Commentary Magazine


Posts For: April 2012

What are North Koreans Doing in Iran?

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?

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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?

Somehow, I doubt they are teaching the Iranians about effective agriculture or the service industry. They are probably not exporting heavy fuel oil. Nor are they the world’s go-to guys for domestic energy generation. Fatwa or no fatwa, the remaining explanations don’t look good. Perhaps its time for the Obama administration to recognize what the Iranians say openly: Negotiations are a ruse, and it’s full steam ahead on their nuclear program.

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Obama’s Bin Laden Pitch Jumps the Shark

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.

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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.

 As Politico reports, a new Obama campaign video not only lavishes the president with extravagant praise for ordering the operation against bin Laden but also attempts to claim that Romney wouldn’t have done the same. The basis for this assertion is the fact that in 2007 Romney questioned whether the United States should be attacking targets in Pakistan and an out-of-context quote from that year in which the GOP nominee said, “It’s not worth moving heaven and earth spending billions of dollars just trying to catch one person.”

That doesn’t sound very good in retrospect but it reflected two sound positions. One was that the U.S. needed Pakistan if it was going to effectively fight the Taliban and al Qaeda in Afghanistan. The other was that the priority in the war on terror needed to be on ensuring that al Qaeda did have the capability to launch more terror attacks rather than merely getting bin Laden. While it can be construed as being one of many Romney verbal gaffes, it did not mean he was opposed to tracking down bin Laden if he could be found.

U.S. forces had been actively hunting Osama bin Laden for years. It was Barack Obama’s good fortune that, thanks to the Bush administration’s decision to conduct a war on terror and to use tactics that he largely opposed before entering the White House that the terrorist was found on his watch. The idea, put forward by former President Clinton (who did little to stop al Qaeda in the years after the first bombing of the World Trade Center and whose negligence materially contributed to the 9/11 disaster) in the campaign video, that there was a down side for Obama in ordering the mission is also, at best, an exaggeration. Though there were risks attached to the operation, the idea that Obama would have been lambasted for ordering an attack aimed at getting bin Laden is unfounded. Few Americans would have faulted him for trying, even if bin Laden had escaped again.

While it is to be expected that any president will take credit for the actions of the armed forces of which he is the commander-in-chief, it appears that in trying to make Romney look as if he was soft on al Qaeda, the president’s henchmen appear to have jumped the shark in a way that will do him little good. Such excesses serve only to diminish what may well be the one real foreign policy victory of his four years in office.

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The End of the Northern Ireland Model for Negotiating with Terrorists?

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.

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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.

Perhaps the most important fact I learned was that British security officials believe that their pact with the Irish Republican Army (IRA) may be unraveling.  British intelligence and counter terror officials are now tracking and interrupting more IRA terror planning that at any time since before the 1998 Good Friday Agreement. The problem is not simply IRA dissidents, as some reports suggest, but mainstream IRA upset that their goals are not being fully met through the political process.  The reason why the collapse of the IRA model is so important is because it has increasingly been the key justification for negotiation with terrorists. When former Sen. George Mitchell took over as President Obama’s Middle East envoy, he repeatedly justified Obama administration actions with the IRA analogy.  “In a sense, in Northern Ireland, we had about 700 days of failure and one day of success,” Mitchell remarked in 2010. The Washington Post’s Jackson Diehl noted that there was seldom a press conference in which Mitchell did not make reference to the Northern Ireland peace process as a model and inspiration. German diplomats have also cited the IRA model to justify their engagement with Hezbollah, and British and American diplomats have cited the Northern Ireland process to justify negotiation with the Taliban.

The analogy has always been faulty. The IRA never had a Pakistan or Iran to support it, nor was it committed to wiping Great Britain from the map. The IRA may have been noxious, but its basic platform did not seek to deny women schooling. Still, if the British could bite their lower lip, talk to terrorist enemies, and strike a deal, why couldn’t other Europeans or Americans?

