Commentary Magazine


Posts For: May 21, 2012

Why Obama Isn’t Dumping Biden

The idea that President Obama is seriously considering dumping Joe Biden from the Democratic ticket this year is a seductive one. To assume that this is a real possibility, as William Kristol argues in the Weekly Standard, you must believe the president is not only sick and tired of Biden’s bloviating, but that he believes his re-election effort is in real peril. While I don’t doubt the former proposition for a moment, I have yet to see proof President Obama’s messianic self-image has been so punctured by reality that he is willing to do the unthinkable and not only discard a sitting vice president but elevate Hillary Clinton as his figurative and actual successor.

Unlike Kristol and my esteemed colleague Pete Wehner, who also thinks Biden is on his way out, I think the potential costs to the president outweigh the benefits. Even more to the point, the essential prerequisite of this scenario — a panic-stricken White House that sees the president as doomed to defeat unless the Democrats throw the sort of Hail Mary pass that caused John McCain to make a fateful veep pick — doesn’t exist. The president is behaving as if he is convinced that a campaign to destroy Mitt Romney’s character will succeed. Conceding that all is lost without Clinton to save him goes against everything we know about Obama’s belief in himself and his abilities. He may also understand that Biden wouldn’t go quietly, and the perception of weakness the veep’s political execution would engender would merely discourage his supporters rather than energize them.

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The idea that President Obama is seriously considering dumping Joe Biden from the Democratic ticket this year is a seductive one. To assume that this is a real possibility, as William Kristol argues in the Weekly Standard, you must believe the president is not only sick and tired of Biden’s bloviating, but that he believes his re-election effort is in real peril. While I don’t doubt the former proposition for a moment, I have yet to see proof President Obama’s messianic self-image has been so punctured by reality that he is willing to do the unthinkable and not only discard a sitting vice president but elevate Hillary Clinton as his figurative and actual successor.

Unlike Kristol and my esteemed colleague Pete Wehner, who also thinks Biden is on his way out, I think the potential costs to the president outweigh the benefits. Even more to the point, the essential prerequisite of this scenario — a panic-stricken White House that sees the president as doomed to defeat unless the Democrats throw the sort of Hail Mary pass that caused John McCain to make a fateful veep pick — doesn’t exist. The president is behaving as if he is convinced that a campaign to destroy Mitt Romney’s character will succeed. Conceding that all is lost without Clinton to save him goes against everything we know about Obama’s belief in himself and his abilities. He may also understand that Biden wouldn’t go quietly, and the perception of weakness the veep’s political execution would engender would merely discourage his supporters rather than energize them.

Kristol’s idea of David Petraeus sliding from the CIA over to State while Hillary Clinton’s vice presidential candidacy turns a close-run affair into a cakewalk makes sense for the Democrats. Yet though it is the sort of bold stroke that would captivate the media and dominate the news for days if not weeks, it also reeks of panic. Barack Obama is too savvy a politician to want to show the public he not only lacks confidence but needs Clinton to bail him out.

As for Biden’s merits as vice president or his value to his party, I readily concede the arguments Bill and Pete put forward on that score are conclusive. The vice president’s contributions to the administration are risible and pale when compared to those of his recent predecessors, who were given far more responsibility. The fact that he has little political appeal and doesn’t help Obama govern should argue for his dismissal. But doing so will be extremely messy at a time when that is the last thing the president should want.

Biden is not the sort of politician to go quietly into the night just because the president can’t stand him. If there is anything the president should have learned about the vice president in the last four years, it is that his ego is as healthy as his own. Politics is his life, and he will fight for his position — and the fantasy he harbors of running for the presidency in 2016 — with all he’s got. The notion that he will meekly accept a demotion to being a third-tier campaign surrogate for Obama’s re-election strikes me as highly unlikely.

This isn’t about loyalty. I agree with Pete the president’s Chicago-style approach to politics renders him immune to such fine sentiments. Rather, Obama’s own self-regard is such that he probably believes he is great enough to succeed even while lugging around the loquacious Biden on his back. That’s good news for the vice president as well as for Republicans who would have good reason to fear the power of an Obama-Clinton ticket. Although many Democrats would happily make the exchange, I think the odds of this happening are slim and none.

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Cronkite and the Roots of Media Bias

An essential element of the mainstream media’s myth about its own impartiality is the notion that before Fox News came along we were living in a golden age of broadcast news reporting. The days when national news was the dominion of three networks and a few major newspapers is portrayed as Eden before the fall, an era when partisanship of the kind that is now both familiar and expected was unknown. A key element to this fairy tale is the idea that the journalistic icons of the time, like CBS’s Walter Cronkite, were Olympian figures who would never stoop to play favorites or inject ideology into the news.

But this view is totally false. As media news analyst Howard Kurtz writes in the Daily Beast, a new biography of Cronkite by Douglas Brinkley spills the beans on the godlike anchorman’s unethical practices, including blatant partisanship that would make the conservative talkers on Fox and the liberals on MSNBC blush. While Kurtz still admires Cronkite in spite of his flaws, the problem here is not just that god had feet of clay after all. It’s that the truth about Cronkite throws the entire narrative of the liberal mainstream media under the bus. It wasn’t Fox that poisoned the well of journalism, as former New York Times editor Bill Keller recently alleged. Fox and other such outlets were brought into existence in an effort to balance a journalistic establishment that was already tilting heavily to the left. The real sin here is not bias or even partisanship but the pretense of fairness that Cronkite exemplified.

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An essential element of the mainstream media’s myth about its own impartiality is the notion that before Fox News came along we were living in a golden age of broadcast news reporting. The days when national news was the dominion of three networks and a few major newspapers is portrayed as Eden before the fall, an era when partisanship of the kind that is now both familiar and expected was unknown. A key element to this fairy tale is the idea that the journalistic icons of the time, like CBS’s Walter Cronkite, were Olympian figures who would never stoop to play favorites or inject ideology into the news.

But this view is totally false. As media news analyst Howard Kurtz writes in the Daily Beast, a new biography of Cronkite by Douglas Brinkley spills the beans on the godlike anchorman’s unethical practices, including blatant partisanship that would make the conservative talkers on Fox and the liberals on MSNBC blush. While Kurtz still admires Cronkite in spite of his flaws, the problem here is not just that god had feet of clay after all. It’s that the truth about Cronkite throws the entire narrative of the liberal mainstream media under the bus. It wasn’t Fox that poisoned the well of journalism, as former New York Times editor Bill Keller recently alleged. Fox and other such outlets were brought into existence in an effort to balance a journalistic establishment that was already tilting heavily to the left. The real sin here is not bias or even partisanship but the pretense of fairness that Cronkite exemplified.

To confront the unvarnished truth about Cronkite is not to entirely discount his value as a television performer. There was much to admire about his news sense, and his on screen persona was a commanding and trusted presence that everyone who appears on television aspires to emulate. But the beloved Cronkite who generations of Americans grew up watching was only part of the picture. What Americans didn’t know about Cronkite gives the lie to the notion that the pre-Fox era was one in which non-partisan fairness ruled the airwaves.

According to Brinkley, Cronkite’s partisanship against Republicans (especially Barry Goldwater and Richard Nixon) and in favor of liberal Democrats was so open that it must now seem shocking that he was rarely called out about it. He practically conspired with Bobby Kennedy during the run up to his presidential candidacy and was not too proud to stoop to dirty tricks at the expense of Lyndon Johnson, a Democrat he didn’t like.

Kurtz pardons Cronkite’s agenda-driven approach to the news because some of it was motivated by support for good causes like civil rights. But any biased journalist can make the same excuse. Cronkite’s vaunted independence was also undermined by his coziness with those in power, as long as he liked them and was given access, as was the case with John Kennedy and Jimmy Carter. Cronkite’s ethical lapses, including conflict of interest on an Olympian scale that involved taking freebies from companies like Pan Am, would be enough to get even the biggest name fired today.

