Commentary Magazine


Posts For: May 16, 2012

Iran Sends Louder Syria Signal Than U.S.

The Washington Post reported yesterday that the United States tiptoed closer to helping the rebels trying to overthrow Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad. The Post said the Obama administration had not decided to contribute to the fund that Gulf States have started to pay for arms for the rebels. But let no one say President Obama was doing nothing to support the effort to halt the massacres being perpetrated by the Assad regime. The U.S. is providing those aiding the rebels with “assessments of rebel credibility and command-and-control infrastructure.” In other words, Washington is merely offering advice.

But while some optimists are interpreting this as a signal to Syrian ally Iran that the president means business, Tehran is sending a more significant message to the West than the free advice offered by Washington. Reuters reports Iran is continuing to export military equipment to Syria that Assad is using to kill thousands. Rather than being intimidated by the half-hearted and belated help being extended to the rebels, Iran has been violating a United Nations Security Council ruling that imposed an embargo on giving arms to Assad. A UN panel has issued a report detailing Iran’s shipment of arms to Syria that also discussed their efforts to evade sanctions aimed at halting their nuclear program.

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The Washington Post reported yesterday that the United States tiptoed closer to helping the rebels trying to overthrow Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad. The Post said the Obama administration had not decided to contribute to the fund that Gulf States have started to pay for arms for the rebels. But let no one say President Obama was doing nothing to support the effort to halt the massacres being perpetrated by the Assad regime. The U.S. is providing those aiding the rebels with “assessments of rebel credibility and command-and-control infrastructure.” In other words, Washington is merely offering advice.

But while some optimists are interpreting this as a signal to Syrian ally Iran that the president means business, Tehran is sending a more significant message to the West than the free advice offered by Washington. Reuters reports Iran is continuing to export military equipment to Syria that Assad is using to kill thousands. Rather than being intimidated by the half-hearted and belated help being extended to the rebels, Iran has been violating a United Nations Security Council ruling that imposed an embargo on giving arms to Assad. A UN panel has issued a report detailing Iran’s shipment of arms to Syria that also discussed their efforts to evade sanctions aimed at halting their nuclear program.

Iran has no intention of standing by while Assad — their most important ally in the region — is driven from power. From the beginning of the protests against Assad’s rule last year, Tehran has been pumping in arms and “volunteers” from both Iran and their Lebanese Hezbollah auxiliaries. Combined with Assad’s willingness to slaughter as many of his compatriots as necessary, Iran’s support has enabled the Syrian to survive a rebellion and foreign sanctions.

Those who foolishly expect Iran to give up their nuclear ambitions need to understand Syria is a test case that illustrates that the ayatollahs are playing for keeps. With European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton apparently encouraging them to believe they can beat the West and continue refining uranium, they likely believe they can face the EU down on Syria as well. The arms pouring into Damascus show the ayatollahs are convinced they are tougher than President Obama. Until the president convinces them otherwise, the odds of stopping their drive for nuclear weapons or ousting Assad are negligible.

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Letterman is No Carson

During his interview with NBC’s Brian Williams, David Letterman went off on a passionate defense of President Obama. Letterman concluded by saying, “What more do we want this man to do for us, honest to God?”

For starters, something better than the weakest economic recovery in the modern era, the worst jobs record of any president in the modern era, the highest sustained unemployment rate since the Great Depression, a housing crisis worse than the Great Depression, unprecedented deficits and debt, a standard of living that’s fallen longer and more steeply during the past three years than at any time since the government began recording it five decades ago, a downgrade in the United States’ credit rating for the first time in history, and a record number of people in poverty.

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During his interview with NBC’s Brian Williams, David Letterman went off on a passionate defense of President Obama. Letterman concluded by saying, “What more do we want this man to do for us, honest to God?”

For starters, something better than the weakest economic recovery in the modern era, the worst jobs record of any president in the modern era, the highest sustained unemployment rate since the Great Depression, a housing crisis worse than the Great Depression, unprecedented deficits and debt, a standard of living that’s fallen longer and more steeply during the past three years than at any time since the government began recording it five decades ago, a downgrade in the United States’ credit rating for the first time in history, and a record number of people in poverty.

Beyond that, though, it’s worth pointing out that earlier this week PBS’s American Masters series broadcast an excellent two-hour documentary titled, “Johnny Carson: King of Late Night.” Among those paying tribute to Carson was Letterman, who clearly revered Carson. In the course of the program, some of those on “The Tonight Show” staff pointed out with pride that no one ever really knew Carson’s politics – that he was never tendentious and his humor and targets were bi-partisan. It helped explain his appeal during the course of 30 remarkable years.

Carson knew he was a comedian, not a political commentator – and he was able to set his political opinions aside before stepping through the “Tonight Show” curtains.

One is reminded that in this area, as in so many other areas, David Letterman – aging, increasingly brittle, and not terribly funny — is no Johnny Carson.

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Unilateral Cuts to U.S. Nuclear Arsenal Only Encourages Enemies

Retired generals have been noticeably silent even as the threat of sequester, with devastating consequences for American military preparedness, draws nearer. Perhaps they are afraid they will be derided as “militarists” for standing up for a strong defense. Retired generals are more likely to be applauded for calling for defense cuts, especially to programs they once oversaw–a “man bites dog” story that provides predictable fodder for the news media.