With the IRA’s resurgence, hopefully the arguments for engaging and appeasing terrorists can be put to rest. The Northern Ireland process rewarded IRA violence and may have brought some quiet. But just as terrorist leaders like Muammar Qaddafi never change their stripes no matter how much money they donate to British universities or how they enrich Western diplomats, terrorist groups never fully embrace rule-of-law and the democratic process. Rather, they abide by the philosophy so elegantly stated by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan: ‘Democracy is like a streetcar. You ride it as far as you need, and then you get off.’ It’s time Western policymakers deny them entry in the first place, rather than fall all over themselves to provide free tickets.

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Iran Using Spin to Divide and Conquer

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.

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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.

These “positive signals” from regime figures about their desire for an end to the confrontation are exactly what those who were never really interested in pushing the Iranians hard want to hear. The Iranian happy talk is the bait needed to draw Ashton into prolonged negotiations that serve a double purpose for Tehran.

On the one hand, the effort to build confidence in Iran’s desire to peace helps undermine any sense of urgency on the part of the West as well as sapping support for increasing sanctions on the regime this summer. So long as the talks are being conducted the Iranians know they are safe from attack from Israel. But if they can convince gullible Western diplomats as well as the so-called experts about Iran that the process is leading toward an agreement, then it is possible the EU will back down on its promise to embargo Iranian oil. This holds out the hope that the West will gradually back away from sanctions and make it more difficult to make credible threats even after the Iranians inevitably disappoint their negotiating partners as they have repeatedly.

But the Iranian tactic has another more fundamental purpose. The Iranians benefit from dragging out the negotiations as long as possible since that allows their nuclear program extra time to keep refining uranium in order to get closer to their goal of a bomb. As Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu said this week, their centrifuges were spinning before the talks started, they were spinning during the talks and have not stopped since.

It is a hopeful sign that, as Rozen reports, the State Department is dismissing the Iranian signals that others are so determined to interpret positively. However, by going down the garden path with the P5+1 group, the Obama administration is no longer in control of the effort to pressure Tehran. If, as the Iranians not unreasonably believe, the Chinese and Russians can be wooed into supporting their stand in the talks, all the president’s “diplomatic window” will have accomplished will be to buy the Islamist regime more precious time to get closer to their nuclear goal as his shaky international coalition unravels.

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Gallup: Obama Ahead With Young Voters, But Many Aren’t Registered

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.

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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.

These numbers are similar to the 2008 exit polling, which showed young voters choosing Obama over John McCain, 66 percent to 32 percent. But are there any indications that turnout will be lower this year? Maybe. Back in October 2008, 78 percent of 18 to 29-year-olds told Gallup that they were registered to vote. In contrast, just 60 percent of this group is currently registered to vote, according to Gallup’s latest.

Obviously it’s still early, and the get-out-the-vote efforts haven’t really kicked off yet. But time may be on Romney’s side in some ways, as well. Young voters are less engaged politically, and it’s promising for the GOP that Romney’s support with young voters at the very start of the general election is similar to McCain’s support the month before Election Day. Romney has plenty of time to make his case to young voters and potentially siphon off support from Obama.

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G’town Keeping Policy on Birth Control

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.

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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.

While the letter doesn’t mention Fluke directly, DeGioia clearly responds to several of her claims. In her testimony, Fluke argued that contraception coverage is necessary for health care reasons, and recounted a story about one fellow student who was allegedly forced to have an ovary removed after the university health insurance refused to cover the contraception that would have treated her polycystic disorder. DeGioia reiterated that Georgetown’s health insurance covers contraception as long as it is for medical reasons unrelated to birth control.

DeGioia also pointed out that students aren’t required to purchase the Georgetown health insurance and have the option to buy outside plans instead.

While DeGioia’s letter didn’t indicate that the university would take a public stance against President Obama’s rule requiring religious institutions to provide birth control coverage in their insurance plans, he did say he would be monitoring related developments. The U.S. Council of Catholic Bishops has called for protests of the law this summer.

Full letter from President DeGioia below:

Dear Ladies and Gentlemen:

I write to you regarding Georgetown’s health insurance and contraceptive coverage in our plans.  Many members of our community have expressed different perspectives on this issue.  I am grateful for the respectful ways in which you have shared your opinions.

