.

But why has the administration refused to act so far? On its face this refusal is mysterious given that the human rights situation in Syria is even more appalling than the conditions which prevailed in Libya prior to the U.S.-led intervention–and the strategic stakes are considerably higher. The administration has offered various explanations of why intervention wouldn’t work–e.g., claiming that the rebels aren’t united enough or that Assad’s air defenses are too formidable or that UN authorization is lacking–but, as I have previously noted, these explanations are not terribly compelling, especially given a death toll climbing north of 10,000 as  we do nothing. If the president wanted to intervene, as he did in Libya, he could easily find cause to override the arguments of naysayers. Why hasn’t he done so?

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The White House appears to be digging in its heels against any further aid to the Syrian rebels beyond the provision of communications equipment. It is hard to know how lasting this position will be as the president had previously touted Bashar al-Assad as a negotiating partner before calling for his departure from office. And last year, the administration resisted weeks of entreaties to intervene in Libya before deciding to do so. Events in Syria may dictate a more forceful White House response–events such as the recent firing across the Turkish border by Syrian security forces. A few more incidents like that and Turkey may decided to establish “safe zones” within Syria–a move that would probably drag the U.S. along given the close ties between President Obama and Prime Minister Erdogan.

But why has the administration refused to act so far? On its face this refusal is mysterious given that the human rights situation in Syria is even more appalling than the conditions which prevailed in Libya prior to the U.S.-led intervention–and the strategic stakes are considerably higher. The administration has offered various explanations of why intervention wouldn’t work–e.g., claiming that the rebels aren’t united enough or that Assad’s air defenses are too formidable or that UN authorization is lacking–but, as I have previously noted, these explanations are not terribly compelling, especially given a death toll climbing north of 10,000 as  we do nothing. If the president wanted to intervene, as he did in Libya, he could easily find cause to override the arguments of naysayers. Why hasn’t he done so?

I can’t help noting that this is an election year in the United States and President Obama is seeking reelection based on a narrative of having “ended” a war in Iraq and being on his way to ending another war in Afghanistan. As the president constantly reminds us, the “tide of war” is receding (try telling that to the Taliban or the Quds Force). Given that’s going to be his pitch to voters, it would be highly inconvenient if, in November, U.S. aircraft were bombing Syrian regime targets. Yet if the president were to act now, there is considerable risk of such an outcome considering the fact that our military intervention in Libya lasted from March to October of 2011.

Thus, on top of various other considerations, election-year politics probably weighs against a more forceful American response. That’s a shame, because if we do nothing, not only will many more Syrians lose their lives, but we will lose a prime opportunity to tilt the Middle East balance of power against our primary adversary, Iran.

 

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FAU Eviction Notice Goal: Intimidate Jews

While support for Israel remains strong among most Americans and their representatives in Congress, American college campuses have become a hotbed of anti-Zionist propaganda that can sometime blur the line between inflammatory political arguments and outright Jew-hatred. The latest example of just how close to that line Israel’s foes go comes from Florida Atlantic University, where Students for Justice in Palestine posted mock eviction notices on the doors of more than 200 dorm rooms at the school.

The leaflet seeks to inculcate the idea that Israel is a brutal oppressor that deliberately murdered an American supporter of the Palestinians. These charges are a malicious distortion of the facts and are part of a hateful campaign whose purpose is to delegitimize Israel. Israel’s critics have a right to express their opinions, but by pasting these fake evictions on the doors of a dorm with what one supposes is a considerable Jewish population, the action raises questions about whether the intent was to intimidate Jews as well as demonizing the Jewish state.

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While support for Israel remains strong among most Americans and their representatives in Congress, American college campuses have become a hotbed of anti-Zionist propaganda that can sometime blur the line between inflammatory political arguments and outright Jew-hatred. The latest example of just how close to that line Israel’s foes go comes from Florida Atlantic University, where Students for Justice in Palestine posted mock eviction notices on the doors of more than 200 dorm rooms at the school.

The leaflet seeks to inculcate the idea that Israel is a brutal oppressor that deliberately murdered an American supporter of the Palestinians. These charges are a malicious distortion of the facts and are part of a hateful campaign whose purpose is to delegitimize Israel. Israel’s critics have a right to express their opinions, but by pasting these fake evictions on the doors of a dorm with what one supposes is a considerable Jewish population, the action raises questions about whether the intent was to intimidate Jews as well as demonizing the Jewish state.

Compounding the problem is the fact that the notices were actually approved by the school’s housing department, one of whose employees accompanied the anti-Israel activists as they put up their work. Subsequently, FAU disavowed this move but as with past incidents at other universities, it looks as if the school has not considered whether they have facilitated a hate crime against Jews.

