Commentary Magazine


Posts For: May 10, 2012

Taliban Exploits Grief of U.S. POW Family

The hearts of all Americans go out to the family of Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, the only known U.S. soldier being held captive by the Taliban. Bergdahl was captured by the enemy in June 2009 and is thought to be in the control of the Haqqani network in the tribal areas of northwestern Pakistan. He has never been allowed to send his parents any word nor has he been visited by the Red Cross. He was last seen in a Taliban video, but U.S. officials believe he is still alive. But after years of keeping silent about the ongoing negotiations that the government has attempted to free him, the Bergdahl family went public today and discussed their son’s plight with the New York Times. Their goal is to heighten the pressure on President Obama and his foreign policy team to give in to the demands of the Taliban on the release of prisoners held by the United States and our Afghan allies.

While their frustration with the slow pace of the negotiations is understandable, we can only hope the president will resist the pressure to give in to unreasonable demands not only on the prisoner exchange but concessions that would affect the future of Afghanistan. Though the United States should make every effort to secure Sergeant Bergdahl’s safe return, his situation should not be used as a pretext for handing Afghanistan back to the Taliban and their terrorist allies.

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The hearts of all Americans go out to the family of Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, the only known U.S. soldier being held captive by the Taliban. Bergdahl was captured by the enemy in June 2009 and is thought to be in the control of the Haqqani network in the tribal areas of northwestern Pakistan. He has never been allowed to send his parents any word nor has he been visited by the Red Cross. He was last seen in a Taliban video, but U.S. officials believe he is still alive. But after years of keeping silent about the ongoing negotiations that the government has attempted to free him, the Bergdahl family went public today and discussed their son’s plight with the New York Times. Their goal is to heighten the pressure on President Obama and his foreign policy team to give in to the demands of the Taliban on the release of prisoners held by the United States and our Afghan allies.

While their frustration with the slow pace of the negotiations is understandable, we can only hope the president will resist the pressure to give in to unreasonable demands not only on the prisoner exchange but concessions that would affect the future of Afghanistan. Though the United States should make every effort to secure Sergeant Bergdahl’s safe return, his situation should not be used as a pretext for handing Afghanistan back to the Taliban and their terrorist allies.

To its credit, the Times had not previously run a story on the effort to free Bergdahl because it was understood that publicity did not enhance his safety and merely aided the Taliban’s negotiating position. But the recent decision of the Taliban to break off the talks about Bergdahl prompted his family to go to the Times with their complaint that the administration isn’t being sufficiently accommodating to their son’s captors. The Bergdahls are worried that pressure from Congress not to negotiate with terrorists is influencing the president to be too tough. They hope by going public with their son’s story, they can generate pressure on the administration to give in. Moreover, the Times seems to think there are some in the government who welcome this pressure as they, too, would like to craft a deal with the Taliban that would effectively sell Afghanistan out.

I don’t fault the Bergdahls. The fact that, as the Times reports, they are Ron Paul supporters who oppose the war in Afghanistan is irrelevant to their mission to push for any deal to get their son back. Their only interest is in getting him home in one piece. The future of Afghanistan, the Taliban and the security interests of the region or the United States isn’t their concern–but it is the responsibility of the administration. As Bethany noted earlier this week, the administration has considered releasing Taliban prisoners without seeking the release of Sergeant Bergdahl in return.

If the Bergdahl case was like the lopsided prisoner exchanges conducted by Israel in order to obtain the release of prisoners like Gilad Shalit, drastic concessions would be understandable if regrettable, as it could be defended as part of the commander-in-chief’s duty not to leave any soldier behind. But as the Times makes clear, the Taliban’s goal is not so much to extract the highest possible price in prisoners for Bergdahl as it is to enhance its diplomatic efforts to force a peace deal that would bring them back to power. That is not something the administration should countenance. Nor should ordinary Americans who sympathize with the Bergdahls allow their emotions to cloud their reason.

Far from helping to free their son, the Bergdahls’ publicity offensive and any pressure they can help generate on the administration will only strengthen the bargaining position of Islamist terrorists. Much as Hamas and Hezbollah used Israeli prisoner families to make it harder for Jerusalem to negotiate, the Taliban will ruthlessly use the Bergdahls as long as it suits them.

The president should do everything in his power to bring Sergeant Bergdahl home including the paying of a ransom of some sort. But he cannot allow the family’s publicity efforts to influence him to sacrifice everything Americans have fought for in Afghanistan in the last decade.

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Civil War in Syria Drawing in Neighbors

While the Obama administration continues its shameful dithering on Syria, the violence, which has been going on for more than a year, is accelerating. The latest news is that two car bombs have exploded in the center of Damascus, near an intelligence headquarters, killing at least 55 people and injuring more than 350 others.

These types of attacks are a hallmark of al-Qaeda in Iraq. All indications are that this terrorist organization has now migrated from western Iraq into neighboring Syria where it is, in effect, stoking another sectarian war pitting majority Sunnis against the ruling Alawite minority (a Shi’ite offshoot sect). Meanwhile, there are credible reports of Prime Minister Nour al-Maliki’s Shi’ite-dominated government apparently helping Bashar al-Assad’s regime, especially by serving as a conduit for Iranian assistance. In other words, a deadly sectarian civil war is under way in Syria, and one that, like previous civil wars in Lebanon and Iraq, is drawing in its neighbors. We could be in for years of hellish, destabilizing violence.

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While the Obama administration continues its shameful dithering on Syria, the violence, which has been going on for more than a year, is accelerating. The latest news is that two car bombs have exploded in the center of Damascus, near an intelligence headquarters, killing at least 55 people and injuring more than 350 others.

These types of attacks are a hallmark of al-Qaeda in Iraq. All indications are that this terrorist organization has now migrated from western Iraq into neighboring Syria where it is, in effect, stoking another sectarian war pitting majority Sunnis against the ruling Alawite minority (a Shi’ite offshoot sect). Meanwhile, there are credible reports of Prime Minister Nour al-Maliki’s Shi’ite-dominated government apparently helping Bashar al-Assad’s regime, especially by serving as a conduit for Iranian assistance. In other words, a deadly sectarian civil war is under way in Syria, and one that, like previous civil wars in Lebanon and Iraq, is drawing in its neighbors. We could be in for years of hellish, destabilizing violence.

There is only way to restore some semblance of peace, and that is to topple the Assad regime as expeditiously as possible. But that won’t happen until the U.S. gets off the sidelines and, in cooperation with our allies, extends more aid to the badly outgunned rebels. This New York Times article makes clear the rebels are a mixed bag: some are sectarian, others Islamist, still others more liberal in their orientation. Obviously, al-Qaeda and its ilk are part of the mix. But far from that being a reason not to help the rebels, it is all the more reason why we must step forward so as to empower more moderate rebel groups. Otherwise, we will leave an opening for the most extreme jihadists to come to the fore.

 

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Will Gay Marriage Endorsement Help Obama in Hollywood?

Michael Hastings reports on President Obama’s waning support in Tinseltown:

Over the past week, I’d spoken to more than a dozen Hollywood players, and all had a litany of criticisms. “I’ll write the check,” one top producer, whose films have made over a billion at the box office, told me. “But I’m not going to bother voting for him.” Another studio exec—in a land where the hard driven deal is cultural requirement —wondered if the president’s penchant for compromise meant he had, in the parlance of our times, “no balls.”

A number of other actors and producers lamented how they’d gone so far as to donate and volunteer for Obama in 2008—and now, disgusted, they were planning on doing neither this time around. They had bought what Obama was selling for four years—about the wars, about Gitmo, about changing things in Washington, about the hope and the change—and Obama had let them down. Even Matt Damon—one of the president’s most stalwart celebrity supporters—famously said last year he was disappointed.

