Commentary Magazine


Posts For: May 23, 2012

Iran Isn’t Taking the West’s First Offer

To their credit, Western negotiators at the P5+1 talks in Baghdad did not completely fold before the negotiations began. They presented a proposal that, while still granting legitimacy to the Iranian nuclear program, did not remove existing sanctions or the threat of an oil embargo in advance of Tehran’s agreement to stop refining weapons-grade uranium and to ship their stockpile out of the country. The Iranian reaction to this mild offer was predictable. They claimed it was not only unreasonable but that it violated what the Islamist regime says was agreed to at the previous meeting in Istanbul.

That means those who feared the Baghdad meeting would lead to an unsatisfactory agreement that could be represented as ending the crisis but by no means removing the Iranian nuclear threat can exhale. But that does not mean the danger of an Iranian diplomatic victory is averted. Quite the contrary, the Iranians view their indignant refusal as just the start of the bargaining process by which they will ultimately get what they want: the West’s endorsement of their right to a nuclear program and removal of sanctions. The question here is whether the negotiators, led by European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and backed up by political leaders such as President Obama and French President Hollande, have the will to stick to this position rather than being enticed into a bazaar-style barter in which the Iranians are bound to win. If, as is reported, the West’s stance is just a preliminary bid, then we will soon know the answer.

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To their credit, Western negotiators at the P5+1 talks in Baghdad did not completely fold before the negotiations began. They presented a proposal that, while still granting legitimacy to the Iranian nuclear program, did not remove existing sanctions or the threat of an oil embargo in advance of Tehran’s agreement to stop refining weapons-grade uranium and to ship their stockpile out of the country. The Iranian reaction to this mild offer was predictable. They claimed it was not only unreasonable but that it violated what the Islamist regime says was agreed to at the previous meeting in Istanbul.

That means those who feared the Baghdad meeting would lead to an unsatisfactory agreement that could be represented as ending the crisis but by no means removing the Iranian nuclear threat can exhale. But that does not mean the danger of an Iranian diplomatic victory is averted. Quite the contrary, the Iranians view their indignant refusal as just the start of the bargaining process by which they will ultimately get what they want: the West’s endorsement of their right to a nuclear program and removal of sanctions. The question here is whether the negotiators, led by European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and backed up by political leaders such as President Obama and French President Hollande, have the will to stick to this position rather than being enticed into a bazaar-style barter in which the Iranians are bound to win. If, as is reported, the West’s stance is just a preliminary bid, then we will soon know the answer.

The trouble is both sides in this negotiation have a common goal: keeping Israel from launching a strike on Iranian nuclear facilities and avoiding an oil embargo. Yet, while both the possibility of an Israeli attack and increased Western sanctions worry the Iranians, they appear to have great confidence in their ability to talk their way out of what seems on the surface to be a perilous position. If, as reports indicate, the West doesn’t merely leave their proposal on the table but holds out the possibility of future sessions without Iran’s compliance with even these first steps, then Tehran has good reason to believe they have Ashton, Obama and Hollande right where they want them.

It must be understood that even if Iran agreed to the current Western proposal that would by no means alleviate worries about the regime going nuclear. So long as the Iranians are refining uranium — even with the permission to do so only at lower rates of refinement — there is no reason to believe they will give up their quest for a bomb. Indeed, giving their facilities a Western seal of approval under any circumstances will facilitate the continuance of their military project by less public means. Putting this approval on the table now only means that the final agreement, if Iran ever consents to an accord, will be even more generous. And because, as the AP reported yesterday, Iran has already started transferring uranium refined at a weapons grade level of 20 percent to their reactors, there is no way of telling whether they can even be made to comply with the terms Ashton laid on the table.

Nevertheless, if the West is more desperate than Iran to keep the talks going, there is little doubt the terms will start to be sweetened. It takes quite a leap of faith to imagine President Obama won’t fall for Iran’s negotiating ploys.

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Cracks in Democratic Unity

At the National Journal, Josh Kraushaar reports that the Obama campaign’s Bain Capital attack exposed the waning power of centrist Democrats in the party, a development that has many Democrats concerned:

Conversations with liberal activists and labor officials reveal an unmistakable hostility toward the pro-business, free-trade, free-market philosophy that was in vogue during the second half of the Clinton administration. …

Moderate Democratic groups and officials, meanwhile, privately fret about the party’s leftward drift and the Obama campaign’s embrace of an aggressively populist message. They’re disappointed that the administration didn’t take the lead advancing the Simpson-Bowles deficit-reduction proposal, they wish the administration’s focus was on growth over fairness, and they are frustrated with the persistent congressional gridlock. Third Way, the centrist Democratic think tank, has been generating analyses underscoring the need for Democrats to appeal to middle-of-the-road voters, to no avail.