Thus, retired Gen. James Cartwright, a former commander of U.S. Strategic Command (guardian of the nation’s nuclear arsenal) and former vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is garnering headlines for suggesting a unilateral cut to the U.S. nuclear arsenal that would be far below the limits negotiated with Russia in the last START agreement. That agreement limits the U.S. and Russia to 1,500 deployed warheads, down from the previous total of 2,200. Cartwright, along with other retired worthies gathered by Global Zero, an organization with the utopian goal of eliminating all nuclear arms, now claims we could go down to 900 warheads, of which only half would be deployed. This, in sum, would be a 70 percent reduction in our deployed nuclear arsenal.

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Retired generals have been noticeably silent even as the threat of sequester, with devastating consequences for American military preparedness, draws nearer. Perhaps they are afraid they will be derided as “militarists” for standing up for a strong defense. Retired generals are more likely to be applauded for calling for defense cuts, especially to programs they once oversaw–a “man bites dog” story that provides predictable fodder for the news media.

Thus, retired Gen. James Cartwright, a former commander of U.S. Strategic Command (guardian of the nation’s nuclear arsenal) and former vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is garnering headlines for suggesting a unilateral cut to the U.S. nuclear arsenal that would be far below the limits negotiated with Russia in the last START agreement. That agreement limits the U.S. and Russia to 1,500 deployed warheads, down from the previous total of 2,200. Cartwright, along with other retired worthies gathered by Global Zero, an organization with the utopian goal of eliminating all nuclear arms, now claims we could go down to 900 warheads, of which only half would be deployed. This, in sum, would be a 70 percent reduction in our deployed nuclear arsenal.

Perhaps that would be a wise course of action if other nations around the world were eliminating their nuclear arsenals. But that is far from the case. India and Pakistan continue to build up their nuclear arsenals and the ballistic missile forces, aircraft, and other means of delivering them. So do China and North Korea. Russia maintains a sizable array of nuclear arms, including a large number of short-range nukes that are not covered by START. Meanwhile, Iran is bidding to acquire its own nukes which could trigger a destabilizing arms race in the Middle East.

It is hard to see how, under those circumstances, a further diminution of the U.S. nuclear arsenal will aid the cause of global peace. Will Iran and North Korea follow the U.S. lead? Hardly. Instead, unilateral American cuts will play into a narrative of American decline and weakness–which will only encourage our enemies to build up their offensive arsenals. And not only our enemies. Our friends, from South Korea to Saudi Arabia, depend on American nuclear protection. If there is any doubt about the ability or willingness of the U.S. to respond with devastating force to potential nuclear threats, our allies will acquire nuclear weapons of their own–as destabilizing a development as it is possible to imagine.

Weighed against the benefits of the U.S. nuclear arsenal, what are the costs? Not very high. The cost of maintaining our current arsenal is in dispute, but it is roughly $20 billion a year. That is a paltry amount in the context of a $3.8 trillion federal budget. Moreover, we would only save a small portion of that $20 billion by cutting our deployed nuclear forces because of the considerable fixed costs we will continue to incur for communications networks, missile launchers, submarines, and other systems, which will need to remain in operation whether or not they are supporting nuclear or conventional weapons delivery.

A unilateral nuclear cut, with an ultimate objective of “nuclear zero,” may sound like a worthy and high-minded policy, but in fact it is a dangerous, destabilizing move because other nations will not follow the American lead. The U.S. nuclear arsenal has helped keep the peace since 1945; we give up that advantage at our peril–and the world’s.

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Dems Waving the White Flag in Wisconsin?

With polls showing Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker pulling away from his challenger in the June 5 recall election, the Democratic National Committee may be waving the white flag in a race that state liberals thought they had in the bag a few months ago. Politico reports that both the DNC and President Obama’s re-election campaign have yet to kick in a dime to Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett’s effort to knock off one of the Republicans’ chief heroes of the midterm landslide. Though Barrett faces a huge fundraising disadvantage in what turns out to be rematch of the 2010 gubernatorial election, the national party seems to have decided against wasting any resources on a lost cause. By contrast, the national Republican Party is all in to help Walker turn what was once a toss-up into a GOP romp.

Though DNC Chair Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz is supposed to host a fundraiser for Barrett, the party has yet to respond to a request from Wisconsin Democrats for a quick half million, but the check is apparently still in the mail. The Democratic Governors Association has already spent $2 million helping their union allies to push for a recall, but it’s not clear if they’re going to be throwing more good after bad.

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With polls showing Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker pulling away from his challenger in the June 5 recall election, the Democratic National Committee may be waving the white flag in a race that state liberals thought they had in the bag a few months ago. Politico reports that both the DNC and President Obama’s re-election campaign have yet to kick in a dime to Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett’s effort to knock off one of the Republicans’ chief heroes of the midterm landslide. Though Barrett faces a huge fundraising disadvantage in what turns out to be rematch of the 2010 gubernatorial election, the national party seems to have decided against wasting any resources on a lost cause. By contrast, the national Republican Party is all in to help Walker turn what was once a toss-up into a GOP romp.