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Michael Hastings reports on President Obama’s waning support in Tinseltown:

Over the past week, I’d spoken to more than a dozen Hollywood players, and all had a litany of criticisms. “I’ll write the check,” one top producer, whose films have made over a billion at the box office, told me. “But I’m not going to bother voting for him.” Another studio exec—in a land where the hard driven deal is cultural requirement —wondered if the president’s penchant for compromise meant he had, in the parlance of our times, “no balls.”

A number of other actors and producers lamented how they’d gone so far as to donate and volunteer for Obama in 2008—and now, disgusted, they were planning on doing neither this time around. They had bought what Obama was selling for four years—about the wars, about Gitmo, about changing things in Washington, about the hope and the change—and Obama had let them down. Even Matt Damon—one of the president’s most stalwart celebrity supporters—famously said last year he was disappointed.

Obviously, the Obama campaign is hoping the early gay marriage endorsement will help energize big Democratic donors who were still sitting on the sidelines, particularly Hollywood liberals. And the timing couldn’t be better. Obama has a much-publicized fundraiser tonight at George Clooney’s house, and early next week he attends a fundraiser with Ricky Martin that’s reportedly aimed at donors in the gay community.

The question is, will his announcement be enough to coax out the checkbooks? Obama’s gay marriage endorsement has no real practical effect, and his policies haven’t changed. He still maintains it’s a state-by-state issue. And as others have noted, he only announced his position publicly after days of political pressure. Fortunately for Obama, Hollywood doesn’t tend to be well-informed on these issues. And that will definitely work to his advantage as he tries to woo back these donors.

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Who’s Advising Obama on Israel?

We’ve been hearing a lot from Jewish Democrats and the administration itself that Barack Obama is the best friend Israel has ever had or as in Joe Biden’s fractured fairy tale version of history, “has done more for Israel’s security than any president since Harry Truman” — a president who actually did nothing for Israel’s security. The incessant sniping and attempts to pressure Israel during the first three years of the Obama administration makes this hyperbole the height of absurdity. But, as I have written before, it is possible to overstate Obama’s hostility to Israel and its government.

The issue now is not so much what the president has done with regard to Israel. After three years of hostility, his re-election effort has given birth to a full-blown Jewish charm offensive that, if it were to continue into a second term, would do much to allay the concerns of even his most fervent critics. The question in the minds of most friends of Israel is what will happen when a re-elected Obama has the “flexibility” to do as he likes with regard to the Jewish state and the Middle East. In that regard, the report in Politico about Obama sitting down with a group of left-wing pundits, many of whom have views wildly out of touch with the reality of the Middle East, to brainstorm about how to deal with the region and, in particular Israel, has to scare mainstream pro-Israel Democrats. That the president is listening to people like Peter Beinart, David Remnick and Joe Klein tells us all we need to know about how long the Jewish charm offensive will last after a November victory for the Democrats.

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We’ve been hearing a lot from Jewish Democrats and the administration itself that Barack Obama is the best friend Israel has ever had or as in Joe Biden’s fractured fairy tale version of history, “has done more for Israel’s security than any president since Harry Truman” — a president who actually did nothing for Israel’s security. The incessant sniping and attempts to pressure Israel during the first three years of the Obama administration makes this hyperbole the height of absurdity. But, as I have written before, it is possible to overstate Obama’s hostility to Israel and its government.

The issue now is not so much what the president has done with regard to Israel. After three years of hostility, his re-election effort has given birth to a full-blown Jewish charm offensive that, if it were to continue into a second term, would do much to allay the concerns of even his most fervent critics. The question in the minds of most friends of Israel is what will happen when a re-elected Obama has the “flexibility” to do as he likes with regard to the Jewish state and the Middle East. In that regard, the report in Politico about Obama sitting down with a group of left-wing pundits, many of whom have views wildly out of touch with the reality of the Middle East, to brainstorm about how to deal with the region and, in particular Israel, has to scare mainstream pro-Israel Democrats. That the president is listening to people like Peter Beinart, David Remnick and Joe Klein tells us all we need to know about how long the Jewish charm offensive will last after a November victory for the Democrats.

In Obama’s defense, it must be admitted that he has done nothing to sabotage the alliance. He has, in fact, done the right thing in continuing existing funding lines such as the Iron Dome missile defense system, though his attempt to claim credit for a project that was initiated under George W. Bush is insufferable. While he has undermined that alliance by doing more to undermine Israel’s hold on Jerusalem than any predecessor and broken new ground with his attempt to make the 1967 lines the basis for negotiations, he has also done the right thing at the UN and said the right things about the Iranian nuclear threat–even if he hasn’t done anything about it yet.

It should also be stated that some of those in the meeting are respected voices on the Middle East. Jeffrey Goldberg is a die-hared Obama cheerleader, but he is also an intelligent and informed reporter on the Middle East. The Washington Post’s David Ignatius is also a serious writer on the subject, even if he is wrong much of the time. But Beinart, Klein and Remnick are obsessive critics of Israel’s government who have conclusively demonstrated during the years that they don’t have the faintest idea of what makes Israelis tick or what the problems on the ground there really are. And though Klein and Remnick are virulent and foolish in their anger at the refusal of Israel’s prime minister to do what they tell him to do, they are, at least, knowledgeable about the country, something no one who has read Beinart’s book could credibly accuse him of being.

The point here is that the president of the United States needs advice from people who understand the reality of Israel’s peace process dilemma in which the Palestinians refuse to make peace under any circumstances. He also needs to hear from people who can help him deal with the Israel that actually exists, not the American Jewish liberal version of the Jewish state that exists in the imaginations of the likes of Beinart, who is currently touring the country advocating boycotts of some Israelis.

Contrary to Beinart, Klein and Remnick, Israel doesn’t need to be saved from itself via American pressure. To the extent their views reinforce Obama’s existing hostility, the meeting is a harbinger of a second term that might make the first three years of Obama’s presidency look like a golden age for the U.S.-Israel alliance.

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Loose Lips Sink Ships

Remember the World War II slogan, “Loose lips sink ships”? Perhaps those posters should be reprinted and spread around the most classified departments of the U.S. government because our soldiers and spooks just can’t seem to keep their lips sealed–at least not when they have a triumph to brag about.

The first case in point was of course Operation Neptune Spear, which killed Osama bin Laden. Details of how it was done, and of the resulting intelligence cache, were soon spread all over the news, notwithstanding an agreement among senior administration officials to keep the operation secret. More details have been gushing out in recent days–with still more to come–as President Obama uses this Special Operations Command triumph to bolster his reelection chances, never mind the palpable unease in Special Operations circles about the damage being done from the revelation of their “TTPs” (tactics, techniques, and procedures).

Now something similar is occurring with all the publicity resulting from an Associated Press leak about the double-agent who blew up the al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula plot to blow up a U.S. airliner with a more sophisticated form of “underwear bomb.” No doubt Saudi intelligence officials who ran the double agent and provided information to the CIA are aghast to see the details splashed across front pages.

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Remember the World War II slogan, “Loose lips sink ships”? Perhaps those posters should be reprinted and spread around the most classified departments of the U.S. government because our soldiers and spooks just can’t seem to keep their lips sealed–at least not when they have a triumph to brag about.

The first case in point was of course Operation Neptune Spear, which killed Osama bin Laden. Details of how it was done, and of the resulting intelligence cache, were soon spread all over the news, notwithstanding an agreement among senior administration officials to keep the operation secret. More details have been gushing out in recent days–with still more to come–as President Obama uses this Special Operations Command triumph to bolster his reelection chances, never mind the palpable unease in Special Operations circles about the damage being done from the revelation of their “TTPs” (tactics, techniques, and procedures).

