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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.