Though DNC Chair Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz is supposed to host a fundraiser for Barrett, the party has yet to respond to a request from Wisconsin Democrats for a quick half million, but the check is apparently still in the mail. The Democratic Governors Association has already spent $2 million helping their union allies to push for a recall, but it’s not clear if they’re going to be throwing more good after bad.

Democratic optimists point out that with three weeks left before the recall, Walker’s lead is too small for anyone to consider the recall a lost cause. But unless the DNC and other sources of cash start ponying up to help Barrett make up his financial deficit, it’s going to be difficult for the Democrat to make up ground on the incumbent.

To be fair to the DNC, the recall wasn’t their idea. It was the brainchild of Wisconsin’s state worker unions and their liberal allies. The unions were still smarting from their defeat in the legislature after Walker fulfilled his 2010 promises to enact a fundamental reform of the state budget. After failing to physically intimidate Republican legislators who were intent on passing changes in the collective bargaining laws that would stop unions from holding the state hostage, Walker’s foes conceived of a recall effort to reverse the verdict of the voters. But now that the voters are faced with the same choice the parties offered them two years ago, it looks like they haven’t changed their minds about Walker.

Unfortunately for President Obama and the DNC, it’s too late to cancel the recall effort. If, as now seems likely, Walker survives the recall, it will do more than just strengthen the rising GOP star. It will be rightly seen as a harbinger of other, even more significant defeats for the Democrats later this year. That’s why the DNC and the president are now bailing out of a Wisconsin fight that may turn out to be a huge mistake for the left.

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Hamas as Violent as Ever, EU and Left as Clueless as Ever

In February, Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh reiterated that Hamas would never give up trying to militarily destroy Israel, declaring while in Tehran that the “gun is our only response to the Zionist regime.” A month later, senior Gaza-based Hamas leader Mahmud Zahar, also visiting Tehran, made functionally the same statement. He also announced that the “principles and strategy of the Palestinian Islamic resistance will not change.”

Soon afterward, the two war advocates squared off in a secret election for placement on, and leadership of, Hamas’s 15-member Gaza politburo. Haniyeh rose above Zahar and is now the institution’s head.

Meanwhile, elections for Hamas’s overall central committee – as opposed to its Gaza politburo – are in the process of wrapping up. Official results should be up in the next 10 days, and in the meantime, somewhat conflicting rumors have emerged. Those reports are about the margins however, and it’s probably safe to assume that paid Iranian stooges Khaled Meshaal and Mussa Abu Marzuk are more or less leading the pack. Meshaal enjoys what counts as an incumbency advantage in that world, and Marzuk just declared unending war against Israel.

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In February, Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh reiterated that Hamas would never give up trying to militarily destroy Israel, declaring while in Tehran that the “gun is our only response to the Zionist regime.” A month later, senior Gaza-based Hamas leader Mahmud Zahar, also visiting Tehran, made functionally the same statement. He also announced that the “principles and strategy of the Palestinian Islamic resistance will not change.”

Soon afterward, the two war advocates squared off in a secret election for placement on, and leadership of, Hamas’s 15-member Gaza politburo. Haniyeh rose above Zahar and is now the institution’s head.

Meanwhile, elections for Hamas’s overall central committee – as opposed to its Gaza politburo – are in the process of wrapping up. Official results should be up in the next 10 days, and in the meantime, somewhat conflicting rumors have emerged. Those reports are about the margins however, and it’s probably safe to assume that paid Iranian stooges Khaled Meshaal and Mussa Abu Marzuk are more or less leading the pack. Meshaal enjoys what counts as an incumbency advantage in that world, and Marzuk just declared unending war against Israel.

No one in charge of Hamas at any level, in other words, is pushing anything but a permanent campaign of violence against the Jewish State. Just this morning Hamas spokesman Hammad al-Ruqab called on Palestinians to kidnap Israeli soldiers, which is a call for Palestinians to start another war.

Naturally, EU countries are rumored to have chosen now to launch talks with Hamas:

Hamas has been holding secret political talks with five EU member states in recent months, a senior official in the Islamic terrorist group told the Associated Press on Wednesday. If confirmed, such talks would be a sign that the isolation of the Gaza-based movement is easing in the wake of the Arab Spring uprisings that have brought Islamists to power in parts of the Middle East… the West is reassessing its Middle East policy following the uprisings of the past year that toppled several pro-Western regimes in the region and have enabled the rise of the Hamas parent movement, the pan-Arab Muslim Brotherhood. It seems possible that some EU member states are now softening their approach toward Hamas.

Israeli peace activists – citing a slack-jawed report on how Hamas is taking a temporary break from firing rockets at Israeli schoolchildren – are also contrasting the group positively with the Israeli government. Because that’s the direction toward which the evidence converges: Hamas’s peaceful intentions.

