Commentary Magazine


Posts For: May 3, 2012

Joe Klein Needs to Hit the Books

In response largely to Jonathan Tobin’s post noting the poor sales figures for Peter Beinart’s latest book, Time’s Joe Klein notes, “There still is no coherent response to Beinart’s argument that the West Bank settlement policy is a long-term demographic threat to Israel’s security.” While demography has become a constant talking point among those who argue, in effect, that a bad but quick deal is better than a slower but substantive one, the issue is more complex—and nuanced—than that portrayed by Klein. The Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics subordinates science to the Palestinian Authority’s political direction. It counts no Palestinian emigration, double-counts Jerusalem, and has simply changed numbers at the request of the Palestinian leadership. The net error may be upwards of one million people.

As an aside, it is rather rich that Klein suggests that reviews of Beinart’s work by folks like Bret Stephens, Jonathan Rosen, and  Noah Pollak are nothing but name-calling and invective, as they are all quite substantive. When it comes to name-calling and a race to the bottom, Klein is in a league of his own.

In response largely to Jonathan Tobin’s post noting the poor sales figures for Peter Beinart’s latest book, Time’s Joe Klein notes, “There still is no coherent response to Beinart’s argument that the West Bank settlement policy is a long-term demographic threat to Israel’s security.” While demography has become a constant talking point among those who argue, in effect, that a bad but quick deal is better than a slower but substantive one, the issue is more complex—and nuanced—than that portrayed by Klein. The Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics subordinates science to the Palestinian Authority’s political direction. It counts no Palestinian emigration, double-counts Jerusalem, and has simply changed numbers at the request of the Palestinian leadership. The net error may be upwards of one million people.

As an aside, it is rather rich that Klein suggests that reviews of Beinart’s work by folks like Bret Stephens, Jonathan Rosen, and  Noah Pollak are nothing but name-calling and invective, as they are all quite substantive. When it comes to name-calling and a race to the bottom, Klein is in a league of his own.

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Backlash Against Muslims? Then Why Are Their Numbers Growing?

Most of the mainstream media still takes it as a given that there is an ongoing and brutal post-9/11 backlash against Muslims in America that fuels discrimination against followers of Islam. The fact that there is virtually no evidence for this assertion and much empirical data to argue for the opposite conclusion has not prevented liberals and radicals masquerading as the representatives of American Muslims to continue to claim the existence of a backlash. As we’ve previously noted, FBI hate crime statistics consistently show attacks on Muslims are rare and constitute a fraction of the far more prevalent bias crimes committed against Jews. Nor has the relative paucity of Muslim villains in popular culture or the reflexive support for Islam on the part of American leaders debunked the backlash myth.

Today, we have yet more evidence that the notion of a persecuted American Muslim community is fiction:

Data released Tuesday from the 2010 U.S. Religion Census shows Islam was the fastest growing religion in America in the last 10 years, with 2.6 million living in the U.S. today, up from 1 million in 2000.

Mormonism too saw remarkable growth, with a 45 percent increase in adherents. It added nearly 2 million members since 2000, bringing their number in the U.S. to 6.1 million.

“Both of these groups entered more than 200 counties that they weren’t in 10 years ago,” said Dale Jones, data analyst and mapping specialist for the Religion Census.

Is it possible or even likely that Islam would be thriving in the United States if it were not a society that is welcoming Muslims with open arms and providing a safe environment for people to openly practice this faith?

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Most of the mainstream media still takes it as a given that there is an ongoing and brutal post-9/11 backlash against Muslims in America that fuels discrimination against followers of Islam. The fact that there is virtually no evidence for this assertion and much empirical data to argue for the opposite conclusion has not prevented liberals and radicals masquerading as the representatives of American Muslims to continue to claim the existence of a backlash. As we’ve previously noted, FBI hate crime statistics consistently show attacks on Muslims are rare and constitute a fraction of the far more prevalent bias crimes committed against Jews. Nor has the relative paucity of Muslim villains in popular culture or the reflexive support for Islam on the part of American leaders debunked the backlash myth.

Today, we have yet more evidence that the notion of a persecuted American Muslim community is fiction:

Data released Tuesday from the 2010 U.S. Religion Census shows Islam was the fastest growing religion in America in the last 10 years, with 2.6 million living in the U.S. today, up from 1 million in 2000.

Mormonism too saw remarkable growth, with a 45 percent increase in adherents. It added nearly 2 million members since 2000, bringing their number in the U.S. to 6.1 million.

“Both of these groups entered more than 200 counties that they weren’t in 10 years ago,” said Dale Jones, data analyst and mapping specialist for the Religion Census.

Is it possible or even likely that Islam would be thriving in the United States if it were not a society that is welcoming Muslims with open arms and providing a safe environment for people to openly practice this faith?

The answer is an obvious “no.”

Those who have promoted this myth have yet to provide any objective analysis outside of their own assertions to back up their claim of a backlash or of any wave of discrimination or bias crimes. To the contrary, every new survey about American society continues to show there are no obstacles to Muslim advancement or systematic ill treatment.

In response, those who make these false claims argue that law enforcement activities seeking to root out Islamist support for terrorism either abroad or at home constitutes a form of discrimination. But such actions, such as the New York Police Department’s surveillance of mosques or community centers where Islamists have congregated, are reasonable reactions to a real threat that deserves the attention of the authorities, not the product of arbitrary bias. Nor do they threaten the vast majority of Muslims who are hard working, law-abiding citizens.

America is not perfect, but it is a far safer place to practice Islam, or any other faith, than almost all Muslim countries, where religious-based discrimination is commonplace and dissent is ruthlessly wiped out. The backlash myth may die hard, but it remains a myth.

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Bin Laden Documents Show Obama Strategy a Farce

My AEI colleague Ahmad Majidyar points out to me that, amongst the declassified Bin Laden documents released today, was mention that Muhammad Tayib Agha, an intermediary between Taliban leader Mullah Omar and American diplomats, was double-dealing and in close contact with bin Laden (see cursory mentions in document 10 and 15) and was discussing, among other items, how al-Qaeda could overthrow Karzai after the American withdrawal.

That the Obama administration continues its ill-considered plan to “engage” the Taliban when it has zero positive to show for its efforts and against all evidence that its strategy is actively harming U.S. servicemen and the U.S. position in Afghanistan and undercutting the desired outcomes in Afghanistan, is nothing short of policy malpractice.

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My AEI colleague Ahmad Majidyar points out to me that, amongst the declassified Bin Laden documents released today, was mention that Muhammad Tayib Agha, an intermediary between Taliban leader Mullah Omar and American diplomats, was double-dealing and in close contact with bin Laden (see cursory mentions in document 10 and 15) and was discussing, among other items, how al-Qaeda could overthrow Karzai after the American withdrawal.

