President George W. Bush was widely—and unfairly—castigated for referring to Iran, Iraq, and North Korea as “The Axis of Evil.” Academics denied that such diverse countries could cooperate, while diplomats condemned Bush for saying such mean things about Ayatollah Ali Khamenei or Dear Leader Kim Jong-il. In hindsight, of course, Bush was right. The only legitimate criticism of the Axis of Evil was that he defined it too narrowly: Certainly, there might have been room for Venezuelan despot Hugo Chavez and Sudan’s murderous dictator Omar Al-Bashir, among others.
Blogger Challah Hu Akbar, whom I do not know personally but whose blog I always find interesting, has done some important analysis of Iranian media pictures and asks just what North Korean military officers are doing in Iran?
A year ago even as relentlessly positive a chronicler of the Obama administration as the New York Times noted that the president had begun to use the killing of Osama bin Laden as an integral part of his standard political stump speech. Since then, the president and even Vice President Biden have rarely disappointed listeners waiting for the obligatory bin Laden reference. While President Obama deserves credit for ordering the operation and he was entitled to spike the ball over this a few times, the transformation of the tracking down of the arch terrorist into the central achievement of their years in power says a lot about just how thin their list of victories has turned out to be.
Indeed, as I first noted last May, it should be remembered that Biden made one of the few genuinely witty remarks in the 2008 campaign when he noted that a Rudy Giuliani campaign speech consisted solely of, “a noun, a verb and 9/11,” but in the last year the addresses of Obama and Biden have rarely omitted “a noun, a verb and bin Laden.” Yet as tiresome as the president’s attempt to drape himself in the heroism of the Navy Seals has been up until now, it just got a lot worse. The Obama campaign is not only highlighting the bin Laden killing but it is now, believe it or not, actually putting forward a counter-factual video asserting that a President Mitt Romney would never have tried to take out the al Qaeda leader.
For the past few days I’ve been in London, where I was presenting a paper at the Counter Terror Expo. I had the privilege to sit-in on other talks far more interesting than mine revolving around British preparations for the Summer Olympics; strategies to counteract terrorist charities; and very practical tactical approaches to the counter terror fight.
A few items jumped out at me during the course of the two-day conference which I simply had not known or previously thought about at length. For example, while American counter terror officials will confront terrorist charities and shut them down, the British believe (naively, in my view) that they can excise the terror influence yet preserve the charity. Likewise, while the U.S. Treasury Department is expert at tracking U.S. dollar transactions in order to deny terrorists funding, I had never fully considered the problem of laundering such transactions via the Mexican Peso, an increasing problem especially given the interplay between terrorists and drug gangs and the prevalence of informal Peso transactions in the American southwest.
While President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton have attempted to talk tough about the ongoing negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program, by agreeing to the P5+1 talks that were launched last week in Istanbul, the administration has set in motion a process that is clearly lurching out of their control. The Iranians scored a not insignificant victory by convincing the West to wait several weeks until the next meeting in late May. And as Laura Rozen reported in Al Monitor last week, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, a fierce critic of Israel, is in clear charge of the negotiations and may be steering the talks toward a deal that will fall well short of an agreement that would force an end to the Iranian program. But a key element to the creation of such an unsatisfactory conclusion to this process will be to convince the West that the Iranians are genuinely interested in a deal. And as Rozen notes today, the Islamist regime is working hard to give onlookers the impression that accommodation is their priority.
If all this sounds to good to be true it’s because it almost certainly is. The spin coming out of Tehran is aimed at creating false confidence in their willingness to abandon their nuclear ambitions and sign a deal that would allow the Europeans, as well as Iran’s Russian and Chinese friends to pretend that worries about the ayatollahs getting their hands on a nuke are put to rest. But since the Iranians have already successfully played this cat and mouse game with Western negotiators before, the only reasonable conclusion to be drawn from the “positive signals” coming out Iran is that the regime is aiming at driving a wedge between the United States and the other members of the P5+1 delegation.