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Obama’s Iranian Rubicon

As we noted yesterday, the celebratory tone of a senior Iranian figure about all his country has achieved in the negotiations with the West should scare those Americans who have been speaking with confidence about the Obama administration’s determination to prevent Tehran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. Despite the brave talk from the president, the Iranians are right to think they’ve got him on the run. Since the Iranians have crossed every red line intended to halt their progress, they can’t be blamed for thinking that the next round of talks or the ones that follow as the process drags out over the summer will ultimately lead to Western recognition of not only the legitimacy of their nuclear program but also their right to refine uranium. Indeed, with EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton in charge of the talks and with France no longer led by a president who is committed to a strong policy on Iran, it is difficult to imagine any other outcome at this point.

All of which puts the public concerns expressed by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu about the negotiating process that provoked the scorn of President Obama and much of the chattering classes in both the United States and Israel and in a very different light. Though the consensus in the foreign policy establishment is that much more time must be given to let diplomacy work, if this is the direction in which the talks are heading, Netanyahu is to be forgiven for thinking the Iranians have played the West for suckers.

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As we noted yesterday, the celebratory tone of a senior Iranian figure about all his country has achieved in the negotiations with the West should scare those Americans who have been speaking with confidence about the Obama administration’s determination to prevent Tehran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. Despite the brave talk from the president, the Iranians are right to think they’ve got him on the run. Since the Iranians have crossed every red line intended to halt their progress, they can’t be blamed for thinking that the next round of talks or the ones that follow as the process drags out over the summer will ultimately lead to Western recognition of not only the legitimacy of their nuclear program but also their right to refine uranium. Indeed, with EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton in charge of the talks and with France no longer led by a president who is committed to a strong policy on Iran, it is difficult to imagine any other outcome at this point.

All of which puts the public concerns expressed by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu about the negotiating process that provoked the scorn of President Obama and much of the chattering classes in both the United States and Israel and in a very different light. Though the consensus in the foreign policy establishment is that much more time must be given to let diplomacy work, if this is the direction in which the talks are heading, Netanyahu is to be forgiven for thinking the Iranians have played the West for suckers.

President Obama took umbrage when Netanyahu said that it appeared that the first round of the P5+1 talks resulted in negotiators giving away “freebies” to Tehran’s envoys. But with Iran virtually declaring victory even before the next scheduled gathering in Baghdad later this month, that may turn out to be a generous evaluation.

This also lends credence to those who believe President Obama never had any attention of taking action on the nuclear threat but was merely talking tough for the benefit of pro-Israel voters while the diplomatic process enabled him to stall until he is re-elected and thereby have the “flexibility” to accept a policy of containment. This thesis holds that the only purpose of the talks was to prevent Israel from attacking Iran on its own.

However, if we accept the premise that the president is sincere in his desire to forestall an Iranian bomb (the point of view championed by Jewish Democrats and other Obama admirers), the coming talks present a peculiar challenge for the administration.

President Obama has taken great pride in having assembled an international coalition to oppose Iran, but now that this group is involved in talks with Iran, he is also its prisoner. The United States may have no intention of acquiescing to Iran’s demands about refinement or stepping back from the harsh sanctions that were belatedly placed on Tehran. But if the EU, Russia and China are all prepared to accept a deal that will enable Iran to continue its nuclear program, the president is going to be faced with a difficult choice. He will either have to repudiate the deal that Ashton and the other parties want to cut with Iran (and thereby embrace the sort of American unilateralism that he sought to replace when he succeed President Bush) or go along with something that he knows will present a grave threat to U.S. security. And, contrary to both the hopes of his friends and the fears of his detractors, he may not be able to put off crossing his Iranian Rubicon until after the election.

The only way to avoid such a choice is to do something that the president is equally uncomfortable with: exercising international leadership. Allowing Ashton it run the show in Baghdad is very much in keeping with the president’s predilection for “leading from behind.” But unless he gets directly involved in this process, he is going to be stuck with an indefensible deal that will give the lie to every statement he’s ever made on Iran. The coming weeks will tell us a lot about whether the president meant what he said about Iran or if he is able or willing to derail a negotiation that is heading inexorably toward an Iranian triumph.

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U.S. Must Use Leverage Against Maliki

Michael Rubin and I have been disagreeing about the nature of Iraq’s government and specifically about Prime Minister Maliki: Is he a well-intentioned leader who is trying, in all good faith, to increase the power of the central government in Baghdad so as to govern the country effectively, or is he a budding dictator who is trying to establish a sectarian Shi’ite regime with the aid of Iranian agents? I wish the answer were the former but I fear, alas, that it is the latter. More evidence of his alarming tendencies comes from Human Rights Watch, which can hardly be accused of being a Sunni mouthpiece. Its latest report finds:

Iraq’s government has been carrying out mass arrests and unlawfully detaining people in the notorious Camp Honor prison facility in Baghdad’s Green Zone, based on numerous interviews with victims, witnesses, family members, and government officials. The government had claimed a year ago that it had closed the prison, where Human Rights Watch had documented rampant torture.

Since October 2011 Iraqi authorities have conducted several waves of detentions, one of which arresting officers and officials termed “precautionary.” Numerous witnesses told Human Rights Watch that security forces have typically surrounded neighborhoods in Baghdad and other provinces and gone door-to-door with long lists of names of people they wanted to detain. The government has held hundreds of detainees for months, refusing to disclose the number of those detained, their identities, any charges against them, and where they are being held.