So great is Cronkite’s hold on the imagination of many Americans, it’s not likely that Brinkley’s book will do much to tarnish his reputation. Like Kurtz, many will say his virtues outweighed his faults. Yet this is not the question we should be pondering. Cronkite’s personal standing with the public doesn’t matter anymore. What does matter is the still living myth that mainstream outlets like CBS or the New York Times are the impartial sources of news most unquestioningly believed them to be. It’s not that journalism was once pure but is now sordid; it’s that even the most trusted figures of the past were as crooked in their bias as the worst TV screamers of our own day. As with Cronkite, the real sin is not that his successors are biased, but that they pretend not to be.

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Obama Rolls Over Again for the Turks

It was only last month when the State Department was acknowledging that Israel is “one of NATO’s partners [and] has participated over the years in many, many, many NATO activities, consultations, exercises, et cetera.” The context was a surreal exchange between the AP’s Matt Lee and State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland regarding how Turkey was vetoing Israel from participating in this week’s Chicago NATO summit. Lee expressed confusion at the bland acquiescence with which the Obama administration was meeting Turkey’s machinations:

QUESTION: Toria, I’m trying to help you out here, because you’re going to get absolutely slammed.
MS. NULAND: I understand. Matt, there is no —
QUESTION: You are. If you can’t come out and say that the United States wants Israel to participate, its main ally in the Middle East and you won’t come out and say that the administration wants them to participate in whatever event is going on in Chicago, that’s – that is going to be seized on.

QUESTION: Fair enough. But the Turks wouldn’t be objecting to Israel’s participation if someone hadn’t proposed that Israel participate. And if you have proposed that they participate —
MS. NULAND: Again —
QUESTION: — and you’re not willing to stick up for it, I don’t understand why.

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It was only last month when the State Department was acknowledging that Israel is “one of NATO’s partners [and] has participated over the years in many, many, many NATO activities, consultations, exercises, et cetera.” The context was a surreal exchange between the AP’s Matt Lee and State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland regarding how Turkey was vetoing Israel from participating in this week’s Chicago NATO summit. Lee expressed confusion at the bland acquiescence with which the Obama administration was meeting Turkey’s machinations:

QUESTION: Toria, I’m trying to help you out here, because you’re going to get absolutely slammed.
MS. NULAND: I understand. Matt, there is no —
QUESTION: You are. If you can’t come out and say that the United States wants Israel to participate, its main ally in the Middle East and you won’t come out and say that the administration wants them to participate in whatever event is going on in Chicago, that’s – that is going to be seized on.

QUESTION: Fair enough. But the Turks wouldn’t be objecting to Israel’s participation if someone hadn’t proposed that Israel participate. And if you have proposed that they participate —
MS. NULAND: Again —
QUESTION: — and you’re not willing to stick up for it, I don’t understand why.

Of course, Israel ended up getting excluded from the summit. The White House and State Department have subsequently scrambled from one excuse to another, lest people settle on the obvious: that the Obama administration is allowing Turkey to drive a wedge between Israel and NATO, thereby damaging NATO’s coordination with allies in the Eastern Mediterranean, undermining America’s ability to project power into the region, eroding the U.S.-Israel alliance, and making the Israelis feel isolated and nervous right as they’re making critical decisions about going it alone on Iran.

Administration officials first condescendingly insisted that critics had a “misconception” about how NATO worked. There just wasn’t enough time and space to invite members from “all those partnerships and alliance[s].” Then it turned out that there was room for members of the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative. The Initiative, though undoubtedly valuable, is unlikely to be as critical to NATO’s core focus on the Mediterranean than the Mediterranean Dialogue of which Israel is a part.

So last week the standard for attendance shifted. The new bar was participation in the NATO missions in Afghanistan and Kosovo. Quote-unquote from NATO’s Secretary-General Rasmussen: “Israel has not been invited to attend the summit because Israel is neither a participant in ISAF, nor in KFOR.”

But that still won’t work. Summit participant Jordan is a formal ISAF partner but provides exactly nothing worth listing to the mission. Kazakhstan, the Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan, and Qatar are also in Chicago, even though none are in ISAF or KFOR.

One wonders, then, what new excuse the Obama administration will trot out this week?

The answer can’t be about providing input on Kosovo or Afghanistian. That might colorably bring the Stans on board – regional presence, supply lines, etc – but not Qatar. Even worse for the administration’s prevarication, they can’t use that to justify excluding Israel. It was just last month when IAF chief Ido Nechushtan was awarded a U.S. Air Force decoration for the contributions the IAF has made to America’s war-fighting capabilities in Afghanistan. If the goal is to brainstorm how to fight in and/or withdraw from the country, Israeli input would seem relatively valuable.

The White House’s overarching narrative is that Turkey never vetoed Israel’s invitation to the Chicago summit because Israel was never invited to the Chicago summit. That’s hard to believe but – if it’s true – it’s a cause for deep concern. Invitations were sent out to over 30 non-NATO members, including those with no connections to NATO, but no one remembered to invite the American ally and NATO partner that controls the Middle East’s most powerful military? Forget the Obama White House’s supine acquiescence to Turkey’s neo-Ottoman weight throwing. According to this theory, the most successful military alliance in history is being run by idiots.

Luckily of course, that’s not true. NATO is not run by idiots, and all signs indicated that Israel was going to participate in Chicago. Then the Turks apparently rolled over the White House and excluded the Jewish State. One wonders, also, how much resistance they encountered.

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“Afghan Good Enough”

Earlier today, I blogged about the revelation in the New York Times that, in the words of one of the president’s advisers, in Afghanistan, “The military was ‘all in,’ as they say, and Obama wasn’t.” Meaning that the military wanted to pursue a wide-ranging counterinsurgency strategy and Obama didn’t.

This has been accompanied by numerous leaks about how the administration was redefining success downward, the mantra being the condescending formulation,”Afghan good enough.” The president’s own national security adviser told reporters on the record: “The goal is to have an Afghanistan again that has a degree of stability such that forces like al-Qaeda and associated groups cannot have safe haven unimpeded, which could threaten the region and threaten U.S. and other interests in the world.” (Does that mean that “impeded” safe havens would be ok?)

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Earlier today, I blogged about the revelation in the New York Times that, in the words of one of the president’s advisers, in Afghanistan, “The military was ‘all in,’ as they say, and Obama wasn’t.” Meaning that the military wanted to pursue a wide-ranging counterinsurgency strategy and Obama didn’t.

This has been accompanied by numerous leaks about how the administration was redefining success downward, the mantra being the condescending formulation,”Afghan good enough.” The president’s own national security adviser told reporters on the record: “The goal is to have an Afghanistan again that has a degree of stability such that forces like al-Qaeda and associated groups cannot have safe haven unimpeded, which could threaten the region and threaten U.S. and other interests in the world.” (Does that mean that “impeded” safe havens would be ok?)

All of this is worth keeping in mind if you take the trouble to read the official Chicago Summit Declaration issued by all the heads of state attending the NATO summit. Look at paragraphs 8 and 9 in particular:

8. We reiterate the importance Allies attach to seeing tangible progress by the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan regarding its commitments made at the Bonn Conference on 5 December 2011 to a democratic society, based on the rule of law and good governance, including progress in the fight against corruption, where the human rights and fundamental freedoms of its citizens, including the equality of men and women and the active participation of both in Afghan society, are respected.  …

9. We also underscore the importance of our shared understanding with the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan regarding the full participation of all Afghan women in the reconstruction, political, peace and reconciliation processes in Afghanistan and the need to respect the institutional arrangements protecting their rights. We recognize also the need for the protection of children from the damaging effects of armed conflict.