The problem here is not just that the leaflet was false and defamatory. In public forums, such ideas can be put forward, debated and debunked. It is that the tactics employed by the Israel-haters are intended to silence and intimidate opponents. The student group that put up the leaflets may claim they are seeking to help others to understand the Palestinians, but in practice what they are doing is serving notice on Jewish students that they are the ones who could be thrown out. While Israel’s government is no more entitled to impunity from criticism than any other, the idea that efforts whose aim is opposition to the existence of the Jewish state by demonizing its inhabitants ought to set off alarms at institutions that are covered by Title VI of the U.S. Civil Rights law that ban discriminatory behavior and actions. But as COMMENTARY noted in an article about anti-Semitic incidents at the University of California at Irvine, both educational institutions and the federal government have been reluctant to take a stand against this sort of behavior.

In its efforts to monitor the growth of international anti-Semitism, the U.S. State Department has prominently reported on the connection between anti-Israel incitement and hatred of Jews. As the Zionist Organization of America, a group that has been at the forefront of the fight to defend Jewish students against this sort of intimidation, noted in a release protesting the FAU incident, the State Department report said efforts to demonize Israel and Israelis “as barbaric, unprincipled, selfish, inhumane, etc. is anti-Semitic and has the effect of causing audiences to associate those bad attributes with Jews in general.” So while free debate about the Middle East is not to be interfered with, universities should be as careful about actions that target Jews as they would about those that sought to single out African-Americans or Hispanics through the use of double standards and innuendo. In the case of FAU, for the school to literally put its stamp of approval on the leaflets and allow them to be pasted onto the doors of students is an act of brazen intimidation. The university cannot undo its mistake with mere retroactive statements. FAU and other campuses where the bullying of Jewish and Zionist students has become commonplace need to understand that acquiescing to the creation of a hostile environment for Jews is not only immoral; it is a potential violation of federal law.

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Santorum Will Be Back if Romney Loses

Rick Santorum may have sounded like a man who was determined to fight Mitt Romney to the bitter end last week. But that defiant tone and the wild talk about comparisons of his effort to Ronald Reagan’s duel with Gerald Ford was apparently merely the last gasp of his underdog run for the presidency. Today, Santorum bowed to reality and announced the suspension of his campaign. With Newt Gingrich already having acknowledged that Romney was the likely nominee, Santorum’s speech marks the informal end of the Republican presidential contest.

Some may believe that his decision is related to his daughter Bella’s serious illness. But because Santorum embarked on his run and continued it despite her being hospitalized earlier this year, it is more likely that he and his inner circle took a hard look at his prospects in the upcoming Pennsylvania Primary and concluded that he was heading for a humiliating loss in his home state. Despite the brave talk from the Santorum camp about their chances of denying Romney a majority of delegates, it was already clear it was just a matter of time until he clinched the nomination. While the rest of the year will be about Romney taking on President Obama, it’s fair to ask whether today’s announcement is the last moment Santorum will have on the national political scene.

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Rick Santorum may have sounded like a man who was determined to fight Mitt Romney to the bitter end last week. But that defiant tone and the wild talk about comparisons of his effort to Ronald Reagan’s duel with Gerald Ford was apparently merely the last gasp of his underdog run for the presidency. Today, Santorum bowed to reality and announced the suspension of his campaign. With Newt Gingrich already having acknowledged that Romney was the likely nominee, Santorum’s speech marks the informal end of the Republican presidential contest.

Some may believe that his decision is related to his daughter Bella’s serious illness. But because Santorum embarked on his run and continued it despite her being hospitalized earlier this year, it is more likely that he and his inner circle took a hard look at his prospects in the upcoming Pennsylvania Primary and concluded that he was heading for a humiliating loss in his home state. Despite the brave talk from the Santorum camp about their chances of denying Romney a majority of delegates, it was already clear it was just a matter of time until he clinched the nomination. While the rest of the year will be about Romney taking on President Obama, it’s fair to ask whether today’s announcement is the last moment Santorum will have on the national political scene.

It is telling that at no moment in his 20-minute speech today did Santorum mention the man who bested him. Though earlier in the race, he seemed to have become the nice guy in the race while Romney and Gingrich tore each other apart, it turns out that he, rather than the former speaker, was the one who took the rough and tumble of the campaign personally. While Santorum had to play the practical politician at times when he was in the Senate leadership, he is at heart, a true believer in the social conservative faith he espoused during the last year. It’s clear he has little use for Romney and isn’t aiming for either a role in the nominee’s fall campaign or a place in his administration. Though he concluded that the Ronald Reagan scenario he seemed to be sketching last week would be rendered implausible by defeat in Pennsylvania, he may still be thinking that he can pick up the pieces of a broken Republican Party after a Romney defeat this fall.