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.

After thoughtful and careful consideration, we will continue our current practice for contraceptive coverage in our student health insurance for the coming year, as allowed for under the current rules issued by the United States Department of Health and Human Services.

There will also be no change to the University’s approach to contraceptive coverage for employees for 2013.

We will be monitoring further regulatory and judicial developments related to the Affordable Care Act. I hope this is helpful in clarifying a matter of concern to many of you.

You have my very best wishes as we conclude our academic year.

Sincerely,
John J. DeGioia

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What Israel Needs From American Jews

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.

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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.

Much ink has been spilled and great deal of space on the Internet has been wasted debating the dubious merits of Peter Beinart’s The Crisis of Zionism, but as off target as his views about American Jewry may be in many respects, his ignorance of Israel has made it a symbol of all that is wrong with the liberal Jewish critique of the country. It’s all well and good for Beinart and other American Jews to wish for peace or to argue that different policies might bring it closer. It’s that they operate in an intellectual vacuum in which the real world dilemmas of Israeli life and the realities of Palestinian nationalism don’t exist.

That’s why, despite the fact that the vast majority of Israelis desire a two-state solution and are no more enamored of extremist settlers than Beinart, they support the government they elected in 2009 and are almost certain to return it to power when it faces the electorate sometime next year. They do not see their country walking off a cliff bent on suicidal policies as Beinart and others preach. Instead, they believe they are undertaking prudent measures of self-defense and asserting their right to exist in peace and freedom. Israel has achieved much in its 64 years of existence, but it cannot magically transform the political culture of the Palestinians that rejects the legitimacy of any Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn.

This is a basic truth that most Israelis intuitively understand but which continues to elude some of their liberal American friends. Israeli Independence Day is as good a day as any for some of these preening liberal Zionists to ask themselves why is it that the average Israeli regards their impulse to save Israel from itself with a mixture of humor and contempt? After a generation of territorial withdrawals, peace accords and peace offers that have been consistently rejected by the Palestinians, Israelis are right to view those who act as if the history of the last 20 years never happened as simply irrelevant.

Those American Jews who support Israel against the assault on its existence are often accused by their foes of believing in a mythical Israel and having no conception of the real place. But despite the naivete of some who wish to hear no evil of Israel, it is those liberals and left-wingers who believe that the Jewish state can unilaterally create peace or in any way diminish the ideological and religious opposition of the Muslim and Arab worlds to its existence who are really living in a fantasy world.

Liberal Zionists and other so-called progressives should not feel inhibited from putting forward their vision of what Israel can or should be. But what they first need to do is to show some respect for the people of Israel and demonstrate some understanding of the limits to which their ideas can alter political reality on either side of the security fence. Without that respect and understanding, Israelis are to be forgiven for viewing American liberal Zionism as a thin façade for self-righteous and ignorant claptrap.

 

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Obama Will Have to Walk Fine Line on Foreign Policy Message

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.”

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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 speech illustrated the difficult line the Obama campaign will have to walk on its foreign policy message. It will have to simultaneously tout its accomplishments, which have practically all been achieved through the continuation (and escalation) of robust, Bush-era policies, while attacking Romney as Bush redux.

Yes, Obama has succeeded at killing a large number of al-Qaeda targets – but he did this by ramping up the drone program. Yes, Obama was able to locate and kill Osama bin Laden – but he did this by using intelligence and gathering methods put into place by the Bush administration. Yes, Obama has increased Iran’s isolation in the world – but only because hawks in Congress strong-armed him into implementing sanctions that he originally opposed.

Biden had to argue today that Romney would be too meek and indecisive to accomplish these things, but was also so hawkish and ideological that he would lead the U.S. into dangerous conflicts. It was a disjointed message, and one that didn’t draw much applause from the audience full of NYU students at the College Democrat event.

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Cold War Still Sore Subject for Biden

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.

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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.