So which is it: Are we committed to minimal goals, primarily focused on leaving Afghanistan as quickly as possible and not leaving behind “unimpeded” al-Qaeda safe havens, or are we committed to establishing “the rule of law and good governance,” including guaranteeing the rights “of all Afghan women”? This discrepancy is hard to understand or explain. It can only mean one thing: Either the president isn’t leveling with us when he says we will pursue minimalist goals or he isn’t leveling with us when he signs a summit declaration that commits us to maximalist goals.

If the armed forces are confused about what our mission is, they are not alone. It is hard to see any clarity from such conflicting statements of our aims.

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Obama Launches New Bain Attack Ad

Note to Cory Booker: don’t watch this latest Obama ad while eating lunch. The Obama campaign has released another distorted attack on Bain Capital, this time targeting the company’s acquisition of a textile firm called American Pad and Paper (Ampad):

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Note to Cory Booker: don’t watch this latest Obama ad while eating lunch. The Obama campaign has released another distorted attack on Bain Capital, this time targeting the company’s acquisition of a textile firm called American Pad and Paper (Ampad):

The Ampad story was one of Sen. Ted Kennedy’s most effective attacks against Romney in the 1994 Massachusetts Senate race. Paul Barrett has a detailed long read on the background, but here’s a summary: Bain Capital bought Ampad in 1992, and used the company to buy and restructure struggling paper supply manufacturers. In 1994, Ampad bought a small paper company in Marion, Indiana, with Bain’s approval. As part of its plan to rebuild the flailing business, Ampad cut pay and benefits for the 258 workers. The union initially attempted to negotiate with the new management, but ended up walking away from the table and calling a strike. Ampad responded by laying off the striking workers, several of whom blame Romney for their job losses and have actively tried to foil his political ambitions ever since.

The stories of layoffs may strike an emotional chord with some viewers, but Bain and Ampad aren’t the ones to find fault with here. You could just as easily argue that the union bore responsible for the job losses, because it decided to play chicken with Ampad and call a risky strike instead of negotiating. Or you could argue that the plant’s prior management was to blame for driving the plant to financial instability in the first place.

Here’s another glaring problem: Romney took a leave of absence from Bain in January of 1994, in order to focus on his Senate campaign. Ampad bought the Marion paper company in July of 1994. So not only did Romney have no control over Ampad’s actions, he wasn’t even technically at Bain when the Marion company was acquired.

And as the Wall Street Journal argues today, the liberal critique of Bain is illogical. If Bain really was a “vampire” firm that preyed on companies and then unloaded the carcasses onto unwitting buyers, how in the world could they still be in business? Why would any sane investor buy a company from them? How could their acquisitions still manage to get loans if they were consistently defaulting?

The Obama campaign likely hopes voters don’t ask themselves those questions. And while the campaign may hope the Ampad ad works as well for them as it did for Ted Kennedy, there are reasons to believe it won’t. The laid off workers from Marion also helped campaign against Romney when he ran for governor on a job-creation platform in 2002, with much less success. The story apparently wasn’t as convincing to voters the second time around, years after it originally happened.

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Mass Dems Stuck With Elizabeth Warren

Massachusetts Democrats are stuck with Elizabeth Warren. That’s what the Boston Herald is reporting after talking to state Democrats, and they’re probably right. There is nobody with Warren’s name recognition and catching up with fundraising, at this point, would be a long shot:

“The Democratic Party is really stuck,” countered University of New Hampshire political science professor Andrew Smith. “They essentially cleared the path for her as a candidate, and they can’t get rid of her now. She could conceivably drop out, but I doubt that will be the case, and I doubt the party will try to push her aside.” …

Smith and some Democrats say the party can’t switch front-runners now — it’s probably too late for a big name that could attract big money to jump in and gather the 10,000 signatures needed by a June 5 deadline.

“They’re in a tough spot, but there’s not a lot they can do about it,” Smith said.

Warren had $10.9 million as of late March to Republican U.S. Sen. Scott Brown’s $15 million.

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Massachusetts Democrats are stuck with Elizabeth Warren. That’s what the Boston Herald is reporting after talking to state Democrats, and they’re probably right. There is nobody with Warren’s name recognition and catching up with fundraising, at this point, would be a long shot:

“The Democratic Party is really stuck,” countered University of New Hampshire political science professor Andrew Smith. “They essentially cleared the path for her as a candidate, and they can’t get rid of her now. She could conceivably drop out, but I doubt that will be the case, and I doubt the party will try to push her aside.” …

Smith and some Democrats say the party can’t switch front-runners now — it’s probably too late for a big name that could attract big money to jump in and gather the 10,000 signatures needed by a June 5 deadline.

“They’re in a tough spot, but there’s not a lot they can do about it,” Smith said.

Warren had $10.9 million as of late March to Republican U.S. Sen. Scott Brown’s $15 million.

The fundraising is the bigger concern, but it’s not true that nobody else could gather the signatures before June 5. Warren’s primary opponent, Marisa DeFranco, reportedly already has, though she’s raised a paltry $9,074 during the first quarter of 2012. True, DeFranco isn’t being dragged down by a Native American ancestry scandal. But she’s also way less polished than Warren, has virtually no campaign infrastructure in place, and has barely any name recognition in the state, let alone any national fundraising capacity. If Democrats ditch Warren and take a gamble on someone like DeFranco, they could end up in an even worse position, particularly if she can’t handle the national media glare.

Democrats are putting a lot of stock in a recent Rasmussen poll that found the controversy hasn’t hurt Warren in the state, and are hoping this scandal blows over by the summer. Whether that happens – and whether the issue starts to take a heavy toll on Warren’s poll numbers – likely depends on whether state Republicans can convince voters that this is a reflection on Warren’s personal integrity, rather than just a sensational storyline.

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Burma’s Tricky Question

The beginning of this month was a week of firsts for Burma’s famed pro-democracy opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi. She won a seat in parliamentary by-elections and, unlike after her party’s overwhelming victory in 1990 that was immediately nullified by the ruling junta, was granted her seat on May 1. She was then awarded her first passport in 24 years, which she will use to fulfill other firsts: she will address both chambers of the British parliament, and she will travel to Norway and deliver her Nobel acceptance speech. (She won the Peace Prize in 1991 but was put under house arrest.)

The European Union had already agreed to suspend its economic sanctions against Burma, and on Friday U.S. officials said they would suspend the prohibition against American investment in Burma. This is both a momentous decision and a risky one. As Reuters reports this morning:

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Myanmar democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi have discussed the need to protect against the country backsliding on reforms.

The U.S. on Friday said it would suspend a ban on American investment in the country also known as Burma. It was the Obama administration’s most significant step yet to reward Myanmar for its shift from five decades of authoritarian rule, although rights groups criticized the move as premature.

The State Department said Clinton called Suu Kyi on Sunday night, and that they agreed Myanmar’s progress remains fragile. Clinton said the U.S. was keeping its sanctions’ authorities in place as an insurance policy.

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The beginning of this month was a week of firsts for Burma’s famed pro-democracy opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi. She won a seat in parliamentary by-elections and, unlike after her party’s overwhelming victory in 1990 that was immediately nullified by the ruling junta, was granted her seat on May 1. She was then awarded her first passport in 24 years, which she will use to fulfill other firsts: she will address both chambers of the British parliament, and she will travel to Norway and deliver her Nobel acceptance speech. (She won the Peace Prize in 1991 but was put under house arrest.)

The European Union had already agreed to suspend its economic sanctions against Burma, and on Friday U.S. officials said they would suspend the prohibition against American investment in Burma. This is both a momentous decision and a risky one. As Reuters reports this morning:

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Myanmar democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi have discussed the need to protect against the country backsliding on reforms.

The U.S. on Friday said it would suspend a ban on American investment in the country also known as Burma. It was the Obama administration’s most significant step yet to reward Myanmar for its shift from five decades of authoritarian rule, although rights groups criticized the move as premature.