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At the National Journal, Josh Kraushaar reports that the Obama campaign’s Bain Capital attack exposed the waning power of centrist Democrats in the party, a development that has many Democrats concerned:

Conversations with liberal activists and labor officials reveal an unmistakable hostility toward the pro-business, free-trade, free-market philosophy that was in vogue during the second half of the Clinton administration. …

Moderate Democratic groups and officials, meanwhile, privately fret about the party’s leftward drift and the Obama campaign’s embrace of an aggressively populist message. They’re disappointed that the administration didn’t take the lead advancing the Simpson-Bowles deficit-reduction proposal, they wish the administration’s focus was on growth over fairness, and they are frustrated with the persistent congressional gridlock. Third Way, the centrist Democratic think tank, has been generating analyses underscoring the need for Democrats to appeal to middle-of-the-road voters, to no avail.

The problem is, Barack Obama is facing a compelling economic message from his opponent: Mitt Romney spent 25 years building businesses and overhauling companies in the private sector; Obama, in contrast, has spent his entire career in politics and community organizing. As Romney argued effectively in his interview with Time magazine today, there is nothing necessarily wrong with Obama’s career choices. They just don’t prepare someone to deal with an economy that’s speeding toward a fiscal cliff.

In response, Obama has embraced a populist, anti-competition, anti-capitalist message. Not only is it imprudent and unhelpful to stir up those sentiments during tough economic times, it’s also damaging to the Democratic Party’s brand. And it hasn’t been politically effective so far. Several polls today show the race is tightening, and Obama actually appears to be scaring away the working class voters who he’s been trying to win over with his class warfare message. The party that emerged so unified behind Obama in 2008 already seems to be coming undone.

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Amb. Crocker Is Worth an Infantry Division

It is difficult to exaggerate the enormity of the loss for U.S. interests in Afghanistan from the early departure of Ambassador Ryan Crocker. Crocker is, quite simply, the best in the business of diplomacy.

He established superstar credentials by working with Gen. David Petraeus in Iraq to make the surge a success in 2007-2008. He further burnished his credentials in the last year by establishing a good working relationship with the volatile Hamid Karzai after relations with him had been mishandled by a succession of American envoys. The result was the signing of a U.S.-Afghanistan Security Partnership Accord that would have been inconceivable without Crocker’s deft, unobtrusive work.

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It is difficult to exaggerate the enormity of the loss for U.S. interests in Afghanistan from the early departure of Ambassador Ryan Crocker. Crocker is, quite simply, the best in the business of diplomacy.

He established superstar credentials by working with Gen. David Petraeus in Iraq to make the surge a success in 2007-2008. He further burnished his credentials in the last year by establishing a good working relationship with the volatile Hamid Karzai after relations with him had been mishandled by a succession of American envoys. The result was the signing of a U.S.-Afghanistan Security Partnership Accord that would have been inconceivable without Crocker’s deft, unobtrusive work.

It is shame that he will wind up serving only a year in Afghanistan–but it is a huge tribute to him that he agreed to come out of retirement at all, given his back problems and the comfortable university job he had to leave. Along with the continuing drawdown of U.S. troops and the expected departure of General John Allen, Crocker’s retirement is further cause for concern about Afghanistan’s future. A diplomat like Crocker is worth an infantry division.

 

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Abortion and a Just Society

I wanted to add to the comments of Jonathan and Alana regarding the new Gallup poll showing that just 41 percent of Americans now say they are pro-choice (a new low) while 50 percent identify as pro-life.

In terms of the actual number of abortions in America, the figure had dropped from a national high of more than 1.6 million in 1990 to 1.21 million today, a low not seen since the Supreme Court’s 1973 decision legalizing the practice in Roe v. Wade. And as the Gallup survey suggests, America is becoming more, not less, pro-life. (A Gallup poll conducted in May 2009 found 51 percent of Americans calling themselves “pro-life” on the issue of abortion and 42 percent “pro-choice.” This was the first time a majority of U.S. adults identified themselves as pro-life since Gallup began asking this question more than 15 years ago.)

What explains both the drop in the number of abortions and the shift in public attitudes?

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I wanted to add to the comments of Jonathan and Alana regarding the new Gallup poll showing that just 41 percent of Americans now say they are pro-choice (a new low) while 50 percent identify as pro-life.

In terms of the actual number of abortions in America, the figure had dropped from a national high of more than 1.6 million in 1990 to 1.21 million today, a low not seen since the Supreme Court’s 1973 decision legalizing the practice in Roe v. Wade. And as the Gallup survey suggests, America is becoming more, not less, pro-life. (A Gallup poll conducted in May 2009 found 51 percent of Americans calling themselves “pro-life” on the issue of abortion and 42 percent “pro-choice.” This was the first time a majority of U.S. adults identified themselves as pro-life since Gallup began asking this question more than 15 years ago.)

What explains both the drop in the number of abortions and the shift in public attitudes?