Now something similar is occurring with all the publicity resulting from an Associated Press leak about the double-agent who blew up the al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula plot to blow up a U.S. airliner with a more sophisticated form of “underwear bomb.” No doubt Saudi intelligence officials who ran the double agent and provided information to the CIA are aghast to see the details splashed across front pages.

In fairness, there is a case to be made that having al-Qaeda fear penetration by double agents could actually be beneficial. It could lead to terrorist paranoia and fratricide that could prove harmful to its ability to carry out operations. But in general, secrecy is always to be preferred in the covert world of counter-terrorism. Without it, covert techniques are blown and foreign intelligence agencies, whose cooperation is vital to the U.S., become more reluctant to extend cooperation. Yet for some reason, those with top-level TS/SCI security clearances (top secret/sensitive compartmented information) can’t resist bragging about their exploits to the news media.

One hopes the administration will make every attempt to uncover and prosecute the leakers rather than looking the other way because these leaks are so politically convenient for the president.

 

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There Is No “Kinder, Gentler” Taliban

Are the Taliban the sort of people we can successfully negotiate with to guarantee the future of Afghanistan? You would think so based on the number of voices in Washington claiming the Taliban have learned lessons from the past decade and they will not be as dedicated to their hateful agenda in the future. We hear they supposedly are willing to give up their alliance with al-Qaeda, their insistence on enslaving the Afghan people to their fundamentalist philosophy, and so on. If only it were so. Alas, this is all wishful thinking from those who want to pull out of the war but avert their eyes from the consequences of an American pullout.

In reality, there is not a shred of evidence the Taliban have moderated in any way. Witness recent Taliban attacks on those trying to educate Afghan boys and girls. In Ghazni Province, Taliban threats recently forced the closure of a school teaching boys and girls together. Indeed, the Taliban have forced the closing of all schools (about 50 in all) in 14 of 17 districts in that province, where Polish troops have had not had much success in pacification efforts. (A brigade from the 82nd Airborne Division is now coming into Ghazni to increase security.) In Paktika Province, meanwhile, Taliban goons ambushed with bombs and guns a convoy of education officials, killing five and wounding three. Paktika is a province in eastern Afghanistan where there have not been nearly enough American and Afghan troops and where plans for “clear and hold” operations are on hold because of the overly hasty troop drawdown ordered by President Obama.

So much for the “kinder, gentler” Taliban. These latest atrocities expose this conceit for the wishful thinking that it is. The Taliban must be defeated, not accommodated.

 

Are the Taliban the sort of people we can successfully negotiate with to guarantee the future of Afghanistan? You would think so based on the number of voices in Washington claiming the Taliban have learned lessons from the past decade and they will not be as dedicated to their hateful agenda in the future. We hear they supposedly are willing to give up their alliance with al-Qaeda, their insistence on enslaving the Afghan people to their fundamentalist philosophy, and so on. If only it were so. Alas, this is all wishful thinking from those who want to pull out of the war but avert their eyes from the consequences of an American pullout.

In reality, there is not a shred of evidence the Taliban have moderated in any way. Witness recent Taliban attacks on those trying to educate Afghan boys and girls. In Ghazni Province, Taliban threats recently forced the closure of a school teaching boys and girls together. Indeed, the Taliban have forced the closing of all schools (about 50 in all) in 14 of 17 districts in that province, where Polish troops have had not had much success in pacification efforts. (A brigade from the 82nd Airborne Division is now coming into Ghazni to increase security.) In Paktika Province, meanwhile, Taliban goons ambushed with bombs and guns a convoy of education officials, killing five and wounding three. Paktika is a province in eastern Afghanistan where there have not been nearly enough American and Afghan troops and where plans for “clear and hold” operations are on hold because of the overly hasty troop drawdown ordered by President Obama.

So much for the “kinder, gentler” Taliban. These latest atrocities expose this conceit for the wishful thinking that it is. The Taliban must be defeated, not accommodated.

 

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Media Bias on Politicians’ Younger Years?

Jonathan wrote about this weak WaPo hit on Mitt Romney earlier today. In some ways, this story actually highlights the difficulty the Obama campaign has had in finding anything scandalous in his past. Biden was a plagiarist. Obama has spoken openly about his drug use. Meanwhile, Romney…cut some kid’s hair as a prank in high school? It’s not very nice, but wasn’t that sort of stunt par for the course in 1960s prep schools?

Anyway, now that Romney has apologized for a practical joke from 48 years ago, the difficult path to healing and redemption can finally begin:

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Jonathan wrote about this weak WaPo hit on Mitt Romney earlier today. In some ways, this story actually highlights the difficulty the Obama campaign has had in finding anything scandalous in his past. Biden was a plagiarist. Obama has spoken openly about his drug use. Meanwhile, Romney…cut some kid’s hair as a prank in high school? It’s not very nice, but wasn’t that sort of stunt par for the course in 1960s prep schools?

Anyway, now that Romney has apologized for a practical joke from 48 years ago, the difficult path to healing and redemption can finally begin:

But probably not. As much as Romney wants to move on, it doesn’t look like the story’s going away yet. Conservatives are calling out WaPo for media bias, a charge that Dave Weigel says has no merit:

Okay, before anyone sputters about media bias, remember that the Post assigned David Maraniss to write probing stories about Barack Obama’s pre-teen and teen days. And he wrote them, starting off on the journey that would conclude with his Obama bio, out next month. There’s just no story of the young Obama hassling a swishy kid.

But the point is that all the (vaguely) worthwhile dirt Maraniss has on Obama is coming out this year, after Obama has had close to a full term to define himself and the stories have less of an impact. Where was the trenchant reporting on him in ’08? Compare today’s Romney story to how Maraniss buried Obama’s drug use (which was already old news anyway) on the last page of his big five-page story on Obama’s younger years in 2008. Not that it mattered, as he broke no new ground on the issue, other than getting some reassuring quotes from Obama’s friends:

Some have suggested that [Obama] exaggerated his drug use in the book to hype the idea that he was on the brink of becoming a junkie; dysfunction and dissolution always sell in memoirs.

But his friends quickly dismissed that notion. “I wouldn’t call it an exaggeration,” Greg Ramos said. Keith Peterson said: “Did I ever party with Barack? Yes, I did. Do I remember specifically? If I did, then I didn’t party with him. Part of the nature of getting high is you don’t remember it 30 minutes later. Punahou was a wealthy school with a lot of kids with disposable income. The drinking age in Hawaii then was 18, so a lot of seniors could buy it legally, which means the parent dynamic was not big. And the other partying materials were prevalent, being in Hawaii. There was a lot of partying that went on. And Barack has been very open about that. Coming from Hawaii, that would have been so easy to expose. If he hadn’t written about it, it would have been a disaster.”

In the scheme of things, Obama’s teenage drug use matters about as much as Romney’s high school pranks – which is to say very little. But the stories were emphasized differently, and that’s the problem.

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Will Maliki Push Iraq Back into Civil War?

I commend Michael Rubin for challenging conventional wisdom about Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s power grab in Iraq. He argues that what we are seeing is a commendable consolidation of power rather than the alarming sings of incipient authoritarianism. While I am intrigued by his argument, I am not convinced.

