Commentary Magazine


Posts For: May 8, 2012

If Obama’s Rhetoric on Syria is a Joke, Why Trust Him on Iran?

On most issues, Jeffrey Goldberg has been a dependable cheerleader for the Obama administration. But the president’s feckless stand on the ongoing slaughter in Syria has caused Goldberg to write one of the best takedowns of the president’s inaction I’ve read. The piece, published yesterday in Bloomberg, is a comic gem as it describes how “Obama Hits Syria With Brutal Blasts of Adverbs.”

Some critics say the U.S. has shamed itself by not intervening aggressively on behalf of Syria’s rebels and dissidents.

They’re wrong. The Obama administration hasn’t helped to arm the rebels, nor has it created safe havens for persecuted dissidents. But it has done something far more important: It has provided the Syrian opposition with very strong language to describe Assad’s various atrocities.

The administration’s unprecedented verbal and written sorties against the Assad regime have included some of the most powerful adjectives, adjectival intensifiers and adverbs ever aimed at an American foe. This campaign has helped Syrians understand, among other things, that the English language contains many synonyms for “repulsive.”

This is great stuff, and Goldberg goes on from there to note the absurdity of administration officials repeatedly speaking of their patience being “exhausted” and wonders how worried Bashar al-Assad will be when Washington’s patience is “completely exhausted.” But one wonders why the author of this wonderful riff on Obama’s meaningless tough talk on Syria thinks the president’s equally meaningless verbal assault on Iran is credible?

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On most issues, Jeffrey Goldberg has been a dependable cheerleader for the Obama administration. But the president’s feckless stand on the ongoing slaughter in Syria has caused Goldberg to write one of the best takedowns of the president’s inaction I’ve read. The piece, published yesterday in Bloomberg, is a comic gem as it describes how “Obama Hits Syria With Brutal Blasts of Adverbs.”

Some critics say the U.S. has shamed itself by not intervening aggressively on behalf of Syria’s rebels and dissidents.

They’re wrong. The Obama administration hasn’t helped to arm the rebels, nor has it created safe havens for persecuted dissidents. But it has done something far more important: It has provided the Syrian opposition with very strong language to describe Assad’s various atrocities.

The administration’s unprecedented verbal and written sorties against the Assad regime have included some of the most powerful adjectives, adjectival intensifiers and adverbs ever aimed at an American foe. This campaign has helped Syrians understand, among other things, that the English language contains many synonyms for “repulsive.”

This is great stuff, and Goldberg goes on from there to note the absurdity of administration officials repeatedly speaking of their patience being “exhausted” and wonders how worried Bashar al-Assad will be when Washington’s patience is “completely exhausted.” But one wonders why the author of this wonderful riff on Obama’s meaningless tough talk on Syria thinks the president’s equally meaningless verbal assault on Iran is credible?

This is, after all, the same Jeffrey Goldberg who has consistently sought to assure friends of Israel that President Obama’s stance on Iran is more than mere rhetoric though, in fact, it has consisted of little but a collection of ominous adverbs punctuated by defenses of engagement and diplomacy since he took office. Granted, the president has reluctantly embraced sanctions on Iran (though he was way behind France and Britain on this score), but it is fairly obvious that he did so only to maneuver Israel into a situation where it could not attack the Islamist regime on its own.

Goldberg rightly dismisses the notion that Obama’s rhetoric about Syria consists of anything more than lip service, yet he believes Obama can be trusted to eventually escalate his stance on the Islamist ayatollahs from rhetoric to action. When people wonder why many in Israel have little faith in the president’s word on Iran, especially once he gets the “flexibility” that a second term would provide, perhaps we should refer them to Goldberg’s column on the administration’s verbal offensive against Assad.

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Not a “Buddy Movie” for Obama and Biden

Vice President Biden’s recent remarks about gay marriage have prompted a wave of stories about his role in both the Obama administration and its re-election campaign. But whether or not, as Alana noted, you believe there was some method to Biden’s madness when he got out in front of the president on that issue, there’s little question that the incumbent veep is cut from a different mold than Dick Cheney or even Al Gore, both of whom seemed to have more clout in the government than Biden does.

Indeed, as this profile in today’s New York Times seems to be saying, Biden is something of a throwback to a different kind of politics and even a different sort of vice presidency than the one in which the veep is treated with a bit more deference and given more responsibility. Biden’s chronic case of hoof-in-mouth disease has limited his utility to the president to being the contrarian in the room as well as designated attack dog and defender of the Democratic leader. The key question for Biden-watchers during the next six months is not so much how often the veep goes off the Obama reservation but how much his various utterances will betray a desire to go into business for himself in 2016?

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Vice President Biden’s recent remarks about gay marriage have prompted a wave of stories about his role in both the Obama administration and its re-election campaign. But whether or not, as Alana noted, you believe there was some method to Biden’s madness when he got out in front of the president on that issue, there’s little question that the incumbent veep is cut from a different mold than Dick Cheney or even Al Gore, both of whom seemed to have more clout in the government than Biden does.

Indeed, as this profile in today’s New York Times seems to be saying, Biden is something of a throwback to a different kind of politics and even a different sort of vice presidency than the one in which the veep is treated with a bit more deference and given more responsibility. Biden’s chronic case of hoof-in-mouth disease has limited his utility to the president to being the contrarian in the room as well as designated attack dog and defender of the Democratic leader. The key question for Biden-watchers during the next six months is not so much how often the veep goes off the Obama reservation but how much his various utterances will betray a desire to go into business for himself in 2016?

We are told the often testy relationship between the two in their early days in office together has now changed to a genuine friendship But the idea of the vice president as a “utility player” whose value is as “the guy who does a bunch of things that don’t show up on the stat sheet,” as Obama has been quoted as saying, is just a nice way of saying the president hasn’t trusted Biden in the way Bush trusted Cheney or Bill Clinton trusted Gore. Though he can always be counted on to “help stir the pot,” that’s a contrast to the greater responsibility that was placed on his immediate predecessors. If as Ronald Klain, who worked for both Gore and Biden, puts it, the president and vice president “haven’t tried to turn this into some sort of buddy movie,” neither is it the ideal working relationship.

Which is to say that though Biden isn’t the lost soul who many vice presidents resembled while presiding over the Senate and doing little else, he has also become a punch line. If he was added to the ticket in 2008 in the hope that his foreign policy experience — an odd notion as there is hardly an international issue on which Biden has not been consistently wrong — he remains there more out of inertia than anything else.

That’s why the incessant talk of Biden actively thinking about 2016 — talk that most suspect originates in the office of the vice president and nowhere else — makes it likely that the president’s patience for the veep’s gaffes will decrease during the course of the campaign and a potential second term. Though Biden’s grasp of political reality has never been that firm, one wonders whether he fancies being the first sitting vice president to be rejected by his own party for the top spot since John Nance Garner failed to oust his erstwhile boss Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1940.

In the meantime, Obama can continue to count on Biden to swing away on his weak spots, including his record on Israel. Biden again vouched for the president’s bona fides on Israel today in a speech to the Rabbinical Assembly. But, as with many of his utterances on a wide range of topics, the vice president’s grasp of facts remains sketchy. Two weeks ago, I commented that in a previous speech, Biden had mistakenly compared Obama to Harry Truman’s efforts on behalf of Israel’s security. Today he doubled down on that by saying again, “No president since Harry Truman has done more for Israel’s security than Barack Obama.”

In fact, no president other than the quite hostile Dwight Eisenhower did less for Israel’s security than Truman. Every president subsequent to Ike made a serious contribution to enhancing the security of the Jewish state that surpassed Truman’s, and that includes Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter and the elder George Bush, as well as genuine friends such as Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton and the younger Bush. But as President Obama has learned, when Joe Biden talks, it’s customary to take whatever he says with a shovelful of salt.