There are undoubtedly several factors at play here, but one, I suspect, is that many pro-life spokesmen changed their rhetorical tactics and began to choose their fights more carefully. Throughout much of the 1990s, the debate became colored by the clear-cut issue of partial-birth abortion, which, although not settled legislatively until 2003, helped to create greater social sympathy for a moderately pro-life position. Also contributing to the rethinking was the more widespread use of sonogram technology, which enables would-be parents to see the developing child and its human form at a very early stage. All in all, not only has the public discussion of abortion been transformed, but younger Americans seem to have moved the furthest on this issue, and this trend seems likely to continue.

But the abortion debate goes beyond practicalities to fundamental issues of justice.

In medical ethics, there is a philosophical divide between utilitarianism, the belief in the greatest good for the greatest number, and the belief in the inherent human dignity of every individual. At bottom, the utilitarian approach is an assertion of the power of the strong over the weak; it treats human beings as means rather than as ends. By contrast, the belief in human dignity is rooted in the Jewish and Christian tradition of regarding the protection of innocent lives as one of the primary purposes of a just society.

Given the increasing technological control that human beings have over their own nature, this conflict has important implications for the future. A utilitarian society will be dramatically different from, and dramatically less humane than, a society that honors the principle of human dignity. We know which one will be better for the weak.

“It was once said that the moral test of government,” remarked the great liberal champion Hubert Humphrey, “is how that government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; and those who are in the shadows of life, the sick, the needy and the handicapped.” These are beautiful and evocative words, and they set a worthy standard for the state. Unborn children are at the dawn of life, and they deserve the protection of government. Incrementally, step by step, year by year, more and more people seem to agree.

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Are Catholics Standing Alone?

Last month, after the nation’s Roman Catholic bishops announced plans to promote a “Fortnight for Freedom” this summer that would focus on the defense of religious liberty, it was an open question as to whether they would wind up standing alone after the Obama administration sought to force their institutions to pay for insurance coverage for practices forbidden by their faith. Other faith groups may well decide it is dangerous for them to stand up for religious liberty because of the unpopularity of the church’s stand on contraception. In particular, Jewish organizations, normally so zealous in defense of individual rights and religious freedom, will be seen as bellwethers.

So far, the answer is at best mixed, with only those religious groups identified with a more conservative viewpoint such as the Rabbinical Council of America, the religious body associated with the Orthodox Union, backing the church’s stand while the far more influential Jewish Council on Public Affairs, the umbrella body for Jewish Community Relations Councils across the country, backed Obama’s unsatisfactory compromise proposal rather than the church’s defense of its rights.

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Last month, after the nation’s Roman Catholic bishops announced plans to promote a “Fortnight for Freedom” this summer that would focus on the defense of religious liberty, it was an open question as to whether they would wind up standing alone after the Obama administration sought to force their institutions to pay for insurance coverage for practices forbidden by their faith. Other faith groups may well decide it is dangerous for them to stand up for religious liberty because of the unpopularity of the church’s stand on contraception. In particular, Jewish organizations, normally so zealous in defense of individual rights and religious freedom, will be seen as bellwethers.

So far, the answer is at best mixed, with only those religious groups identified with a more conservative viewpoint such as the Rabbinical Council of America, the religious body associated with the Orthodox Union, backing the church’s stand while the far more influential Jewish Council on Public Affairs, the umbrella body for Jewish Community Relations Councils across the country, backed Obama’s unsatisfactory compromise proposal rather than the church’s defense of its rights.

This week, as Alana noted yesterday, Roman Catholic dioceses, schools, social service agencies and other institutions filed lawsuits in 12 federal courts, challenging the Obama administration’s dictate that they provide coverage for contraception in their health insurance policies. If they were to protect their rights, they had no choice but to go to court. The challenge will be affected by the outcome of the Supreme Court’s decision on the legality of ObamaCare, but if all or parts of that legislation are upheld, the plaintiffs will be asking the courts to uphold their rights under the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which forces the government to provide a compelling reason to force believers to violate their faith.

The administration has sought to marginalize the church’s position by launching a political campaign aimed at portraying the Republicans as waging a war on women because of conservative support for the church’s position. That has enabled some to claim that backing for the church is a partisan stand against the president. But this is looking at the issue through the wrong end of the telescope. It is not the administration that sought by means of ObamaCare to compel church institutions to pay for contraception that started this unnecessary fight, nor the bishops who would be quite happy to stay out of the political line of fire.

Having framed the issue as one in which backing for the church is tantamount to voicing opposition to the president or as being opposed to contraception — something the vast majority of Americans, including most Catholics, support–the administration may think it can defend its stance with impunity. But it is important for groups that would under other circumstances not hesitate to defend religious institutions from government compulsion not to leave the church to face the might of the government alone.

One needn’t oppose the president’s re-election or endorse the Vatican’s stance on contraception in order to understand that a ruling against the church would grant the government nearly unlimited power to restrict religious freedom. In the weeks and months ahead as this issue continues to be debated, it is vital that more faith groups rally around the church and make it clear to the administration and the courts that when it comes to protecting First Amendment rights, the church does not stand alone.