This is a scenario that will be scoffed at by many in the party who believe Santorum can never be elected president. Should Romney lose in November, there will be no shortage of Republican stars who will look like plausible candidates in 2016. But even if his social conservatism makes him a poor bet for the future, should the moderate winner of the GOP nomination fall short again this year, Santorum will be among the first names you hear next winter when pundits begin speculating about the next presidential election.

The bitter end of his effort ought not to obscure just how much Santorum accomplished in the last year. His was among the most unlikely candidacies when he first announced last summer. But he outlasted a succession of better-funded conservative alternatives and turned out to be the only person in the field who ever gave Romney much of a run for his money. The reason for his success stemmed from his ability to tap into the energy and the passion of evangelical voters desirous of a GOP candidate who espoused their views on social issues. If those evaluating the 2008 campaign gave Mike Huckabee credit for his far more limited success and even thought him a plausible GOP contender this year, why wouldn’t Santorum’s more impressive showing not earn him a place at the table four years from now?

Should Santorum run again, and now that he has had a taste of presidential politics, I think that’s more than likely, he would have a good chance of retaining the loyalty of evangelicals and would have four years to prepare a better financed and more organized presidential campaign.

But for any of that to happen, Romney has to lose. Should he win, today may well prove to be Santorum’s last hurrah.

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New Study Blows Apart Obama’s Imaginary World

A new study by Chuck Blahous, public trustee for Medicare and Social Security, blows to smithereens the claim that the Affordable Care Act (aka ObamaCare) will cut the deficit. According to Blahous, President Obama’s health care law unambiguously worsens the nation’s already unsustainable fiscal path. Among its key findings are these:

· Even under an optimistic scenario, the health care law will add more than $1.15 trillion to federal spending over the next decade.

· The law will add more than $340 billion and as much as $530 billion to federal deficits over the same period, and increasing amounts thereafter.

· To ensure the health care law doesn’t worsen the nation’s fiscal outlook, two-thirds of the subsidies must be repealed or other fiscal offsets found before benefits begin in 2014.

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A new study by Chuck Blahous, public trustee for Medicare and Social Security, blows to smithereens the claim that the Affordable Care Act (aka ObamaCare) will cut the deficit. According to Blahous, President Obama’s health care law unambiguously worsens the nation’s already unsustainable fiscal path. Among its key findings are these:

· Even under an optimistic scenario, the health care law will add more than $1.15 trillion to federal spending over the next decade.

· The law will add more than $340 billion and as much as $530 billion to federal deficits over the same period, and increasing amounts thereafter.

· To ensure the health care law doesn’t worsen the nation’s fiscal outlook, two-thirds of the subsidies must be repealed or other fiscal offsets found before benefits begin in 2014.

The Obama administration is employing intellectually shallow arguments to counter the findings of the study. “Opponents of reform are using ‘new math’ while they attempt to refight the political battles of the past,” an anonymous White House budget official told the Washington Post. “The fact of the matter is, the Congressional Budget Office and independent experts concluded that the health-reform law will reduce the deficit. That was true the day the bill was signed into law, and it’s true today.”

That is because the Obama administration relies on what’s known as double counting, something even the CBO admits. The Post story, as well as this analysis by Yuval Levin, explains the matter in detail. So does Richard Foster, chief actuary of Medicare, who in 2010 wrote, “In practice, the improved [Medicare trust fund] financing cannot be simultaneously used to finance other Federal outlays (such as the coverage expansions) and to extend the trust fund, despite the appearance of this result from the respective accounting conventions.” What Foster was telegraphing is that while he was bound by accounting rules to double count, he knows it provides a terribly misleading picture of the fiscal effects of the Affordable Care Act. That is quite an admission by a man who works for the president.

The conclusion by Blahous is, from the Obama administration’s perspective, brutally straightforward:

Taken as a whole, the enactment of the ACA has substantially worsened a dire federal fiscal outlook. The ACA both increases a federal commitment to health care spending that was already unsustainable under prior law and would exacerbate projected federal deficits relative to prior law. This is an unambiguous conclusion, as it would result regardless of the degree of future success attained in upholding various cost-saving provisions now embedded in the law.

Once again, reality is blowing apart the imaginary world created by Obama. More and more, it seems, the various claims made by the president should begin with these four words: “Once upon a time.”

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DNC Chair Learns the Quality of Mercy

We don’t often have occasion to say anything complimentary about Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz. In her designated role as President Obama’s attack dog, Rep. Wasserman Schultz has made a specialty of taking cheap shots at her opponents. When not attempting to demonize Republican positions on the deficit and entitlements, she has even stooped to blame conservatives for the shooting of Gabriella Giffords. But as unfair as she has been to those on the other side of the aisle, that doesn’t justify treating Wasserman Schultz or anyone on her staff in a similar manner. And that is exactly what happened to Danielle Gilbert, a DNC staffer who has been pilloried lately for some silly pictures she posted to her personal Facebook account six years ago when she was in college. But despite reports of pressure from the White House, Wasserman Schultz has refused to dump Gilbert. To that we can only say, good for her.