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Allen West’s Reckless Rhetoric

Republican Representative Allen West, a Tea Party favorite from Florida, weighed in on President Obama’s 10-year security agreement with Afghan President Hamid Karzai. In the agreement, Obama pledged continued support to Afghanistan once NATO combat troops leave in 2014. “I look at what happened between President Obama and President Karzai as a 1930s, Chamberlain, Hitler moment,” Representative West told radio host Frank Gaffney. “There is not going to be peace in our time.”

I’m not quite sure what this analogy is supposed to prove. Is Karzai supposed to be Hitler? Whatever complaints one has with Karzai – and I have plenty of my own – he’s clearly no Hitler, and he doesn’t appear to have designs for world conquest.

As a general matter, the Chamberlain-Hitler-appeasement analogy is much overused and is often a sign of lazy thinking, as is the case here.

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Republican Representative Allen West, a Tea Party favorite from Florida, weighed in on President Obama’s 10-year security agreement with Afghan President Hamid Karzai. In the agreement, Obama pledged continued support to Afghanistan once NATO combat troops leave in 2014. “I look at what happened between President Obama and President Karzai as a 1930s, Chamberlain, Hitler moment,” Representative West told radio host Frank Gaffney. “There is not going to be peace in our time.”

I’m not quite sure what this analogy is supposed to prove. Is Karzai supposed to be Hitler? Whatever complaints one has with Karzai – and I have plenty of my own – he’s clearly no Hitler, and he doesn’t appear to have designs for world conquest.

As a general matter, the Chamberlain-Hitler-appeasement analogy is much overused and is often a sign of lazy thinking, as is the case here.

Representative West, it’s probably worth pointing out, also recently told a town hall meeting that “there’s [sic] about 78 to 81 members of the Democrat Party who are members of the Communist Party,” referring to their membership in the Congressional Progressive Caucus. (West’s defense of his comments can be found here.)

This is not simply an unfortunate comment but an ugly one. Communism is associated with immense and even incomprehensible humor horror, from the estimated 65 million deaths under Mao in China; to the more than 20 million Russians who perished under Stalin and Lenin; to the almost two million Cambodians – comprising around one quarter of the entire population – who died under the Pol Pot regime. Communism has been responsible for forced labor, slavery, starvation, mass executions, and wholesale slaughter. Surely West must know this. And so for him to characterize his (very) liberal colleagues as Communists, and then to defend the claim, is a form of slander.

West would do himself, his party and his cause a world of good if he decided to jettison the corrosive and insulting rhetoric.

 

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Minority Voter Registration Drops

There was a story in Saturday’s Washington Post that could have significant bearing on the 2012 presidential race. According to the Post, “The number of black and Hispanic registered voters has fallen sharply since 2008, posing a serious challenge to the Obama campaign in an election that could turn on the participation of minority voters.”

The story goes on to say that according to the Census Bureau, for the first time in nearly four decades, the number of registered Hispanics has dropped significantly. “But in some politically important swing states, the decline among Hispanics, who are considered critical in the 2012 presidential contest, is much higher,” reporter Krissah Thompson said. “Just over 28 percent in New Mexico, for example, and about 10 percent in Florida… Among Latinos, the decline has altered a trend of steady growth. Given that 12 million Latinos were registered to vote in 2008, some analysts had projected the number would grow to 13 million in 2010 and 14 million this election cycle. Instead, it fell in 2010 to 11 million.”

“Everyone is saying the Latino vote is rocketing to the moon,” said Antonio Gonzalez of the Velasquez Institute. “It has been growing, but it stopped.”

For blacks, registration numbers are down 7 percent nationwide.

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There was a story in Saturday’s Washington Post that could have significant bearing on the 2012 presidential race. According to the Post, “The number of black and Hispanic registered voters has fallen sharply since 2008, posing a serious challenge to the Obama campaign in an election that could turn on the participation of minority voters.”

The story goes on to say that according to the Census Bureau, for the first time in nearly four decades, the number of registered Hispanics has dropped significantly. “But in some politically important swing states, the decline among Hispanics, who are considered critical in the 2012 presidential contest, is much higher,” reporter Krissah Thompson said. “Just over 28 percent in New Mexico, for example, and about 10 percent in Florida… Among Latinos, the decline has altered a trend of steady growth. Given that 12 million Latinos were registered to vote in 2008, some analysts had projected the number would grow to 13 million in 2010 and 14 million this election cycle. Instead, it fell in 2010 to 11 million.”

“Everyone is saying the Latino vote is rocketing to the moon,” said Antonio Gonzalez of the Velasquez Institute. “It has been growing, but it stopped.”

For blacks, registration numbers are down 7 percent nationwide.

The decline in minority registration “is obviously an area of concern,” said Democratic strategist Simon Rosenberg, president of NDN, a left-leaning think tank.

Whether the Obama campaign can turn this around is impossible to know. But if it cannot, the chances for Obama to win re-election, which are already probably less than even, will dramatically decrease. If Obama wins less than 80 percent of the minority vote against Romney (as he did against John McCain), and/or if minority voters comprise 26 percent of all voters (as they did in 2008) or less, then it’s difficult to see how Obama wins a second term.

My own hope is that minority registration increases, that Mitt Romney makes a genuine appeal for their votes, and that in doing so he wins a larger-than-expected percentage. The increasing minority-white split in America is troublesome for all the obvious reasons.

 

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Occupiers Support Bombing Suspects

This seems to contradict those rumors that the Occupy movement might reinvent itself as a more public-friendly campaign this spring:

Dozens of members of Occupy Cleveland showed up at a Cleveland courthouse to support the five people charged in connection with an alleged plot to blow up a northeast Ohio bridge.

The five suspects — 21-year-old Connor Stevens, 24-year-old Joshua Stafford (aka “Skully”), 26-year-old Douglas Wright (aka “Cyco”), 20-year-old Brandon Baxter (aka “Skabby”) and 37-year-old Anthony Hayne (aka “Tony” & “Billy”) – pleaded not guilty during their arraignment Monday morning.

The suspects had the charges — conspiracy and attempted use of explosive material to damage physical property affecting interstate commerce — read to them in open court.

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This seems to contradict those rumors that the Occupy movement might reinvent itself as a more public-friendly campaign this spring:

Dozens of members of Occupy Cleveland showed up at a Cleveland courthouse to support the five people charged in connection with an alleged plot to blow up a northeast Ohio bridge.

The five suspects — 21-year-old Connor Stevens, 24-year-old Joshua Stafford (aka “Skully”), 26-year-old Douglas Wright (aka “Cyco”), 20-year-old Brandon Baxter (aka “Skabby”) and 37-year-old Anthony Hayne (aka “Tony” & “Billy”) – pleaded not guilty during their arraignment Monday morning.

The suspects had the charges — conspiracy and attempted use of explosive material to damage physical property affecting interstate commerce — read to them in open court.

The suspects are reportedly going to argue entrapment, which is really their only option. The FBI seems to have a rock solid case, all the way down to the suspects’ reported attempt to detonate the bomb through a text message.

Meanwhile, the indictment of Occupy is continuing. Occupy Cleveland claims the suspected bomb plotters were “in no way representing” the group, and, considering the diffuse nature of the Occupy movement, perhaps they weren’t. But they do appear to have been particularly active members. The local ABC affiliate published an old video interview today with one of the suspects, which was filmed for an Occupy documentary last fall:

We are getting our first look inside the Occupy Cleveland movement. NewsChannel5 exclusively obtained video of the recording by an independent documentary producer. One of the central characters in the video is Connor Stevens. He identifies himself in the video as an Occupy Cleveland participant. …

But in the interview recorded last fall, Stevens is heard describing a past conversation with a friend. Stevens suggested he’s changed his view about using violence to achieve the goals of the group.