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U.S. Aid to Pakistan Must Be Monitored

The NATO summit in Chicago has come and gone and still no agreement with Pakistan on reopening the NATO supply line that had been closed last November after a border fight between Pakistan’s troops and a contingent of U.S. and Afghan soldiers. President Zardari had been invited to the meeting on the assumption that an agreement was imminent and that his appearance would be the final push needed to finalize the details. Instead, he showed up and was snubbed by President Obama, who rightly refused to hold a meeting with Zardari until a deal was done. Various news outlets have reported that the two sides remain far apart in how much per truck NATO will have to pay Pakistan: The Pakistanis reportedly want a staggering $5,000 per truck–far more than the cash-strapped Pentagon wants to pay.

Meanwhile, a Pakistani court has handed down a 33-year prison sentence to the doctor who assisted the CIA in locating Osama bin Laden. This is adding insult to injury and underlines, for the umpteenth time, that Pakistan is no ally of the U.S. Sometimes it can act in cooperation with the U.S., but even that is increasingly rare these days. Thus, it makes perfect sense that a Senate appropriations subcommittee just voted to slash U.S. aid to Pakistan, to $1 billion, roughly half the amount the administration had requested, and even part of that is conditional on the reopening of the supply line.

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The NATO summit in Chicago has come and gone and still no agreement with Pakistan on reopening the NATO supply line that had been closed last November after a border fight between Pakistan’s troops and a contingent of U.S. and Afghan soldiers. President Zardari had been invited to the meeting on the assumption that an agreement was imminent and that his appearance would be the final push needed to finalize the details. Instead, he showed up and was snubbed by President Obama, who rightly refused to hold a meeting with Zardari until a deal was done. Various news outlets have reported that the two sides remain far apart in how much per truck NATO will have to pay Pakistan: The Pakistanis reportedly want a staggering $5,000 per truck–far more than the cash-strapped Pentagon wants to pay.

Meanwhile, a Pakistani court has handed down a 33-year prison sentence to the doctor who assisted the CIA in locating Osama bin Laden. This is adding insult to injury and underlines, for the umpteenth time, that Pakistan is no ally of the U.S. Sometimes it can act in cooperation with the U.S., but even that is increasingly rare these days. Thus, it makes perfect sense that a Senate appropriations subcommittee just voted to slash U.S. aid to Pakistan, to $1 billion, roughly half the amount the administration had requested, and even part of that is conditional on the reopening of the supply line.

Frankly, it is difficult to see why we are providing any aid to the Pakistan state when it continues to support the Taliban, Haqqani Network, and other insurgent groups that are killing Americans and our allies. Perhaps some aid to Pakistan’s civil society is warranted, but it must be carefully monitored to assure that it does not help to subsidize Pakistan’s military. Some level of payments for trans-shipment rights may still be justifiable, but I’m not even sure of that. The Pakistan supply line has been closed since November, and it is not clear it has had much of an impact on NATO military operations.

When I was in Afghanistan a few weeks ago, I found even remote bases well-stocked with the kinds of provisions (e.g., ice cream and eggs) that had been scarce during past supply disruptions. That’s a tribute to the U.S. success in rerouting logistics through the Northern Distribution Network, and yet another reason why we need to think twice before extending any more aid to Islamabad.

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Media Taking a Break from Bain-Bashing

After the Obama campaign spent the last week attacking Mitt Romney about his Bain Capital record, the Washington Post reports that they seem to be taking a break from the Bain-bashing. Obama’s two new ad spots are both positive – one is on benefits for veterans and the other is on Medicare. It seems to be a response to Democratic concerns that Obama is abandoning his principles by going “negative” (as if his 2008 campaign never got into the mud).

The Bain attacks have been a disaster for the Obama campaign so far, and some of the problems are self-created. For one, there was clearly very little messaging organization between the campaign, surrogates, and Democratic leaders. And as Peter wrote yesterday, Obama campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt’s disastrous Anderson Cooper interview also indicates that the campaign was unprepared for basic questions about the hypocrisy of the Bain attack – maybe because they never thought the normally-friendly media would even ask.

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After the Obama campaign spent the last week attacking Mitt Romney about his Bain Capital record, the Washington Post reports that they seem to be taking a break from the Bain-bashing. Obama’s two new ad spots are both positive – one is on benefits for veterans and the other is on Medicare. It seems to be a response to Democratic concerns that Obama is abandoning his principles by going “negative” (as if his 2008 campaign never got into the mud).

The Bain attacks have been a disaster for the Obama campaign so far, and some of the problems are self-created. For one, there was clearly very little messaging organization between the campaign, surrogates, and Democratic leaders. And as Peter wrote yesterday, Obama campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt’s disastrous Anderson Cooper interview also indicates that the campaign was unprepared for basic questions about the hypocrisy of the Bain attack – maybe because they never thought the normally-friendly media would even ask.