It is true the picture in which Gilbert is seen kissing money and referring to herself and some friends as “Jewbags” was in poor taste. But the posting by Gilbert, who is the daughter of prominent Jewish contributors to the Obama campaign and now works as the DNC’s outreach liaison to the Jewish community, was a joke and nothing more. The existence of the photo didn’t merit a story. Nor did it justify subjecting a young woman who has done nothing wrong to the sort of humiliation that is part of being the subject of even a minor political dust storm such as this one.

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We don’t often have occasion to say anything complimentary about Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz. In her designated role as President Obama’s attack dog, Rep. Wasserman Schultz has made a specialty of taking cheap shots at her opponents. When not attempting to demonize Republican positions on the deficit and entitlements, she has even stooped to blame conservatives for the shooting of Gabriella Giffords. But as unfair as she has been to those on the other side of the aisle, that doesn’t justify treating Wasserman Schultz or anyone on her staff in a similar manner. And that is exactly what happened to Danielle Gilbert, a DNC staffer who has been pilloried lately for some silly pictures she posted to her personal Facebook account six years ago when she was in college. But despite reports of pressure from the White House, Wasserman Schultz has refused to dump Gilbert. To that we can only say, good for her.

It is true the picture in which Gilbert is seen kissing money and referring to herself and some friends as “Jewbags” was in poor taste. But the posting by Gilbert, who is the daughter of prominent Jewish contributors to the Obama campaign and now works as the DNC’s outreach liaison to the Jewish community, was a joke and nothing more. The existence of the photo didn’t merit a story. Nor did it justify subjecting a young woman who has done nothing wrong to the sort of humiliation that is part of being the subject of even a minor political dust storm such as this one.

Wasserman Schultz’s instinct to back her aide is laudable. As she rightly points out, it is important for young people (as well as not so young people) to understand that anything — whether innocent jokes or not so innocent behavior captured in a photo or video — they publish on Facebook or Twitter is a matter of public record and can come back to haunt them at any time in the future. But destroying the budding career of an otherwise blameless youngster over such nonsense is both unjust and unethical.

In the no-hold-barred world of political combat in which both parties and their respective journalistic cheering sections are constantly engaged in the business of embarrassing each other, it sometimes feels as if anything is fair game. Far worse things than the Gilbert photo — such as, to take just one egregious example, the unsubstantiated innuendo masquerading as investigative journalism alleging infidelity on the part of then Republican presidential candidate John McCain published by the New York Times in 2008 — easily come to mind. But politics and journalism ought to be better than that. We hope the next time a similar alleged youthful indiscretion about a politician or activist is unearthed, journalists will choose not to go down this same road. We also hope Wasserman Schultz will remember this the next time she is inclined to indulge in uncivil rhetoric herself.

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Consequences of a Victory for Assad Will Be Costly for Obama

The Western optimism about the imminent fall of the Assad regime in Syria voiced so frequently throughout much of the last year is starting to quiet down. President Obama was willing to express confidence that the Arab Spring would claim another triumph in Damascus just a few months ago. But the collapse of the United Nations-sponsored plan for an end to the violence in Syria has once again made it clear not only that the world body’s peace efforts are farcical, but that the administration’s Middle East policies are a hopeless muddle.

The main villain in this drama remains Bashar al-Assad, whose forces continue to butcher the Syrian people. But at this point it must be understood that a Western refusal to openly challenge that dictator and his backers in Moscow, Beijing and Tehran has created a foreign policy debacle with consequences that extend beyond the borders of that tortured country. The United States decided that unlike the case in Libya where intervention to topple the Qaddafi government was deemed easy and relatively cost-free, a repeat effort in Syria was a perilous undertaking beyond the capacity of the West to contemplate. It is certainly true that a more aggressive policy toward Assad would have created risks and would not have been without a high cost. But as President Obama may be learning (in those spare moments when not immersed in his re-election campaign aimed at demonizing his domestic opponents), allowing Russia, China and Iran to help thwart world opinion on this issue will undermine U.S. interests and credibility.

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The Western optimism about the imminent fall of the Assad regime in Syria voiced so frequently throughout much of the last year is starting to quiet down. President Obama was willing to express confidence that the Arab Spring would claim another triumph in Damascus just a few months ago. But the collapse of the United Nations-sponsored plan for an end to the violence in Syria has once again made it clear not only that the world body’s peace efforts are farcical, but that the administration’s Middle East policies are a hopeless muddle.