Biden said this morning, in a foreign policy speech at New York University, that Romney sees the world through a “Cold War prism, that is totally out of touch with the realities of the 21st century.” He later said Romney is “mired in a Cold War mindset” and is part of a group of “Cold War holdovers.” But contemplating why Biden felt it necessary to give a speech to angrily demand we all stop thinking and talking about the Cold War actually resolves some of the mystery. What was Biden doing during the Cold War? Well, you can guess by invoking the “Biden Rule”–the man is never right about foreign policy, so it’s easy to work backwards and figure out where he stood. But we don’t even have to do that much work, because Biden went public with his thoughts during the Reagan administration.

As Pete Wehner wrote in the Wall Street Journal a few years ago:

Throughout his career, Mr. Biden has consistently opposed modernization of our strategic nuclear forces. He was a fierce opponent of Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative. Mr. Biden voted against funding SDI, saying, “The president’s continued adherence to [SDI] constitutes one of the most reckless and irresponsible acts in the history of modern statecraft.” Mr. Biden has remained a consistent critic of missile defense and even opposed the U.S. dropping out of the Antiballistic Missile Treaty after the collapse of the Soviet Union (which was the co-signatory to the ABM Treaty) and the end of the Cold War.

The SDI is significant, because former Soviet officials have made it clear this was the policy that convinced them the arms race was unwinnable. Biden was also quick to abandon allies in Vietnam (yes, Biden’s been getting this stuff wrong for that long) and Eastern Europe, where democracy and freedom have spread despite Biden’s obstructionist efforts during the years.

Biden’s presence in the Obama administration reveals just how far the Democratic Party’s mainstream has drifted from the days of John F. Kennedy and Harry Truman. And it’s easy to understand why Biden takes the Cold War so personally. His inability to stop the policies that brought our victory remains, for Biden, a wound that has yet to heal.

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Haaretz, NYTimes Play Telephone With IDF

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.

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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.

Here’s the text published by Haaretz:

Asked whether 2012 is also decisive for Iran, Gantz shies from the term. “Clearly, the more the Iranians progress the worse the situation is. This is a critical year, but not necessarily ‘go, no-go.’ The problem doesn’t necessarily stop on December 31, 2012. We’re in a period when something must happen: Either Iran takes its nuclear program to a civilian footing only or the world, perhaps we too, will have to do something. We’re closer to the end of the discussions than the middle.”

Iran, Gantz says, “is going step by step to the place where it will be able to decide whether to manufacture a nuclear bomb. It hasn’t yet decided whether to go the extra mile.”

As long as its facilities are not bomb-proof, “the program is too vulnerable, in Iran’s view. If the supreme religious leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei wants, he will advance it to the acquisition of a nuclear bomb, but the decision must first be taken. It will happen if Khamenei judges that he is invulnerable to a response. I believe he would be making an enormous mistake, and I don’t think he will want to go the extra mile. I think the Iranian leadership is composed of very rational people. But I agree that such a capability, in the hands of Islamic fundamentalists who at particular moments could make different calculations, is dangerous.”

While Gantz expressed some hope that international sanctions might work to influence Iran’s decisions, he said nothing that could be construed as a belief that Iran’s goal wasn’t a nuclear weapon or that Israel could live with the Islamist regime possessing such a capability. Indeed, he made it very clear that it was his job to prepare a “credible” military threat to Iran the purpose of which would be to convince Tehran to back down.

All that can be said of this interview is that Gantz did not mention the Holocaust and that his tone was calm and professional with more attention to the technical business of his specific military responsibility than an emotional call to action. But why would we expect a military leader to sound like a politician even if the substance of his approach left little daylight between his position and that of his boss?

It is true that this sounded a lot different from Netanyahu’s interview on CNN, where he made it clear that international sanctions on Iran had better work quickly lest the Iranians use the time they are gaining from protracted negotiations to get closer to their nuclear goal. But nothing Gantz said contradicted Netanyahu’s assertion that an Iranian nuke was an existential threat to Israel that must be stopped.