The concern for President Obama has never been that he’ll lose the young vote, just that he may not win by as large of a margin as he did in 2008, and that turnout among young voters may be lower this time around. Today’s Gallup found that Obama leads Romney by 35 percent with 18 to 29-year-olds, but most of them either aren’t registered or aren’t committed to voting next November:
It’s clear at this point that Obama maintains the decisive edge when young voters are asked whom they support for president, as he did in 2008. Voters aged 18 to 29 in Gallup’s most recent five-day average, April 20-24, support Obama over Romney by 35 percentage points, 64 percent to 29 percent, and — compared with older age groups — have been disproportionately supportive of Obama since Gallup’s tracking began on April 11, albeit by differing margins. Obama’s lead is five and four percentage points, respectively, among those 30 to 49 and 50 to 64, while Romney leads by 12 points among those 65 and older. Overall, for the April 20-24 five-day period, Obama leads by six points, 49 percent to 43 percent.
Georgetown University’s student insurance program came under fire a few months ago during an unofficial congressional hearing after student and activist Sandra Fluke criticized its lack of birth control coverage. Since Fluke’s testimony, the university has been under mounting pressure to change its birth control coverage policy immediately. But today, Georgetown University President John J. DeGioia confirmed in a letter to students that the university will not change its policy until it’s required to by law:
As you know, like most universities, Georgetown requires that students have health insurance. Students are not required to purchase their health insurance through Georgetown University and are free to acquire health insurance through a third party. The student plan offered by Georgetown is consistent with our Catholic and Jesuit identity and does not cover prescription contraceptives for birth control. It does provide coverage for these prescriptions for students who require them for health reasons unrelated to birth control, as determined by a physician.
Israelis are celebrating their Independence Day today, and it’s not likely that too many of them are spending their holiday worrying about American Jewish efforts to save them from themselves. The imbalance in the relationship between the two sides of the Israel-Diaspora relationship lends a touch of comedy, if not pathos, to the celebrated anguish of liberal American Jews who will spend this day, if not every day, publicizing their angst about Israeli policies and dramatically predicting doom for the Jewish state if it does not listen to their criticisms.
We have been hearing a lot lately about the imperative for “liberal Zionists” to speak out. Israel is a democratic country with a bewildering array of political parties and ideologies (almost all of which have some representation in its parliament), and if American Jews wish to identify with a particular brand of Israeli politics, there’s nothing wrong with that. I may disagree with some of the political views expressed on the Zionist left, but I consider the debate with those who are devoted to Israel but who wish to improve it in various ways, arguments undertaken, as Jewish tradition calls it, “for the sake of heaven,” which ought to be conducted with civility and respect on both sides and mutual commitment to Jewish peoplehood. Israel does not need blind devotion from its foreign friends or from Diaspora Jews. Nor does it require anyone to pretend that the Israeli state is perfect. Its democratic system, its politicians and even its military are no more perfect than those in the United States. But it does deserve a degree of respect that I think is lacking lately from some who call themselves liberal Zionists.
Vice President Biden gave a foreign policy address at NYU this morning, which, as you could probably guess, included numerous references to the fact that Osama bin Laden is no longer alive. But Biden also floated a new addition to the campaign’s OBL-centric foreign policy message by warning that a Mitt Romney presidency would be a rerun of the George W. Bush years.
“[Romney] takes us back to the failed policies that President Obama has dug us out of,” said Biden. “He would take us back to dangerous and discredited policy that would…make America less secure.”
The bulk of Biden’s speech was focused on attacking Romney. But it was full of apparent contradictions: Romney is too much of a hard-liner, but also can’t be counted on to make tough decisions. Romney is too inexperienced, and yet Obama was fully prepared in 2008. Romney has no interest in foreign policy and would outsource decisions to the State Department, and yet he’s also a dangerous ideologue who is “mired in a Cold War mindset.”
The end of the Soviet Union was an unambiguous ideological victory for the West. Yet for many on the left, it remains a sore subject. Any mention of Russia’s foreign policy or criticism of Vladimir Putin inspires a knee-jerk response from the media and Democratic politicians: The Cold War is over!