It is hard to see anything but sectarian motives in the criminal charges filed against Vice President Tariq al Hashemi, a Sunni, and Maliki’s attempt to remove from office Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al Mutlaq, another Sunni, for, ironically, criticizing Maliki for his dictatorial tendencies. There are widespread reports that Hashemi’s bodyguards implicated him after having been subjected to torture by security forces.  Read More

I commend Michael Rubin for challenging conventional wisdom about Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s power grab in Iraq. He argues that what we are seeing is a commendable consolidation of power rather than the alarming sings of incipient authoritarianism. While I am intrigued by his argument, I am not convinced.

It is hard to see anything but sectarian motives in the criminal charges filed against Vice President Tariq al Hashemi, a Sunni, and Maliki’s attempt to remove from office Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al Mutlaq, another Sunni, for, ironically, criticizing Maliki for his dictatorial tendencies. There are widespread reports that Hashemi’s bodyguards implicated him after having been subjected to torture by security forces. 

Michael suggests that Hashemi may well be guilty of the charges against him which involve various abuses committed by his bodyguards. But such charges could be filed against the bodyguards of any prominent political figure in Iraq; almost all of them were guilty of excesses of one sort or another during Iraq’s dark years (2003-2008). It is hardly credible to prosecute Hashemi now while not filing any charges against, say, Moqtada al Sadr, a Shi’ite firebrand whose followers were responsible for mass atrocities. Or to file charges against Hashemi while releasing from prison Ali Mussa Daqduq, a Lebanese Hezbollah commander (and hence a Shi’ite) who was responsible for the murder of five U.S. soldiers in 2007.

All of this looks like Maliki is carrying out a personal and sectarian agenda, backed by Iranian agents, to consolidate power through his Shi’ite cronies while freezing out opposing Shi’ite factions, Sunnis, and Kurds. Michael may disagree, but it ultimately doesn’t matter how things look to outsiders like us. What counts far more is that Sunnis in Iraq–and outside of it see this, with considerable evidence, as an affront to their dignity and freedom and possibly a threat to their lives. Sunnis will not allow themselves to be pushed around indefinitely; Maliki has gotten away with his moves so far, in part because of the disunity of the opposition, but sooner or later he may go too far and push Iraq back into a civil war.

That is precisely why some of us wanted to keep U.S. troops in Iraq past 2011–to act as a check on the tendencies of all factions in Iraq to go too far and trigger a devastating backlash. With our troops now gone we have far less leverage to affect the situation, but we must still use what influence we have to convince Maliki to pursue a more moderate course and not run roughshod over Iraq’s fragile democratic institutions.

 

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The Media’s Apocalyptic Vision of Richard Mourdock

Conservatives often complain that when the mainstream media is forced by events to pay attention to conservative views they have long ignored, the tone of the reporting often is that of an anthropological grant application. The reporters brave the native habitat of conservatives and find that they’re practically human. But that’s actually better than what we witnessed after Richard Mourdock defeated Richard Lugar in the Indiana GOP Senate primary this week.

Lugar, you may have heard, has been in the Senate a very long time, and he is a statesman and throwback to the gilded era of Republican acquiescence–sorry, bipartisanship, and statesmanship. A true mensch, a centrist Republican, Dick Lugar was, above all, a statesman, we are now told. But what about Mourdock, the man vying to replace Lugar in the Senate? Is he a statesman? Let’s find out, by reading some of the liberal write-ups of the election. The results may surprise you.

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Conservatives often complain that when the mainstream media is forced by events to pay attention to conservative views they have long ignored, the tone of the reporting often is that of an anthropological grant application. The reporters brave the native habitat of conservatives and find that they’re practically human. But that’s actually better than what we witnessed after Richard Mourdock defeated Richard Lugar in the Indiana GOP Senate primary this week.

Lugar, you may have heard, has been in the Senate a very long time, and he is a statesman and throwback to the gilded era of Republican acquiescence–sorry, bipartisanship, and statesmanship. A true mensch, a centrist Republican, Dick Lugar was, above all, a statesman, we are now told. But what about Mourdock, the man vying to replace Lugar in the Senate? Is he a statesman? Let’s find out, by reading some of the liberal write-ups of the election. The results may surprise you.

Salon, for example, carries a story titled “Republican Party: Hawks-only club.” The article details how Mourdock’s victory makes the GOP uniformly hawkish on foreign policy. Most of the article is an explanation of why liberals liked Lugar so much, but finally the author gives us the damage: “In practical terms, Lugar’s loss means that U.S. foreign policy will be less civilized, less responsible and less effective.”

I noticed something was missing from this article, however: it omits any mention whatsoever of Richard Mourdock’s views on foreign policy. This is a rather glaring omission, but maybe the reporter’s instincts are right.

To find out, let’s head on over to an expert on foreign policy, Tom Ricks. Ricks maintains a blog on Foreign Policy’s website, and sure enough he weighed in on Mourdock’s victory. He, too, was horrified by the erosion of the foreign policy center. But he has a somewhat different take on what it means. Mourdock’s victory, Ricks admits, “makes me wonder if the great Midwest is turning away from internationalism and back to its pre-World War II isolationism.”

So Salon was wrong? Mourdock is the opposite of a hawkish hawk? He’s actually an isolationist? I wondered what led Ricks to this conclusion, but his post didn’t help me answer that question, because Ricks doesn’t even mention Mourdock’s name, let alone Mourdock’s views on foreign policy.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. Reporters sometimes trick politicians into revealing what they think by employing an age-old tactic commonly referred to as “asking them questions.” It turns out that some reporters did. Richard Mourdock, as a supporter of cutting the Pentagon’s budget and skeptical of the mission in Afghanistan, is not a superhawk, as Salon would have it. But he also believes America plays an important role in the world, and that it must not retreat from its responsibilities around the globe. So he isn’t an isolationist either.

But if he’s starting to sound like a mainstream candidate, he’s got you fooled. Richard Mourdock is, according to the sandwich board Jonathan Chait has been wearing around town, the harbinger of doom. This is an interesting point of view coming from Chait, who is the author of the magnum opus of leftist anti-intellectualism and anthem of paranoid incivility, “Mad About You: The Case for Bush Hatred.” Some things have changed since Chait published his plea for incivility–namely, we have a Democratic president. So now it’s time to protect “social norms”–specifically, he says, court-related social norms permitting the confirmation of a president’s court picks. Mourdock cited Lugar’s support for President Obama’s Supreme Court picks in his case against the incumbent senator, mirroring a Republican approach to politics that is, in Chait’s view, bringing upon us a “crisis of American government.”

Some have pointed out that the collapse of the nomination process was brought about by Ted Kennedy and Joe Biden when they took a sledgehammer to “social norms” during the confirmation process of Robert Bork. That’s true. But I’d like to defend Chait somewhat. I, too, have been concerned about the collapse of social norms.

For example, it was once a social norm never to use the filibuster against a circuit court nominee. But then George W. Bush nominated Miguel Estrada, an undeniably qualified candidate, to sit on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. The Democrats were playing the long game, however, and were willing to buck social norms in order to prevent the Republicans from starting a process that would end with a conservative Hispanic judge on the Supreme Court. So they blocked Estrada.

In October 2003, the Associated Press reported that Democrats were preparing to expand their use of the filibuster to everything the GOP put forward. “Perhaps we ought to prepare some bumper stickers that say ‘Obstruction: It’s not just for judges anymore’,” remarked Republican John Cornyn.

More recently, Harry Reid has perfected a tactic called “filling the tree” to prevent Republicans from even being able to offer amendments on bills. Reid and the Democrats are, it turns out, innovators in the means to tear down social norms and prevent the government from functioning as it was intended. In fact, it’s now been more than three years since Reid’s Senate passed a budget.

But hey, at least he didn’t criticize a Democratic nominee who was confirmed anyway. Now that would just be uncivil.