That the Obama administration continues its ill-considered plan to “engage” the Taliban when it has zero positive to show for its efforts and against all evidence that its strategy is actively harming U.S. servicemen and the U.S. position in Afghanistan and undercutting the desired outcomes in Afghanistan, is nothing short of policy malpractice.

It is quite telling that if President Obama had to construct a strategy for defeat, it would not differ from what he and his aides describe as America’s way forward.

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Is Obama’s Vetting Finally Beginning?

As trivial as the Obama-eats-dogs and composite-girlfriend memes might seem, they actually speak to a deeper issue. At the Telegraph, Tim Stanley argues:

What stands out from the composite story isn’t that Obama amalgamated characters, it’s that the press hadn’t noticed until now. As with the dog story, this confirms the suspicion that the mainstream media gave Obama a free pass in 2008 and declined to check too deeply into his background. Even The Atlantic’s [David] Graham admits that he’s never read Dreams From My Father, and neither, it would seem, has anyone else in the press corps. They have the excuse that the book is incredibly narcissistic and boring, but otherwise isn’t this exactly the sort of character assessment/assassination that should have happened four years ago? …

And yet we knew everything there was to know about Sarah Palin, despite the fact that she was in the race for a much shorter space of time than Obama – and only running for veep.

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As trivial as the Obama-eats-dogs and composite-girlfriend memes might seem, they actually speak to a deeper issue. At the Telegraph, Tim Stanley argues:

What stands out from the composite story isn’t that Obama amalgamated characters, it’s that the press hadn’t noticed until now. As with the dog story, this confirms the suspicion that the mainstream media gave Obama a free pass in 2008 and declined to check too deeply into his background. Even The Atlantic’s [David] Graham admits that he’s never read Dreams From My Father, and neither, it would seem, has anyone else in the press corps. They have the excuse that the book is incredibly narcissistic and boring, but otherwise isn’t this exactly the sort of character assessment/assassination that should have happened four years ago? …

And yet we knew everything there was to know about Sarah Palin, despite the fact that she was in the race for a much shorter space of time than Obama – and only running for veep.

This election, the Romney campaign is not going to be broaching the issue of Obama’s past, so unless the press brings up these stories, they won’t be discussed. Republicans are intent on running against Obama’s record, not his personal background, and it’s obvious why. Conservatives might find Obama’s past radical associations horrifying, but these stories have never been very successful at informing public opinion about the president. And some of the nuttier conspiracy theories about Obama’s past, particularly the birther movement, have actually been politically helpful for him. The president and his staff elevated the birther nonsense last spring, and his campaign even fundraised off of it.

In contrast, the White House is reportedly uneasy about the upcoming David Maraniss book. Because Maraniss is not a conservative, his reporting can’t be easily dismissed, and his book threatens to undermine the life narrative crafted by the Obama campaign. Politico reports:

The success of Dreams has given Obama nearly complete control of his own life narrative, an appealing tale that has been the foundation of his political success. But Maraniss’s biography threatens that narrative by questioning it: Was Obama’s journey entirely spiritual and intellectual? Or was it also grounded in the lower realms of ambition and calculation? …

There are some signs the president himself is concerned. In fact, Obama was so intent on having his side of the story convincingly articulated, he granted the author a virtually unprecedented 90-minute Oval Office interview, twice the allotted time Maraniss thought he was getting.

The brief excerpt from the book in Vanity Fair suggests that this will be the first serious, mainstream examination of Obama’s younger years, and a very compelling one at that. I’m not under any illusions that Maraniss will provide a full vetting of Obama in his book, which will likely be sympathetic to the president. But the fact that Maraniss has uncovered basic, and fascinating details of Obama’s life that were previously glossed over by the rest of the media, may at least prod other reporters into doing their jobs.

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Netanyahu’s Overwhelming Mandate

With the approval of the outgoing Knesset, Israel is moving toward early elections that will send its people to the polls on September 4. The decision will allow a new government to be in place in advance of the U.S. presidential contest that will take place two months later. If Israeli opinion polls are correct that will mean even if President Obama is re-elected, he still will be faced with his old antagonist Benjamin Netanyahu as his counterpart in the U.S.-Israel alliance.

Since Obama spent much of his first term seeking to undermine if not oust Netanyahu from office, the timing of the elections may be no coincidence. Past American presidents such as the elder George Bush and Bill Clinton sought to intervene in Israeli elections to procure a more pliant Israeli negotiating partner. But with Obama fighting hard to hold onto Jewish votes by assuming the pose of Israel’s best friend, he dare not take a swipe at Netanyahu before the September vote. Given the lopsided result that pollsters expect, it might not make a difference even if he did try it.

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With the approval of the outgoing Knesset, Israel is moving toward early elections that will send its people to the polls on September 4. The decision will allow a new government to be in place in advance of the U.S. presidential contest that will take place two months later. If Israeli opinion polls are correct that will mean even if President Obama is re-elected, he still will be faced with his old antagonist Benjamin Netanyahu as his counterpart in the U.S.-Israel alliance.

Since Obama spent much of his first term seeking to undermine if not oust Netanyahu from office, the timing of the elections may be no coincidence. Past American presidents such as the elder George Bush and Bill Clinton sought to intervene in Israeli elections to procure a more pliant Israeli negotiating partner. But with Obama fighting hard to hold onto Jewish votes by assuming the pose of Israel’s best friend, he dare not take a swipe at Netanyahu before the September vote. Given the lopsided result that pollsters expect, it might not make a difference even if he did try it.

Some kibbitzers have asserted that Israeli polls that show Netanyahu’s coalition gaining seats should not be misinterpreted as a personal mandate for the prime minister, as his Likud Party is likely to get only 30 or 31 of the Knesset’s 120 seats. That’s a foolish argument. If that is how the voting goes, such a result would still place Likud as the largest party by far and in position to command an easy majority with its normal coalition partners. Due to its proportional voting system, no party has ever won a majority on its own. But a new poll sponsored by the left-wing Haaretz newspaper shows Netanyahu is also the overwhelming choice of Israelis to be their prime minister.

In the poll, Israeli voters were asked which of the several party leaders they wanted to see become prime minister. Despite the multiple choices available, nearly a majority — 48 percent — chose Netanyahu. His closest competitor was Labor Party head Shelly Yacimovich at 15 percent. The only others to register anything beyond minimal support were Yisrael Beitenu’s Avigdor Lieberman (who serves as Netanyahu’s foreign minister) at 9 percent and Kadima’s new leader Shaul Mofaz, who got only 6 percent despite his claim to be the only viable alternative to the incumbent.

The survey also asked Israelis what they thought of the criticisms of former Shin Bet head Yuval Diskin that Netanyahu and Defense Minister Barak were “messianics” who aren’t fit to lead the country. That result will also give no comfort to Netanyahu’s foreign and domestic critics who have hyped the story about Diskin as it noted Israelis disagree with the assertion by a 51-25 percent margin.