The State Department said Clinton called Suu Kyi on Sunday night, and that they agreed Myanmar’s progress remains fragile. Clinton said the U.S. was keeping its sanctions’ authorities in place as an insurance policy.

In March, I asked if Burma will be considered a sanctions success story. It’s too early to tell, of course, but if handled well the process could turn out to be a much-needed feather in the cap of sanctions enthusiasts. But there are three reasons not to rush the lifting of all sanctions.

First, there is no sanctions-related humanitarian crisis. I pointed out that leading economic indicators and conversations with officials had enabled Min Zin to make a convincing case that “it’s not western sanctions that are causing Burma’s economic woes. It’s government policy.” So while lifting the sanctions would certainly help Burma’s economy, it doesn’t necessarily need to be rushed.

Second, Aung San Suu Kyi’s freedom and election to parliament are powerful symbols–but, at this point, symbols nonetheless. As the Wall Street Journal reported earlier this month:

Underscoring the continuing problems, Ms. Suu Kyi, 66-years-old, delayed taking her seat in parliament for several days despite her National League for Democracy winning 43 of 45 open seats in by-elections on April 1. She and her colleagues complained that the oath of office required them to swear to safeguard a military-drafted constitution which reserves a quarter of parliamentary seats for the armed forces.

In addition, changing the constitution requires at least 75 percent of the votes in parliament, effectively providing the army with a veto over any constitutional changes….

Ms. Suu Kyi is unlikely to have much of a voice in the legislature, at least for the time being. She and her fellow legislators from the National League for Democracy comprise around 8 percent of the total number of seats in the parliament.

Suu Kyi’s side backed down and joined parliament anyway. (Almost surely the right thing to do, rather than risk losing the momentum and goodwill of the moment.) It is not until the expected general elections in 2015 that the future of free elections in Burma will meet its next real test.

And third, both sides will want to do their best to ensure the cement dries on any democratization. There will be a strong impulse on the part of the Obama administration and Hillary Clinton-led State Department to explain away backsliding on the part of the Burmese regime in order to protect the legacy of the administration’s Burma policy. We all remember the countrywide collective cringe at Clinton’s assertion of evidence that Bashar al-Assad was a reformer just a year ago. And President Obama’s reaction to the 2009 Iranian “election” and ensuing protests was to just keep mumbling the word “dialogue” over and over to himself while ignoring the brutal reality playing out on live television in front of him.

For a “suspended” sanctions policy to have any teeth, the administration must be willing to admit if and when steps are taken in the wrong direction. To be sure, thus far the regime’s behavior has been worthy of its plaudits, and the process has been encouraging. A guarded optimism and a bit of patience may get Burma, eventually, to freedom.

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Dividing Jerusalem Is Physically Impossible

In honor of Jerusalem Day, which was celebrated yesterday, anyone who hasn’t yet done so should read Michael Totten’s 2011 City Journal article on why dividing the city that was reunited 45 years ago is not merely foolish, but impossible. There are many good arguments against dividing Jerusalem, and they have been made many times before. What makes Totten’s article unique is that he physically walked the route along which the border would lie under the solution “everyone knows” any Israeli-Palestinian deal must include – a division in which the city’s Arab neighborhoods become part of Palestine while Jewish neighborhoods remain Israeli. For the purpose, he used the Geneva Initiative’s map. Here are some of the absurdities he found:

On a street near the Armenian Quarter, a house that the Geneva Initiative has slated for Israel is wedged between two houses that would go to a Palestinian state. Houses in the Old City are ancient. They lean on one another. It is physically impossible to weave a border between them … Things are even stranger where the Muslim Quarter abuts the Jewish Quarter. Arabs own shops at street level, while Jews own apartments upstairs. According to the Geneva Initiative, the ground floor on that street would be Palestinian and the second floor Israeli.

Even in neighborhoods where Palestinian and Jewish houses aren’t intertwined the way they are in the Old City, the map was utterly impractical:

Take the neighborhood of Abu Tor, on a hill just south of the Old City. The eastern side is Arab, and the western side is Jewish. The Green Line runs through its center. It would be easy enough, theoretically, to make the Green Line the border between Israel and a Palestinian state.

But that border would go right down the middle of a street where Jews live on one side and Arabs live on the other. If a wall or a fence were erected on that border, residents wouldn’t be able to drive down their own street. And if there were no wall or a fence, anyone could cross the border without passing through customs or security: tourists, spies, job-seekers, and suicide bombers. A Palestinian could throw a hand grenade into Israel from inside his living room, and vice versa.

As Totten noted, such a map would be possible only if Israel and Palestine had a completely open border, European Union-style, in which citizens of both nations could freely enter the other with no border checks whatsoever. That is indeed the fantasy envisioned by proponents of dividing the city. But in the real world, it’s completely impossible.

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In honor of Jerusalem Day, which was celebrated yesterday, anyone who hasn’t yet done so should read Michael Totten’s 2011 City Journal article on why dividing the city that was reunited 45 years ago is not merely foolish, but impossible. There are many good arguments against dividing Jerusalem, and they have been made many times before. What makes Totten’s article unique is that he physically walked the route along which the border would lie under the solution “everyone knows” any Israeli-Palestinian deal must include – a division in which the city’s Arab neighborhoods become part of Palestine while Jewish neighborhoods remain Israeli. For the purpose, he used the Geneva Initiative’s map. Here are some of the absurdities he found:

On a street near the Armenian Quarter, a house that the Geneva Initiative has slated for Israel is wedged between two houses that would go to a Palestinian state. Houses in the Old City are ancient. They lean on one another. It is physically impossible to weave a border between them … Things are even stranger where the Muslim Quarter abuts the Jewish Quarter. Arabs own shops at street level, while Jews own apartments upstairs. According to the Geneva Initiative, the ground floor on that street would be Palestinian and the second floor Israeli.

Even in neighborhoods where Palestinian and Jewish houses aren’t intertwined the way they are in the Old City, the map was utterly impractical:

Take the neighborhood of Abu Tor, on a hill just south of the Old City. The eastern side is Arab, and the western side is Jewish. The Green Line runs through its center. It would be easy enough, theoretically, to make the Green Line the border between Israel and a Palestinian state.

But that border would go right down the middle of a street where Jews live on one side and Arabs live on the other. If a wall or a fence were erected on that border, residents wouldn’t be able to drive down their own street. And if there were no wall or a fence, anyone could cross the border without passing through customs or security: tourists, spies, job-seekers, and suicide bombers. A Palestinian could throw a hand grenade into Israel from inside his living room, and vice versa.

As Totten noted, such a map would be possible only if Israel and Palestine had a completely open border, European Union-style, in which citizens of both nations could freely enter the other with no border checks whatsoever. That is indeed the fantasy envisioned by proponents of dividing the city. But in the real world, it’s completely impossible.

First, Israelis wouldn’t accept a border wide open to Palestinian terrorists. An individual Israeli prime minister certainly might; both Ehud Olmert and Ehud Barak reportedly did. But by law, ceding territory Israel has annexed requires the approval of either two-thirds of Knesset members or a majority of the public in a referendum. And given the escalation in terror produced by every previous Israeli-Palestinian agreement, a deal that left Israel’s security totally dependent on Palestinian goodwill would never win the requisite support.

But an open border is also an economic non-starter. Israel’s economy is a powerhouse compared not only to the Palestinian Authority, but to all its Arab neighbors. Hence with an open border, it would be flooded with economic migrants – primarily Palestinians, but also other Arab nationals, who could enter Palestine legally and then cross the borderless border into Israel. Even now, thousands of Palestinians risk imprisonment or even death every day trying to cross the security fence to work in Israel. If the passage were risk-free, the number would skyrocket.

In short, dividing Jerusalem isn’t physically possible. Thus, until the fantasy of division is abandoned, no Israeli-Palestinian deal will be possible, either.