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GOP Seeks to Avert Defense Cuts

I applaud House Republicans for voting to suspend the sequester which threatens to decimate military spending and replacing it with cuts to social welfare programs. But the Republican leadership knows their legislation has little chance of passage in the Senate. They are simply hoping to set the stage for negotiations later this year that would at least suspend the first stage of the sequester which could cut another $500 billion or so from the defense budget on top of $450 billion or cuts already set in motion last summer.

The question is whether those negotiations will succeed. The conventional wisdom in Washington is that the answer is yes, but I join Mackenzie Eaglen of the American Enterprise Institute in being skeptical of that consensus. She points out that there is no intrinsic reason to think Democrats and Republicans, who couldn’t agree on alternative spending cuts or revenue increases until now, will suddenly find some way to sing “Kumbaya” after the election–especially when the composition of Congress will be exactly what it is today. And there are many reasons to expect that an attempt to stop sequestration will not be a high priority item for Congress also grappling with expiring tax cuts and the need to raise the debt ceiling once again.

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I applaud House Republicans for voting to suspend the sequester which threatens to decimate military spending and replacing it with cuts to social welfare programs. But the Republican leadership knows their legislation has little chance of passage in the Senate. They are simply hoping to set the stage for negotiations later this year that would at least suspend the first stage of the sequester which could cut another $500 billion or so from the defense budget on top of $450 billion or cuts already set in motion last summer.

The question is whether those negotiations will succeed. The conventional wisdom in Washington is that the answer is yes, but I join Mackenzie Eaglen of the American Enterprise Institute in being skeptical of that consensus. She points out that there is no intrinsic reason to think Democrats and Republicans, who couldn’t agree on alternative spending cuts or revenue increases until now, will suddenly find some way to sing “Kumbaya” after the election–especially when the composition of Congress will be exactly what it is today. And there are many reasons to expect that an attempt to stop sequestration will not be a high priority item for Congress also grappling with expiring tax cuts and the need to raise the debt ceiling once again.

As the sequestration cuts fall disproportionately on defense (half the cuts slash defense spending even though it’s less than 20 percent of the overall federal budget), Democrats have every reason to sit back and allow the cuts to hit–unless Republicans cave on higher taxes, which they are unlikely to do. Thus, the odds grow of a “perfect storm” that will devastate the defense budget.

I am in the process of touring West Coast military installations–I was just in San Diego where I met with Navy SEALs and toured an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer, a Navy aviation maintenance plant, and Camp Pendleton, the West Coast home of the Marine Corps. Everywhere I saw what I have come to expect when visiting our military installations–superbly trained and motivated men and women doing incredible, often dangerous, and usually unheralded work to defend our republic. It  would be a tragedy not only for the U.S. but for the entire world if this first-class military, developed over decades and committed to expanding and preserving freedom around the globe, were to be wrecked overnight through a lack of political will in Congress. But that, alas, appears to be increasingly likely.

 

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Kadima Back to the Likud?

A day is a long time in politics. In Israel, apparently so are a few hours. Prime Minister Netanyahu’s new coalition, comprising an extraordinary 94 MKs (of 120), leaves Israel’s unprecedented election campaign…unprecedented. Inevitably, the flights of these fowl have been scrutinized to divine the causes and forecast the effects of this rather stunning development.

One regrettable feature of the coverage is the tiresome obsession of the punditocracy with interpreting every move Netanyahu makes as clearing the path to attack Iran (holding elections makes it easier; cancelling elections makes it easier). There is more to Israel than Iran.

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A day is a long time in politics. In Israel, apparently so are a few hours. Prime Minister Netanyahu’s new coalition, comprising an extraordinary 94 MKs (of 120), leaves Israel’s unprecedented election campaign…unprecedented. Inevitably, the flights of these fowl have been scrutinized to divine the causes and forecast the effects of this rather stunning development.

One regrettable feature of the coverage is the tiresome obsession of the punditocracy with interpreting every move Netanyahu makes as clearing the path to attack Iran (holding elections makes it easier; cancelling elections makes it easier). There is more to Israel than Iran.

Indeed, the new grand-super-uber coalition is a big opportunity for Netanyahu. He is now the king of Israeli politics (as if he wasn’t before), and with an irredeemably opportunistic and vacuous Kadima behind him, he can do great things: the Tal Law, the power of the rabbinate, the budget deficits, the socio-economic inequality, electoral reform, the Supreme Court, the basic laws, religion and state – conversations on each of these were going to take place during the election campaign. Instead, they can take place within the government.

But – speculation warning! – there may be an ulterior factor at play here. And it concerns Kadima, the centrist party founded by Ariel Sharon and populated mainly by then-Likudniks to implement his Disengagement Plan back in 2005. A darling of Western liberals, it is a party born of necessity and lived by opportunism. Indeed, by the admission of one of its own MKs, whether due to its members or its centrism, it ‘’has no clear ideology on almost any topic.’’ Such a faction is a wonderfully malleable addition to any coalition, as far as any prime minister is concerned.

But Netanyahu may have something else in mind. The rightist factions in Israeli politics, recognizing their limited success with fringe parties, have set their eyes on the Likud, looking to increase their power within that mainstream party. (This has also been going on with the Arabs and fringe Left in the Labor Party.) Netanyahu knew he would have to face this Likud Party at the party’s convention before the general election, and, though his own position was not in doubt, he was concerned about what sort of list his party would elect for him to lead to elections and bring to the Knesset. Even on the night this last minute coalition deal was struck, there was some indication of this schism: upon being pressed to assert sovereignty over the Ulpana Hill neighborhood of Bet-El in the West Bank which the Supreme Court has opposed, he responded that the elections have been postponed. That is, without impending elections, he has no need to pander to his more conservative base.

But he knows the time will soon come that he will have to face that base again. Is it possible he would prefer to do so with the old Likudniks of Kadima (including Shaul Mofaz) at his side back within the party? It is obvious why Mofaz wanted to delay elections – because he and his party would be consigned to the margin. But is it possible that Netanyahu sees an opportunity to moderate his party by – in Israeli political parlance – ‘‘bringing home’’ its unfaithful?

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Palestinian Politics Jenin Style

In today’s New York Times, new Israel correspondent Jodi Rudoren writes of how the recently deceased Palestinian governor of the city of Jenin is being viewed as a “martyr” in the fight against gangs and the symbol of the failing struggle to transform the Palestinian Authority into a viable state. Qadoura Moussa, who died of a heart attack following an assassination attempt that is interpreted as part of the battle in which control of the streets is at stake, helped create the idea that there was a “Jenin model” in which good government would replace the mafia-style corruption and violence that had heretofore characterized Palestinian life.

Moussa’s death is rightly seen as yet another blow to Fayyadism, the term that Times columnist Thomas Friedman attached to the efforts of PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad to transform Palestinian society so as to allow for the rise of a rational modern state. But, as the insightful journalist Khaled Abu Toameh wrote just a day earlier on the website of the Gatestone Institute, the truth about the reality of life in Jenin has been apparent for years. The problem is, the foreign and Palestinian press was far too intimidated to report that the illusion of law and order in Jenin was always a lie.

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In today’s New York Times, new Israel correspondent Jodi Rudoren writes of how the recently deceased Palestinian governor of the city of Jenin is being viewed as a “martyr” in the fight against gangs and the symbol of the failing struggle to transform the Palestinian Authority into a viable state. Qadoura Moussa, who died of a heart attack following an assassination attempt that is interpreted as part of the battle in which control of the streets is at stake, helped create the idea that there was a “Jenin model” in which good government would replace the mafia-style corruption and violence that had heretofore characterized Palestinian life.