There is no basis to claim, as the Times does, that Gantz’s interview meant he agreed with Netanyahu’s critics and others who take a more relaxed view of the Iranian threat. Nor does the paper point out that even former Mossad chief Meyer Dagan, who is among the most vocal of those disagreeing with Netanyahu, believes Iran must be stopped from gaining a nuclear weapon.

The effort to hype Gantz’s interview is part of a campaign on the part of Israel’s critics to portray Netanyahu as being “hysterical” — the term used by the Times — about Iran. But as Gantz said, Israelis “aren’t two oceans away from the problem — we live here with our civilians, our women and our children, so we interpret the extent of the urgency differently.”

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Cuts to State Dept Funding Not Wise

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.

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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.

This misguided initiative put me in mind of an eloquent passage from Sen. Marco Rubio’s Brookings Institution speech yesterday:

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.

This is indeed a worrisome trend, and one that Sen. Rubio is right to oppose. Let us hope he will have more company on the right, otherwise short-sighted penny-pinching could convert the 21st century from being the American century into the Chinese century.

 

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Gingrich Out, But What’s Next?

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.

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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.

Which part of the country is Gingrich uniquely qualified to help Romney, beyond maybe Georgia, which is no longer relevant at this point? If the Romney campaign decides not to give the former speaker a role – and they have plenty of reasons not to, including Gingrich’s penchant for controversy and his past nastiness toward Romney – it’s no real loss for them. Romney certainly doesn’t need him. And imagine if Gingrich is given a surrogate position, and then decides to go off the reservation and take a gratuitous swipe at Romney during an interview. That’s not unrealistic, and it’s a risk for the campaign.

If Gingrich had cashed out in early March, after he won Georgia, he would be a better position than he is today. That would have shown he had some handle on reality. At this point, if he gets sidelined, he has his own ambition to blame.

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Obama’s Campaign Strategy Conundrum

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.

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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.

The president’s campaign staff is correct in their estimation that he cannot be re-elected without energizing the liberal base and generating better than average turnout rates among the young voters and minorities who put him in the White House. These voters are understandably disillusioned with a presidency that has had few achievements and disappointed with the fact that Obama kept in place many of the Bush administration security policies. Convincing them that the “hope and change” they expected in the last four years will come to life in the next term is no easy task. Because he cannot run on his record, the president’s only hope of bringing out his supporters is by making the election a referendum on the Republicans, who must be portrayed as ideological extremists while Obama gives indications that although Guantanamo is still operating, he’s still the same liberal they voted for in 2008.

That’s where the climate change issue comes in. By promising to make it a central part of his campaign and saying “I will be very clear in voicing my belief that we’re going to have to take further steps to deal with climate change in a serious way,” the president is seeking to show his base that he can be trusted — as he proved when he blocked the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline — to bow to their ideological prejudices even when doing so may negatively impact the economy and fuel prices.

But doing so places him in jeopardy on the main issue for the rest of the electorate: the economy. At a time of rising gas prices and with even his liberal cheerleaders in the press acknowledging that the recovery the administration touted as being an indication that his policies worked has more or less collapsed, tilting to the left on climate change may alienate more voters than it will secure. President Obama believes he can exploit Mitt Romney’s contradictions on the issue. But deriding his opponent as a member of the Flat Earth Society doesn’t address his main problem: how to explain a stagnant economy that has grown worse on his watch and which most people believe will be damaged further by policies dictated by environmental extremists.

Though he needs to wave the green flag for the left, doing so reminds centrist voters that their jobs and rising fuel prices are being held hostage by a president indebted to the left. Obama may need those liberals to turn out, but the price of securing their renewed enthusiasm could cost him the election.

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The Next Campus Israel Advocacy

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.

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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.

Fischer has won well-deserved credit for stewarding Israel through the worldwide economic collapses of the last few years largely unscathed. (Israel’s current unemployment rate, for example, stands at 5.4 percent while its economy grew in the fourth quarter of last year at a rate of 3.4 percent, both statistics the United States and just about every other Western country would look to with envy.)

Even an essay competition and accompanying session about the conflict were framed in terms of “innovating peace.”