I wrote about one case earlier this week, in which Doug Bandow and Jacob Heilbrunn chided Mitt Romney’s opposition to Putin’s authoritarian rule by bringing up the Soviet Union, and claiming that Romney broached the subject. (He hadn’t.) This bizarre psychological projection was precisely the New York Times’s response; the paper headlined its editorial “The Never-Ending Cold War.” It’s difficult, in fact, to get the left to stop talking abut the Cold War. Today, Vice President Joe Biden did so again, but he opened a window into the strange defensiveness of the administration and its allies on the subject.
Reading the New York Times account of an interview with Benny Gantz, the chief of staff of the Israeli Defense Force, that was first published in Haaretz is like a children’s game of “telephone.” What Gantz actually said wasn’t reflected in the misleading headline of the Israeli newspaper. That headline, rather than the actual content of the piece, was repeated in the Times article, so what comes out in America’s so-called newspaper of record had more to do with the editorial agenda of the press than the reality of Israel’s security dilemma.
The Haaretz headline was an attention-grabber: “IDF Chief to Haaretz: I do not believe Iran will decide to develop nuclear weapons.” Yet nowhere in the piece was there a quote that matched this startling assertion that was repeated in the Times headline that read: “Israeli Army Chief Says He Believes Iran Won’t Build a Bomb.” What Gantz tells Haaretz is that while the Iranians are actively working on a nuclear program, they have yet to activate the final stage of the project that would convert the material to a nuclear bomb. This is no revelation, as not even the most alarmist account of Iran’s efforts has stated that this final stage has been reached. Nor did Gantz express a belief that Iran wouldn’t build a bomb. Rather, he said the Iranians would do it only if they felt themselves “invulnerable.” He said he thought the ayatollahs were “rational,” but added that a weapon in their hands would be “dangerous.”
So while the tone of Gantz’s interview was not as sharp as the statements made by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu or Defense Minister Ehud Barak, the substance isn’t very different. Which makes the claims made by the Times and the misleading headline in Haaretz a transparent attempt to portray a stark division within the councils of Israel’s leaders where there may be none.
I am deeply concerned that further cuts in the defense budget—never mind the cuts that have already occurred—will leave us a crippled superpower. But I also recognize that the military isn’t the only instrument of power projection that we have or need. The State Department, USAID, and other civilian agencies also do valuable work—not always, but often enough that we should hesitate to cut their funding if we want to remain an active, engaged force for good in the world.
Yet, that is just what the Republican-controlled House Appropriations Committee is proposing. It wants to cut the State Department and foreign operations budget by more than $5 billion next year, from the $54.7 billion the administration has requested down to $48.4 billion. Obviously, cutting State Department funding is easier for Republicans than cutting the Department of Defense, but it is no wiser as a long-term prescription for America’s future. These types of cuts will do little to address our deep-seated fiscal woes, which require entitlement reform, but they will do much to handicap our ability to influence the world.
Newt Gingrich will officially drop out of the race next Tuesday, but he’s already cut his supporters loose. Rick Perry endorsed Mitt Romney last night, and Gingrich’s campaign says he’ll follow suit. But how much of a role will the Republican Party want to give Gingrich, after his harsh attacks on Romney and excessively-long campaign? According to Politico, it might be next to nothing:
“I think [he’s] unlikely to get even a non-prime slot to slash at Obama in Tampa,” former Gingrich-turned-Rick-Perry adviser Dave Carney said. “It’s quite possible that the Romney folks will want to focus on the future and move quickly away from the primary. Time will tell if the speaker gets his own speed-dial number at the surrogate operation in Boston this fall.” …
“Whatever talents he can put forth, he’s offered up,” [Gingrich spokesman R.C.] Hammond said.
The former House speaker is also starting to talk with congressional, gubernatorial and other local candidates about making campaign appearances throughout the fall, Hammond said, adding that in parts of the country, Gingrich still has star power.
“You’ll see him right at the head of the charge of this party as we try to take back the U.S. Senate,” Hammond said.