“We were saying two years before that we would have been kicking out windows and stuff like that. Back in like 2008, I was at that state of mind and now I’m understanding that we’re in it for the long haul and those kind of tactics just don’t cut it. And it’s actually harder to be non-violent than it is to do stuff like that,” Stevens said.

Whoever released the video to ABC may be trying to bolster the entrapment defense, because Stevens indicates that he had renounced violence at that point. But it’s also a risk, as Stevens acknowledges that he had previously considered using violent tactics.

The bomb plot appears to have put an end to Occupy Cleveland, at least for the time being. The city declined to renew a permit for the group last week.

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Obama’s Policies in Sync with Incoming Socialist, so Proclaims the Times

In a sentence that probably reveals more than the New York Times intended, reporter Annie Lowry writes, “With the victory of the Socialist candidate, François Hollande, in the French presidential election, the White House has lost one of its closest allies on the Continent, but perhaps gained one with economic policy beliefs more closely aligned with its own.”

If a writer for COMMENTARY, National Review, or The Weekly Standard made this claim, Obama’s supporters would be enraged. This would be evidence of taking the “low road,” a calumny, a slur rarely seen in the history of presidential politics. We can all envision the head of Chris Matthews about to explode. But of course it’s not entirely clear why that should be the case. Because as the Times story makes clear, President Obama’s views are fairly closely aligned with the newly elected Socialist president of France.

Barack Obama knows it. So does the New York Times. And so should the American electorate.

 

In a sentence that probably reveals more than the New York Times intended, reporter Annie Lowry writes, “With the victory of the Socialist candidate, François Hollande, in the French presidential election, the White House has lost one of its closest allies on the Continent, but perhaps gained one with economic policy beliefs more closely aligned with its own.”

If a writer for COMMENTARY, National Review, or The Weekly Standard made this claim, Obama’s supporters would be enraged. This would be evidence of taking the “low road,” a calumny, a slur rarely seen in the history of presidential politics. We can all envision the head of Chris Matthews about to explode. But of course it’s not entirely clear why that should be the case. Because as the Times story makes clear, President Obama’s views are fairly closely aligned with the newly elected Socialist president of France.

Barack Obama knows it. So does the New York Times. And so should the American electorate.

 

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Poll Shows Traditional Marriage Amendment Poised for NC Win

Public Policy Polling finds wide support for a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage and civil unions in North Carolina, the last poll before voting opened today.

A final poll of likely North Carolina voters conducted over the weekend continues to give a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage and civil unions an easy margin of victory in Tuesday’s election while the Democratic contest for governor is tightening.

The referendum holds a 16-point advantage, 55 percent in favor and 39 percent against, according to the Public Policy Polling survey, a left-leaning Raleigh-based firm. The numbers shifted little in the final week as big-names on either side of the debate – Rev. Billy Graham for and former President Bill Clinton against – made final pleas to persuade voters.

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Public Policy Polling finds wide support for a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage and civil unions in North Carolina, the last poll before voting opened today.

A final poll of likely North Carolina voters conducted over the weekend continues to give a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage and civil unions an easy margin of victory in Tuesday’s election while the Democratic contest for governor is tightening.

The referendum holds a 16-point advantage, 55 percent in favor and 39 percent against, according to the Public Policy Polling survey, a left-leaning Raleigh-based firm. The numbers shifted little in the final week as big-names on either side of the debate – Rev. Billy Graham for and former President Bill Clinton against – made final pleas to persuade voters.

As I wrote earlier today, there are benefits for Obama coming out in favor of gay marriage. The PPP poll today gives the flip side of that. Obama barely eked out a win in North Carolina in 2008, and he can’t afford to lose much support there. But as the PPP crosstabs show, 35 percent of Democrats and 34 percent of independents oppose gay marriage. That number jumps to 63 percent among African American voters.

Earlier today I also questioned whether the gay marriage issue would actually have much of an influence on how these groups vote. But support for the amendment really does seem to be energizing voters. The Charlotte Observer reports that voter turnout broke records today, even surpassing the contested primary between then-Sen. Obama and Hillary Clinton in 2008. That shows a strong commitment to the issue, which is likely behind Obama’s reluctance to take a clear stance.

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Israel Continues to Politically Inspire

In recent decades it became a common trope to bemoan Israel’s inability to inspire politically. As opposed to the state’s early decades of scrappy existence against long odds, the images of Israeli tanks staring down Arab rock-throwers supposedly denuded Israel’s capacity to arouse anything much other than discomfort.

Yesterday’s late night political drama at the Knesset is a shining counterpoint. It demonstrates the continued ability of Israel’s politicians not to be victims of their circumstances but to actively shape them, something we in the United States (and the entire Western world for that matter) should take heed of.

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In recent decades it became a common trope to bemoan Israel’s inability to inspire politically. As opposed to the state’s early decades of scrappy existence against long odds, the images of Israeli tanks staring down Arab rock-throwers supposedly denuded Israel’s capacity to arouse anything much other than discomfort.

Yesterday’s late night political drama at the Knesset is a shining counterpoint. It demonstrates the continued ability of Israel’s politicians not to be victims of their circumstances but to actively shape them, something we in the United States (and the entire Western world for that matter) should take heed of.

The most important issue the new super coalition government headed by Likud and Kadima (the largest party in the current government by seats) allows Israeli Premier Benjamin Netanyahu to confront is the draft exemption for haredi youth. Currently known as the Tal Law, it is an element of a range of concessions first made by David Ben-Gurion (Israel’s first prime minister) with religious parties that enabled the dominant Israeli left to form a government without including their rivals on the right. The basic premise of the provision is that 18-year-old Jewish males who would normally be eligible for conscription into the Israeli army can receive an exemption if they are studying in a religious yeshiva.

At the time the original deal was struck, the law exempted only around 400 people. Ben-Gurion was also likely comforted by his belief in the eventual extinction of traditional religious life in the new Jewish state, which would over time make the issue moot.

On this point however he proved shortsighted, as the exempted population has grown to now around 60,000. Moreover, haredi Jews make up an increasing percentage of Israeli society that remains in many ways disconnected from the larger public, precisely because they do not participate in the Israeli-identity forming experience of IDF service. Despite a growing recognition that the exemption is no longer tenable (and even after the Israeli Supreme Court’s recent decision that the law in its current form is unconstitutional) there was widespread feeling the situation could not be changed, because to do so would require the main competing political factions to partner together, thereby forming a government that could exclude the still relatively small religious parties and make changes to the exemption whether or not they approve.

This has created a sense of impending doom in the country, as it seemed destined to watch a growing haredi population capture ever larger shares of government support without contributing to or sharing in the burdens of the larger society.

The coalition deal is a big deal because it potentially breaks that doom. There is now a sufficiently large coalition that it can pass legislation without any support from religious parties. In fact, the three largest parties (Kadima, Likud, and Yisrael Beitenu, which has gained in support in part because of its focus on changing the draft exemption) now have a majority on their own.

From a country with its own intractable problems that seem insolvable due to the inability of the two major political parties to work substantively together, the example set last night by Israel’s leaders should inspire.

No doubt there are less then pristine factors at play. Shaul Mofaz, Kadima’s leader, delays impending electoral calamity by entering the government. Netanyahu for his part delays the entrance of Yair Lapid, a potential rival, to the Knesset. One cannot hope for politics to be entirely noble.