Moussa’s death is rightly seen as yet another blow to Fayyadism, the term that Times columnist Thomas Friedman attached to the efforts of PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad to transform Palestinian society so as to allow for the rise of a rational modern state. But, as the insightful journalist Khaled Abu Toameh wrote just a day earlier on the website of the Gatestone Institute, the truth about the reality of life in Jenin has been apparent for years. The problem is, the foreign and Palestinian press was far too intimidated to report that the illusion of law and order in Jenin was always a lie.

The notion that Jenin, which was the hub of Palestinian terror during the second intifada and the site of a pitched battle between gunmen and the Israeli Defense Force in 2002, had become a PA success story was an attractive theme for journalists eager to paint a more attractive picture of the Palestinians. But as Toameh, who knows more about the politics of the territories than anyone else writing in English, points out, the “Jenin model” was always a myth. The anarchy and lawlessness in the region was not happening in spite of the efforts of the Western-trained PA security forces but in no small measure because of them.

The problem goes deeper than just a few cases of corruption or the fact that many of those recruited into the Palestinian security services are former criminals and killers who quickly revert to their old habits for profit. Rather, it is that Palestinian political culture still treats violence as legitimate. The line between the terrorist groups that double as political parties such as Fatah and Hamas and the armed gangs and clans that the PA fights in the streets of towns like Jenin is razor thin. That’s why any expectation that Fatah or even Hamas can foster law and order other than by their own reign of terror at their rivals’ expense is farcical.

Genuine moderates who desire real change like Salam Fayyad are the outliers, not the criminals. Men like Fayyad also lack a political constituency. That means they are not just outnumbered but outgunned.

Yet this is a tale that has generally been ignored by the Western press that has, as Abu Toameh notes, feared to tell the truth about the Palestinians. The result is that Western governments continue to pour in vast amounts of cash and aid that has done little to help. Fayyadism is a nice idea, but the problem is that it is more popular in American newsrooms than in the streets of Palestinian towns. Though Rudoren’s article in today’s Times gives some belated attention to this problem, it still fails to go to the heart of the cancer eating away at the PA. The rationale for Palestinian statehood as well as for more Israeli territorial withdrawals to further empower these gangsters and terrorists seems more farfetched than ever.

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One Man’s Role in Gay Rights Shift

Wherever one stands on the issue of same-sex marriage, having the president of the United States endorse the concept is a major achievement for the gay rights movement. And it didn’t happen by accident.

The shift in the public’s attitudes toward gay marriage, and the subsequent alteration of the political landscape, is arguably the most significant we’ve seen in the last quarter-century. And among the people who are most responsible for this moment is Jonathan Rauch, a former columnist for National Journal and a guest scholar at the Brookings Institution.

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Wherever one stands on the issue of same-sex marriage, having the president of the United States endorse the concept is a major achievement for the gay rights movement. And it didn’t happen by accident.

The shift in the public’s attitudes toward gay marriage, and the subsequent alteration of the political landscape, is arguably the most significant we’ve seen in the last quarter-century. And among the people who are most responsible for this moment is Jonathan Rauch, a former columnist for National Journal and a guest scholar at the Brookings Institution.

I first met Jonathan in 1994, at a lunch with William Bennett. We wanted to meet Rauch because of his book Demosclerosis: The Silent Killer of American Government. The three of us talked about that book – but Rauch also made the case for why homosexuality is no threat to family or conservatism. A short time later he published a Wall Street Journal op-ed on that matter – and he later wrote articles (see here), books (see here), and op-eds (see here and here) making the case for same-sex marriage.

There are three elements to Rauch’s work worth highlighting. The first is the ingenuity of the argument. His great insight, which he shared with Andrew Sullivan (another extremely significant figure in the fight for gay marriage), was to recast the goals of the gay rights movement away from sexual libertinism toward conservatism, from radicalism toward traditionalism. Same-sex marriage, this argument goes, would bond gays into committed, stable relationships and promote monogamy. The gay rights agenda went from being an assault on the institution to an effort to become part of it.

The second thing to note in Rauch’s work is the rigor of his arguments. Anyone who has read Rauch knows he takes the case against same-sex marriage and examines the premises and empirical statements with tremendous care. His goal is to use reason to show why gay marriage will preserve and protect society’s most essential institution. Beyond that, though, Rauch habitually describes the views of those with whom he disagrees in honest, fair-minded terms.

The third thing about Rauch is his tone, which is consistently measured, civil, and respectful. In a debate in which ugly things have been said on all sides, Rauch has never in my experience attacked the motivations of his opponents. He gives the benefit of the doubt even to his critics. That is not only an impressive human quality; it’s also extremely helpful when you start out with a position in which you need to persuade large number of people who disagree with you.

I should add that I’m not in full agreement with Jonathan on gay marriage, even though his arguments have shifted my thinking in important respects. And he and I had our policy differences during the Bush years. But every time we discussed them, either in person or via e-mail, I was struck by his integrity and open-mindedness. That I’ve come to admire him is no secret. Which is why, on a day that was extremely meaningful to gay Americans, I couldn’t help but think about Rauch’s crucial role in all that has unfolded in the last few years.

 

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Silence on Dissident’s Pro-Life Activism

Blind Chinese activist Chen Guangcheng is still confined to a hospital in Beijing, and the Chinese government is reportedly dragging its feet on issuing him a passport. As with any case like this, time is not on Chen’s side. With each passing day, media attention and public pressure diminishes. Already, the Chinese government is allegedly holding members of Chen’s family under house arrest. And obviously the crackdown could get worse as the story continues to fade from the front pages.

In an effort to keep attention on the case, Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) plans to hold a hearing on Chen’s plight next week, Josh Rogin reports:

In an interview in the Capitol building, Smith said he intends to hold another congressional hearing on May 15 on the Chen case — to follow up on the hearing he held May 3, which Chen actually phoned into. Smith has invited Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell and State Department Counselor Harold Koh to the hearing, but those officials have yet to RSVP.

“I don’t think they want the hearing frankly. But we need to keep the focus on this,” Smith said. …

“The administration has hermetically sealed his message, the man and why he was in trouble, from this incident,” Smith told The Cable. “Have you heard anybody talk about that he was defending women from forced abortion? Hillary Clinton? Not a word. I Googled it.”

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Blind Chinese activist Chen Guangcheng is still confined to a hospital in Beijing, and the Chinese government is reportedly dragging its feet on issuing him a passport. As with any case like this, time is not on Chen’s side. With each passing day, media attention and public pressure diminishes. Already, the Chinese government is allegedly holding members of Chen’s family under house arrest. And obviously the crackdown could get worse as the story continues to fade from the front pages.

In an effort to keep attention on the case, Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) plans to hold a hearing on Chen’s plight next week, Josh Rogin reports:

In an interview in the Capitol building, Smith said he intends to hold another congressional hearing on May 15 on the Chen case — to follow up on the hearing he held May 3, which Chen actually phoned into. Smith has invited Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell and State Department Counselor Harold Koh to the hearing, but those officials have yet to RSVP.

“I don’t think they want the hearing frankly. But we need to keep the focus on this,” Smith said. …

“The administration has hermetically sealed his message, the man and why he was in trouble, from this incident,” Smith told The Cable. “Have you heard anybody talk about that he was defending women from forced abortion? Hillary Clinton? Not a word. I Googled it.”