While four months can be a lifetime in politics, given the utter lack of support for Netanyahu’s putative rivals, his re-election is close to a lock. This has to frustrate Obama, who has made his distaste for Netanyahu no secret. It also sets up a possible timetable for the confrontation with Iran that may not conform to the president’s plans.

As some of Netanyahu’s Israeli critics have noted, the timing of the Israeli election probably takes an attack on Iran off the table until after September. But that was the case anyway. An Israeli strike while the P5+1 talks with Iran were ongoing was always unthinkable. But that does leave a window of two months between the two elections that might allow an Israeli offensive against Iranian nuclear targets in advance of the U.S. elections, a juxtaposition that would make it difficult, if not impossible, for Obama to oppose or punish Israel for such a decision.

Count me among the skeptics that Israel would choose to act unilaterally under those seemingly favorable circumstances. But Iran notwithstanding, by securing his re-election in advance of 2013, Netanyahu is ensuring that a U.S. president will not be able to use his clout to try and get him defeated the way Clinton did in both 1996 and 1999. Netanyahu’s overwhelming democratic mandate will largely insulate him against U.S. pressure even if Obama is also re-elected.

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Beinart Book a Colossal Flop

Both conservative and liberal Jewish critics have panned Peter Beinart’s book about the so-called Crisis of Zionism, giving the onetime neo-liberal scribbler a series of spankings that would daunt a less conceited author. But because the disillusioned lover of Zion didn’t let his own abysmal ignorance about both Israel and the Palestinians stop him from writing a book about the topic, there’s no reason to assume he won’t go on annoying audiences with his agonized but all too predictable misgivings about the real life state of Israel (as opposed to the imaginary ideal liberal version of the Jewish state he prefers to the one where the voters reject his ideas) as he continues on a book tour far and wide. All this chatter and buzz may be giving even Beinart’s detractors the idea that he is making some headway with the public, but apparently the book-buying public, like the critics, aren’t buying it.

According to BookScan, the respected service that tabulates point-of-sales purchases of books at stores around the nation, Beinart’s much-hyped effort is a flop. Reliable sources tell us that BookScan, which is believed to capture the figures that represent about 60 percent of the book buying in the nation, has tabulated that as of this week Beinart had only sold 2,845 copies of The Crisis of Zionism. Because books that sell thousands more than that number are considered by publishers to be busts, Beinart’s ballyhooed cri-de-coeur must be considered a colossal flop. And considering that Beinart is believed to have received an advance of several hundred thousand dollars for it, one imagines that the brass at Times Books — the partnership between Henry Holt and the New York Times that published Crisis — are kicking themselves for being duped into believing the market for post-Zionist carping extended beyond the tiny group of people who will buy anything that takes a dim view of Israel.

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Both conservative and liberal Jewish critics have panned Peter Beinart’s book about the so-called Crisis of Zionism, giving the onetime neo-liberal scribbler a series of spankings that would daunt a less conceited author. But because the disillusioned lover of Zion didn’t let his own abysmal ignorance about both Israel and the Palestinians stop him from writing a book about the topic, there’s no reason to assume he won’t go on annoying audiences with his agonized but all too predictable misgivings about the real life state of Israel (as opposed to the imaginary ideal liberal version of the Jewish state he prefers to the one where the voters reject his ideas) as he continues on a book tour far and wide. All this chatter and buzz may be giving even Beinart’s detractors the idea that he is making some headway with the public, but apparently the book-buying public, like the critics, aren’t buying it.

According to BookScan, the respected service that tabulates point-of-sales purchases of books at stores around the nation, Beinart’s much-hyped effort is a flop. Reliable sources tell us that BookScan, which is believed to capture the figures that represent about 60 percent of the book buying in the nation, has tabulated that as of this week Beinart had only sold 2,845 copies of The Crisis of Zionism. Because books that sell thousands more than that number are considered by publishers to be busts, Beinart’s ballyhooed cri-de-coeur must be considered a colossal flop. And considering that Beinart is believed to have received an advance of several hundred thousand dollars for it, one imagines that the brass at Times Books — the partnership between Henry Holt and the New York Times that published Crisis — are kicking themselves for being duped into believing the market for post-Zionist carping extended beyond the tiny group of people who will buy anything that takes a dim view of Israel.

Crisis’s current Amazon rating is 2,530. That might not be considered embarrassing for a run-of-the-mill non-fiction book. But it’s a terrible ranking for a book whose author has been feted on broadcast and cable networks in the kind of public relations blitz orchestrated by his publisher normally reserved for a blockbuster.

In making this observation, we’re not looking to rain on Beinart’s parade. He’s already got his money for the book and can, as they say, cry all the way to the bank while continuing to portray himself as a courageous and embattled dissident no matter what anyone says. The point is that the failure of this book undercuts the claim that Beinart represents mainstream American Jewish views. He doesn’t. The apathetic response of a book-buying community like the Jewish one illustrates that the public has as little interest in his misguided views as the critics.

Though Beinart’s attack on Israel may conform to the views of the editors and publishers of the Times, perhaps the next time an ambitious scribbler and his book agent tries to sell a publisher on a project with a similar theme, they will remember Beinart and take a pass.

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Draft Contempt Order Against Holder

Rep. Darrell Issa’s draft contempt order against Attorney General Eric Holder is the latest attempt to pressure the Department of Justice into complying with the House Oversight Committee’s subpoena requests related to Fast and Furious, and whether it works depends on a political calculation by the administration. What’s would be more damaging: releasing these subpoenaed documents, or risking the media circus of contempt procedures?

In the contempt order argument, which was issued to members of the House Oversight Committee today, Issa says he’s still waiting for Holder to release documents for 12 out of 22 categories in the subpoena schedule:

According to the draft contempt order, the department “has yet to provide a single document for 12 out of the 22 categories contained in the subpoena schedule.”

The draft order pointed to three categories in particular. Those categories concerned: who among the department’s top brass should have known about the “reckless tactics” in Fast and Furious; how department leaders ended up figuring out the program was a bad idea; and how a special task force “failed” to share information that could have supposedly led to key gun-trafficking arrests.

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Rep. Darrell Issa’s draft contempt order against Attorney General Eric Holder is the latest attempt to pressure the Department of Justice into complying with the House Oversight Committee’s subpoena requests related to Fast and Furious, and whether it works depends on a political calculation by the administration. What’s would be more damaging: releasing these subpoenaed documents, or risking the media circus of contempt procedures?

In the contempt order argument, which was issued to members of the House Oversight Committee today, Issa says he’s still waiting for Holder to release documents for 12 out of 22 categories in the subpoena schedule:

According to the draft contempt order, the department “has yet to provide a single document for 12 out of the 22 categories contained in the subpoena schedule.”

The draft order pointed to three categories in particular. Those categories concerned: who among the department’s top brass should have known about the “reckless tactics” in Fast and Furious; how department leaders ended up figuring out the program was a bad idea; and how a special task force “failed” to share information that could have supposedly led to key gun-trafficking arrests.