In just the latest indication of the direction his campaign will take, President Obama used a fawning interview in Rolling Stone to make it clear that he thinks his re-election will depend on mobilizing his liberal base. Because he must try to find a way to motivate erstwhile supporters who lack the enthusiasm for him that they showed during his 2008 victory, the president is counting on a twin strategy of demonizing Republicans and tilting to the left on domestic issues.
The starkest illustration of this came in his answers to questions about climate change in which he promised to make this article of faith for the left a central issue in the coming campaign. This may play well for the readers of Rolling Stone. But given the growing skepticism among ordinary Americans about the ideological cant on the issue that has spewed forth from the mainstream media and the White House, it may not help Obama with independents and the working class voters he needs as badly in November as the educated elites who bludgeoned him into halting the building of the Keystone XL pipeline. This conflict illustrates the contradiction at the core of the president’s campaign.
Last week, student leaders at Harvard, drawn from the undergraduate college, the Kennedy school, the business school, and the law school, held a conference about Israel. While the conference has attracted outside attention mostly as a result of another student-led conference at Harvard earlier this year that advocated the elimination of the Jewish state, campus supporters of Israel would do well to take note of the more recent event for another and better reason: its demonstration of an effective way to talk about Israel to campus audiences.
Drawing big names like Stanley Fischer, the governor of the Bank of Israel, and Dan Senor, probably best known for co-authoring the 2009 book Start-Up Nation, most of the content of the conference focused on Israel’s economic successes, particularly in high-tech and innovation. Senor’s book is itself responsible to a large degree for a widening appreciation in the United States for Israel’s extraordinary economic record during the past 15 or so years, popularizing eye-popping statistics like the number of Israeli companies listed on the NASDAQ stock index or that Israel’s less than 8 million people drew more venture capital in 2008 than the 145 million citizens of France and Germany combined.
A friend on Capitol Hill alerts me to Kofi Annan’s budget for his doomed-from-the-start observer mission in Syria. (The breakdown is in paragraph 17):
The estimated requirements for the Office of the Joint Special Envoy of the United Nations and the League of Arab States for the Syrian Crisis for the 10-month period ending 31 December 2012 amount to $7,488,000 net ($7,932,200 gross) and will provide for salaries and common staff costs for 18 positions ($3,022,300), as well as operational costs ($4,465,700), comprising consultancies ($165,700), official travel ($1,590,500), and facilities and infrastructure ($578,400); ground transportation ($100,200); air transportation ($750,000); communications ($94,800) and information technology ($135,700); and other supplies, services and equipment ($1,050,400). Of the non-post items, $111,800 relates to one-time expenditures for the refurbishment of office space ($30,000) and provision of information technology and other equipment ($81,800).
Despite what you may have heard from President Obama, both Republicans and Democrats in Congress favor extending low interest rates on student loans that are set to expire in July. The problem is they’re conflicted over how to pay for it. While Democrats support a payroll tax hike on certain businesses, the House GOP is planning to introduce a bill that would pay for the extension with some of the advanced appropriations included in ObamaCare. Politico reports:
House Republicans will announce by the end of this week their own bill to keep student loan rates from doubling, several Republican leadership sources said.
The GOP will offset its cost with money from what they dub a “slush fund” in the Democrats’ 2010 health care law. Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) is holding a media availability in the Capitol Wednesday afternoon to announce the effort.
The specter of government-subsidized student loan rates doubling is the most recent attempt by the White House and Democrats on Capitol Hill to paint Republicans as the model of inaction. President Barack Obama is on a nationwide college tour, slamming congressional Republicans for allowing the Stafford loan rate to jump on July 1. In reality, Republican leadership on Capitol Hill didn’t address how they would deal with the July 1 deadline, which would have allowed government subsidized student loan rates jump from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent.