Nevertheless, American Jews, Americans, and the West should take note and find inspiration in Israel’s demonstration today that no political problem does not have its solution.

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Ron Paul’s End Game

While most people have been focused on the general election news, Ron Paul has quietly continued to rack up delegates in the Republican primaries. This weekend he pulled off two delegate majority victories at the Maine and Nevada conventions, causing some to wonder what exactly he’s aiming for:

Ron Paul scored big victories at the Maine and Nevada Republican Party conventions on Sunday. In both states his forces won the majority of delegates to this summer’s national GOP convention in Tampa, Fla.

As we noted Sunday, this means Mr. Paul’s strategy of organizing the grass roots and working arcane delegate selection rules is paying off. And that could mean big trouble for Mitt Romney and his plans to smoothly pivot to a campaign aimed solely at incumbent President Obama.

Yes, Mr. Romney is still the presumptive nominee. It’s highly unlikely Paul will be able to deny the former Massachusetts governor the prize he’s sought for so long. But Paul’s forces aren’t lining up and saluting a Romney victory. When they show up in Tampa in August they may be strong enough, and prepared enough, to throw the convention floor into embarrassing disarray.

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While most people have been focused on the general election news, Ron Paul has quietly continued to rack up delegates in the Republican primaries. This weekend he pulled off two delegate majority victories at the Maine and Nevada conventions, causing some to wonder what exactly he’s aiming for:

Ron Paul scored big victories at the Maine and Nevada Republican Party conventions on Sunday. In both states his forces won the majority of delegates to this summer’s national GOP convention in Tampa, Fla.

As we noted Sunday, this means Mr. Paul’s strategy of organizing the grass roots and working arcane delegate selection rules is paying off. And that could mean big trouble for Mitt Romney and his plans to smoothly pivot to a campaign aimed solely at incumbent President Obama.

Yes, Mr. Romney is still the presumptive nominee. It’s highly unlikely Paul will be able to deny the former Massachusetts governor the prize he’s sought for so long. But Paul’s forces aren’t lining up and saluting a Romney victory. When they show up in Tampa in August they may be strong enough, and prepared enough, to throw the convention floor into embarrassing disarray.

Anyone who has been to a conservative political convention knows that Ron Paul supporters are old hands at causing “embarrassing disarray,” but it doesn’t seem likely that Paul would have racked up all of this support and goodwill from the party only to throw it all away by wreaking havoc at the convention. And the idea that Paul is in this to try to steal or withhold the nomination from Romney also seems unlikely. If true, why wouldn’t he have hit Romney much harder when he was higher in the polls and had the opportunity?

No, this still seems to be about his legacy and successor. Paul’s collection of delegates is a way to display his power at the convention. He can bring his substantial group of ragtag supporters into the GOP fold before handing off the baton to his son Rand, who has always been better at bridging the divide between the establishment and the grassroots than his father.

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U.S. Must Signal Military Strength to China

Former ambassador to Beijing and former presidential candidate Jon Huntsman has some useful points to make in the Wall Street Journal about how America must deal with China. But his prescriptions are curiously incomplete.

He argues, convincingly, that “the U.S. must deal with China from a position of strength”; “we should be pursuing free trade agreements with Japan, Taiwan and India, and allowing American businesses to enter Burma”; “we should renew our ties to key allies, focusing on joint endeavors that hedge against some of the more difficult contingencies we could face in the region from an aggressive China and People’s Liberation Army”; and we must make clear that, while “values matter,” “in today’s China those values we share are found mostly among people like Mr. Chen, and not in the Communist Party or the government.”

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Former ambassador to Beijing and former presidential candidate Jon Huntsman has some useful points to make in the Wall Street Journal about how America must deal with China. But his prescriptions are curiously incomplete.

He argues, convincingly, that “the U.S. must deal with China from a position of strength”; “we should be pursuing free trade agreements with Japan, Taiwan and India, and allowing American businesses to enter Burma”; “we should renew our ties to key allies, focusing on joint endeavors that hedge against some of the more difficult contingencies we could face in the region from an aggressive China and People’s Liberation Army”; and we must make clear that, while “values matter,” “in today’s China those values we share are found mostly among people like Mr. Chen, and not in the Communist Party or the government.”

What’s missing here? Any mention of military strength. Huntsman is right that we need to get our economic house in order (presumably by reducing the burden of government on the economy and reducing the ridiculous federal budget deficit). But we also must make clear to China that there is no sense in a military challenge to the U.S. and our allies because we will be strong enough to resist any Chinese adventurism. That deterrence is in the process of being lost today, unfortunately.

As former Secretary of the Navy John Lehman pointed out in a previous Journal oped, a bipartisan commission chaired by Stephen Hadley and William Perry determined that the Navy needs at least 346 vessels in the future. But today, the Navy has only 286 ships, and it is shrinking. Based on the present trajectory, it will be down to 240-250 ships at best. That is hardly a signal of strength to China at a time when its own military is expanding at breakneck pace.

The fact that Huntsman makes no mention of this important expression of national power is a reminder that he ran for the Republican nomination as a quasi-isolationist–and reason to be thankful his campaign gained so little traction.

 

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Gay Marriage Distraction Intentional?

Ed Morrissey has an interesting column in This Week, arguing that Joe Biden’s gay marriage comments may have been a shrewd political calculation as opposed to a slipup during routine bloviation. I think he’s giving Biden too much credit, but there’s definitely a case to be made that this helps the Obama campaign in several ways:

Consider the coincidence of Education Secretary Arne Duncan offering a corroborating point of view the day after Biden’s statement. Brought to MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” to discuss Teacher Appreciation Week, Duncan was greeted by TIME’s Mark Halperin with this “icebreaker” question: “Do you believe that same-sex men and women should be able to get legally married in the United States?” Despite the tortured syntax of the query and an objection to the question by a “Morning Joe” panelist, Duncan gave an ironic “I do” in reply, pushing the issue even farther into the public consciousness, and giving Biden some much-needed political cover.

Nor do the coincidences end there. This comes just after the much-publicized departure of foreign policy adviser Richard Grenell from the Romney campaign. …

Even more likely, though, Biden’s gambit was an attempt to keep the media preoccupied with issues other than jobs and the economy. It’s also no coincidence that this eruption came just 48 hours after another disappointing jobs report.

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Ed Morrissey has an interesting column in This Week, arguing that Joe Biden’s gay marriage comments may have been a shrewd political calculation as opposed to a slipup during routine bloviation. I think he’s giving Biden too much credit, but there’s definitely a case to be made that this helps the Obama campaign in several ways:

Consider the coincidence of Education Secretary Arne Duncan offering a corroborating point of view the day after Biden’s statement. Brought to MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” to discuss Teacher Appreciation Week, Duncan was greeted by TIME’s Mark Halperin with this “icebreaker” question: “Do you believe that same-sex men and women should be able to get legally married in the United States?” Despite the tortured syntax of the query and an objection to the question by a “Morning Joe” panelist, Duncan gave an ironic “I do” in reply, pushing the issue even farther into the public consciousness, and giving Biden some much-needed political cover.

Nor do the coincidences end there. This comes just after the much-publicized departure of foreign policy adviser Richard Grenell from the Romney campaign. …

Even more likely, though, Biden’s gambit was an attempt to keep the media preoccupied with issues other than jobs and the economy. It’s also no coincidence that this eruption came just 48 hours after another disappointing jobs report.