The main villain in this drama remains Bashar al-Assad, whose forces continue to butcher the Syrian people. But at this point it must be understood that a Western refusal to openly challenge that dictator and his backers in Moscow, Beijing and Tehran has created a foreign policy debacle with consequences that extend beyond the borders of that tortured country. The United States decided that unlike the case in Libya where intervention to topple the Qaddafi government was deemed easy and relatively cost-free, a repeat effort in Syria was a perilous undertaking beyond the capacity of the West to contemplate. It is certainly true that a more aggressive policy toward Assad would have created risks and would not have been without a high cost. But as President Obama may be learning (in those spare moments when not immersed in his re-election campaign aimed at demonizing his domestic opponents), allowing Russia, China and Iran to help thwart world opinion on this issue will undermine U.S. interests and credibility.

The president fatally underestimated both Assad’s staying power and his willingness to shed blood to hold onto power. But worse than that, he failed to understand that Western passivity created a perfect opening for Iran, ably backed by Russia and China to create a test case by which they could prove that it was still possible to thwart the will of the United States as well as international opinion.

While President Obama’s major Middle East policy speech last May is best remembered for its attempt to ambush Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu on the issue of the 1967 borders, the bulk of the address was a manifesto of America’s intentions to help the Arab Spring create a new sphere of democracy and prosperity. The speech was remarkable for an approach that could rightly be labeled neoconservative in its devotion to the idea that America could help foster democracy in a region where it was (other than in Israel) largely unknown. But the initiative was overshadowed by Obama’s unsuccessful dustup with Israel and ignored by the Arabs. Other than the president’s brief foray in “leading from behind” in Libya, the United States has been a passive observer in the region.

The only aspect of U.S. policy in the region that could be dignified with the term strategy was the president’s decision to warm up relations with Turkey at the very time the Islamist government of that nation was tilting against Israel and making noises about a revival of Ottoman influence. Though Turkey is a questionable ally, it has become something of a surrogate for Western interests in Syria as it challenged Assad. But even there, Obama has made a mess of things, as it is now clear Turkey is no match for Iran’s allies in terms of its ability to influence events.

The unraveling of the UN peace plan promoted by former Secretary General Kofi Annan (who can now add the triumph of Syrian tyranny to his long list of other diplomatic failures) doesn’t just mean it is more than likely Assad will survive this crisis. The other consequences represent a catastrophe for American interests. Iran looks to be able to hold onto a crucial ally in Assad who will be more dependent on it than ever. And Russia and China have demonstrated that the notion of a world in which America is the only superpower has been supplanted by one in which America’s former Cold War adversaries have become forces to be reckoned with. All this also dramatically reduces Obama’s chances of a successful campaign to pressure Iran into giving up its nuclear ambitions.

Though the president feared the cost of intervention in Syria, it is rapidly becoming apparent that the United States will be paying dearly for his temerity in the years to come.

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No, the GAO Report Does Not Undermine Christie’s Tunnel Cancellation

In 2010, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie announced he was canceling a proposed public transportation project that would have constructed a new train tunnel under the Hudson River. The project was meant to ease commuter congestion between New Jersey and New York City. Christie was sympathetic to the aim of the tunnel, but when it became clear the costs would spiral, he realized it would contravene his gubernatorial mandate, which was to bring the state’s shockingly debt-burdened books closer to fiscal sanity.

In addition, the state’s transportation trust fund was almost bankrupt, and would have necessitated an increased gasoline tax to pay for the shortfall. That means the cost of the tunnel would have been far higher to New Jerseyans than just the on-paper cost estimate. So Christie canceled the tunnel and steered $4 billion earmarked for the project to the transportation trust fund. It’s hard to imagine a more reasonable decision, especially in light of the state’s finances and Christie’s promise to cut spending and eliminate waste rather than simply raise taxes even more to pay for the state’s exploding debt. But Democratic Senator Frank Lautenberg swore that neither he nor the federal government were done with Christie. Today, via the New York Times, they seek their revenge.

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In 2010, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie announced he was canceling a proposed public transportation project that would have constructed a new train tunnel under the Hudson River. The project was meant to ease commuter congestion between New Jersey and New York City. Christie was sympathetic to the aim of the tunnel, but when it became clear the costs would spiral, he realized it would contravene his gubernatorial mandate, which was to bring the state’s shockingly debt-burdened books closer to fiscal sanity.

In addition, the state’s transportation trust fund was almost bankrupt, and would have necessitated an increased gasoline tax to pay for the shortfall. That means the cost of the tunnel would have been far higher to New Jerseyans than just the on-paper cost estimate. So Christie canceled the tunnel and steered $4 billion earmarked for the project to the transportation trust fund. It’s hard to imagine a more reasonable decision, especially in light of the state’s finances and Christie’s promise to cut spending and eliminate waste rather than simply raise taxes even more to pay for the state’s exploding debt. But Democratic Senator Frank Lautenberg swore that neither he nor the federal government were done with Christie. Today, via the New York Times, they seek their revenge.