Because the Republican Party will nominate the one candidate who, at least at the outset of the contest, Tea Partiers seemed to have the least affinity for, many political observers have concluded that the movement’s time has come and gone. But as the results from a number of Senate races testify, reports of the Tea Party’s demise are, at best, premature. In Utah, longtime incumbent Senator Orrin Hatch is being forced into a Republican primary to hold on to his seat. But an even better argument for the group as a force that should be reckoned with came in Pennsylvania, where the state GOP establishment’s choice was humiliated in a primary yesterday to determine the party’s nominee to oppose Senator Bob Casey.
While the Pennsylvania GOP Senate race received minimal attention even in the Keystone state, the collapse of Governor Tom Corbett’s attempt to handpick an unknown for the nomination is noteworthy. Corbett and the state party wanted Steve Welch, a 35-year-old entrepreneur who was a registered Democrat as recently as 2009. But Tea Party activists embraced Tom Smith, a coal millionaire from the Western region of the state. Though Smith, 64, was a lifelong Democrat, he was able to harness the anger of the party’s grass roots and won by a huge margin over Welch, and Sam Rohrer, a state representative who also sought to appeal to Tea Partiers.
Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli Jr. may have been outclassed when he went up against Paul D. Clement arguing the case to uphold the constitutionality of ObamaCare before the Supreme Court of the United States. But today, when the pair once again matched up in the same forum when the high court met to hear arguments about the state of Arizona’s controversial immigration law, it appears that the result was no different. As the New York Times reports, even the liberal justices inclined to be on the same side of the administration, which wants the law struck down, gave the impression that they thought the solicitor general was something of a flop.
While Verrilli’s second humiliation — even Justice Sonia Sotomayor was so unimpressed with his presentation that she felt the need to tell him, “You can see it’s not selling very well” — was noteworthy, even more important was the fact that it appeared that the key provision of the Arizona law would not only be upheld but that most of the justices — even the liberals — seemed to agree that there was nothing unreasonable about it. Given the opprobrium that the mainstream media has heaped on Arizona and the way that most of the chattering classes had spoken of the law and its supporters as racists, the reaction of the court must be a shock to the administration and to its liberal supporters.
Jonathan is right, Marco Rubio is far more prepared for the VP slot than Sarah Palin in 2008. Case in point: he delivered an impressive speech on foreign policy earlier today at the Brookings Institute. He even lost the last page of his remarks (every speaker’s nightmare) but managed to take it in stride.
The full text of the speech is worth reading here, but his direct repudiation of the isolationist streak within his own party is drawing the most attention:
I am always cautious about generalizations but until very recently, the general perception was that American conservatism believed in a robust and muscular foreign policy. That was certainly the hallmark of the foreign policy of President Reagan, and both President Bush’s. But when I arrived in the Senate last year I found that some of the traditional sides in the foreign policy debate had shifted.
On the one hand, I found liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans working together to advocate our withdrawal from Afghanistan, and staying out of Libya. On the other hand, I found myself partnering with Democrats like Bob Menendez and Bob Casey on a more forceful foreign policy. In fact, resolutions that I co-authored with Senator Casey condemning Assad and with Senator Menendez condemning fraudulent elections in Nicaragua were held up by Republicans. I recently joked that today, in the U.S. Senate, on foreign policy, if you go far enough to the right, you wind up on the left.
Yesterday, the U.S. Census Bureau and the Department of Housing and Urban Development announced that seasonally-adjusted annual rate of sales fell 7.1 percent from February. The March figures for home sales were the lowest in four months. Today, we learned that new orders for manufactured durable goods in March decreased $8.8 billion — or 4.2 percent — to $202.6 billion. And this comes after a jobs report that showed in March we produced only 120,000 new jobs, as more and more people continued to drop out of the labor force.
As this McClatchy Newspaper story puts it:
Rather than a breakout surge in economic growth, mainstream forecasters say, Americans should expect the U.S. economy to slog forward for another couple of years.
The economy grew at a subpar annual rate of 1.7 percent last year, down from 3 percent the year before. The consensus forecast for this year now is for growth of 2 to 2.5 percent.
The U.S. economy is expected to slow later this year… A spate of recent indicators punctuated fears that the economy is stalling. March delivered only 120,000 new jobs, and the latest manufacturing and real estate data softened.