This was a major miscalculation on Obama’s part. The media isn’t jumping on Romney’s Bain record because most of the stories in the Obama ads are old news. Not only were they covered extensively during Romney’s senatorial and gubernatorial races, but they also received a lot of attention when Newt Gingrich raised the issue during the primaries. The definitive Bain articles have already been written and rewritten, and the arguments from both sides have already been exhausted. New information will undoubtedly come to light at some point, but until that happens this is all reheated news.

The more interesting story is the infighting in the Democratic Party about Obama’s negative campaigning, and the fact that Obama has accepted large donations from Bain executives while attacking the company. The Obama campaign’s mistake was failing to realize this and prepare for it before it was too late.

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Abortion and the Failed War on Women

Recent polls have shown that the Democrats’ efforts to use social issues to help demonize Republicans and mobilize support for President Obama’s re-election are flopping. The gender gap between the parties is evaporating rather than getting wider, as liberals had hoped. It is in this context that the Gallup poll on attitudes toward abortion that Alana mentioned earlier must be understood. The problem for the president is not just that a clear majority of Americans now call themselves “pro-life” rather than “pro-choice.” As Alana and Adam Serwer have noted, a close reading of the survey shows most of those polled don’t share the opinions of many in the pro-life movement. But these findings ought to inform our understanding of attitudes about social issues in general that extend beyond the narrow choice/life dichotomy at a time when the Democrats are trying desperately to gin up fear about a Republican war on women.

The point here isn’t that most Americans take an ideological approach to this issue. As Gallup points out, since the very beginning of polling about abortion, only a minority of Americans thought it should be legal under all circumstances (currently 25 percent) with a comparable number believing it should be illegal under all circumstances (currently 20 percent). The majority of Americans are in the uncertain middle, believing it ought to be legal only under some circumstances even if many of those holding such views identify with the pro-life movement. That is why a campaign geared toward polarizing the country on social issues will not help win a general election for the candidate of either major party.

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Recent polls have shown that the Democrats’ efforts to use social issues to help demonize Republicans and mobilize support for President Obama’s re-election are flopping. The gender gap between the parties is evaporating rather than getting wider, as liberals had hoped. It is in this context that the Gallup poll on attitudes toward abortion that Alana mentioned earlier must be understood. The problem for the president is not just that a clear majority of Americans now call themselves “pro-life” rather than “pro-choice.” As Alana and Adam Serwer have noted, a close reading of the survey shows most of those polled don’t share the opinions of many in the pro-life movement. But these findings ought to inform our understanding of attitudes about social issues in general that extend beyond the narrow choice/life dichotomy at a time when the Democrats are trying desperately to gin up fear about a Republican war on women.

The point here isn’t that most Americans take an ideological approach to this issue. As Gallup points out, since the very beginning of polling about abortion, only a minority of Americans thought it should be legal under all circumstances (currently 25 percent) with a comparable number believing it should be illegal under all circumstances (currently 20 percent). The majority of Americans are in the uncertain middle, believing it ought to be legal only under some circumstances even if many of those holding such views identify with the pro-life movement. That is why a campaign geared toward polarizing the country on social issues will not help win a general election for the candidate of either major party.

Partisan loyalties are a good predictor of views on abortion. Though this issue cuts across most demographic groups, 72 percent of Republicans are pro-life, while 58 percent of Democrats are pro-choice. Just as important is the fact that independents are split, with the pro-life side having a 47-41 point advantage. Yet, while an appeal to social conservative views is essential for a GOP primary and the president needs to remind his own base that he shares their values and their fears about the right, it will be extremely difficult for a Democrat to win in November by seeking to demonize those who oppose abortion.

As Gallup notes in its analysis, this has implications for related issues such as the dispute between the administration and the Catholic Church about compelling religious institutions to pay for insurance on contraception even though its use violates the church’s religious beliefs. A country where the majority sympathizes with the pro-life movement is not fertile ground for an Obama re-election campaign whose goal is to draw bright lines between the differing camps on social issues.

Of course, politicians have always tended to pander to the extremes on abortion because that is where the votes are, as only those holding to absolute views on its legality have used it as a political litmus test. But a belief that an attempt to portray Republicans as out of touch with the country on social issues seems to be a partisan trap that will do nothing to help the president win independent voters even if they do not have extreme views on abortion or contraception.

The Democrats’ ability to change the subject from ObamaCare’s assault on the religious freedom of the church to outrage about Rush Limbaugh’s insult of Sandra Fluke fooled them into thinking the war on women theme could be a game-changing election issue. But Gallup’s polling provides an explanation why in the last few weeks the president has lost ground to Mitt Romney, especially with women. The question now is whether Democrats will get the message and start crafting a more effective economic message before they dig themselves a hole the president won’t be able to crawl out of.

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The Odd Discrepancy in Abortion Polling

The percentage of Americans identifying as “pro-choice” has been steadily decreasing in recent years, and this year is no exception. Gallup found that just 41 percent now say they are pro-choice – a record low – while 50 percent identify as pro-life.