The draft, which lays out the case for contempt should a vote be called, is apparently more than just a hollow threat. Fox News reports that Issa likely wouldn’t have issued it publicly unless he knew he had enough votes to get it through the committee, and the blessing of Speaker Boehner. At that point, Holder would have to either cough up the documents or explain himself to a grand jury. After months of DOJ’s stalling and obstructions, it looks like Congress may finally be heading somewhere on this case.

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Islamists Seek Vengeance

The Obama administration’s reaction to the Chen Guangcheng case is disgraceful, and will taint America’s name among liberty-seeking dissidents for a generation. While all eyes are on China, however, administration fecklessness regarding liberals, friends, and allies is spreading quickly. When it comes to standing up for principle, Obama’s reaction to Chen is the rule, not the exception.

Take Egypt: Adel Emam is perhaps Egypt’s most famous film comedian, sort of a cross between an Egyptian Steve Martin and Leslie Nielsen. Among his most famous films are Al-Irhabi (The Terrorist) and Al-Irhab wal kabab (Terrorism and Kebab). The first—released at the height of Egyptian Islamists’ campaign of terror—skewered the Muslim Brotherhood and Islamist terror masters as cynical, hypocritical, and naïve. The latter took potshots at both religiosity and the inefficiency of the Egyptian bureaucracy. Islamists may tell Western journalists and think-tankers they will honor civil liberties, but nowhere do they tolerate satire or ridicule if they themselves are the target. Hence, their targeting of Adel Emam for films made years ago. Emam now faces three months in prison for “defaming Islam.”

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The Obama administration’s reaction to the Chen Guangcheng case is disgraceful, and will taint America’s name among liberty-seeking dissidents for a generation. While all eyes are on China, however, administration fecklessness regarding liberals, friends, and allies is spreading quickly. When it comes to standing up for principle, Obama’s reaction to Chen is the rule, not the exception.

Take Egypt: Adel Emam is perhaps Egypt’s most famous film comedian, sort of a cross between an Egyptian Steve Martin and Leslie Nielsen. Among his most famous films are Al-Irhabi (The Terrorist) and Al-Irhab wal kabab (Terrorism and Kebab). The first—released at the height of Egyptian Islamists’ campaign of terror—skewered the Muslim Brotherhood and Islamist terror masters as cynical, hypocritical, and naïve. The latter took potshots at both religiosity and the inefficiency of the Egyptian bureaucracy. Islamists may tell Western journalists and think-tankers they will honor civil liberties, but nowhere do they tolerate satire or ridicule if they themselves are the target. Hence, their targeting of Adel Emam for films made years ago. Emam now faces three months in prison for “defaming Islam.”

In Turkey, too, Islamists are turning their attention to vengeance. In Turkey, accusation rather than evidence is enough to put anyone in prison. Less than 50 percent of those arrested are ever found guilty, but given the absence of bail, most rot in prison for years before their court dates. Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Obama’s friend and confidante, has used this to full advantage. He has used the amorphous Ergenekon plot—more fiction than fact—to accuse past political opponents of malfeasance starting with the man who had faced him in mayoral elections in the 1990s. In recent weeks, the government has begun arresting those involved in pressuring the Islamist party of Erdoğan’s late mentor Necmettin Erbakan to resign. Never mind that the reason for Erbakan’s resignation was his efforts to overturn the constitutionalist order, and that those who urged Erbakan to resign were acting within the law at the time.

While European (and American) diplomats have reconciled the crackdown to the fact that many of those arrested were military officers—as if this exempts them fair targets for a venal prime minister—there are clear signals that civilians are now front-and-center and de facto government mouthpieces like Cengiz Çandar are naming civilians for police to target. There are also signs in the Turkish press that Erdoğan, the Putin of Anatolia, will also move against retired generals like Yaşar Büyükanıt for the crime of issuing a statement urging the government to adhere to the constitution. This was against the backdrop of senior aides like Bülent Arınç, now Erdogan’s chief deputy, to dissolve the constitutional court if it continued to rule against his legislation.

Obama’s worldview may have no place for men like Emam, but his crime was simply to use non-violent means to delegitimize the ideas and actions of a violent Islamist fringe responsible for the deaths of hundreds during Egypt’s Islamist insurgency. The world needs more satire, not less.

Nor may Obama like men such as Bir and Büyükanıt, but these generals were staunch allies who stood by the United States during the Cold War and who fulfilled their sworn duties to maintain the checks and balances within the Turkish system. Friendship should mean something; the United States should not simply sit back silently as a megalomaniacal ruler on borrowed time seeks vengeance upon anyone who has opposed him and his increasingly undemocratic agenda. Turkey may be a model, but it certainly is not one that the White House should want any state to follow. Rather than sit silently, it is time the White House speaks up for dissidents, whether they be blind Chinese activists, Egyptian comic actors, or Turkish generals.

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Chen Contradicted State Department Claims

At this point, there are so many conflicting accounts in the Chen Guangcheng case that it’s hard to know which is accurate. But in an interview with Daily Beast’s Melinda Liu, Chen maintains that he felt pressured into leaving the U.S. embassy by American officials:

At the embassy, Chen said he came under tremendous pressure from American officials—“not those from the embassy but others” —to leave the diplomatic facility as quickly as possible. From the very beginning, he said, the assumption was that he would stay in China. “I had no information, I got no phone calls from friends, I was isolated,” he told me, his voice trembling. “Then I heard about the threat that my wife would be sent back home to Shandong if I didn’t leave the embassy. So I left.” …

“[Chen’s current situation] totally contradicts the rosy picture I got in a conference call I had with U.S. officials Wednesday morning. They summarized the situation, and it sounded like a beautiful, happy scene,” said Bob Fu, president of the U.S.-based ChinaAid Association, which has acted as a facilitator in Chen’s case.

Fu had spoken by phone with Chen shortly before I had. “He was very heavy-hearted,” Fu said. “He was crying when we spoke. He said he was under enormous pressure to leave the embassy. Some people almost made him feel he was being a huge burden to the U.S.”

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At this point, there are so many conflicting accounts in the Chen Guangcheng case that it’s hard to know which is accurate. But in an interview with Daily Beast’s Melinda Liu, Chen maintains that he felt pressured into leaving the U.S. embassy by American officials:

At the embassy, Chen said he came under tremendous pressure from American officials—“not those from the embassy but others” —to leave the diplomatic facility as quickly as possible. From the very beginning, he said, the assumption was that he would stay in China. “I had no information, I got no phone calls from friends, I was isolated,” he told me, his voice trembling. “Then I heard about the threat that my wife would be sent back home to Shandong if I didn’t leave the embassy. So I left.” …

“[Chen’s current situation] totally contradicts the rosy picture I got in a conference call I had with U.S. officials Wednesday morning. They summarized the situation, and it sounded like a beautiful, happy scene,” said Bob Fu, president of the U.S.-based ChinaAid Association, which has acted as a facilitator in Chen’s case.