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Michael Rubin and I have been disagreeing about the nature of Iraq’s government and specifically about Prime Minister Maliki: Is he a well-intentioned leader who is trying, in all good faith, to increase the power of the central government in Baghdad so as to govern the country effectively, or is he a budding dictator who is trying to establish a sectarian Shi’ite regime with the aid of Iranian agents? I wish the answer were the former but I fear, alas, that it is the latter. More evidence of his alarming tendencies comes from Human Rights Watch, which can hardly be accused of being a Sunni mouthpiece. Its latest report finds:

Iraq’s government has been carrying out mass arrests and unlawfully detaining people in the notorious Camp Honor prison facility in Baghdad’s Green Zone, based on numerous interviews with victims, witnesses, family members, and government officials. The government had claimed a year ago that it had closed the prison, where Human Rights Watch had documented rampant torture.

Since October 2011 Iraqi authorities have conducted several waves of detentions, one of which arresting officers and officials termed “precautionary.” Numerous witnesses told Human Rights Watch that security forces have typically surrounded neighborhoods in Baghdad and other provinces and gone door-to-door with long lists of names of people they wanted to detain. The government has held hundreds of detainees for months, refusing to disclose the number of those detained, their identities, any charges against them, and where they are being held.

That certainly doesn’t sound like the actions of a prime minister interested in upholding the rule of law or in establishing a sound basis for Iraqi democracy. The tragedy is that, in the days when there were still U.S. troops in Iraq, the U.S. commanding general undoubtedly would have gone along with the U.S. ambassador to Maliki’s office and read him the riot act over such egregious misconduct. Similar Iraqi torture operations had been uncovered in the past and disbanded under American pressure.

With our troops gone, we have now lost a good deal of leverage to influence the actions of the Iraqi government. We must use what leverage we still have–Iraq is counting on arms sales from the U.S. to deliver F-16s and other valuable systems–to try to keep Maliki in check. But it won’t be easy. It may not even be possible. For all our disagreements about Maliki, Michael and I at least agree that withdrawing American troops entirely was a mistake, and one for which we–and the long-suffering people of Iraq–are likely to pay a steep price.

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Muslim Brotherhood Goes Hardline

Political mainstreaming will cause the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood to embrace moderation and responsibility, said the same people who predicted the same things about Hamas and Hezbollah. Yet again, something seems to have gone awry:

On the campaign trail for the presidential election, now only nine days away, the Muslim Brotherhood has taken a sharp turn rightward…
“We are seeing the dream of the Islamic caliphate coming true at the hands of Mohammed Morsi,” said cleric Safwat Hegazy at a campaign rally for the Muslim Brotherhood’s candidate for president.

According to a Muslim Brotherhood preacher, incidentally, the capital of that revived caliphate will be Jerusalem. For the Brotherhood, in other words, “the dream of the Islamic caliphate” is a foreign policy package.

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Political mainstreaming will cause the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood to embrace moderation and responsibility, said the same people who predicted the same things about Hamas and Hezbollah. Yet again, something seems to have gone awry:

On the campaign trail for the presidential election, now only nine days away, the Muslim Brotherhood has taken a sharp turn rightward…
“We are seeing the dream of the Islamic caliphate coming true at the hands of Mohammed Morsi,” said cleric Safwat Hegazy at a campaign rally for the Muslim Brotherhood’s candidate for president.

According to a Muslim Brotherhood preacher, incidentally, the capital of that revived caliphate will be Jerusalem. For the Brotherhood, in other words, “the dream of the Islamic caliphate” is a foreign policy package.

And now here is State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland last March, downplaying the rise of Islamists in Egypt. Obama had spent months punting on the issue, and the administration found itself needing to get out of grim news cycle after news cycle. The result was a pattern of willful denial, including these unblinking statements about the Egyptian Constitution panel:

“We’re not going to prejudge, obviously, the work of this [Constitutional] panel,” Nuland said… “This panel is from the elected parliament, so having been elected democratically, it’s now their obligation to uphold and defend and protect the democratic rights that brought them to power in the first place.”

Egypt’s presidential candidates, who recently sparred in a televised debate about who will implement sharia more, seem to part ways with Nuland over liberal democratic rights. So do the Egyptian courts. So does the Egyptian public. The question arises – as usual – whether the administration is being unblinkingly dishonest or mindblowingly naive.

Populist Islamism would be less of a problem if there were any Egyptian checks left on religiously-motivated violence. Egypt’s Christians are openly predicting that the status quo – which already involves anti-Christian attacks committed with uttery legal impunity – is going to seem bucolic compared to the post-election environment. And of course, anti-Semitism is so deeply ingrained that political operatives go on TV to accuse journalists of being Jews: “I intend to file charges against you tomorrow and you will have to prove otherwise.” Charming.

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Harvard’s “First Woman of Color”

Politico reports an update on the Elizabeth Warren ancestry story that just won’t die:

Elizabeth Warren has pushed back hard on questions about a Harvard Crimson piece in 1996 that described her as Native American, saying she had no idea the school where she taught law was billing her that way and saying it never came up during her hiring a year earlier, which others have backed up.

But a 1997 Fordham Law Review piece described her as Harvard Law School’s “first woman of color,” based, according to the notes at the bottom of the story, on a “telephone interview with Michael Chmura, News Director, Harvard Law (Aug. 6, 1996).”