When Christie canceled the tunnel, he cited estimates that the project’s cost overruns would be even higher than previously expected and that New Jersey would be left holding too much of the tab. So Lautenberg had the Government Accountability Office (GAO) investigate Christie’s claims. The GAO investigation seems to have amounted to asking the federal government whether they swear, scout’s honor, that the project would meet its cost estimates–because, come on, the federal government never underestimates the price of a massive construction scheme.

The GAO will release its report this week, accusing Christie of misleading about the costs of the project. The GAO leaked the report today to the Times, however, so they could slap a headline on it that would cement the parameters of the discussion while discouraging anyone from actually reading the report. Even the leaked accusations, however, miss their mark. Any honest reading of the GAO’s findings shows Christie to have been right all along. Here is the crux of the disagreement:

The report by the Government Accountability Office, to be released this week, found that while Mr. Christie said that state transportation officials had revised cost estimates for the tunnel to at least $11 billion and potentially more than $14 billion, the range of estimates had in fact remained unchanged in the two years before he announced in 2010 that he was shutting down the project. And state transportation officials, the report says, had said the cost would be no more than $10 billion.

Mr. Christie also misstated New Jersey’s share of the costs: he said the state would pay 70 percent of the project; the report found that New Jersey was paying 14.4 percent.

In fact, the “range of estimates” most certainly did not remain unchanged, as the GAO and the Times claim. The project was thought to be too expensive for the state when Christie was told it would cost more than $8 billion. As the GAO admits, state officials then said the tunnel could cost up to $10 billion. But the cost estimates didn’t stay at $10 billion either. As the Times report buries later on in the story, federal and state officials admitted costs could rise to as high as $12.4 billion, and then six weeks before Christie cancelled the project federal officials came back and said the cost might actually hit $13.7 billion. When state officials who supported the project got nervous about Christie’s dedication to the tunnel, they returned to insist it would probably stay at about $10 billion.

In other words, Christie was right. As for the state’s share of the costs, the article goes on to explain that the GAO only arrived at its number (14.4 percent) by excluding another bridge New Jersey would be required to build as part of the project, excluding the fact that New Jersey would have to fork over earmarked transportation stimulus funds for the project, and excluding the share of costs held by the Port Authority, which is run by both New Jersey and New York.

It is the GAO, egged on by Christie’s Democratic opponents and spun by the New York Times, that is misleading about the costs of the project. In hindsight, this only makes Christie’s decision not to be cozened by the tunnel project even wiser.

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The Party of the Nomenklatura

Steve Hayward over at Power Line has an interesting quote from Franklin Roosevelt:

The lessons of history, confirmed by the evidence immediately before me, show conclusively that continued dependence upon relief induces a spiritual and moral disintegration fundamentally destructive to the national fiber. To dole out relief in this way is to administer a narcotic, a subtle destroyer of the human spirit… It is in violation of the traditions of America.

Roosevelt wanted Social Security to be a contributory system, where people pay in when they are young and take out when they are old. What he didn’t want was a “dole,” to use the term he knew and which we call welfare today. When the original Social Security proposal didn’t meet FDR’s specifications, he ordered it rewritten. Robert Samuelson details in the Washington Post how Roosevelt’s conception was slowly turned into the Ponzi scheme that Social Security is today. The process began with an override of an FDR veto in 1942 of the Revenue Act of that year, the act that transformed the personal income tax from a tax on the rich to a tax on all but the poor.

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Steve Hayward over at Power Line has an interesting quote from Franklin Roosevelt:

The lessons of history, confirmed by the evidence immediately before me, show conclusively that continued dependence upon relief induces a spiritual and moral disintegration fundamentally destructive to the national fiber. To dole out relief in this way is to administer a narcotic, a subtle destroyer of the human spirit… It is in violation of the traditions of America.

Roosevelt wanted Social Security to be a contributory system, where people pay in when they are young and take out when they are old. What he didn’t want was a “dole,” to use the term he knew and which we call welfare today. When the original Social Security proposal didn’t meet FDR’s specifications, he ordered it rewritten. Robert Samuelson details in the Washington Post how Roosevelt’s conception was slowly turned into the Ponzi scheme that Social Security is today. The process began with an override of an FDR veto in 1942 of the Revenue Act of that year, the act that transformed the personal income tax from a tax on the rich to a tax on all but the poor.

It is a measure of how much the Democratic Party has changed since the 1930s. With millions out of work, their savings gone with thousands of bank failures, immediate help was needed (and, indeed, the federal government began to deliver that help, in unprecedented amounts, during the Hoover administration). But the help was intended to be temporary. The idea of a permanent underclass living off government handouts or dependent on government for their livelihoods was repugnant to Roosevelt and most people in his “brain trust.”