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Alleged Iranian Spy Was Scapegoated

Last week, Iranian blogger Potkin Azarmehr questioned the authenticity of reports that Iran had executed Majid Jamali Fashi, the 24-year-old Iranian accused of carrying out the assassination of Iranian nuclear scientist Massoud-Ali Mohammadi.

This morning, Potkin circulated a snapshot of an Israeli passport, showcased on Iranian TV, which authorities claim is evidence that Fashi was an Israeli agent.

I will leave it to others to decide whether Fashi’s execution was a fake. The passport certainly looks like a fake. This has less to do with the fact that the name and ID number of the passport holder have been erased and more with obvious flaws:

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Last week, Iranian blogger Potkin Azarmehr questioned the authenticity of reports that Iran had executed Majid Jamali Fashi, the 24-year-old Iranian accused of carrying out the assassination of Iranian nuclear scientist Massoud-Ali Mohammadi.

This morning, Potkin circulated a snapshot of an Israeli passport, showcased on Iranian TV, which authorities claim is evidence that Fashi was an Israeli agent.

I will leave it to others to decide whether Fashi’s execution was a fake. The passport certainly looks like a fake. This has less to do with the fact that the name and ID number of the passport holder have been erased and more with obvious flaws:

First of all, any passport issued since the mid-1990s by any country includes, at the bottom of its main page, a line with left-pointed arrows, much like in this picture. In an authentic passport, the line begins with the letter P followed by the three letter code of the country issuing the document (ISR for Israel), followed by the passport holder’s full name. In the snapshot, the line contains only arrows and no name – N.B. the name is not erased or blurred, it is simply not there.

Beyond this first surprising fault, the picture for Fashi is not suitable for passports – he is gazing away from the camera, whereas a passport head shot requires that the passport holder stare into the camera.

But there is something more – a small detail that Iranian state falsifiers–sloppy as ever–overlooked.

Fashi’s picture is very recent – yet the passport was issued, according to the snapshot, on 17 November 2003. Fashi’s biographical details tell us that he was 24 when he was hanged. If that is the case, he would have been 15-years-old – a teenager, with a much more boyish face with less facial hair than the picture shows.

For obvious reasons then, the year of birth of the passport holder is concealed as well.

Fashi might have been executed after all. But the attempt to turn him into a Mossad agent and gun-for-hire rests clearly on an orchestrated attempt by the regime to scapegoat someone who is innocent.

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Viewing Iran: Optimism or Annihilation?

Consider this an update to last February, when another high-ranking Iranian official pledged to “kill all Jews and annihilate Israel.” Last time, the genocidal threat came from Supreme Leader Khamenei’s strategy specialist Alireza Forghani, and was published on a Khamenei-linked website. This time, it’s Hassan Firouzabadi, the chief of staff of the Iranian armed forces, via what might politely be called the government-affiliated FARS outlet:

Chief of Staff of the Iranian Armed Forces Major General Hassan Firouzabadi… reiterated the Iranian nation and Supreme Leader’s emphasis on the necessity of support for the oppressed Palestinian nation and its causes, and noted, “The Iranian nation is standing for its cause that is the full annihilation of Israel.” The top military official reminded that the Iranian Supreme Leader considers defending Palestine as a full religious duty and believes that any kind of governance and rule by anyone other than the Palestinians as an instance of usurpation.

No doubt Iranian apologists will soon explain how the Iranian outlet FARS – which is where this passage comes from – is mistranslating Firouzabadi. Maybe the IRCG stooges who work there just don’t understand Farsi!

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Consider this an update to last February, when another high-ranking Iranian official pledged to “kill all Jews and annihilate Israel.” Last time, the genocidal threat came from Supreme Leader Khamenei’s strategy specialist Alireza Forghani, and was published on a Khamenei-linked website. This time, it’s Hassan Firouzabadi, the chief of staff of the Iranian armed forces, via what might politely be called the government-affiliated FARS outlet:

Chief of Staff of the Iranian Armed Forces Major General Hassan Firouzabadi… reiterated the Iranian nation and Supreme Leader’s emphasis on the necessity of support for the oppressed Palestinian nation and its causes, and noted, “The Iranian nation is standing for its cause that is the full annihilation of Israel.” The top military official reminded that the Iranian Supreme Leader considers defending Palestine as a full religious duty and believes that any kind of governance and rule by anyone other than the Palestinians as an instance of usurpation.

No doubt Iranian apologists will soon explain how the Iranian outlet FARS – which is where this passage comes from – is mistranslating Firouzabadi. Maybe the IRCG stooges who work there just don’t understand Farsi!

Do note, nevertheless, how Firouzabadi emphasizes the annihilation of Israel as a religious duty. That too echoes the previous February announcement, which laid out a “jurisprudential justification” for why the final war against the Jewish State must be led by Shias. Last week, the Iranians actually held a conference on the theme, with one Iranian official calling for an “Islamic awakening” to wipe out Israel.

Meanwhile the Obama administration is – per Haaretz – “radiating optimism” about cooperating with Iran:

The Obama administration and the Iranian regime of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei are entering a critical week of decisions over the issue of Iran’s nuclear program. The sides are moving toward a “warming of relations alongside enrichment”, whereby the relationship between Washington and Tehran will improve, while Iran continues enriching uranium without pursuing a weapons program, but does not give up on its existing program. The threat of American or Israeli military action still exists, yet no one is holding the gun to Iran’s head. Several developments have taken place in the last couple of days, causing the White House to radiate optimism.

This news comes in the midst of a campaign of anti-Israel leaks, among them complaints hitting Jerusalem for its “narrow definition” of the Iranian threat. Seriously. Why can’t the Israelis just relax already?

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Obama Campaign’s Fundraising Troubles

April was not a good fundraising month for the Obama campaign or the pro-Obama super PAC. BuzzFeed reports that many of the campaign’s big-dollar donors have already maxed out their contributions, and new donors aren’t lined up to replace them:

Donations to President Barack Obama’s reelection campaign declined sharply in April, as many big-dollar contributors hit the legal maximum, a BuzzFeed analysis of Federal Election Commission data shows. …

Most of Obama’s drop is attributable to a decline in contributions of more than $500, which fell by more than $9 million. Many of Obama’s top donors have already hit the legal $2500 maximum to the campaign, which — along with an apparent failure to recruit a new cadre of wealthy supporters — may account for the decline.

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April was not a good fundraising month for the Obama campaign or the pro-Obama super PAC. BuzzFeed reports that many of the campaign’s big-dollar donors have already maxed out their contributions, and new donors aren’t lined up to replace them:

Donations to President Barack Obama’s reelection campaign declined sharply in April, as many big-dollar contributors hit the legal maximum, a BuzzFeed analysis of Federal Election Commission data shows. …

Most of Obama’s drop is attributable to a decline in contributions of more than $500, which fell by more than $9 million. Many of Obama’s top donors have already hit the legal $2500 maximum to the campaign, which — along with an apparent failure to recruit a new cadre of wealthy supporters — may account for the decline.

The bigger issue is that the donor pool isn’t being replenished. Obama has attended a record number of fundraisers, so it’s hard to chalk this up to a lack of outreach. More likely, as Andrew Malcolm writes, is that donors (and some bundlers) simply aren’t as enthusiastic as they were in 2008. Collecting the money takes a lot more time and effort:

But the decline appeared to confirm rumors and anecdotal evidence that Obama’s large-sum donors were less enthusiastic this time around and holding back the checks or reducing their size. One California Democrat said bundlers, who simply stacked the free-flowing checks in 2008, were now having to convince many to give.

And it’s not just the president’s campaign that had a down month in April. The pro-Obama super PAC Priorities USA had its worst fundraising month as well, only collecting nine donations of $10,000 or more, according to Politico. Another bad sign: several of these donations were from labor unions, which already play a similar role to super PACs and likely would have already used that money for their own Obama reelection efforts anyway.