The mention was in the middle of a lengthy and heavily-annotated Fordham piece on diversity and affirmative action and women. The title of the piece, by Laura Padilla, was “Intersectionality and positionality: Situating women of color in the affirmative action dialogue.”

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Politico reports an update on the Elizabeth Warren ancestry story that just won’t die:

Elizabeth Warren has pushed back hard on questions about a Harvard Crimson piece in 1996 that described her as Native American, saying she had no idea the school where she taught law was billing her that way and saying it never came up during her hiring a year earlier, which others have backed up.

But a 1997 Fordham Law Review piece described her as Harvard Law School’s “first woman of color,” based, according to the notes at the bottom of the story, on a “telephone interview with Michael Chmura, News Director, Harvard Law (Aug. 6, 1996).”

The mention was in the middle of a lengthy and heavily-annotated Fordham piece on diversity and affirmative action and women. The title of the piece, by Laura Padilla, was “Intersectionality and positionality: Situating women of color in the affirmative action dialogue.”

I’m not sure who this looks worse for: Harvard Law or Elizabeth Warren. Does Warren still hold the law school’s distinction as its “first woman of color”? Apparently not. That label has since been granted to Lani Guinier, President Clinton’s controversial assistant attorney general nominee, who was tapped for a tenured Harvard Law position in 1998.

So what happened between the years of 1996 and 1998? Why did the school decide it no longer considered Warren its first “woman of color”? Was it because, as the New England Historical Genealogical Society announced this week, there appears to be no proof of Warren’s claims she is 1/32 Cherokee?

Sen. Scott Brown has continued to call on Harvard to release Warren’s hiring records. Based on the Fordham article, it seems the law school has some responsibility to clear up – for history’s sake – the confusion over who it hired as its first “woman of color.”

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North Carolina No Longer a Swing State?

Just last month, Mitt Romney and President Obama were tied in Rasmussen’s North Carolina poll. Now, Romney has an 8-point lead, according to Rasmussen. That’s a fairly significant shift, and the most likely culprit is obviously Obama’s endorsement of gay marriage:

Mitt Romney has moved out to an eight-point lead over President Obama in North Carolina after the two men were virtually tied a month ago.

The latest Rasmussen Reports telephone survey of Likely Voters in the Tar Heel State shows the putative Republican nominee earning 51% of the vote to Obama’s 43%. Two percent (2%) like some other candidate, and four percent (4%) are undecided. (To see survey question wording, click here.)

That’s a big change from last month when Romney posted a narrow 46% to 44% lead over the president in Rasmussen Reports’ first survey of the race in North Carolina.

Democrats have signaled North Carolina’s importance as a key swing state by deciding to hold their national convention in Charlotte this summer.

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Just last month, Mitt Romney and President Obama were tied in Rasmussen’s North Carolina poll. Now, Romney has an 8-point lead, according to Rasmussen. That’s a fairly significant shift, and the most likely culprit is obviously Obama’s endorsement of gay marriage:

Mitt Romney has moved out to an eight-point lead over President Obama in North Carolina after the two men were virtually tied a month ago.

The latest Rasmussen Reports telephone survey of Likely Voters in the Tar Heel State shows the putative Republican nominee earning 51% of the vote to Obama’s 43%. Two percent (2%) like some other candidate, and four percent (4%) are undecided. (To see survey question wording, click here.)

That’s a big change from last month when Romney posted a narrow 46% to 44% lead over the president in Rasmussen Reports’ first survey of the race in North Carolina.

Democrats have signaled North Carolina’s importance as a key swing state by deciding to hold their national convention in Charlotte this summer.

The Democrats have put themselves in something of a bind by deciding to hold the convention in North Carolina and consequently emphasizing its importance as a swing state. Even though North Carolina went for Obama by a miniscule margin in 2008, some political observers had already put it in the Romney column months ago. Jeff Zeleny at the New York Times excluded North Carolina from its swing state list back in March (he characterized it as “leans Republican,” but also added that it was the “most competitive [of the lean-Republican states] and could become a tossup as the campaign develops.”).

Ed Morrissey looks at the internals, which show Romney picking up a remarkable portion of Democrats in the state. Pay close attention to the women’s vote as well:

Independents break narrowly for Romney, 49/45, but Romney also gets 18% of Democrats while losing only 6% of Republicans.  That 18% of Democrats looks awfully close to the 20.3% that voted “no preference” in last week’s primary rather than cast a vote for Obama, too, for a little independent corroboration of that number.

Romney leads among men 50/44, but does even better among women, 53/41.  That will send a shiver up spines at Team Obama.  Rasmussen uses three age demos, and Obama wins the youngest, but only 50/39, another red flag. Romney wins wide majorities in the other two, including a whopping 68/30 split among seniors.

Jonathan wrote yesterday on the CBS News/New York Times poll, which showed Romney leading with women nationally. Like Obama’s gay marriage endorsement, the Democratic Party’s “war on women” rhetoric may have worked to energize the base and donors, but it’s not helping with swing voters.