Fu had spoken by phone with Chen shortly before I had. “He was very heavy-hearted,” Fu said. “He was crying when we spoke. He said he was under enormous pressure to leave the embassy. Some people almost made him feel he was being a huge burden to the U.S.”

This completely contradicts the State Department’s version of events. According to Ambassador Gary Locke, the embassy was prepared to shelter Chen for years if necessary:

MS. NULAND: Guys, I think what Ambassador Locke was saying was that the first proposal that was negotiated with the Chinese side was unacceptable to him, and on that basis, he was prepared to stay as long as he was going to have to, and the embassy understanding that it could be years.

AMBASSADOR LOCKE: And we were – we respected that and started making preparations and thinking about what his living arrangements would be on a daily basis in the embassy based on that decision. So we respected his decision.

Needless to say, the Chen Guancheng case has gone from diplomatic disaster to diplomatic tsunami. And, in a way, it’s also a much-needed wakeup call to the Obama administration, which has a bleak record when it comes to pressuring China on human rights. This case has thrust the issue into the open, forcing the administration to engage.

U.S. officials reportedly indicated today that they’re considering what steps to take now that Chen has requested to leave the country. And while the Chinese government will obviously be reluctant to reopen negotiations, the Obama administration can still apply significant public pressure, as Jonathan wrote earlier.

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“The Life of Julia”

The Obama campaign released an interactive chart today called “The Life of Julia,” which purports to show “how President Obama’s policies help one woman over her lifetime – and how Mitt Romney would change her story.”

We first see the fictional cartoon Julia at age three, enjoying the Head Start program that Obama says he has “taken steps to improve.” Under Romney, we’re told, budget cuts to Head Start would result in 200,000 fewer slots per year for young children. Thanks to Obama’s birth control mandate, the 27-year-old Julia is able to “focus on her work rather than worry about her health.” Romney, on the other hand, supports legislation that would “place Julia’s health care decisions in the hands of her employer.”

The chart goes on to describe how Obama’s policies would help Julia and Romney’s would hurt her at various ages. As you can imagine, most of it is wildly dishonest. But instead of rebutting all the falsehoods, I’d rather take a look at how Obama’s policies would impact Julia throughout her life, based on another chart the White House released, buried within Obama’s FY13 budget proposal.

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The Obama campaign released an interactive chart today called “The Life of Julia,” which purports to show “how President Obama’s policies help one woman over her lifetime – and how Mitt Romney would change her story.”

We first see the fictional cartoon Julia at age three, enjoying the Head Start program that Obama says he has “taken steps to improve.” Under Romney, we’re told, budget cuts to Head Start would result in 200,000 fewer slots per year for young children. Thanks to Obama’s birth control mandate, the 27-year-old Julia is able to “focus on her work rather than worry about her health.” Romney, on the other hand, supports legislation that would “place Julia’s health care decisions in the hands of her employer.”

The chart goes on to describe how Obama’s policies would help Julia and Romney’s would hurt her at various ages. As you can imagine, most of it is wildly dishonest. But instead of rebutting all the falsehoods, I’d rather take a look at how Obama’s policies would impact Julia throughout her life, based on another chart the White House released, buried within Obama’s FY13 budget proposal.

It’s the chart showing the trajectory of publicly held debt as a percentage of GDP if Obama’s FY13 budget was extended through 2084. And while it’s much more optimistic than the conservative estimates, it’s still not pretty:


Let’s catch up with Julia at her various ages and see how the publicly held debt will be doing at that point:

Age three: That’s this year, 2012. According to Obama’s chart, publicly held debt is roughly 80 percent of the GDP.

Age 17: It’s 2029, and publicly held debt is now nearly 90 percent of the GDP. Fortunately, Obama’s Race to the Top program means that Julia can “take the classes she needs to do well.” Unfortunately, both liberals and conservatives have blasted Race to the Top as a failure, and interest in refunding it has reportedly been dwindling.

Age 25 – It’s 2037, and publicly held debt as a percentage of GDP is now hovering around 100 percent. But the good news is that Julia’s personal debt burden will be reduced, as President Obama will keep interest low on student loans.

Age 37 – It’s 2049, and publicly held debt is now 130 percent of GDP. However, Obama says that Julia’s kindergarten-age son Zachary will still be able to take advantage of Race to the Top program. (Note also that even under the most generous circumstances, it has now been at least 33 years since President Obama’s last term in office).

Age 42 – It’s 2054, and publicly held debt is now 140 percent of the GDP.

Age 65 – It’s 2077, and publicly held debt is now 180 percent of the GDP. But Julia will still be covered by Medicare “as we know it,” at least if President Obama was reelected in 2012. That’s right, no Medicare reform for the next half-century, according to Obama.

Age 67 – It’s 2079, and publicly held debt is now 190 percent of the GDP. And thanks to President Obama’s 2012 reelection, Social Security is miraculously still solvent and unchanged.

Age 72 – Obama’s Life of Julia chart only shows us her life up until age 67. That’s too bad, since Julia hits a milestone around 2084, when publicly held debt will be just about 200 percent of the deficit – and rising.

We all know why debt will continue to careen out of control in the coming years. It’s entitlement spending, and even the White House acknowledges it in its FY13 budget. And yet Obama’s Life of Julia chart pretends that we can continue along the current path without fundamental changes. Instead, any reform proposals are demagogued as an attack on women’s health or children’s education.

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Romney’s Biggest Problems

The Mitt Romney campaign is gearing up for a general election race in which it will have some clear advantages. The most important is that the economy remains the decisive issue for most of the public. That plays into Romney’s hands, because most Americans rightly perceive the country’s economic health has declined on President Obama’s watch, and because the former Massachusetts governor’s fiscal expertise is his greatest strength. But in spite of that edge, the Romney camp knows the steepest obstacles to a Republican victory are not factors that are susceptible to the candidate’s powers of persuasion.

In the past few weeks, as Romney was wrapping up his party’s nomination, he received a thorough education on his opponent’s most formidable assets: the ability of the mainstream liberal media to set the public agenda on the issues of the day and the power of incumbency. As the bogus theme of a Republican “war on women” as well as the anniversary of the Osama bin Laden killing demonstrated, President Obama retains the power to put the GOP on the defensive almost at will. This means the true challenges for the Romney campaign will not be whether they can prevent their standard-bearer from committing gaffes, their skill in overcoming problematic issues like RomneyCare or even uniting an obstreperous conservative movement behind his candidacy. It will be in fending off a ferocious assault from a chattering class dominated by the left and avoiding being left on the sidelines as the president effortlessly dominates news cycles.