The best thing of course about focusing discussions about Israel on its extraordinary record of innovation is that it’s all true. Rather than leading with political issues that are seen as controversial and over which Israel’s cause is not likely to be viewed with broad sympathy on most campuses, opening a discussion of Israel along economic lines also gives the country a much better chance to be favorably received.

While some publications associated with the kind of thinking responsible for so much of the unwarranted criticism the Jewish state faces on campus may see growing partnerships between business and universities as suspicious, students, administrators, and many professors largely don’t see things that way. Business is by far the most popular undergraduate major, chosen by nearly a quarter of all students. Engineering and hard sciences are seeing similar growth, while humanities departments – the worst sources of campus anti-Israelism – face steady declines of potentially catastrophic proportions.

Harvard’s conference is one of a growing number of examples of the effectiveness of this kind of advocacy. Berkeley’s law and business schools jointly hosted a conference on “Israel Through the High-Tech Lens” in February. TAMID, a growing student investment focused on Israel founded by students at Michigan, will be hosting its first national conference in Boston this summer, the same time as the second cohort of the very popular Birthright Israel Excel Fellowship will be in Israel.

None of this is to say that effective campus Israel advocacy can hope to entirely avoid politics. The most contentious issues, especially Israel’s self-definition as a Jewish state, must be addressed.

But a campus can be a hard place to speak out on Israel’s behalf. We shouldn’t turn away from any trends that favor in improvement in campus discourse about the Jewish state. For the short-term, at least, Israel’s economic successes are a powerful opportunity to generate positive advocacy.

 

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The Bucks Stop with Kofi Annan

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).

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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).

So, Kofi Annan’s office will have 18 people?  Dividing the salary line item by 18, each employee will stand to make about $168,000—and that’s just ten months. The entire budget is a bit extreme, but that’s nothing new for Annan. Not only did he oversee the UN’s worst corruption scandal during his tenure as secretary-general, but he bankrupted his own “Global Humanitarian Foundation” retirement post through massive mismanagement. Western diplomats may assuage their guilt over the atrocities in Syria by throwing money at Annan and his office. They may not help Syrians, but they can be certain of one thing: When it comes to Annan, the bucks certainly stop with him.

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GOP Student Loan Bill Would Tap ObamaCare Funds

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.

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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.

Democrats are reportedly claiming Republicans are only making a fuss about how to pay for the extension because they secretly want to raise interest rates on students. Right, because Republicans have never in the past had ideological objections to using tax hikes to pay for subsidy programs. The left is also pointing to quotes from random Republicans who oppose the student loan rate extension as evidence of party-wide opposition. But that ignores that the student loan bill wasn’t a particularly divisive issue in the past – it originally passed the Senate by a vote of 78 to 18 and was signed into law by President Bush in 2007.

The House will vote reportedly vote on the GOP bill on Friday. Then the Senate may pass the Senate Democrats’ student loan bill with some Republican support. Both sides will scramble to gain political leverage, and eventually there will be some sort of compromise, because neither party will want to be the one responsible for increased student loan rates. Of course, this process probably would have been much less partisan and volatile if President Obama hadn’t spent the last two days claiming Republicans are “obstructing” the extension because they support higher interest rates for college graduates.

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Reports of Tea Party’s Demise Premature

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.

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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.

Though Casey is closely identified with President Obama and might be vulnerable if the Democratic ticket faces a strong challenge from Mitt Romney, he is probably not in much danger of being defeated. Casey, who remains popular despite a lackluster record in the Senate, has enough resources to match Smith’s wealth, and the GOP candidate is not likely to gain much traction outside of western Pennsylvania.

But no matter what happens in November in this race, the idea that the Tea Party is a spent force in the GOP is not realistic. We may get even more evidence of this when Indiana Senator Richard Lugar faces off in a May 8 primary with State Treasurer Richard Mourdock. Unlike a marginal figure like Smith or Tea Party favorites who crashed and burned in the general election in 2010 such as Utah’s Sharon Angle or Delaware’s Christine O’Donnell, Mourdock has a good chance of holding the seat for the GOP if he beats Lugar. If Tea Partiers can topple a Senate institution like Lugar, it will be more proof of the staying power of the movement. As Pennsylvania Governor Corbett and his cronies can tell Lugar, underestimating the Tea Party is a mistake experienced politicians should try to avoid.