Read the whole thing if you have a chance. Even if Biden’s gay marriage comments weren’t intentional, the Romney campaign will need to be careful with how they proceed on this. According to a new Gallup poll out today, fully half of Americans are in favor of same-sex marriage, compared to 48 percent who oppose. Several of Romney’s most prominent donors are also active in the fight for gay marriage rights.

Many of Obama’s key donors support gay marriage as well. So while the issue is a pleasant distraction for him from economic talk, and yet another opening to bludgeon Romney as far-right and out-of-touch, it also puts the president in a bind. Already some top Obama donors are withholding money from his campaign based on his rejection of a gay rights executive order, Greg Sargent reports. And Obama’s hedging on the gay marriage issue is sure to fuel the perception that he’s choosing politics over principles.

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Changes on the Global Battlefield

News that the CIA had foiled yet another attempt by al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) to bomb U.S. airliners using some sort of new “underwear bomb” further confirms the big shift that has occurred in terrorist circles during the past decade: al-Qaeda “central,” based in Pakistan, has gotten less and less important even as its fellow travelers and affiliates have gotten more sophisticated and dangerous.

AQAP is at the forefront of these off-shoots in trying to attack the American homeland, but it is hardly alone–the Pakistan Taliban, a group sympathetic to al-Qaeda but not formally allied with it, was also discovered trying to attack Times Square with a car bomb. Meanwhile, al-Qaeda in Iraq piled up carnage on a level undreamt of by other terrorist groups–so much killing that even Osama bin Laden thought it was counterproductive because most of the victims were fellow Muslims. AQI now appears to be expanding its sphere of operations into Syria.

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News that the CIA had foiled yet another attempt by al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) to bomb U.S. airliners using some sort of new “underwear bomb” further confirms the big shift that has occurred in terrorist circles during the past decade: al-Qaeda “central,” based in Pakistan, has gotten less and less important even as its fellow travelers and affiliates have gotten more sophisticated and dangerous.

AQAP is at the forefront of these off-shoots in trying to attack the American homeland, but it is hardly alone–the Pakistan Taliban, a group sympathetic to al-Qaeda but not formally allied with it, was also discovered trying to attack Times Square with a car bomb. Meanwhile, al-Qaeda in Iraq piled up carnage on a level undreamt of by other terrorist groups–so much killing that even Osama bin Laden thought it was counterproductive because most of the victims were fellow Muslims. AQI now appears to be expanding its sphere of operations into Syria.

This is symptomatic of the ability of jihadist groups to adapt and survive on a changing global battlefield where certain avenues of attack may be closed off to them (it seems unlikely anyone will ever again hijack an American airliner with a box cutter), but other opportunities are presenting themselves, especially as political turmoil spreads across the Middle East. Jihadist groups are parasites that breed in areas where no lawful authority is established; thus it is not surprising to see them operating in places like the tribal regions of Pakistan, Syria, Yemen, and Somalia.

We will see more threats from this direction in the future, which is why it is imperative that the CIA and Special Operations Forces continue their drone strikes and commando raids to keep the terrorists off balance. The “global war on terror” may have been banished from the official lexicon under the Obama administration, but in the field it continues to be waged with ferocity as great as ever–on both sides.

 

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Vladimir Putin, Victim?

“Instruction number one for obtaining full power has been completed.” With that sentence, uttered by Vladimir Putin just after his election to succeed Boris Yeltsin more than a decade ago, the paradigm of Kremlin control had shifted immeasurably. Putin made the remark–according to Peter Baker and Susan Glasser, who spoke to witnesses–at a private ceremony at the old KGB headquarters on the occasion of a Stalin-created holiday in honor of the secret police.

That sentence was a promise fulfilled. The heirs to the KGB, with Putin at the helm, have consolidated control of Russian political life. And that sentence is what came to mind when I read this pro-Putin screed from Stephen F. Cohen. The headline, which accurately sums up the post, is “Stop the pointless demonization of Putin.” This is the same Putin whose office today said any Russian protesters who hurt a police officer should have their “livers smeared all over the asphalt.” But Cohen has more to say, including the claim that “there is no evidence that any of these allegations against him are true, or at least entirely true.” But it turns out Cohen has a funny definition of the terms he uses.

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“Instruction number one for obtaining full power has been completed.” With that sentence, uttered by Vladimir Putin just after his election to succeed Boris Yeltsin more than a decade ago, the paradigm of Kremlin control had shifted immeasurably. Putin made the remark–according to Peter Baker and Susan Glasser, who spoke to witnesses–at a private ceremony at the old KGB headquarters on the occasion of a Stalin-created holiday in honor of the secret police.

That sentence was a promise fulfilled. The heirs to the KGB, with Putin at the helm, have consolidated control of Russian political life. And that sentence is what came to mind when I read this pro-Putin screed from Stephen F. Cohen. The headline, which accurately sums up the post, is “Stop the pointless demonization of Putin.” This is the same Putin whose office today said any Russian protesters who hurt a police officer should have their “livers smeared all over the asphalt.” But Cohen has more to say, including the claim that “there is no evidence that any of these allegations against him are true, or at least entirely true.” But it turns out Cohen has a funny definition of the terms he uses.

For example, he says “if Putin really were a ‘cold-blooded, ruthless’ autocrat, tens of thousands of protesters would not have appeared in Moscow streets, not far from the Kremlin, following the December presidential election.” First of all, Cohen should consider the possibility that tens of thousands were protesting the fact that Putin is a ruthless autocrat. But leaving that aside, by Cohen’s definition the Arab Spring was pointless. Egyptians wouldn’t have flooded Tahrir Square if Hosni Mubarak were really a ruthless autocrat. The Green Movement in Iran, too, must have looked like a parade of fools to Cohen.

It turns out, however, that Cohen has identified the real culprit for us: Boris Yeltsin. Yeltsin, the stubborn and brave revolutionary who risked life and limb to put a stake in the heart of global Communism, is Cohen’s real enemy. That’s revealing in and of itself. But Cohen couches his critique of Yeltsin in terms he thinks the West would be silly enough to swallow.

It was Yeltsin who initiated the “de-democratization,” says Cohen. How? In part because he “‘privatized’ the former Soviet state’s richest assets on behalf of a small group of rapacious insiders.” Privatization is an essential component of democratization, of course. And many of the “oligarchs” made their fortunes not by cashing a check handed to them by Yeltsin but by outmaneuvering the state during the privatization process, most notably through the “loans for shares” scandal in which bankers wrested control of state assets by taking them as collateral for government loans and then rigging auctions to claim the majority of shares.

And that actually gets at the fallacy of Cohen’s comparison between Yeltsin and Putin. Cohen says Yeltsin presided over a period in which journalists were killed with impunity and corruption was rampant, and that Putin was bequeathed this as-yet-unreformed system. The difference, though, is contained in the quote above. Many of Yeltsin’s failures stemmed from his lack of control. Media magnates operated with impunity precisely because they had independence from, and often power over, Kremlin insiders. Corruption was rampant because the lightning transition left the security services in disarray and economic enforcement measures all but absent. (That’s how “loans for shares” came about in the first place; the Russian government couldn’t get anyone to pay their taxes and thus had no money to pay for the federal budget.)

This is what Putin reversed. He jailed or exiled media magnates who wouldn’t take orders. He renationalized energy firms and imprisoned their executives. He turned the Russian parliament into a virtual rubber stamp. And he empowered the FSB far beyond anyone’s imagination save his own.