The fact that big-money donors are maxing out their Obama campaign contributions wouldn’t matter as much if they were subsequently pouring their money into the super PAC. So far, it doesn’t look like they are. Obama’s endorsement of gay marriage might help open some wallets in Hollywood and elsewhere. But his attacks on Romney’s career at Bain Capital could also present a problem for him with Wall Street donors. These are the people who would normally be prime targets for recruitment by Priorities USA, but it’s very possible that they don’t want their money funding anti-Bain attack ads.

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Obama’s Flawed Afghanistan Strategy

At the NATO summit in Chicago, President Obama reiterated that the United States would wind down its combat role, but would continue its advisory role and commitment to Afghanistan. The New York Times and other outlets helpfully explained that Obama was simply following the light footprint model that Obama employed against Libya, Yemen, and elsewhere.

My colleague Ahmad Majidyar–who hands down is the most astute Afghan and Pakistan political analyst in the country today (follow his tweets)–is correct to note, however, that the advisory model for Afghanistan has been tried before, by the Soviet Union. After the Soviet withdrawal, Moscow channeled up to $3 billion/year to Kabul, and also transferred to their Afghan partners much of the military equipment which it withdrew from Poland, East Germany, and Czechoslovakia. Neither this nor the advisers was enough to keep Najibullah in power. Afghans have never lost a war; they just defect to the winning side. For Afghans, momentum trumps principle.

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At the NATO summit in Chicago, President Obama reiterated that the United States would wind down its combat role, but would continue its advisory role and commitment to Afghanistan. The New York Times and other outlets helpfully explained that Obama was simply following the light footprint model that Obama employed against Libya, Yemen, and elsewhere.

My colleague Ahmad Majidyar–who hands down is the most astute Afghan and Pakistan political analyst in the country today (follow his tweets)–is correct to note, however, that the advisory model for Afghanistan has been tried before, by the Soviet Union. After the Soviet withdrawal, Moscow channeled up to $3 billion/year to Kabul, and also transferred to their Afghan partners much of the military equipment which it withdrew from Poland, East Germany, and Czechoslovakia. Neither this nor the advisers was enough to keep Najibullah in power. Afghans have never lost a war; they just defect to the winning side. For Afghans, momentum trumps principle.

Obama seems to believe that history revolves around him rather than the other way around, but he is not immune to its precedents. Perhaps, therefore, before bragging about the draw down short of a mission accomplished, Obama might explain why he believes his strategy will work when, the last time it was tried, it ended in government collapse, civil war, and ultimately the vacuum which enabled 9/11.

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Bye Bye Biden?

In an editorial in The Weekly Standard, Bill Kristol argues that President Obama would be wise to replace Vice President Joe Biden with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. This kind of speculation — the incumbent president replacing the vice president in order to re-energize his campaign — goes on every four years. It almost never happens.

This time it might.

For one thing, Biden is literally, God love him, a buffoon. His counsel and predictions are almost always wrong, from telling us we’d see an increase in 500,000 jobs a month during the 2010 “recovery summer” (a figure that was ludicrously off target) to advising the president not to take out Osama bin Laden. More often than not, Biden makes news by his verbal miscues (“jobs” is a three-letter word, Obama “has a big stick, I promise you,” et cetera). He’s a person who’s almost impossible to take seriously. Read More

In an editorial in The Weekly Standard, Bill Kristol argues that President Obama would be wise to replace Vice President Joe Biden with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. This kind of speculation — the incumbent president replacing the vice president in order to re-energize his campaign — goes on every four years. It almost never happens.

This time it might.

For one thing, Biden is literally, God love him, a buffoon. His counsel and predictions are almost always wrong, from telling us we’d see an increase in 500,000 jobs a month during the 2010 “recovery summer” (a figure that was ludicrously off target) to advising the president not to take out Osama bin Laden. More often than not, Biden makes news by his verbal miscues (“jobs” is a three-letter word, Obama “has a big stick, I promise you,” et cetera). He’s a person who’s almost impossible to take seriously.

In addition, the president is frantically trying to boost his standing with (in particular) college educated white women, and his mindset is that placing Hillary Clinton on the ticket could seal the deal. It’s also a decision that would energize liberals without offending anyone within the Democratic Party (Biden has no real constituency).

A final reason — and I think an under appreciated one — is the anger the president and his closest advisers harbor for the vice president, whose “Meet the Press” interview forced Obama to announce his support for same-sex marriage earlier than he wanted to. Worse, at least from the president’s perspective, is that what Biden did was to make Obama’s announcement look political rather than principled.

Obama, marinated in the Chicago Way of politics, doesn’t possess any deep sense of personal loyalty. (See the bus Obama’s “spiritual mentor” Jeremiah Wright found himself under for more.) And whatever residual loyalty the president felt for Biden has, I think, been shattered after Biden’s “Meet the Press” misstep.

Right now, Barack Obama is on course to lose the election. He’ll be as ruthless as he thinks he needs to be in order to turn his fortunes around.

Bill Kristol may be on to something. If I were Joe Biden, God love him, I’d be worried.

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Booker’s Nausea Sent Down Memory Hole

Newark Mayor Cory A. Booker is a rising star in New Jersey whose record running the city has earned him applause on both sides of the political aisle. He’s also thought of as something of a superhero after personally rescuing two neighbors from their burning home last month. But as far as the Obama re-election campaign is concerned, he has no more right to think as he pleases than Winston Smith, the hero of George Orwell’s 1984. Just as Smith was forced to concede that two plus two equals five if Big Brother said it did, so Booker tamely walked back his criticism of the president’s re-election campaign ads lambasting Mitt Romney’s business record.

Speaking on “Meet the Press” Sunday morning, Booker was a political superhero blasting the excesses of both Republicans and Democrats as he decried some conservatives dredging up the Rev. Jeremiah Wright issue and was equally strong on his own party’s attempt to demonize Romney’s career:

I have to just say, from a very personal level, I’m not about to sit here and indict private equity. To me, it’s just we’re getting to a ridiculous point in America, especially that I know I live in a state where pension funds, unions and other people are investing in companies like Bain Capital. If you look at the totality of Bain Capital’s record, they’ve done a lot to support businesses, to grow businesses. And this to me, I’m very uncomfortable with. …

The last point I’ll make is this kind of stuff is nauseating to me on both sides. It’s nauseating to the American public. Enough is enough. Stop attacking private equity. Stop attacking Jeremiah Wright.

Coming from a prominent young liberal, this was refreshing stuff. Obviously it was a little too refreshing for the White House, but as bad as the “Meet the Press” comments were for the president, what followed didn’t help either. By the end of the day, a contrite Booker posted a video on YouTube walking back his comments about Bain and tamely claiming instead that it was “reasonable” for the Obama campaign to attack Romney on this score. It was as if it were a video from a hostage being held for ransom.

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Newark Mayor Cory A. Booker is a rising star in New Jersey whose record running the city has earned him applause on both sides of the political aisle. He’s also thought of as something of a superhero after personally rescuing two neighbors from their burning home last month. But as far as the Obama re-election campaign is concerned, he has no more right to think as he pleases than Winston Smith, the hero of George Orwell’s 1984. Just as Smith was forced to concede that two plus two equals five if Big Brother said it did, so Booker tamely walked back his criticism of the president’s re-election campaign ads lambasting Mitt Romney’s business record.

Speaking on “Meet the Press” Sunday morning, Booker was a political superhero blasting the excesses of both Republicans and Democrats as he decried some conservatives dredging up the Rev. Jeremiah Wright issue and was equally strong on his own party’s attempt to demonize Romney’s career:

I have to just say, from a very personal level, I’m not about to sit here and indict private equity. To me, it’s just we’re getting to a ridiculous point in America, especially that I know I live in a state where pension funds, unions and other people are investing in companies like Bain Capital. If you look at the totality of Bain Capital’s record, they’ve done a lot to support businesses, to grow businesses. And this to me, I’m very uncomfortable with. …

The last point I’ll make is this kind of stuff is nauseating to me on both sides. It’s nauseating to the American public. Enough is enough. Stop attacking private equity. Stop attacking Jeremiah Wright.