Smith says the Obama administration hasn’t mentioned Chen’s life’s work – opposition to forced abortions and sterilization – the way it typically has in similar dissident cases. And it may not just be for fear of irritating China. Last year, President Obama released a statement praising the pro-democracy efforts of imprisoned Nobel Laureate and Chinese activist Liu Xiaobo:

All of us have a responsibility to build a just peace that recognizes the inherent rights and dignity of human beings – a truth upheld within the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In our own lives, our own countries, and in the world, the pursuit of a just peace remains incomplete, even as we strive for progress. This past year saw the release of Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, even as the Burmese people continue to be denied the democracy that they deserve. Nobel Laureate Jose Ramos Horta has continued his tireless work to build a free and prosperous East Timor, having made the transition from dissident to president. And this past year saw the retirement of Nobel Laureate Desmond Tutu, whose own career demonstrates the universal power of freedom and justice to overcome extraordinary obstacles.

But Mr. Liu reminds us that human dignity also depends upon the advance of democracy, open society, and the rule of law. The values he espouses are universal, his struggle is peaceful, and he should be released as soon as possible.

Is the administration uncomfortable addressing Chen’s pro-life activism for political reasons? Or is there a concern it would be an unnecessary poke at China? Either way, the omissions are unfortunate. Chen’s story has refocused attention on China’s appalling human rights record, which is too often ignored, but his actual activism against forced abortions is rarely mentioned in the media. This is an issue that should get much more attention, and Rep. Smith is right to raise it.

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Who’s the Phony? Romney or Obama?

As Pete noted yesterday, the talk about the evolution of President Obama’s stand on gay marriage tends to gloss over the fact that rather than a straight path to enlightenment, it has been a typical cynical politician’s approach to controversy. Since he supported it while running for the State Senate, opposed it while running for the Senate in 2004 and for the presidency in 2008 and now supports it again in 2012, we can see that his position was not principled but the product of careful analysis about the needs of the voters he was facing in each case. This is hardly shocking, but I suspect the president won’t be branded as a flip-flopper by his adoring fans in the mainstream press.

That’s significant not so much because it reveals the media’s bias on social issues but because it shows the different standard to which Mitt Romney has been subjected for his stands on social issues by some of the same outlets that are celebrating Obama’s statement today. Though Democratic strategists are currently attempting to paint Romney as a right-wing extremist, for most of the last year they and their allies in the press regularly lambasted Romney for being a serial flip-flopper. But in the wake of Obama’s politically motivated zigzag path to support for gay marriage, isn’t it time to acknowledge there is no difference between that and Romney’s equally tortured route to opposition to abortion?

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As Pete noted yesterday, the talk about the evolution of President Obama’s stand on gay marriage tends to gloss over the fact that rather than a straight path to enlightenment, it has been a typical cynical politician’s approach to controversy. Since he supported it while running for the State Senate, opposed it while running for the Senate in 2004 and for the presidency in 2008 and now supports it again in 2012, we can see that his position was not principled but the product of careful analysis about the needs of the voters he was facing in each case. This is hardly shocking, but I suspect the president won’t be branded as a flip-flopper by his adoring fans in the mainstream press.

That’s significant not so much because it reveals the media’s bias on social issues but because it shows the different standard to which Mitt Romney has been subjected for his stands on social issues by some of the same outlets that are celebrating Obama’s statement today. Though Democratic strategists are currently attempting to paint Romney as a right-wing extremist, for most of the last year they and their allies in the press regularly lambasted Romney for being a serial flip-flopper. But in the wake of Obama’s politically motivated zigzag path to support for gay marriage, isn’t it time to acknowledge there is no difference between that and Romney’s equally tortured route to opposition to abortion?

Social conservatives roasted the GOP standard bearer in the past year for having supported abortion rights while running for office in Massachusetts in 1994 and 2002. Liberal kibitzers were happy to chime in when right-wingers doubted the sincerity of Romney’s conversion to a right-to-life position just before he began preparing to run for president. Though the Republican candidate claims he had a genuine change of heart, both liberals and conservatives are to be forgiven if they think it had more to do with the fact that a supporter of abortion had no chance of winning a national Republican race while the opposite was true in Massachusetts.

But the same calculations apply to Obama’s stands on same-sex marriage. He supported it while running for office in Chicago but said the opposite when he was looking to win a statewide race in Illinois and the presidency at a time when such a stand would have cost him votes. Now that his pollsters — and Hollywood contributors — tell him that changing his tune will be popular, he’s flipped again. Which makes him every bit the phony that Romney’s detractors say he is. The only difference is that the liberal press will always treat a candidate who moves to their position on an issue as having evolved but speak of one who moved away from their beliefs as a cynical flip-flopper.

To be fair to Romney, it should be noted that on the one issue which might have cost him the Republican presidential nomination, he refused to change his stand when doing so would have helped his candidacy. Romney’s Massachusetts health care bill was his greatest electoral liability heading into the GOP primaries. It was rightly perceived as resembling if not inspiring ObamaCare. Republican rivals said that Romney’s support of government health care would undermine the party’s chance to use the issue against the president in 2012.

But rather than distance himself from his record, Romney doubled down on it repeatedly, insisting that while he opposed Obama’s bill, the Massachusetts legislation was not a mistake. Doing so may have cost him some votes and may yet hurt him in the fall. But he did not waver.

Looked at in this light, it’s clear that though Romney’s record contains its share of flip-flops, he needn’t blush when compared to Obama. Neither can claim to be consistent on social issues. The only difference is that the media calls one a phony and gives the other accolades for similar behavior.

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Gay Marriage Debate Moves to Congress

Rudy Giuliani was on CBS News this morning cautioning Republicans to stay out of the gay marriage debate. It looks like he’s a bit late. Last night, the House passed a Republican-backed bill that would prevent the Justice Department from using taxpayer funds to oppose the Defense of Marriage Act, Politico reports:

With a 245-171 vote, the House voted to stop the Justice Department from using taxpayer funds to actively oppose DOMA — the Clinton-era law defining marriage as between a man and a woman that the Obama administration stopped enforcing in February 2011. …

Democrats immediately attacked Republicans for the vote.

“On an historic day and in the dark of night, House Republicans have voted to tie the hands of the Obama administration with respect to their efforts to end discrimination against America’s families,” Drew Hammill, a spokesman for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), said in a statement. “House Republicans continue to plant their feet firmly on the wrong side of history.”

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Rudy Giuliani was on CBS News this morning cautioning Republicans to stay out of the gay marriage debate. It looks like he’s a bit late. Last night, the House passed a Republican-backed bill that would prevent the Justice Department from using taxpayer funds to oppose the Defense of Marriage Act, Politico reports:

With a 245-171 vote, the House voted to stop the Justice Department from using taxpayer funds to actively oppose DOMA — the Clinton-era law defining marriage as between a man and a woman that the Obama administration stopped enforcing in February 2011. …

Democrats immediately attacked Republicans for the vote.

“On an historic day and in the dark of night, House Republicans have voted to tie the hands of the Obama administration with respect to their efforts to end discrimination against America’s families,” Drew Hammill, a spokesman for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), said in a statement. “House Republicans continue to plant their feet firmly on the wrong side of history.”

Interesting timing, no? Actually the measure, which was sponsored by Rep. Tim Huelskamp and tacked to a broader multi-agency funding bill, appears to be completely unrelated to Obama’s announcement. Metro Weekly first reported on Tuesday – before anyone had any inkling about Obama’s gay marriage shift – that Huelskamp was preparing to offer the amendment this week.

Peter noted last night that Obama was smart to wait until after the North Carolina vote to offer his opinion – if he’d endorsed gay marriage beforehand, surely the narrative now would be that Obama’s position was rejected by swing state voters.