As Andrei Soldatov and Irina Borogan explain in The New Nobility, members of the security services were “left behind” in the transition after the fall of the Soviet Union. Under Putin, however, “former and current security service agents permeated the ranks of business and government structures.” Under Putin, the security services have become, Soldatov and Borogan write:

something very different from either the Soviet secret services or the intelligence community in Western countries. In some ways the FSB most closely resembles the ruthless mukhabarat, the secret police of the Arab world: devoted to protection of authoritarian regimes, answering only to those in power, impenetrable, thoroughly corrupted, and unopposed to employing brutal methods against individuals and groups suspected of terrorism or dissent.

Those “brutal methods” presumably include “livers smeared all over the asphalt.” And that’s just what they’ll admit to in public. The whole purpose of the “power vertical” is that everyone is ultimately answerable to Putin. So Cohen absolves Putin of the assassination of Anna Politkovskaya, because he hasn’t seen the Russian police produce hard evidence of Putin’s involvement (seriously). Cohen’s Russia is the land of coincidence. And it doesn’t hold up to even the slightest scrutiny–not to mention Putin’s own account of his intentions. But if privatization is the root of the problem for Cohen, then it’s not de-democratization he’s really worried about, is it?

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Silencing Dissent About Black Studies

Author Naomi Schaefer Riley was an ornament to the Chronicle of Higher Education’s Brainstorm blog where she provided a keen dissenting voice pointing out the follies of modern academia. Riley, the author of the brilliant The Faculty LoungesAnd Other Reasons Why You Won’t Get the College Education You Pay For, is a critic of the liberal orthodoxies of the American campus. She has earned the enmity of the sector’s establishment by pointing out the con games played by universities that have profited from the creation of sham disciplines and the way college faculties have insulated themselves by focusing largely on the publication of arcane academic papers filled with jargon that makes no sense to anyone outside of their narrow fields.

Having such a voice of reason at a publication like the Chronicle–which caters to the residents of those faculty lounges about which Riley has written–was an important and perhaps daring decision on the part of its editors. But apparently there is a limit to their willingness to allow anyone to speak the truth about the academic world. After Riley wrote a post pointing out the absurdity at the heart of a recent Chronicle feature that highlighted the “young guns” at Black Studies departments around the nation, the publication says “thousands” of its readers protested. Rather than stand by their writer, the Chronicle caved to criticism in the most abject manner possible. In a craven note to its readers, editor Liz McMillen claimed Riley’s post “did not meet the Chronicle’s basic editorial standards for reporting and fairness in opinion articles” and fired her. In shamefully throwing Riley under the bus, the Chronicle has not only done her an injustice. It has undermined, perhaps fatally, its credibility as a journal of thought as well as making it clear it will no longer countenance any dissent from academia’s wisdom on race and gender studies.

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Author Naomi Schaefer Riley was an ornament to the Chronicle of Higher Education’s Brainstorm blog where she provided a keen dissenting voice pointing out the follies of modern academia. Riley, the author of the brilliant The Faculty LoungesAnd Other Reasons Why You Won’t Get the College Education You Pay For, is a critic of the liberal orthodoxies of the American campus. She has earned the enmity of the sector’s establishment by pointing out the con games played by universities that have profited from the creation of sham disciplines and the way college faculties have insulated themselves by focusing largely on the publication of arcane academic papers filled with jargon that makes no sense to anyone outside of their narrow fields.

Having such a voice of reason at a publication like the Chronicle–which caters to the residents of those faculty lounges about which Riley has written–was an important and perhaps daring decision on the part of its editors. But apparently there is a limit to their willingness to allow anyone to speak the truth about the academic world. After Riley wrote a post pointing out the absurdity at the heart of a recent Chronicle feature that highlighted the “young guns” at Black Studies departments around the nation, the publication says “thousands” of its readers protested. Rather than stand by their writer, the Chronicle caved to criticism in the most abject manner possible. In a craven note to its readers, editor Liz McMillen claimed Riley’s post “did not meet the Chronicle’s basic editorial standards for reporting and fairness in opinion articles” and fired her. In shamefully throwing Riley under the bus, the Chronicle has not only done her an injustice. It has undermined, perhaps fatally, its credibility as a journal of thought as well as making it clear it will no longer countenance any dissent from academia’s wisdom on race and gender studies.

McMillen’s note is doubly offensive because its characterization of Riley’s post is incorrect, and because she also chose to grovel to the mob by apologizing for a previous editor’s note in which she invited readers to debate the author’s opinion. Though she now says her previous note was wrong to “elevate Riley’s post to the level of informed opinion,” the only thing that is clear from reading her obsequious apology is that in allowing Riley’s critics to dictate editorial policy, she has debased the Chronicle and herself to a point where neither can be taken seriously.

In examining this controversy, it must be asserted from the outset that nothing Riley wrote was offensive or lacking in civility, as McMillen charged. Riley’s offense was not one of tone or fact but rather in her willingness to say Black Studies is an academic discipline rooted in and consumed by the politics of victimization with little scholarly value.

Riley pointed out something that was obvious to any objective reader of the Chronicle’s paean to those coming in this field: their dissertation topics are trivial and motivated solely by what she aptly calls “left-wing victimization claptrap” in which racism is the answer to every conceivable question.

The dissertations she mentioned speak volumes about the low level of discourse that passes for academic achievement in this field. That topics such as black midwives being left out of natural birth literature, the notion that the promotion of single family homes is racist and the branding of black conservatives as opponents of civil rights are the work of the best and brightest in black studies tell us all we need to know about why Riley is right about the need to eliminate this form of academic fraud.

In saying this, Riley was blunt but transgressed no rules of journalism other than the need not to offend powerful constituencies. But for those devoted to the promotion of this sector of academia, for Riley to have pointed out that the emperor has no clothes is an unforgivable offense that must be punished by branding her as a racist who must be banished from the pages of the magazine. The only “standard” that Riley did not live up to in this post was the obligation to say what many on the left want to hear. Contrary to McMillen, the betrayal here was not on the part of the Chronicle for having published Riley, but in firing her in order to appease an unreasoning pack of academic jackals howling for the blood of anyone with the temerity to point out their shortcomings.

It is painful to watch a respected publication like the Chronicle descend to this level of groupthink. However, this episode does illustrate how out of touch with reality its editors and many of its readers are. The defenestration of Naomi Schaefer Riley only makes plain the depths to which those determined to silence dissent against academic orthodoxy will sink.

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Obama’s Boring Stories of Glory Days

“Toto, I have a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore,” Dorothy says in “The Wizard of Oz.” Barack Obama might have had the same sensation this weekend when, in his first official campaign event at the Schottenstein Center at Ohio State, Obama spoke to a crowd of 14,000 in a center that fits 20,000. “There were,” according to the Toledo Blade, “a lot of empty seats.” This happened despite the fact that Obama volunteers worked feverishly to gin up a crowd.

“Axelrod, I have a feeling we’re not in 2008 anymore,” Obama might have thought.

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“Toto, I have a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore,” Dorothy says in “The Wizard of Oz.” Barack Obama might have had the same sensation this weekend when, in his first official campaign event at the Schottenstein Center at Ohio State, Obama spoke to a crowd of 14,000 in a center that fits 20,000. “There were,” according to the Toledo Blade, “a lot of empty seats.” This happened despite the fact that Obama volunteers worked feverishly to gin up a crowd.

“Axelrod, I have a feeling we’re not in 2008 anymore,” Obama might have thought.

To add insult to injury, the New York Times (as Jonathan points out here) reported on the opening event for Obama this way: “At times, the rallies had the feeling of a concert by an aging rock star: a few supporters were wearing faded ‘Hope’ and Obama 2008 T-shirts, and cheers went up when the president told people to tell their friends that this campaign was ‘still about hope’ and ‘still about change.’”