Today, the Democratic Party is not a party devoted to helping the poor help themselves, but one devoted to the interests of an American “nomenklatura” whose rice bowl is an ever-larger number of people dependent on government for services and income. This nomenklatura is made up of bureaucrats, public-service union officials, non-governmental organizations such as environmental and civil rights groups, some corporations, such as big pharmaceutical companies, that are dependent on government regulators, colleges and universities, and others.

The Democratic Party, which once had a valid claim to being the party of the little guy–even while headed by the quintessential American aristocrat–is now the party of a vast coalition of interest groups devoted only to ever larger and more intrusive government, the “traditions of America” that FDR championed be damned.

 

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How Good Is Our Intelligence on Iran?

I join my Council on Foreign Relations colleague Elliott Abrams and my Contentions colleague Jonathan Tobin in expressing reservations about whether the U.S. government really has the degree of insight into Iran’s nuclear program claimed in carefully orchestrated leaks such as this Washington Post article which brags about how stealthy CIA drones have penetrated deep into Iranian air space.

There is, I fear, not only political spin at work here (the administration wants to showcase U.S. intelligence capabilities to ward off an Israeli strike) but also deep-seated hubris on the part of the intelligence community. Perhaps the CIA has high-level assets within the Iranian government who for understandable reasons go unmentioned in the Washington Post article; but if we are indeed primarily reliant on signals intelligence and aerial surveillance, as the article implies, then we may be in for a nasty shock.

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I join my Council on Foreign Relations colleague Elliott Abrams and my Contentions colleague Jonathan Tobin in expressing reservations about whether the U.S. government really has the degree of insight into Iran’s nuclear program claimed in carefully orchestrated leaks such as this Washington Post article which brags about how stealthy CIA drones have penetrated deep into Iranian air space.

There is, I fear, not only political spin at work here (the administration wants to showcase U.S. intelligence capabilities to ward off an Israeli strike) but also deep-seated hubris on the part of the intelligence community. Perhaps the CIA has high-level assets within the Iranian government who for understandable reasons go unmentioned in the Washington Post article; but if we are indeed primarily reliant on signals intelligence and aerial surveillance, as the article implies, then we may be in for a nasty shock.

Indeed, we have experienced such surprises many times before–for instance, the U.S. intelligence community was caught off guard by the Pakistani nuclear test in 1998 and the North Korean test in 2006–and this at a time when U.S. intelligence capabilities were nearly as advanced as they are today. The reality is that our enemies are aware of many of our high-tech spying techniques (e.g. a stealth drone crashed in Iran) and know how to cloak their activities to prevent the full shape of their efforts from becoming clear.

I would be a lot more convinced by accounts such as the one in the Post if the anonymous intelligence officials quoted therein expressed some degree of humility about their ability to penetrate the deepest recesses of a closed political and military system such as Iran. The fact that they come across as being so utterly confident in their judgments makes them paradoxically less trustworthy: They are failing to question their assumptions just as they failed to question their assumptions about Iraq’s WMD program prior to the U.S. invasion.

 

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Despite Obama’s Poll Numbers, Romney Still Positioned for Strong Challenge

Today’s Washington Post-ABC News Poll is being touted by Democrats as a key moment in the 2012 election because for the first time, President Obama is shown as getting over the 50 percent mark in terms of job approval and in a head-to-head matchup with Mitt Romney. These are encouraging numbers for the president, but Democrats shouldn’t start mailing out inaugural ball tickets just yet. A close reading of the poll as well as the political context in which it was taken shows that the president is still highly vulnerable on a number of issues, leaving likely Republican nominee Mitt Romney still in position to make a strong challenge this fall.

First, it should be noted that the poll is only of adults, not registered voters, let alone likely voters, so its results should be taken with a shovelful of salt. The poll sample is also skewed to the left as the respondents’ party affiliation showed 34 percent Democrats to only 23 percent Republicans, figures that do not reflect most national samples of party loyalties. Just as important, the poll shows widespread dissatisfaction with the president’s handling of the economy, no confidence that a recovery from the last recession has occurred as well as a belief that the country is on the wrong track. There is no question that Obama’s position is far stronger than it seemed a few months ago. But given that the full impact of rising gas prices has not yet been felt in the country and that Romney is only now just emerging as the GOP standard-bearer after almost a year of non-stop bashing from his party opponents, these results ought not cause Democrats to celebrate too much or cause too much despair among Republicans.

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Today’s Washington Post-ABC News Poll is being touted by Democrats as a key moment in the 2012 election because for the first time, President Obama is shown as getting over the 50 percent mark in terms of job approval and in a head-to-head matchup with Mitt Romney. These are encouraging numbers for the president, but Democrats shouldn’t start mailing out inaugural ball tickets just yet. A close reading of the poll as well as the political context in which it was taken shows that the president is still highly vulnerable on a number of issues, leaving likely Republican nominee Mitt Romney still in position to make a strong challenge this fall.