Coming from a prominent young liberal, this was refreshing stuff. Obviously it was a little too refreshing for the White House, but as bad as the “Meet the Press” comments were for the president, what followed didn’t help either. By the end of the day, a contrite Booker posted a video on YouTube walking back his comments about Bain and tamely claiming instead that it was “reasonable” for the Obama campaign to attack Romney on this score. It was as if it were a video from a hostage being held for ransom.

Needless to say, Booker was right the first time he opened his mouth on Sunday. Private equity firms such as Bain are the engine of commerce in this country. Though not all the decisions made by any such firm work out, in the long run they are what builds jobs, not Obama’s tax and spend policies. One suspects this is something most Americans understand, which is why the economy is Romney’s strongest issue and the president’s staff is determined to discredit him.

The embarrassing turnabout won’t do much to burnish the superhero politician’s reputation for independence, and many liberals will probably never forgive him anyway for an act of heresy, even one quickly recanted. But what probably really ticked off the president was that Booker’s original juxtaposition of attacks highlighted that the only way he can be re-elected is by tearing down his opponent. After all, the proposed ad campaign that was supposed to highlight the Rev. Wright issue was not the product of the Romney team or even one of the independent groups closely associated with him. It was something commissioned by Ameritrade founder Joe Ricketts, who actually renounced the effort as soon as it became public. But the attacks on Romney’s business career are something that is being undertaken directly by the president’s campaign.

Tearing down Romney in this fashion is bad enough, but the sinister fashion with which Booker was forced to not just back away from his original position but to directly contradict it speaks volumes about the way the White House seeks to ride herd on Democrats. To diverge from the party line even to decry the nastiness of politics in an even-handed way while stating your support for the president is clearly unacceptable behavior for a Democrat these days. In his recantation video, Booker speaks as though he is about to be sent to a re-education camp if he doesn’t get it right and say that it’s okay to smear Romney. It should be noted however that the Democratic National Committee wasn’t entirely satisfied with the video since it released an edited version of the recantation that contained his agreement that Romney should be attacked with everything else left out.

One suspects that while Booker and the Democrats would like to send this whole incident down Orwell’s “memory hole,” the public won’t soon forget the mayor’s humiliation or how his recantation only buttressed the truths he originally spoke.

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Is Libya Long for This World?

The Libyan city of Benghazi, the “capital” of the east and the second largest city in the country, held a referendum this past weekend on whether or not to declare political autonomy. The results aren’t in yet, but it’s likely to pass.

Muammar Qaddafi knew if an uprising against him were to break out that it would start in Benghazi. His regime never had much support in the east. His family was from the west, which to the people of Benghazi practically made him a foreigner.

Libya doesn’t make much sense as a country. The western region, Tripolitania, has historically been oriented westward toward Carthage and Tunis. Cyrenaica, the area surrounding Benghazi, has always looked eastward toward Egypt.

As long as it doesn’t become infested with the likes of al-Qaeda, the distinct Saharan region of Fezzan south of Tripolitania may be too sparsely populated to be an ongoing geopolitical concern. The population of Cyrenaica, though, is huge—almost a third of the total—and Libya’s baked-in disunity is one of the reasons Qaddafi ran such a viciously repressive political system. He smothered Benghazi with far more totalitarianism than he ever inflicted on Tripoli.

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The Libyan city of Benghazi, the “capital” of the east and the second largest city in the country, held a referendum this past weekend on whether or not to declare political autonomy. The results aren’t in yet, but it’s likely to pass.

Muammar Qaddafi knew if an uprising against him were to break out that it would start in Benghazi. His regime never had much support in the east. His family was from the west, which to the people of Benghazi practically made him a foreigner.

Libya doesn’t make much sense as a country. The western region, Tripolitania, has historically been oriented westward toward Carthage and Tunis. Cyrenaica, the area surrounding Benghazi, has always looked eastward toward Egypt.

As long as it doesn’t become infested with the likes of al-Qaeda, the distinct Saharan region of Fezzan south of Tripolitania may be too sparsely populated to be an ongoing geopolitical concern. The population of Cyrenaica, though, is huge—almost a third of the total—and Libya’s baked-in disunity is one of the reasons Qaddafi ran such a viciously repressive political system. He smothered Benghazi with far more totalitarianism than he ever inflicted on Tripoli.

Next-door Tunisia is in much better shape for a number of reasons, one of which is that it’s a coherent nation-state. It’s small and can hold itself together without any trouble. It lacks the tribalism, sectarianism, and geographic division that triggers civil wars in so many Arab countries.

Libya is blessedly free of sectarianism, but it still suffers from tribalism and militant regionalism. One of those problems would be partly resolved by federalism or, if that proves impossible, entirely solved by partition, at least theoretically.

The sticking point, though—and it’s a big one—is that most of Libya’s oil fields are in Cyrenaica. If the greater Benghazi area decides to take its ball and go home with most of Libya’s wealth, watch out. It will surely mean war. And if Cyrenaica’s yearning for autonomy isn’t respected, it’s exactly what we ought to brace for.

Correction: The election in Benghazi was for local candidates, many of whom support and campaigned for autonomy for Cyrenaica. The referendum itself will be held in four weeks.

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“Military All In But Obama Wasn’t”

Back in late 2009, when President Obama announced that he would send 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan but only for 18 months, many conservatives were highly critical of his decision, arguing that the president did not have the temperament to wage a war successfully and that he was only going to throw away troops’ lives needlessly without trying to achieve victory. I was not one of them. I was willing to give Obama the benefit of the doubt, and I supported the president’s move as a way to arrest the decline in Afghanistan. Having sent more troops and first-rate commanders—first Stanley McChrystal, then David Petraeus, now John Allen—I thought that Obama was committed to a successful outcome  and could not risk backing down without calling one of his major commitments into question.

I still think the surge was the right thing to do because it arrested the Taliban’s momentum in southern Afghanistan and at least gives breathing room for the development of Afghan National Security Forces. But in retrospect, it is obvious that the president’s critics were more right than wrong. For evidence look no further than this excerpt from New York Times reporter David Sanger’s new book, which, as Jonathan discussed yesterday, appeared on the front page of the Sunday Times. It quotes an unnamed Obama adviser as follows: “The military was ‘all in,’ as they say, and Obama wasn’t.”

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Back in late 2009, when President Obama announced that he would send 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan but only for 18 months, many conservatives were highly critical of his decision, arguing that the president did not have the temperament to wage a war successfully and that he was only going to throw away troops’ lives needlessly without trying to achieve victory. I was not one of them. I was willing to give Obama the benefit of the doubt, and I supported the president’s move as a way to arrest the decline in Afghanistan. Having sent more troops and first-rate commanders—first Stanley McChrystal, then David Petraeus, now John Allen—I thought that Obama was committed to a successful outcome  and could not risk backing down without calling one of his major commitments into question.

I still think the surge was the right thing to do because it arrested the Taliban’s momentum in southern Afghanistan and at least gives breathing room for the development of Afghan National Security Forces. But in retrospect, it is obvious that the president’s critics were more right than wrong. For evidence look no further than this excerpt from New York Times reporter David Sanger’s new book, which, as Jonathan discussed yesterday, appeared on the front page of the Sunday Times. It quotes an unnamed Obama adviser as follows: “The military was ‘all in,’ as they say, and Obama wasn’t.”

Then Sanger writes that “by early 2011, Mr. Obama had seen enough. He told his staff to arrange a speedy, orderly exist from Afghanistan.” The critical decisions about drawing down troops—with 32,000 departing by the end of September 2012—were apparently made by political aides in the White House without consulting General Petraeus in Afghanistan or other generals or, until the very end, Secretary of Defense Gates and Secretary of State Clinton.