But as Adam Serwer points out, that isn’t the whole story. The majority of Americans, 52 percent, still say that abortion should be legal “under certain circumstances,” which many pro-life activists would find unacceptable. From the Gallup survey:

Gallup’s longest-running measure of abortion views, established in 1975, asks Americans if abortion should be legal in all circumstances, legal only under certain circumstances, or illegal in all circumstances. Since 2001, at least half of Americans have consistently chosen the middle position, saying abortion should be legal under certain circumstances, and the 52 percent saying this today is similar to the 50 percent in May 2011. The 25 percent currently wanting abortion to be legal in all cases and the 20 percent in favor of making it illegal in all cases are also similar to last year’s findings.

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The percentage of Americans identifying as “pro-choice” has been steadily decreasing in recent years, and this year is no exception. Gallup found that just 41 percent now say they are pro-choice – a record low – while 50 percent identify as pro-life.

But as Adam Serwer points out, that isn’t the whole story. The majority of Americans, 52 percent, still say that abortion should be legal “under certain circumstances,” which many pro-life activists would find unacceptable. From the Gallup survey:

Gallup’s longest-running measure of abortion views, established in 1975, asks Americans if abortion should be legal in all circumstances, legal only under certain circumstances, or illegal in all circumstances. Since 2001, at least half of Americans have consistently chosen the middle position, saying abortion should be legal under certain circumstances, and the 52 percent saying this today is similar to the 50 percent in May 2011. The 25 percent currently wanting abortion to be legal in all cases and the 20 percent in favor of making it illegal in all cases are also similar to last year’s findings.

“Certain circumstances” is incredibly vague. Is it saving the life of the mother (which some pro-life activists support)? Cases of rape or incest? Allowing it during the early stages of pregnancy? Without knowing the breakdown, we can’t tell whether their views fall closer to the pro-life or the pro-choice position.

Many pro-choice activists argue that any legal restrictions on abortion are unacceptable, and that the decision should be left completely up to a woman and her doctor. If you believe life doesn’t begin until birth – or that the question of when life begins is completely subjective – then there should be no moral qualms about what happens to a fetus at any point of the pregnancy.

The fact that the majority of Americans say there should be some restrictions on abortion means they do have those moral qualms. Maybe some of them aren’t sure whether life starts at conception, but believe it does begin at some point early on in the pregnancy. Or maybe some believe life starts at conception, but that taking this life is necessary in some rare and horrible circumstances. Either way, the fact that more Americans identify as pro-life seems to be a rejection of the pro-choice movement’s nonchalant — and sometimes almost celebratory — view of abortion. The majority of Americans might support abortion in certain cases, but it’s likely to be something they grapple with morally.

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Judges’ Vacation on the Public’s Dime

The General Services Administration outraged taxpayers last month after news broke that it had taken a ritzy, $800,000 trip to Las Vegas on the public dime. But now it looks like the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals is set to outdo them. Nearly 700 participants are expected to attend the 2012 Ninth Circuit Judicial Conference in Hawaii, the schedule for which includes yoga, paddleboard lessons, and a snorkeling trip. Cost to the taxpayers? Around $1 million, Senate Republicans estimate.

Senators Jeff Sessions and Chuck Grassley, ranking members of the Senate Budget Committee and Judiciary Committee respectively, are demanding an explanation. They sent a letter outlining their concerns to Chief Justice Alex Kozinski, who is apparently responsible for the trip:

Although the conference does not “officially” open until Monday, the registration desk is open on Saturday and Sunday, with sport fishing scheduled for Sunday morning and a golf tournament scheduled for Sunday afternoon. Throughout the conference schedule there are other activities unrelated to the business of the court, including yoga, surfing lessons, stand-up paddleboard lessons, Zumba (a Latin-inspired dance program), a tennis tournament, a day trip and tour of Upcountry Maui, a Gemini Catamaran snorkel trip, and an activity called “The Aloha Experience.” While the site makes clear that government funds are not to be used for any recreation or sporting activities and that court-related matters will be substantively considered, the program reads more like a vacation than a business trip to discuss the means of improving the administration of justice.

We are concerned about the overall cost of the conference and do not believe that discussions about the administration of justice would be less successful were they held somewhere other than a spa and resort in Hawaii.

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The General Services Administration outraged taxpayers last month after news broke that it had taken a ritzy, $800,000 trip to Las Vegas on the public dime. But now it looks like the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals is set to outdo them. Nearly 700 participants are expected to attend the 2012 Ninth Circuit Judicial Conference in Hawaii, the schedule for which includes yoga, paddleboard lessons, and a snorkeling trip. Cost to the taxpayers? Around $1 million, Senate Republicans estimate.