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Another Debt Standoff? Let Voters Decide

House Speaker John Boehner is being blamed for setting the stage for a repeat of last summer’s debt ceiling crisis. In a speech, Boehner vowed that he wouldn’t go along with raising the amount of money the government can borrow to cover its debts unless Congress passed more spending cuts. An anguished chorus of Democrats predicting woe to the economy if another debt deadlock drama threatened the nation’s credit rating greeted this promise. The battle lines between the parties on the budget are still seemingly set in stone. Republicans, rightly in my view, don’t believe taxes that will harm an already sinking economy should be raised to allow the government to spend more money that it doesn’t have. Democrats prefer to play the class warfare card about taxing the rich but are still not prepared to contemplate the fundamental reform of entitlements that are drowning the nation in debt.

This means sooner or later there will be another Capitol Hill confrontation in which the two sides will seek to stand on their principles while demanding their opponents give up theirs for the sake of good government. If Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner is to be believed, that next round won’t take place before the November election, because he said the government has the “tools” to keep the ship of state afloat until early next year. Let’s hope he’s right, because the answer to this stalemate won’t be found in the posturing of the parties or the somewhat disingenuous pious calls of President Obama for compromise. The only solution to this problem is to have an election.

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House Speaker John Boehner is being blamed for setting the stage for a repeat of last summer’s debt ceiling crisis. In a speech, Boehner vowed that he wouldn’t go along with raising the amount of money the government can borrow to cover its debts unless Congress passed more spending cuts. An anguished chorus of Democrats predicting woe to the economy if another debt deadlock drama threatened the nation’s credit rating greeted this promise. The battle lines between the parties on the budget are still seemingly set in stone. Republicans, rightly in my view, don’t believe taxes that will harm an already sinking economy should be raised to allow the government to spend more money that it doesn’t have. Democrats prefer to play the class warfare card about taxing the rich but are still not prepared to contemplate the fundamental reform of entitlements that are drowning the nation in debt.

This means sooner or later there will be another Capitol Hill confrontation in which the two sides will seek to stand on their principles while demanding their opponents give up theirs for the sake of good government. If Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner is to be believed, that next round won’t take place before the November election, because he said the government has the “tools” to keep the ship of state afloat until early next year. Let’s hope he’s right, because the answer to this stalemate won’t be found in the posturing of the parties or the somewhat disingenuous pious calls of President Obama for compromise. The only solution to this problem is to have an election.

What’s wrong about much of the rhetoric used in the debt ceiling debate is the presumption that the two parties are not offering clear choices. Rather than spend another summer badgering each other to act in a manner contrary to the promises they made the voters, what the parties need to do is to simply go to the people and ask for a mandate. While such a standoff in a parliamentary system would result in the government’s fall and new elections, our Constitution requires that we wait until the next federal election for the same remedy.

The current situation is the result of having a House of Representatives that was produced by the Republican landslide in 2010 and a Senate with two-thirds of its members who were elected in the Democratic years of 2006 and 2008 when they also had one of their number elevated to the White House. What is needed this year is a clear answer from the electorate in which they choose a Congress and a president of the same party who can then put into effect the budget and spending plans they campaigned on.

It is possible that in November the voters will duplicate this unhappy situation by re-electing President Obama along with a Republican Congress. It is also possible, though less likely, that a President Romney will be faced with at least one chamber controlled by the Democrats. If that happens, then it will be time to talk compromise again, as it will not be possible for both sides to have their way.

But until that happens, it would be far better if we heard less talk in Washington about letting the “adults” set the agenda. That’s just another way of saying that we must continue with business as usual and put off making any decisions about reforming the system. While the DC establishment deprecates the efforts of some members and activists to put an end to the governing class merely dividing the spoils, calls for bipartisanship on the budget is merely a cover for avoiding fundamental change.

The two sides of the political aisle have competing visions about how we should operate the government. Romney laid down a marker on this issue yesterday with a speech in Iowa about the “prairie fire of debt” spreading through the nation while the president hasn’t let up with his calls for taxing the rich (even though that won’t do a thing to solve the budget tangle). Instead of pressuring those elected to stand up for one of those visions and betray the voters who sent them to Washington, it’s time to tell the voters to choose. That is the only and the best solution to any political deadlock.

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U.S. Can’t Lead From Behind on Pirates

First in Libya, and now in Somalia, the Europeans, amazingly enough, seem to be taking the lead in Western military operations. European Union warships off the coast of Somalia are now attacking pirate lairs inland, targeting and destroying pirate vessels. This is a long-overdue step to put some teeth into the anti-piracy campaign.

As long as a dozen or even two dozen Western warships are forced to police an area of ocean the size of Texas, hoping they will catch pirates in the act, they have little hope of stopping pirates. The only way to be effective is to hunt down the Somali pirates, on both the sea and on land, and mete out swift and certain justice.

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First in Libya, and now in Somalia, the Europeans, amazingly enough, seem to be taking the lead in Western military operations. European Union warships off the coast of Somalia are now attacking pirate lairs inland, targeting and destroying pirate vessels. This is a long-overdue step to put some teeth into the anti-piracy campaign.