For a president whose only selling point these days is “cool” — and who is used to campaigning surrounded by faux Greek columns and adoring fans and cult-like music videos– this must come as quite a shock to the system. Perhaps the president, desperate to recapture a moment that is forever gone, can relate to the lyrics of a genuine aging rock star, Bruce Springsteen:

Now I think I’m going down to the well tonight

and I’m going to drink till I get my fill

And I hope when I get old I don’t sit around thinking about it

but I probably will

Yeah, just sitting back trying to recapture

a little of the glory of, well time slips away

and leaves you with nothing mister but

boring stories of glory days.

Barack Obama — with no record he can defend and no governing vision he can describe — may soon be left with nothing but boring stories of glory days.

 

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A Case for Tactical Prisoner Releases

I sympathize with conservatives such as Bethany Mandel who are outraged by reports that the U.S. military in Afghanistan has been releasing some insurgent commanders from its detention facility–as revealed in a Washington Post article. I too am opposed to unnecessary and counterproductive releases of detainees–based on nothing more than wishful thinking–who could return to the battlefield to kill more Americans or Afghans. But that doesn’t mean all prisoner releases are ill-advised.

In Iraq, one of the key elements that made the “surge” so successful in 2007-2008 was both locking up and releasing lots of detainees: locking them up when they were seen as contributing to instability and releasing them when such releases were seen as furthering stability. Specifically, as Sunnis vowed to turn against al-Qaeda, the release of their kinsmen from American detention was a powerful “carrot” that, along with lucrative contracts for security and other services, could reward and encourage their change of thinking. By some lights this might be seen as negotiating with terrorists–and so it was. Or, more specifically, negotiating with former terrorists. Not all such deals panned out–in some cases dangerous men were released, and they did not live up to their word to stop fighting. But this was a risk that Gen. David Petraeus judged worth taking because he understood that U.S. forces did not have the will or ability to lock up all troublemakers indefinitely. Sooner or later the Americans would leave Iraq. Better to release some insurgent leaders on our terms when it could help to win the battle, rather than wait a few years and see them all released anyway.

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I sympathize with conservatives such as Bethany Mandel who are outraged by reports that the U.S. military in Afghanistan has been releasing some insurgent commanders from its detention facility–as revealed in a Washington Post article. I too am opposed to unnecessary and counterproductive releases of detainees–based on nothing more than wishful thinking–who could return to the battlefield to kill more Americans or Afghans. But that doesn’t mean all prisoner releases are ill-advised.

In Iraq, one of the key elements that made the “surge” so successful in 2007-2008 was both locking up and releasing lots of detainees: locking them up when they were seen as contributing to instability and releasing them when such releases were seen as furthering stability. Specifically, as Sunnis vowed to turn against al-Qaeda, the release of their kinsmen from American detention was a powerful “carrot” that, along with lucrative contracts for security and other services, could reward and encourage their change of thinking. By some lights this might be seen as negotiating with terrorists–and so it was. Or, more specifically, negotiating with former terrorists. Not all such deals panned out–in some cases dangerous men were released, and they did not live up to their word to stop fighting. But this was a risk that Gen. David Petraeus judged worth taking because he understood that U.S. forces did not have the will or ability to lock up all troublemakers indefinitely. Sooner or later the Americans would leave Iraq. Better to release some insurgent leaders on our terms when it could help to win the battle, rather than wait a few years and see them all released anyway.

We do not have the full story of prisoner releases in Afghanistan, but based on the evidence presented in the Post article, the program appears to be modeled on the one in Iraq–and to be based, as in Iraq, on a hard-headed calculation by local commanders of what incentives they need to offer to local tribes and factions to come over to the government’s side. The only release actually described in the Post article involved a local leader of Hezb-i-Islami Gulbuddin in Wardak province whose followers had agreed to start fighting against the Taliban–another insurgent faction. This was precisely the type of “split the insurgency” mentality that made possible the success of the surge in Iraq. Under those circumstances, it would seem reasonable to release a HiG leader as a reward for his cooperation against our mutual enemies.

This type of release, made in return for real cooperation on the ground, is very different from the deal being contemplated by the Obama administration for the release of senior Taliban commanders from Guantanamo in return, it would seem, for nothing more than a willingness of the Taliban to engage in peace talks. That would appear to be a one-sided exchange which would signal weakness to our enemies who are far from defeated–and very different from the type of tactical prisoner releases that make sense when erstwhile enemies are prepared to switch sides or stop fighting.

 

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New Unity Government Is Smart Politics

Though Benjamin Netanyahu’s opponents were quick to dub his latest political move a cynical ploy, the Israeli prime minister’s surprise formation of a unity government with Kadima, just days after announcing that early elections would be called in September, was neither cynical nor a ploy. Without Kadima, he truly had no choice but to call new elections. With Kadima, new elections are a costly waste of time.

Netanyahu faced two critical issues his government couldn’t resolve in its existing composition. One was the need to pass new legislation on drafting ultra-Orthodox yeshiva students by August 1, when the Supreme Court’s invalidation of a law exempting them from service takes effect. There is no solution to this problem that would be acceptable to both of Netanyahu’s main coalition partners: Yisrael Beiteinu wouldn’t accept anything that continues the exemptions, while the ultra-Orthodox Shas party wouldn’t accept anything that doesn’t. Yet if either of them quit, Netanyahu would lose his parliamentary majority.

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Though Benjamin Netanyahu’s opponents were quick to dub his latest political move a cynical ploy, the Israeli prime minister’s surprise formation of a unity government with Kadima, just days after announcing that early elections would be called in September, was neither cynical nor a ploy. Without Kadima, he truly had no choice but to call new elections. With Kadima, new elections are a costly waste of time.

Netanyahu faced two critical issues his government couldn’t resolve in its existing composition. One was the need to pass new legislation on drafting ultra-Orthodox yeshiva students by August 1, when the Supreme Court’s invalidation of a law exempting them from service takes effect. There is no solution to this problem that would be acceptable to both of Netanyahu’s main coalition partners: Yisrael Beiteinu wouldn’t accept anything that continues the exemptions, while the ultra-Orthodox Shas party wouldn’t accept anything that doesn’t. Yet if either of them quit, Netanyahu would lose his parliamentary majority.

The other issue, as economic analyst Nehemia Shtrasler noted, is the 2013 budget, which must be passed by December 31. Though Israel is still doing well by Western standards, its export-driven economy has inevitably been hurt by the global crisis, and particularly the downturn in Europe, its largest export market. It therefore faces a larger-than-expected deficit that necessitates budget cuts.

But when elections seem imminent – as they did, due to the crisis over the draft issue – it’s impossible to get Knesset members to agree to cuts; in fact, it’s usually impossible even to keep them from legislating hefty new expenditures. Hence, the only solution was new elections: A new government, with years yet to serve, could afford to make the necessary cuts.

With Kadima on board, however, both these issues become solvable. Netanyahu now has a solid majority even without Shas, enabling him to tackle the draft exemptions issue. And the government is now stable enough to survive the remaining 18 months of its term, so passing a responsible budget becomes feasible.

The unity government is clearly a better option than new elections, which not only cost a lot of money, but would largely put the government on hold during a potentially critical period: The Knesset would be dissolved, and MKs and ministers would be devoting most of their time and energy to campaigning. It’s possible that Netanyahu was hoping for this outcome all along.

Yet it was only the credible threat of new elections that persuaded Kadima to join him: With polls showing it would lose almost two-thirds of its Knesset seats if elections were held today, the party desperately needed more time to rehabilitate itself. New party chairman Shaul Mofaz had hoped to do so as leader of the opposition. But by announcing new elections, Netanyahu essentially gave him an ultimatum: If you want more time, you’ll have to join my government.