Senators Jeff Sessions and Chuck Grassley, ranking members of the Senate Budget Committee and Judiciary Committee respectively, are demanding an explanation. They sent a letter outlining their concerns to Chief Justice Alex Kozinski, who is apparently responsible for the trip:

Although the conference does not “officially” open until Monday, the registration desk is open on Saturday and Sunday, with sport fishing scheduled for Sunday morning and a golf tournament scheduled for Sunday afternoon. Throughout the conference schedule there are other activities unrelated to the business of the court, including yoga, surfing lessons, stand-up paddleboard lessons, Zumba (a Latin-inspired dance program), a tennis tournament, a day trip and tour of Upcountry Maui, a Gemini Catamaran snorkel trip, and an activity called “The Aloha Experience.” While the site makes clear that government funds are not to be used for any recreation or sporting activities and that court-related matters will be substantively considered, the program reads more like a vacation than a business trip to discuss the means of improving the administration of justice.

We are concerned about the overall cost of the conference and do not believe that discussions about the administration of justice would be less successful were they held somewhere other than a spa and resort in Hawaii.

The senators are requesting information on the cost of previous conferences and an explanation of why the Hawaii location is necessary for the trip.

Obviously, $1 million seems like a small amount when you consider our larger spending crisis. But this is really about the problem with a government culture where these taxpayer-funded excursions are considered acceptable. If the GSA and the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals are doing this, then who else is? If these trips are unnecessarily extravagant, then what else are agencies and courts wasting money on throughout the year?

True, Hawaii might be under the 9th circuit’s jurisdiction. But so is Idaho, and the plane fares and hotel costs are substantially less there. Better yet — why not nix the conference altogether, and hold the lectures and presentations online?

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Our Shameful Afghanistan Legacy

On Monday, Josh Rogin reported on a “shadow summit for Afghan women” held in Chicago during the NATO summit there, calling attention to the concern that allied withdrawal from the country will leave women in Afghanistan at the mercy of the grotesquely misogynistic Taliban. Yesterday, Human Rights Watch’s Ken Roth followed by lambasting NATO’s seeming lack of attention to human rights, especially for women in Afghanistan.

Roth noted that “many of the world leaders assembled in Chicago — though, notably, not Karzai — spoke eloquently about their commitment to human rights, particularly for women. But the test of that commitment is whether anybody cares enough to put in place a concrete plan to carry it out.” Human rights advocates are worried that when troops leave, the Taliban will work to delete any and all progress on women’s rights. This morning, the Taliban again answered that concern: they will not wait for the troops to leave:

More than 120 schoolgirls and three teachers have been poisoned in the second attack in as many months blamed on conservative radicals in the country’s north, Afghan police and education officials said on Wednesday….

Afghanistan’s intelligence agency, the National Directorate of Security (NDS), says the Taliban appear intent on closing schools ahead of a 2014 withdrawal by foreign combat troops….

Afghanistan’s Ministry of Education said last week that 550 schools in 11 provinces where the Taliban have strong support had been closed down by insurgents.

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On Monday, Josh Rogin reported on a “shadow summit for Afghan women” held in Chicago during the NATO summit there, calling attention to the concern that allied withdrawal from the country will leave women in Afghanistan at the mercy of the grotesquely misogynistic Taliban. Yesterday, Human Rights Watch’s Ken Roth followed by lambasting NATO’s seeming lack of attention to human rights, especially for women in Afghanistan.

Roth noted that “many of the world leaders assembled in Chicago — though, notably, not Karzai — spoke eloquently about their commitment to human rights, particularly for women. But the test of that commitment is whether anybody cares enough to put in place a concrete plan to carry it out.” Human rights advocates are worried that when troops leave, the Taliban will work to delete any and all progress on women’s rights. This morning, the Taliban again answered that concern: they will not wait for the troops to leave:

More than 120 schoolgirls and three teachers have been poisoned in the second attack in as many months blamed on conservative radicals in the country’s north, Afghan police and education officials said on Wednesday….

Afghanistan’s intelligence agency, the National Directorate of Security (NDS), says the Taliban appear intent on closing schools ahead of a 2014 withdrawal by foreign combat troops….

Afghanistan’s Ministry of Education said last week that 550 schools in 11 provinces where the Taliban have strong support had been closed down by insurgents.

Perhaps it would be worse if officials pretended to care, because that would create expectations. But it’s worth remembering that, as Jamie Fly wrote in the April edition of COMMENTARY, concern about the treatment of women in Afghanistan under the Taliban predated 9/11:

The year was 1998 and Hollywood was up in arms over a new social cause: the plight of Afghan women under the repressive rule of the Taliban. Mavis Leno, wife of Jay Leno and chair of the Feminist Majority Foundation’s Campaign to Stop Gender Apartheid in Afghanistan, told members of Congress, “The U.S. bears some responsibility for the conditions of women in Afghanistan. For years our country provided weapons to the mujahideen groups to fight the Soviets.” Leno and the Feminist Majority pushed an extensive U.S. campaign to delegitimize the Taliban until the rights of female Afghans were recognized.