This is breathtaking. Commanders on the ground and senior officials at the Department of Defense are not always right, and their recommendations do not always have to be followed by a president. But the commander-in-chief at least has an obligation to solicit their views and take them into careful consideration. Apparently Obama didn’t do that because he wanted to avoid the leaks that attended his previous decision-making process on Afghanistan in the fall of 2009. So he decided to end the surge in September 2012, which Sanger erroneously describes as “after the summer fighting season” (the fighting season actually lasts until late October or early November) and accurately describes as “before the election.” Meaning, of course, our presidential election.

This confirms the worst suspicions of Obama’s critics—namely that he was never committed to victory in Afghanistan and was instead committed to bringing troops home early so as to position himself advantageously for his own reelection. These revelations raise serious questions in my mind about the morality of the entire surge—about the morality of risking troops’ lives and limbs for a goal that is not worthy of their sacrifice.

Rest assured that if George W. Bush had so nakedly put his own political calculations front and center in making national security policy, he would have been flayed by the news media. Indeed, he was flayed for the “Mission Accomplished” banner and for supposedly invoking 9/11 for partisan advantage—and, most ironically of all, for supposedly disregarding the advice of senior generals by sending too few troops to Iraq. But Obama, it seems, is getting a pass for not even bothering to consult the very generals he appointed.

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Another Nail in the Wisconsin Recall Coffin

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel–Wisconsin’s largest and most influential newspaper—yesterday endorsed Scott Walker in the recall election to be held June 5. The newspaper said, “Even if you disagree with Walker’s policies, does that justify cutting short his term as governor? And if so, where does such logic lead? To more recall elections? More turmoil? It’s time to end the bickering and get back to the business of the state. We’ve had our differences with the governor, but he deserves a chance to complete his term.”

Intrade puts the governor’s chances of winning the recall vote at 84.6 percent, a huge lead. It puts Barack Obama’s chances of winning in November at a mere 56.9 percent. (Intrade is not a poll, per se. Instead, people bet real money on the outcomes—in other words, the people are putting their money—not just their opinions–where their mouths are.) In a more traditional poll, Walker is up six.

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The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel–Wisconsin’s largest and most influential newspaper—yesterday endorsed Scott Walker in the recall election to be held June 5. The newspaper said, “Even if you disagree with Walker’s policies, does that justify cutting short his term as governor? And if so, where does such logic lead? To more recall elections? More turmoil? It’s time to end the bickering and get back to the business of the state. We’ve had our differences with the governor, but he deserves a chance to complete his term.”

Intrade puts the governor’s chances of winning the recall vote at 84.6 percent, a huge lead. It puts Barack Obama’s chances of winning in November at a mere 56.9 percent. (Intrade is not a poll, per se. Instead, people bet real money on the outcomes—in other words, the people are putting their money—not just their opinions–where their mouths are.) In a more traditional poll, Walker is up six.

Money has apparently been drying up for Tom Barrett, the Democratic candidate, for the same reason Confederate bonds weren’t selling well in late 1864. But the DCCC, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, whose job is to elect Democrats to Congress, has decided to help. One can only wonder how Wisconsin Democrats running for Congress feel about that.

One must not count unhatched chickens. But the drama that began in January 2011, as Walker sought to implement the platform he had run on the previous November and the public-service unions fought him by all means fair and foul, is beginning to look like the Götterdämmerung of trade union political power in Wisconsin and perhaps the nation.

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Iran Decided Long Ago on Nuclear Weapons

Michael Rubin has referenced important statements, recent and past, made by senior Iranian officials on Iran’s nuclear program and its ambitions. To this important list, I would add the following. Seyed Hossein Mousavian, Iran’s former nuclear negotiator under President Mohammad Khatami, revealed in a recent Boston Globe opinion piece that Iran had reached “breakout capacity” in 2002: “It is too late,” said Mousavian “to demand that Iran suspend enrichment activities; it mastered enrichment technology and reached break-out capability in 2002 and continues to steadily improve its uranium enrichment capabilities.”

Beyond these statements, there is a mountain of hard evidence to back the view that Iran decided long ago to build nuclear weapons.

U.S. intelligence reports and most Western leaders insist that Iran’s leaders have not yet made a decision to pursue nuclear weapons.

Not so – according to documents that the opposition group, Mojaheddin-e Khalq (MeK), recently leaked to the Western Press and first revealed in the German daily, Die Welt.

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Michael Rubin has referenced important statements, recent and past, made by senior Iranian officials on Iran’s nuclear program and its ambitions. To this important list, I would add the following. Seyed Hossein Mousavian, Iran’s former nuclear negotiator under President Mohammad Khatami, revealed in a recent Boston Globe opinion piece that Iran had reached “breakout capacity” in 2002: “It is too late,” said Mousavian “to demand that Iran suspend enrichment activities; it mastered enrichment technology and reached break-out capability in 2002 and continues to steadily improve its uranium enrichment capabilities.”

Beyond these statements, there is a mountain of hard evidence to back the view that Iran decided long ago to build nuclear weapons.

U.S. intelligence reports and most Western leaders insist that Iran’s leaders have not yet made a decision to pursue nuclear weapons.

Not so – according to documents that the opposition group, Mojaheddin-e Khalq (MeK), recently leaked to the Western Press and first revealed in the German daily, Die Welt.

According to the MeK, Iran’s clerical leadership continues to relentlessly seek a nuclear arsenal – their only imponderable being “when,” not “if.”

The leaked material challenges the widely held belief that Iran suspended all weaponization activities in 2003. It offers evidence that Iran’s military program has since then only been restructured. It is now more elusive, functioning undercover in university labs and industrial facilities, but it is larger and more comprehensive than ever.

Skeptics will doubt the authenticity of these findings. Yet, the MeK has a history of exposing other Iranian critical nuclear facilities – it exposed the then-secret Natanz enrichment facility in 2002 – and its revelations were confirmed by independent sources.

A senior official from a Western intelligence organization, speaking anonymously, judged the information as “reliable.” A Vienna-based Western diplomat tracking Iran’s nuclear program confirmed this assessment: the information “coincides with what the International Atomic Energy Agency said in its report about Iran’s clandestine weaponization program.”

The diplomat was alluding to an IAEA annex attached to the November 2011 quarterly report on Iran’s nuclear program, which delineated a similar structure to Iran’s military program – with one significant difference. The MeK findings are a “magnifying glass,” adding names, addresses and dates, detailing organizational links, and explaining at length the nature and significance of each department’s area of activity and responsibility.

Most importantly, the documents linked a subdivision of the military program as the center in charge of the Fordow site near Qom, whose “size and configuration” as U.S. President Obama said in 2009, “is inconsistent with a peaceful program.”

As if the MeK assertions were not enough, leaked imagery of a high explosive compression chamber needed to test nuclear-suitable explosive materials offered further proof of the nature of the Iranian program – one needs not test such explosive or invest in such sophisticated infrastructure if one’s goal is peaceful nuclear energy.

U.S. intelligence officials insist that Iran suspended its weaponization activities in the fall of 2003. Whatever activities may have continued after that time – Western intelligence believes – were limited and fragmented.

But according to the MeK, the director of the Center for Industrial Production and Research, Ali Mehdipour Omrani, conducted “an explosive test on Tungsten to increase its density” at the Parchin site as late as 2006. Manipulating tungsten can be critical to the design of a nuclear warhead. Incidentally, Omrani’s center’s area of expertise is “mechanical engineering and morphing of material, including shaping metal elements, for the manufacture of nuclear warheads.”

And based on the image published by the Associated Press, such explosive experiments may well be ongoing.

Claims of anti-nuclear religious fatwas to the contrary notwithstanding, Iran’s civil nuclear program is but a game of smoke and mirrors. Its real goal always was and continues to be the production of nuclear weapons.

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