That may have been smart politics, but it was no cynical ploy: Had Mofaz not blinked, new elections would indeed have been held in September. And they would have been necessary.

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With Romney Endorsement, Is Santorum Thinking About 2016?

You might have thought that a decision of this magnitude would have rated a press conference rather than an e-mail message, but Mitt Romney isn’t likely to be asking any questions about Rick Santorum’s endorsement of his candidacy. Santorum obviously needed a cooling off period following his withdrawal from the race last month as well as a lengthy meeting with Romney last weekend before finally breaking down and endorsing the man who will be the Republican presidential nominee.

The e-mail message to his supporters signaling his backing for the winner of the GOP presidential marathon doesn’t change anything now, but it is important for Romney as he works to unite his party. Santorum won the affection of evangelicals and other social conservatives during his surprisingly successful run and could, if he decides to spend the next six months working hard to beat President Obama, help generate some enthusiasm among the party’s grass roots activists who have been somewhat cool to the nominee.

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You might have thought that a decision of this magnitude would have rated a press conference rather than an e-mail message, but Mitt Romney isn’t likely to be asking any questions about Rick Santorum’s endorsement of his candidacy. Santorum obviously needed a cooling off period following his withdrawal from the race last month as well as a lengthy meeting with Romney last weekend before finally breaking down and endorsing the man who will be the Republican presidential nominee.

The e-mail message to his supporters signaling his backing for the winner of the GOP presidential marathon doesn’t change anything now, but it is important for Romney as he works to unite his party. Santorum won the affection of evangelicals and other social conservatives during his surprisingly successful run and could, if he decides to spend the next six months working hard to beat President Obama, help generate some enthusiasm among the party’s grass roots activists who have been somewhat cool to the nominee.

Santorum’s level of interest in the fall election could tell us a lot about his intentions for 2016. The long wait for a Santorum endorsement seems to indicate that the former Pennsylvania senator took the rough and tumble of the primary campaign a bit more personally than some of the other candidates. He emerged from the bruising and often personal battle with some hard feelings about being outspent and deluged with negative ads paid for by the Romney juggernaut. But while he may not have completely gotten over that experience, Santorum knows that he has no alternative but to endorse Romney and provide any assistance he can offer.

More to the point, unlike virtually all of the rest of the once large Republican field, Santorum is the only one of whom it can be said the race enhanced rather than diminished his standing in his party. That means if Romney loses in November, Santorum will probably be thinking of himself as a leading contender for the 2016 presidential run. Many in his party may think Santorum is crazy to assume that he can clean up the mess after another moderate defeat in 2012 or to believe he can sweep to the nomination four years from now the way Ronald Reagan did in 1980 after his close 1976 loss. But there’s no denying he will be a major player in GOP politics if President Obama is re-elected. And it won’t do him any harm among the Republican faithful if he is seen as materially aiding Romney’s cause.

Of course, Romney isn’t planning on losing the election, and it’s not clear what, if any possible role Santorum could play in a new Republican administration. Romney will gladly stomach Santorum’s delays and low-key endorsement so long as it means that he can count on his former rival’s help in energizing the party base.

Reading the text of Santorum’s endorsement, there’s little doubt that while he is being candid about his desire to defeat President Obama, this is a man who is thinking as much about his own future as the standard bearer for conservatives as he is about November 2012. Time will tell just how unrealistic those dreams may be, but for the moment he is safely in Romney’s camp, and that is something the Republicans badly needed to happen.

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Heads: Bibi Wins; Tails: His Rivals Lose

For Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the last-minute deal concluded yesterday to put off elections and bring the Kadima Party into his coalition is another instance of his crafty strategy producing a heads, I win, tails, you lose moment in Israeli politics. Though the scenario in which he went to the polls in September to get a new and larger mandate from the people would have put him in a very strong position, adding Kadima and its new leader Shaul Mofaz to the Cabinet serves him just as well. The 94-seat majority (out of 120 seats in the Knesset) that he will now have for the next year and a half with elections postponed until the originally scheduled date in October 2013 will be strong enough to withstand any possible challenge from both allies like Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and his Yisrael Beitenu Party and foes on the left.

Though most foreign observers will jump to the conclusion that the Tehran-born Mofaz will provide Netanyahu with the internal backing needed to attack Iranian nuclear targets sometime in the next year, most Israelis are thinking more about the possibility of the largest secular parties now being able to unite to deal with question of military service for the ultra-Orthodox. This ought to make clear to even the dimmest of American observers of the Middle East — especially those so-called “liberal Zionists” who harbor unrealistic ambitions to remake the Jewish state in the image of American Jewry —not only the strength of Netanyahu’s ascendancy but how little the left counts in Israeli politics anymore.

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For Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the last-minute deal concluded yesterday to put off elections and bring the Kadima Party into his coalition is another instance of his crafty strategy producing a heads, I win, tails, you lose moment in Israeli politics. Though the scenario in which he went to the polls in September to get a new and larger mandate from the people would have put him in a very strong position, adding Kadima and its new leader Shaul Mofaz to the Cabinet serves him just as well. The 94-seat majority (out of 120 seats in the Knesset) that he will now have for the next year and a half with elections postponed until the originally scheduled date in October 2013 will be strong enough to withstand any possible challenge from both allies like Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and his Yisrael Beitenu Party and foes on the left.

Though most foreign observers will jump to the conclusion that the Tehran-born Mofaz will provide Netanyahu with the internal backing needed to attack Iranian nuclear targets sometime in the next year, most Israelis are thinking more about the possibility of the largest secular parties now being able to unite to deal with question of military service for the ultra-Orthodox. This ought to make clear to even the dimmest of American observers of the Middle East — especially those so-called “liberal Zionists” who harbor unrealistic ambitions to remake the Jewish state in the image of American Jewry —not only the strength of Netanyahu’s ascendancy but how little the left counts in Israeli politics anymore.

This will make Labor the main opposition party, a position it would likely have assumed after September elections anyway. But it does so in a position of tremendous weakness in which its voice will count for next to nothing. The new Yesh Atid Party led by former TV journalist Yair Lapid that would probably have stolen many of Kadima’s centrist voters will similarly have to wait to get its moment in the sun.

As for Mofaz, the move will set off speculation that his ultimate goal is to integrate what’s left of the party Ariel Sharon founded back into the Likud. Whether that happens or not, the new coalition reflects the basic consensus that has emerged in Israeli politics over the peace process. While there are some differences between Netanyahu, Mofaz and Lieberman and Defense Minister Ehud Barak, the four have much more in common on the question of dealing with the Palestinians than they differ. All support in principle a two-state solution and all understand that the only real obstacle to such a deal is the Palestinian refusal to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn. The creation of the unity government in which the supposedly pro-peace Kadima (at least that’s what some Americans though while it was led by Tzipi Livni before Mofaz defeated her in a primary) joins the government should remind liberal American critics of Netanyahu just how far out of step they are with political reality in Israel.

Similarly, the current government is generally on the same page on the need to head off a nuclear Iran, giving Netanyahu the domestic backing he will need no matter what decision he ultimately makes on whether the country should strike on its own.

As for relations with the United States, while this development puts an end to the October surprise scenario in which a re-elected Netanyahu would have had two months to hit Iran while President Obama was still running for re-election, as I had already written, there wasn’t much chance that would happen. But with a unity government and the polls giving him overwhelming approval, Netanyahu has all the backing he needs to fend off any pressure from Washington in the next year and a half on either the Palestinian or the Iranian front. Liberal Zionists and Obama administration officials who have dreamed of Netanyahu’s defeat are just going to need to learn to live with him.

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