As long as a dozen or even two dozen Western warships are forced to police an area of ocean the size of Texas, hoping they will catch pirates in the act, they have little hope of stopping pirates. The only way to be effective is to hunt down the Somali pirates, on both the sea and on land, and mete out swift and certain justice.

The U.S. has mounted a few daring operations that show the spirit required; in 2009, for example, SEALs killed three pirates who were holding an American merchant skipper. The U.S. Special Operations Command and CIA have also launched some strikes against Islamist terrorists in Somalia. But we have resisted doing what the Europeans just did–attacking pirate lairs. Presumably, this is another example of President Obama’s “lead from behind” doctrine which is thrusting European military forces, willy nilly, into the lead in all sorts of areas. It is a good thing the Europeans are doing more, but one can only imagine how much more effective anti-piracy efforts would be if the U.S. were to be as aggressive as our European partners, who have seldom been noted in recent years for a surplus of martial spirit.

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Obama Contracts Kim Jong Illness

According to North Korean propaganda, the late Kim Jong Il was present at the creation—of the hamburger. The story goes that Kim himself invented both the classic “double bread with meat” combination and the factory-style mass-production system that provided nutritious Kimburgers to university students across the (actually starving) country. But that’s nothing compared to what happened at Kim’s birth, when winter skipped immediately to spring and the sky burst open with both starlight and rainbows.

Americans find Kim mythology endlessly funny for two reasons: first, it’s outlandish; second, it’s desperate. In the United States, allegiance to elected leaders isn’t obtained with fairytales, historical embellishment, and mandatory celebration. It’s earned with responsiveness to popular sentiment, sound leadership, and policy results. Gimmick-laden personality cults are for self-appointed paranoiacs who can’t deliver the goods.

Which is probably what Americans are thinking about since Seth’s discovery yesterday that Barack Obama has inserted his name into White House presidential biographies starting with Calvin Coolidge’s.

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According to North Korean propaganda, the late Kim Jong Il was present at the creation—of the hamburger. The story goes that Kim himself invented both the classic “double bread with meat” combination and the factory-style mass-production system that provided nutritious Kimburgers to university students across the (actually starving) country. But that’s nothing compared to what happened at Kim’s birth, when winter skipped immediately to spring and the sky burst open with both starlight and rainbows.

Americans find Kim mythology endlessly funny for two reasons: first, it’s outlandish; second, it’s desperate. In the United States, allegiance to elected leaders isn’t obtained with fairytales, historical embellishment, and mandatory celebration. It’s earned with responsiveness to popular sentiment, sound leadership, and policy results. Gimmick-laden personality cults are for self-appointed paranoiacs who can’t deliver the goods.

Which is probably what Americans are thinking about since Seth’s discovery yesterday that Barack Obama has inserted his name into White House presidential biographies starting with Calvin Coolidge’s.

While this kind of thing is new for American heads of state, it’s old hat for this one. It started before he ran for office. Exhibit A in the myth-making project is Dreams from My Father, a 1995 text on the genesis of the character who became president. Now revealed as a patchwork of “composite” people and events, Dreams can be seen properly as a life in parables. There is the Parable of the American in the Developing World, the Parable of the Mixed Race Student Dating the White Student, and so on. It’s not what did or did not actually happen, it’s what we take away from these stories that counts. Dreams literalists are a dwindling lot.

Today, Obama mythology is piped into our lives through various mediums: pre-taped interviews, late-night talk-show skits, emails, video addresses, documentaries, and more—anything but the democratic give-and-take of a press conference, the modern White House staple that Obama has done away with.  Like someone passively-aggressively rebelling against his boss, the president kept showing up for these appearances later and later until they just ceased to occur. He was done answering to others.

Self-mythology requires one-way messaging. And the message is, creepily, everywhere. Last Friday, the Wall Street Journal reported that the administration now requires health insurance companies to “tell customers who get a premium rebate this summer that the check is the result of the Obama administration’s health care law.” As James Taranto noted, “to use the federal regulatory apparatus to commandeer private companies for campaign ads is outrageous.” Well, there’s no chance of it coming up at a press conference, is there?

Kim made sure to be celebrated with his own holidays but Obama just co-opted ours. On Sunday, we got a double whammy. An Obama campaign webpage asked us to “Wish Michelle [Obama] a happy Mother’s Day” by “join[ing] Barack and sign[ing] her card.”  And If we choose not to treat the first lady as we do our mothers, an unsolicited White House email enabled us to send our own mothers a card—promoting ObamaCare. “Happy Mother’s Day From The Affordable Care Act,” it read, “Being a mom isn’t a pre-existing condition. It’s a joy!”

While that wasn’t intended as a joke, it’s hard not to laugh. Similarly, the presidential biography tampering became the immediate target of biting humor. A cascade of Twitter one-liners savaged the debacle throughout the day yesterday. Like the cult of Kim, to Americans these efforts are outlandish and desperate. We laugh at them the way we laugh when Sacha Baron Cohen lampoons self-aggrandizing autocracy. They represent a wholly foreign understanding of what it means to be a good elected official. But they also represent a dearth of genuine achievement and therefore a tragicomic desperation. If Obama really believes that seeding cards and biographies with his name is the best way to get Americans on board with his presidency he’s more of a historic first than any of us knew.

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