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Arizona Immigration Law: Verrilli Strikes Out Again With SCOTUS

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.

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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.

At the heart of the debate is the question of whether Arizona was within its rights when it mandated that law enforcement officials must seek to determine the immigration status of anyone they stop if there is reason to believe the individual is not legally in this country. Though other parts of the law — including provisions that treat illegals working or to failing to register with federal authorities as crimes — might not be upheld, the inability of Verrilli to assert that inquiring about the immigration status of a person already detained was a form of racial profiling was a glaring weakness in the government’s case.

Though the Arizona law was condemned by the president and overruled by a federal appeals court, the justices seemed to agree that states were entitled to pass laws that require local officials to make mandatory inquiries to federal authorities. Moreover, it is clear that such provisions are actually quite common. All of which means the effort to demonize the Arizonans and their effort to, as Clement put it, deal with a crisis not of their own making, was deeply unfair.

What’s more, the arguments also seemed to bring out the strange inconsistency in the administration’s case. While claiming only the federal government had the right to pass laws that deal with immigration, they seemed to extend that unexceptionable principle to demanding that local authorities ignore the situation entirely. As Chief Justice John Roberts said, “It seems to me that the federal government just doesn’t want to know who is here illegally or not.” Even as hardcore a liberal as Justice Stephen Breyer said he would vote in favor of the constitutionality of this point in the law so long as it was proven that the process of checking immigration status would not result in “detention for a significantly longer time” than might happen in any other circumstance.

One needn’t necessarily agree with those who promulgated the law about the impact of illegals to understand that there is nothing wrong with the state trying to determine if someone already in custody is an undocumented alien. If the court rules (as seems likely) to uphold the provision — and does so with a comfortable majority that includes liberals as well as conservatives — then President Obama and a long list of other liberals who have vilified Arizona will owe the state, its governor, legislature and citizens a big apology.

As for Solicitor General Verrilli, he may have made himself the poster child for the Obama administration’s utter incompetence. As the Times notes:

At one point Justice Sotomayor, addressing Mr. Verrilli by his title, said: “General, I’m terribly confused by your answer. O.K.? And I don’t know that you’re focusing in on what I believe my colleagues are trying to get to.”

President Obama’s positions on his health care law and the Arizona immigration law were weak to start with. But with a champion as hapless as Verrilli, the government’s already weak position was made even more vulnerable.

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Rubio Blasts Republican Isolationists

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.

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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.

The far-left and far-right don’t just agree on the embrace of American decline, but also on the other problematic attitudes that tend to go along with isolationism and non-interventionism, including antipathy toward Israel and indifference to human rights in other countries. As a young senator elected with Tea Party support, Rubio is in a prime position to rebut creeping isolationism/non-interventionism among the conservative grassroots.

Rubio gave a broad outline of his vision for U.S. foreign policy, which is heavily influenced by Robert Kagan’s arguments on the myth of American decline (Kagan has also advised Romney on foreign policy). Rubio spoke passionately about human rights and called the spread of political and economic freedom across the world “a vital interest” for the U.S. He acknowledged that working in coalitions with other countries is often helpful, but added that these coalitions are most successful when the U.S. takes the lead. And he argued that if military action needs to be used against Iran, then Israel shouldn’t be left to shoulder the burden on its own.

Still, this is a speech that Rubio could have delayed for a few months. The fact that he decided to give it today, at the height of speculation over his possible VP nod, seems to indicate that he’s either interested in the job, or just wants to give the impression that he is.

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America’s Slowing Economy

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.

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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.

We’re already experiencing the weakest economic recovery since after World War II — and the latest data points to a further slowdown.

No wonder the president’s campaign would rather talk about contraception, Warren Buffett’s secretary, and the Irish setter Mitt Romney owned 30 years ago.

 

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