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The Mitt Romney campaign is gearing up for a general election race in which it will have some clear advantages. The most important is that the economy remains the decisive issue for most of the public. That plays into Romney’s hands, because most Americans rightly perceive the country’s economic health has declined on President Obama’s watch, and because the former Massachusetts governor’s fiscal expertise is his greatest strength. But in spite of that edge, the Romney camp knows the steepest obstacles to a Republican victory are not factors that are susceptible to the candidate’s powers of persuasion.

In the past few weeks, as Romney was wrapping up his party’s nomination, he received a thorough education on his opponent’s most formidable assets: the ability of the mainstream liberal media to set the public agenda on the issues of the day and the power of incumbency. As the bogus theme of a Republican “war on women” as well as the anniversary of the Osama bin Laden killing demonstrated, President Obama retains the power to put the GOP on the defensive almost at will. This means the true challenges for the Romney campaign will not be whether they can prevent their standard-bearer from committing gaffes, their skill in overcoming problematic issues like RomneyCare or even uniting an obstreperous conservative movement behind his candidacy. It will be in fending off a ferocious assault from a chattering class dominated by the left and avoiding being left on the sidelines as the president effortlessly dominates news cycles.

The so-called war on women theme was thoroughly debunked by Contentions’ Alana Goodman in the latest issue of COMMENTARY. The lesson here is not so much the charge that Romney and the Republicans are attacking women’s rights is wrong as the way the story developed. It shows how quickly a weakness for the president — the way ObamaCare was being used to discriminate against the Catholic Church violated the principle of religious freedom — morphed into a disaster for the right simply because Rush Limbaugh made an offensive quip.

The willingness of a broad consensus of mainstream media outlets to accept the liberal spin of this fake issue should concentrate the minds of both the Romney people and conservatives on their dilemma. Allegations of liberal media bias don’t win elections, but successful counter-attacks against spin offensives will make the difference between victory and defeat for the Republicans. That was demonstrated by the subsequent ability of the conservative blogosphere to turn Obama adviser Hillary Rosen’s attack on Ann Romney into a defeat for the Democrats that had them on the defensive for days.

But a perhaps an even greater problem for Romney is the one that every challenger to a sitting president must learn to live with: the power of incumbency. Being the president as opposed to just running for the presidency carries with it the capacity to make decisions or to create events that can dominate news cycles and reduce even the savviest opposition candidate to a helpless bystander. The president’s trip to Afghanistan on Tuesday is a classic illustration of how even the most hapless of administrations can command the undivided attention of the public. The event, in which the president signed an agreement with the Afghan government, was a skillful way of bringing up the bin Laden killing anniversary without the sort of foolish attacks on Romney that undermined the administration’s obsessive focus on the episode in the last week. Instances of the use of the power of the presidency like this are virtually bulletproof. Nothing Romney could say or do could diminish the impact of the president’s largely unremarkable speech. And even if there were flaws in Obama’s handling of the issue, the bin Laden anniversary helped bring home to the GOP that this wasn’t the best moment to bring them up.

Of course, along with the advantages that come with incumbency are some drawbacks. Obama can play the commander-in-chief any time he wants but along with it comes a measure of accountability. Speeches in front of the troops in a military setting are always political winners. But that also means it is impossible to blame others when things go wrong. If, as appears likely, the virtually non-existent economic recovery continues to falter as gas prices rise this summer, no amount of presidential posturing will enable the president to shift the blame for the state of the nation from his own shoulders.

A pliant and even obsequious media and the power of incumbency should be a foolproof formula for an Obama victory. But they will be of little use if Romney and the GOP persuade Americans they must cut short a failed presidency.

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Documents Show Bin Laden was Frustrated with Regional Jihadi Groups

There is no big news flash buried in the 17 al-Qaeda documents that were seized at Abbottabad and released today by West Point’s Combating Terrorism Center. They will enhance public understanding of al-Qaeda only marginally while, of course, helping to keep alive the Osama bin Laden raid which President Obama is using for all it’s worth as part of his reelection strategy.

What the documents show—and what we already knew—is that running a terrorist organization is pretty much like running any other organization, whether an NGO or a business or a government. There are always bureaucratic headaches, especially for the head of a far-flung multinational who is trying to keep various component units marching in lockstep. That was particularly difficult for bin Laden because he had limited communications from his house in Pakistan. He was often exercised, it seems, by the actions of al-Qaeda in Iraq, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, and al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb—his “branded” franchises—to say nothing of fellow traveler organizations such as the Pakistani Taliban and the Shabaab in Somalia. As the West Point summary notes:

Rather than a source of strength, bin Laden was burdened by what he viewed as the incompetence of the “affiliates,” including their lack of political acumen to win public support, their media campaigns and their poorly planned operations which resulted in the unnecessary deaths of thousands of Muslims.

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There is no big news flash buried in the 17 al-Qaeda documents that were seized at Abbottabad and released today by West Point’s Combating Terrorism Center. They will enhance public understanding of al-Qaeda only marginally while, of course, helping to keep alive the Osama bin Laden raid which President Obama is using for all it’s worth as part of his reelection strategy.

What the documents show—and what we already knew—is that running a terrorist organization is pretty much like running any other organization, whether an NGO or a business or a government. There are always bureaucratic headaches, especially for the head of a far-flung multinational who is trying to keep various component units marching in lockstep. That was particularly difficult for bin Laden because he had limited communications from his house in Pakistan. He was often exercised, it seems, by the actions of al-Qaeda in Iraq, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, and al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb—his “branded” franchises—to say nothing of fellow traveler organizations such as the Pakistani Taliban and the Shabaab in Somalia. As the West Point summary notes:

Rather than a source of strength, bin Laden was burdened by what he viewed as the incompetence of the “affiliates,” including their lack of political acumen to win public support, their media campaigns and their poorly planned operations which resulted in the unnecessary deaths of thousands of Muslims.

The latter point is a particularly telling one, because some critics of American counterinsurgency strategy think our troops are too careful in the application of firepower—they should be willing to kill more people in order to achieve success. The counterargument is that unnecessary deaths detract from the larger task of accomplishing the mission because they alienate the population, and low-intensity warfare is always a battle for popular support. Bin Laden endorsed that very view—he was afraid, and rightly so, that the actions of al-Qaeda affiliates in killing Muslims had alienated Muslim opinion and made it harder for al-Qaeda to achieve its goals. You might say bin Laden was a believer in “population-centric” insurgency, a counterpoint to the current U.S. doctrine known as “population-centric counterinsurgency.” He just wasn’t very good at carrying it out because his bloodthirsty subordinates did not pay much attention to his edicts.