First, it should be noted that the poll is only of adults, not registered voters, let alone likely voters, so its results should be taken with a shovelful of salt. The poll sample is also skewed to the left as the respondents’ party affiliation showed 34 percent Democrats to only 23 percent Republicans, figures that do not reflect most national samples of party loyalties. Just as important, the poll shows widespread dissatisfaction with the president’s handling of the economy, no confidence that a recovery from the last recession has occurred as well as a belief that the country is on the wrong track. There is no question that Obama’s position is far stronger than it seemed a few months ago. But given that the full impact of rising gas prices has not yet been felt in the country and that Romney is only now just emerging as the GOP standard-bearer after almost a year of non-stop bashing from his party opponents, these results ought not cause Democrats to celebrate too much or cause too much despair among Republicans.

The president has been the beneficiary of a long period of internecine warfare among his opponents with many Republicans concentrating their efforts on disparaging Romney. The cumulative impact of these attacks, which may well continue for a few more weeks if, as expected, Rick Santorum continues his kamikaze primary run, has definitely hurt Romney, especially as Obama has been able to conserve his resources and his apparent immunity from attacks from his side of the aisle.

The advantages of incumbency are most readily seen in the poll’s reading of the likeability of the two likely opponents in November. While Obama had a small advantage when it comes to strength of leadership and vision, he wins by a landslide when it comes to likeability with a 64-26 percent edge over Romney. He can thank the fawning coverage he and his family have received from the national media for these numbers. While the press has assailed Romney for his wealth and probed his religion and every other aspect of his life in a manner that they did not dare to push Obama four years ago, the president and his wife and children continue to receive the Camelot treatment from the media. Not since the Kennedy administration has any presidential family been treated with kid gloves the way Obama’s has and that gives him a clear edge, especially because the only thing most Americans know about Romney’s personal life is that he once traveled with a dog on the roof of his car.

Yet despite this factor as well as the recent perception of a stronger recovery, Romney need not despair. Even a majority of this poll’s skewed sample trust Romney to do a better job than the president on handling the economy, which is still the major issue that will decide the election. And given the fact that gas prices are likely to go a lot higher this summer, dissatisfaction with the administration’s energy policy (another Obama weak point in the poll) is bound to influence more voters against the incumbent.

So while Obama has good reason to be happy about his 51-43 lead over Romney in this poll, he’s far from out of the woods. The likelihood is that his advantage among likely voters in a sample that isn’t stacked with Democrats would largely evaporate. Though the president continues to enjoy the tremendous advantages that go with incumbency, Romney is still on his heels and will have every opportunity to mount a strong challenge this fall.

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The “Night Raids” Deal With Afghanistan

Should we be concerned that the new agreement reached by the U.S. and Afghanistan over the conduct of “night raids” will hamper the ability of U.S. Special Operations Forces to target America’s enemies? Not on the basis of what has been released about the accord.

Pentagon spokesmen argue that the limitations–having Afghans in the lead in both operations and the interrogation of detainees–do no more than codify existing practices. Moreover, there are wide loopholes in all cases: Afghans can always request extra U.S. aid and even raids that were not initially authorized by Afghan authorities can still be authorized after the fact.

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Should we be concerned that the new agreement reached by the U.S. and Afghanistan over the conduct of “night raids” will hamper the ability of U.S. Special Operations Forces to target America’s enemies? Not on the basis of what has been released about the accord.

Pentagon spokesmen argue that the limitations–having Afghans in the lead in both operations and the interrogation of detainees–do no more than codify existing practices. Moreover, there are wide loopholes in all cases: Afghans can always request extra U.S. aid and even raids that were not initially authorized by Afghan authorities can still be authorized after the fact.

The underlying reality here is that Afghan Special Operations Forces, like their counterparts in Iraq, are the best of the best of the Afghan armed forces–they have received the most aid and training from American authorities and they are the Afghans most trusted by Americans to act as close partners in sensitive operations. Notwithstanding suspicions that may exist between conventional Afghan and American units, there are close bonds of trust between the two Special Operations communities which should ensure, at least for the foreseeable future, that they will not allow legal limitations to hinder their teamwork. Moreover, Afghanistan’s defense minister, Gen. Abdul Rahim Wardak, who is in charge of the implementation of the accord, is considered by Americans to be another close and trusted partner.

From all I have read, this is a good agreement that gives Afghanistan’s government a fig leaf of sovereignty while allowing Special Operations raids to continue at their current high tempo. The successful conclusion of this accord, coming after a similar deal on the handling of detainees, augurs well for the conclusion of a longterm U.S.-Afghan security agreement that could dampen some of the jitters occasioned by the looming 2014 deadline for NATO powers to withdraw their combat troops from Afghanistan.

 

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