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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.