 

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Elizabeth Warren and the Tragedy of Modern Liberalism

As utterly obnoxious–and insulting to voters–as the White House’s “war on women” was, there were moments when I actually felt a pang of sympathy for the loyal foot soldiers dispatched to pillage the news cycle. Carrying the banner of this base anti-intellectualism required a certain shamelessness that was off-putting, but at times strangely pitiful. One such example came after Rush Limbaugh insulted the 30-year-old liberal activist Sandra Fluke, and in response Neera Tanden, once an adviser to both Clintons and to President Obama and now president of the Center for American Progress, was reduced to tweeting this:

Outraged Rush is attacking all women thru Sandra Fluke? Pl sign CAP’s petition: http://cap.af/xNDJwc – I #standwithsandra & hope you will 2

That the Obama White House has taken men and women of repute and transformed them into Axelrodian snark artists long preceded Tanden’s tweet. But it caught my attention because it seemed to be the reductio ad absurdum of modern liberalism. Until, that is, Elizabeth Warren bailed her out.

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As utterly obnoxious–and insulting to voters–as the White House’s “war on women” was, there were moments when I actually felt a pang of sympathy for the loyal foot soldiers dispatched to pillage the news cycle. Carrying the banner of this base anti-intellectualism required a certain shamelessness that was off-putting, but at times strangely pitiful. One such example came after Rush Limbaugh insulted the 30-year-old liberal activist Sandra Fluke, and in response Neera Tanden, once an adviser to both Clintons and to President Obama and now president of the Center for American Progress, was reduced to tweeting this:

Outraged Rush is attacking all women thru Sandra Fluke? Pl sign CAP’s petition: http://cap.af/xNDJwc – I #standwithsandra & hope you will 2

That the Obama White House has taken men and women of repute and transformed them into Axelrodian snark artists long preceded Tanden’s tweet. But it caught my attention because it seemed to be the reductio ad absurdum of modern liberalism. Until, that is, Elizabeth Warren bailed her out.

Warren, the Democratic Senate candidate challenging Scott Brown in Massachusetts, was the subject of a rather bizarre controversy this week when it was revealed she claimed Native American heritage as her career in academia proceeded, only to drop the dubious claim once she reached the pinnacle of her academic career track: Harvard Law faculty. She has not handled the controversy well, to say the least. And the wreckage of her campaign’s attempts at spinning this make you want to look away.

But don’t. Because Warren is playing an important role in our political discourse: she is the ghost of liberalism future. Warren’s alleged use of affirmative action, if true, would have to be the most egregious abuse of the system at the expense of minorities we’ve seen yet. Elizabeth Warren is, as a white woman, statistically speaking very much a member of this country’s majority. The only category in which she is a true minority is wealth: Elizabeth Warren is very, very rich.

But Warren was not done making a mockery of a system she seems to have exploited, and in so doing risked discrediting. To call her on these shenanigans, she explained, is sexist. Hot Air has caught her repeating this claim, making it a pillar of her defense. First, her campaign spokeswoman said this: “Once again, the qualifications and ability of a woman are being called into question by Scott Brown who did the same thing with the Supreme Court nomination of Elena Kagan. It’s outrageous.”

Then Warren waded into it herself, saying of Brown: “What does he think it takes for a woman to be qualified?”

The sad part about all this is that Warren is clearly intelligent and dedicated to her (redistributionist) cause. Back in August, Christopher Caldwell wrote a piece on her in the Weekly Standard in which he praised her earlier writing as “brilliant and counterintuitive work.” Though many on the right object to Warren’s politics, no one thought she was ill-equipped intellectually for the important debate on economic policy now sweeping the public sphere.

Yet in the age of Obama, this is how campaigns are run. Warren may have interesting things to say, but she, too, has become something of a liberal cliché. Despite her obvious smarts, she has reflexively fallen back on charges of sexism, even when they are so ridiculous as to make you cringe. If Warren, a rich, white, Harvard professor, is a victim, everyone is.

Why does this matter? Because it reveals that the left thinks affirmative action is a joke, another cudgel with which to attack political opponents at the expense of minorities who might, thanks to liberalism’s insistence on keeping students in failed school districts, actually put the policy to some good use. And because if Elizabeth Warren is unable to advance coherent liberal policy arguments, then there may be none to advance.

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The Class War Goes Hot

There are two wellsprings of class warfare in America. There is Barack Obama, whose reelection strategy is to taunt Americans about their rich neighbors. And there are the indignant loiterers of the Occupy movement, who married aimlessness to anarchism and produced a half-witted crime spree that boomer liberals then declared “meaningful.” Both want corporate bigwigs to pay up.

So does Brandon L. Baxter. We know this because in a recorded phone call about planning a terrorist bombing in Cleveland, Ohio, the 20-year-old Baxter allegedly said that “Taking out a bridge in the business district would cost the … corporate big wigs a lot of money.” The plot was foiled this week by federal authorities who revealed that most or all of the five aspiring terrorists involved were “associated” with the Occupy movement.

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There are two wellsprings of class warfare in America. There is Barack Obama, whose reelection strategy is to taunt Americans about their rich neighbors. And there are the indignant loiterers of the Occupy movement, who married aimlessness to anarchism and produced a half-witted crime spree that boomer liberals then declared “meaningful.” Both want corporate bigwigs to pay up.

So does Brandon L. Baxter. We know this because in a recorded phone call about planning a terrorist bombing in Cleveland, Ohio, the 20-year-old Baxter allegedly said that “Taking out a bridge in the business district would cost the … corporate big wigs a lot of money.” The plot was foiled this week by federal authorities who revealed that most or all of the five aspiring terrorists involved were “associated” with the Occupy movement.

Or is that irrelevant? “They were in no way representing or acting on behalf of Occupy Cleveland,” said a Cleveland Occupier named Debbie Kline. Of course they weren’t! Why would anyone think that anarchist terrorist Occupiers planning to bomb corporate bigwigs into coughing up cash would have anything to do with anarchist Occupier criminals who’ve spent a year setting fires, trashing businesses, and blocking ports to get corporate bigwigs to cough up cash? Apples and oranges, clearly.

The few existing articulate defenders of the Occupy movement note the peace-and-love vibe that abounds at protests. “I go down there every day, and I see sweet, compassionate, politically astute people,” said hippie businessman Russell Simmons about Occupy Wall Street. “I participate in their meditation daily. I see people who have high aspirations for America, who are idealistic. I see the most inclusive group that America has to offer.” Bingo! The group is so inclusive its doors are open to the likes of Brandon L. Baxter and the Cleveland Five.

There is only one entry requirement for the Occupy movement: a consuming resentment of the guy who has more than you. It is a grudge cult, a movement created to ennoble mankind’s worst impulse, and it must inevitably lead to violence. The class war must go hot.

As for Russell Simmons’s meditators, they represent a demographic with the most malleable group intellect since the Manson family—which is not beside the point. When you throw a bunch of late-comer deadheads into a pit with a gang of seething anarchists, which side do you suppose will exert its will on things?

Debbie Kline’s statement about the bombers not representing the Occupiers is legally valid but culturally useless. They both represent the same toxic political phenomenon: demonization of fellow citizens as the source of their woes. That notion is corrosive at its inception.