But Obama was also savvy to make his announcement around the same time the House GOP was set to vote on the DOMA funding amendment. Mitt Romney has already rebuffed questions on this issue, and, as expected, tried to shift the focus back to jobs and the economy. But House Republicans, the Obama campaign’s go-to adversaries, are already providing a prime contrast to the president’s newly-announced position.

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Operation Demonize Romney: High School Edition

A general rule of thumb is that when you run for president you’ve got to expect every moment of your life will come under scrutiny. Of course, that hasn’t always applied to Barack Obama, as questions even about his associations as an adult politician have been widely interpreted as a form of racism. But if your name is Mitt Romney, the other rules apply, as any reader of today’s edition of the Washington Post will discover when they take a look at a nearly 5,500 word feature–a fine-tooth comb examination of the Republican candidate’s high school career which includes a single incident in which he is alleged to have played a rough prank on a schoolmate.

The story of Romney and others giving a kid a forced haircut doesn’t reflect well on him. But considering it took place 47 years ago when the future businessman and politician was a teenager living at a boarding school in which such hijinks were obviously far from rare, it hardly rises to the level of a major scandal. Nor, considering the other evidence in the article which points to Romney being more of a dorky, do-gooding hard worker than the school bully, you’ve got to wonder why the Post bothered to devote so much space to a story that is clearly framed so as to portray him as such as well as a social climbing prig. That is especially true because — correct me if I’m wrong dear readers — I don’t recall any massive stories in major media outlets like this in 2008 seeking to dig up dirt on Obama’s time at the Punahou School, the elite Hawaii private prep where the current president hung out as a teenager. Some outlets may have recycled stories that Obama told about his past but frankly, I don’t recall anything but hagiographic coverage of the first African-American presidential nominee. But as Romney should have learned by now, being the first Mormon presidential nominee has been treated as a license for prejudicial writing by mainstream newspapers–not the kind of kid glove treatment Obama received.

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A general rule of thumb is that when you run for president you’ve got to expect every moment of your life will come under scrutiny. Of course, that hasn’t always applied to Barack Obama, as questions even about his associations as an adult politician have been widely interpreted as a form of racism. But if your name is Mitt Romney, the other rules apply, as any reader of today’s edition of the Washington Post will discover when they take a look at a nearly 5,500 word feature–a fine-tooth comb examination of the Republican candidate’s high school career which includes a single incident in which he is alleged to have played a rough prank on a schoolmate.

The story of Romney and others giving a kid a forced haircut doesn’t reflect well on him. But considering it took place 47 years ago when the future businessman and politician was a teenager living at a boarding school in which such hijinks were obviously far from rare, it hardly rises to the level of a major scandal. Nor, considering the other evidence in the article which points to Romney being more of a dorky, do-gooding hard worker than the school bully, you’ve got to wonder why the Post bothered to devote so much space to a story that is clearly framed so as to portray him as such as well as a social climbing prig. That is especially true because — correct me if I’m wrong dear readers — I don’t recall any massive stories in major media outlets like this in 2008 seeking to dig up dirt on Obama’s time at the Punahou School, the elite Hawaii private prep where the current president hung out as a teenager. Some outlets may have recycled stories that Obama told about his past but frankly, I don’t recall anything but hagiographic coverage of the first African-American presidential nominee. But as Romney should have learned by now, being the first Mormon presidential nominee has been treated as a license for prejudicial writing by mainstream newspapers–not the kind of kid glove treatment Obama received.

The idea of running this sort of muckraking feature about non-criminal activity during the teenage years of a future leader is itself questionable. But it bears pointing out that some of the details included in the story work against the narrative that intends to paint a dark portrait of a man who is well-known to be a straight arrow with no skeletons in his closet.

One is the fact that the five fellow Cranbrook School alums who dished to the Post’s Jason Horowitz about the haircut incident are not fans of their former classmate’s politics. Horowitz says they “lean Democratic.” One is described as someone who has abandoned a former allegiance to the GOP. The reporter’s claim that politics did not color their recollections cannot be taken seriously. Nor can the timing of the piece (which came out the day after President Obama endorsed gay marriage), be dismissed, as the clear intent of the piece is to imply that Romney harassed the subject of the prank because he was gay.

There are also elements of the story that could have painted the future GOP standard-bearer in a positive light but were ignored. Though Horowitz attempts with little evidence to describe Romney as a class-conscious snob, he downplays Romney’s status as a religious minority and his clear affinity for members of other minority groups. In one incident described in great depth, Romney is helping to mop floors at the school (not exactly the stuff of privilege) when he is challenged about his faith. Horowitz closes the account by quoting the student who was bullying him about being Mormon with calling his defense of his religion as “a cop out.”

Horowitz is also not interested in the fact that a girl Romney dated was a Jew, the daughter of Max Fisher, a wealthy man and ardent supporter of Israel who raised money for Romney’s father’s political campaigns. If Romney was as big a jerk as the Post would like us to believe, doesn’t it also say something that he did not succumb to the religious prejudices that were just as prevalent in that era in a private Christian school setting as anti-Semitism?

Horowitz strains to portray the victim of the haircut incident as a gay man who was scarred for life by a teenage jerk who grew up to be famous. But he does little to show that what happened was anything more than the usual rough and tumble of life in a claustrophobic boarding school. Nor when one considers all of the contrary evidence that seeps into the story about Romney’s character does he prove anything more than Romney played pranks whenever he got the chance and was nothing more than a high-spirited kid who spent most of his time following the straight and narrow path of virtue.

No doubt Romney grew up a lot after his days at Cranbrook. Of course, the same can be said for any former teenager. Rare is the adult who will not look back at isolated incidents in their childhood without cringing. Subjecting anyone’s high school career to the sort of scrutiny that is rightly applied to government service is absurd, but that’s what happens when you run for president these days. Except, of course, if your name is Barack Hussein Obama.

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Fighting for Obama and Country

As Peter pointed out yesterday, “In 2004, when it was politically convenient for him, Obama argued that his religious faith dictated that marriage should be between a man and a woman. Now his faith dictates the opposite. What has changed during the last eight years isn’t the Golden Rule or the words and teachings of Jesus, the New Testament, or the Hebrew Bible; it is what is most politically expedient for a certain politician from Chicago.”

So, it seems that, at least in Obama’s mind, the whole moral basis of the Judeo-Christian tradition serves at the pleasure of the president.

But consider what he also said in his statement: “When I think about those soldiers or airmen or marines or sailors who are out there fighting on my behalf and yet feel constrained, even now that Don’t Ask Don’t Tell is gone, because they are not able to commit themselves in a marriage…”

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As Peter pointed out yesterday, “In 2004, when it was politically convenient for him, Obama argued that his religious faith dictated that marriage should be between a man and a woman. Now his faith dictates the opposite. What has changed during the last eight years isn’t the Golden Rule or the words and teachings of Jesus, the New Testament, or the Hebrew Bible; it is what is most politically expedient for a certain politician from Chicago.”

So, it seems that, at least in Obama’s mind, the whole moral basis of the Judeo-Christian tradition serves at the pleasure of the president.

But consider what he also said in his statement: “When I think about those soldiers or airmen or marines or sailors who are out there fighting on my behalf and yet feel constrained, even now that Don’t Ask Don’t Tell is gone, because they are not able to commit themselves in a marriage…”

Fighting on his behalf? Excuse me? British soldiers fight for Queen and country, but American soldiers fight for the people, who have been sovereign here since a well-known disagreement with the Queen’s great great great great grandfather .

Is there no limit to President Obama’s self-regard? Well, at least he still confines himself to the first person singular rather than employing the first person plural that Mark Twain thought should be used by “kings, editors, and people with tape worms.”

 

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