And it is the same corrosive idea behind the White House webpage urging Americans to “Just enter a few pieces of information about your taxes, and see how many millionaires pay a lower effective tax rate than you.”

The Obama campaign has the class-warfare brains, the credentialed thinkers (and the enlightened billionaire) who’ve drawn up a plan to make someone else pay for the fundamental unfairness of your life. If you think it’s a stretch to compare them to the class-warfare thugs of the Occupy movement just look at Europe, where the brains and thugs re-couple in strong political parties every time a bad-economy election is held. In Greece, where the evil 1 percent du jour are immigrants, the fascist Golden Dawn party may enter parliament in a few days. In the current French elections, extremists on the right and left have ratcheted up nativist rhetoric. Hungary’s Nazi-nostalgic Jobbik party recently held an EU flag burning rally to protest their longtime scapegoats, the Gypsies.

It’s worth recalling that anarchist terrorism started to rock Europe in 2010, a year before Occupy Wall Street and two years before the bomb plot in Ohio. Yes, it’s true, we’re not Europe. But that’s the point. We’re America, so why are we flirting with this garbage?

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Hillary Shouldn’t Leave Chen Behind

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is still in Beijing where she has been meeting with Chinese leaders along with Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner. But if she thinks she can fly home without resolving the fate of blind activist lawyer Chen Guangcheng, she’s making a mistake that will further establish the reputation of the Obama administration as the worst on human rights in a generation.

The State Department has now admitted that Chen doesn’t want to stay in China any longer as part of a deal that American officials obviously pressured him into accepting so he would consent to leave the U.S. embassy where he had sought asylum. Chen is now in a hospital where authorities are preventing him from speaking to the Americans, but he has had contact with family members who have told him of the threats they are experiencing. Chen knows that if he is to survive, he has to get out of the country. And that’s where Hillary must step in and act fast.

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Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is still in Beijing where she has been meeting with Chinese leaders along with Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner. But if she thinks she can fly home without resolving the fate of blind activist lawyer Chen Guangcheng, she’s making a mistake that will further establish the reputation of the Obama administration as the worst on human rights in a generation.

The State Department has now admitted that Chen doesn’t want to stay in China any longer as part of a deal that American officials obviously pressured him into accepting so he would consent to leave the U.S. embassy where he had sought asylum. Chen is now in a hospital where authorities are preventing him from speaking to the Americans, but he has had contact with family members who have told him of the threats they are experiencing. Chen knows that if he is to survive, he has to get out of the country. And that’s where Hillary must step in and act fast.

Chen has expressed the hope that Clinton will take him and his family on her plane when she leaves China. But whether that’s possible or not, the secretary cannot leave the country while this dispute is ongoing. Though the communist tyrants of Beijing hold most of the cards in this dispute, Clinton still has some leverage.

Clinton can use the bully pulpit of the summit not just to talk about human rights in general as she rightly did yesterday. She can also raise the issue of Chen’s safety in public and thoroughly embarrass President Hu Jintao if the Chinese don’t allow Chen out in an expeditious manner.

The problem here is not just the fact that the world knows Chen, who escaped from house arrest and courageously made his way to the U.S. Embassy, is in grave danger now that he is back under the control of the regime. It’s that by persuading him to leave their protection, American officials have invested the honor and good name of the United States in the outcome of this incident. Clinton simply cannot let this go as just one more regrettable but unavoidable instance of kowtowing to the Chinese because prioritizing human rights interferes with other pressing business America must conduct with Beijing.

As Alana wrote yesterday, the administration’s record on helping Chinese activists is already poor. If Clinton leaves China thinking it won’t matter much in the long run if she allows Chen to be swallowed up again by the Laogai — the Chinese gulag — it will be a story that will haunt her and President Obama for years to come.

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The Obstacle to Syria Regime Change?

I had the opportunity to have dinner with some Kurdish journalists last week in London, where events in Syria were very much on peoples’ minds. Kurds make up perhaps 10 percent of Syria’s 22.5 million people; much of northeastern Syria is almost entirely Kurdish. I asked my friends how the allegiance was breaking down among these Kurds. Their answer: 50 percent of Syrian Kurds support Masoud Barzani’s Kurdistan Democratic Party, and 50 percent support the Kurdistan Workers Party, best known by its Kurdish acronym, the PKK.  Others Kurds I have since talked to—diehard opponents of both the Syrian regime and the PKK—say that perhaps 90 percent of Syrian Kurds favor the PKK. PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan long called Syria home, and so it is natural that many Syrian Kurds would pay their loyalty to him.

The United States government defines the PKK as a terrorist group. The group engaged in a long insurgency inside Turkey, during the course of which it targeted not only Turkish troops, but also Turkish and Kurdish civilians. The Turkish government—a brief interlude of secret negotiations aside—takes a zero tolerance approach to the PKK. When Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan embraces Hamas and imbues it with political legitimacy, his criteria is not subjective; he is unwilling to ascribe any legitimacy to the PKK even though its popularity in Kurdish areas of Turkey is far greater than Hamas’ popularity in the Gaza Strip.

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I had the opportunity to have dinner with some Kurdish journalists last week in London, where events in Syria were very much on peoples’ minds. Kurds make up perhaps 10 percent of Syria’s 22.5 million people; much of northeastern Syria is almost entirely Kurdish. I asked my friends how the allegiance was breaking down among these Kurds. Their answer: 50 percent of Syrian Kurds support Masoud Barzani’s Kurdistan Democratic Party, and 50 percent support the Kurdistan Workers Party, best known by its Kurdish acronym, the PKK.  Others Kurds I have since talked to—diehard opponents of both the Syrian regime and the PKK—say that perhaps 90 percent of Syrian Kurds favor the PKK. PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan long called Syria home, and so it is natural that many Syrian Kurds would pay their loyalty to him.

The United States government defines the PKK as a terrorist group. The group engaged in a long insurgency inside Turkey, during the course of which it targeted not only Turkish troops, but also Turkish and Kurdish civilians. The Turkish government—a brief interlude of secret negotiations aside—takes a zero tolerance approach to the PKK. When Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan embraces Hamas and imbues it with political legitimacy, his criteria is not subjective; he is unwilling to ascribe any legitimacy to the PKK even though its popularity in Kurdish areas of Turkey is far greater than Hamas’ popularity in the Gaza Strip.

After years of singing Syrian strongman Bashar al-Assad’s praises, Erdoğan has shifted his tune and called for Assad to step down. Like President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton, however, Erdoğan has been unwilling to move such calls beyond rhetoric into reality. By seeking to lead from behind and work through Turkey, however, Obama and Clinton may simply be enabling Turkey to sacrifice any serious Syrian political developments on the altar of its fear of empowered Kurds in a post-Assad Syria.

Perhaps the time has come for the Obama administration to have a serious discussion about the PKK and whether Turkey’s antipathy toward the group should trump freedom for 22.5 million Syrians.

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