The Taliban enforced a strict morality code for both men and women, but women and girls bore the brunt of the most brutal repression… It is not surprising that such a moral wasteland came to serve as the staging ground for Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda as they planned the attacks of 9/11. Bin Laden’s ideology and that of his Taliban hosts sprang from the same vile swamp.

And to that “moral wasteland”–and the security threat it poses–Afghanistan may soon return. Fly argued for reversing cutbacks to Afghan security forces and renewed focus on negotiating with and strengthening the Afghan government, not the Taliban. Roth suggested the two sides “establish an independent mechanism — some sort of national ombudsman — where civilians could file complaints about the use of abusive force, and where officials would be authorized to investigate and, if appropriate, recommend prosecution.” He added that American aid to the Karzai government can be used as leverage.

But he also said that when he talked to officials about it during the NATO summit, everyone liked the idea, and no one expressed the least bit of interest in actually proposing it or fighting for it. The women of Afghanistan won’t soon forget the brief window of opportunity they had, nor will they forget our apparent apathy as it is taken from them.

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Attack on Catholics Could Turn the Election

On Monday, 12 suits were filed in federal court by 43 Catholic institutions, including the University of Notre Dame, Catholic University, and the archdioceses of New York and Washington. The suits are an effort to overturn the Department of Health and Human Service’s mandate for contraception, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs under the Affordable Care Act — a regulation that forces Catholic hospitals, universities and charities to act in ways that violate their conscience and the teachings of their church.

“The government … cannot justify its decision to force Notre Dame to provide, pay for, and/or facilitate access to these services in violation of its sincerely held religious beliefs,” Notre Dame’s lawsuit  argues. “If the government can force religious institutions to violate their beliefs in such a manner, there is no apparent limit to the government’s power… The First Amendment also prohibits the Government from becoming excessively entangled in religious affairs and from interfering with a religious institution’s internal decisions concerning the organization’s religious structure, ministers, or doctrine. The U.S. Government Mandate tramples all of these rights.”

The University of Notre Dame, is should be said, is not an institution that is naturally hostile to President Obama. After all, it awarded Obama an honorary degree in 2009. Read More

On Monday, 12 suits were filed in federal court by 43 Catholic institutions, including the University of Notre Dame, Catholic University, and the archdioceses of New York and Washington. The suits are an effort to overturn the Department of Health and Human Service’s mandate for contraception, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs under the Affordable Care Act — a regulation that forces Catholic hospitals, universities and charities to act in ways that violate their conscience and the teachings of their church.

“The government … cannot justify its decision to force Notre Dame to provide, pay for, and/or facilitate access to these services in violation of its sincerely held religious beliefs,” Notre Dame’s lawsuit  argues. “If the government can force religious institutions to violate their beliefs in such a manner, there is no apparent limit to the government’s power… The First Amendment also prohibits the Government from becoming excessively entangled in religious affairs and from interfering with a religious institution’s internal decisions concerning the organization’s religious structure, ministers, or doctrine. The U.S. Government Mandate tramples all of these rights.”

The University of Notre Dame, is should be said, is not an institution that is naturally hostile to President Obama. After all, it awarded Obama an honorary degree in 2009.

The reason for the Obama administration’s aggressive action against Catholic institutions can be explained by two things. First, the president genuinely believes in what he’s doing. He is a man of the left, through and through, so forcing religious institutions to comply with a progressive law that forces religious institutions to act in ways that conflicts with their religious teaching makes perfect sense. It turns out this is part and parcel of the “transformational” presidency Obama referred to during the 2008 campaign. In this instance, he is interested in transforming civil society by employing against it the raw power of the federal government.

Second, Team Obama must have believed that this would help them in an effort to convince voters the GOP is engaged in a “war on women.”

I suspect what the Obama administration didn’t anticipate, however, was that Catholic institutions not only wouldn’t back down from this offensive; they would actually fight back. And fighting back — intelligently, effectively, and in a unified fashion — they are. This could have significant political implications in states like Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Wisconsin, where the Catholic vote is crucial. And although it’s not garnering much attention, my guess is that when the history of this election is written, the president’s decision to target Catholics/Catholic institutions will be seen as an important moment and one Obama will come to rue.

Mark May 21 on your political calendars.

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Friedman’s Unilateral Delusion

In today’s New York Times, op-ed columnist Thomas Friedman tries to come to grips with reality when he acknowledges that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vanquished all of his domestic foes and has built a government with an overwhelming majority and the support of the country’s electorate. Friedman can’t help but be snide about what is to him a disheartening turn of events. He notes that “there are Arab dictators who didn’t have majorities that big after rigged elections.” But at least he has the sense to admit “Bibi is prime minister for a reason. He was elected because many Israelis lost faith in the peace process and see chaos all around them.”

The prime minister’s priority will be to keep the country unified in the face of the nuclear threat from Iran. And rather than spend too much time chasing after the fantasy that the Palestinians will agree to make peace, most Israelis hope he will use his huge majority to enact electoral reform, an idea that has the potential to diminish the influence of the ultra-Orthodox and thereby resolve the problem caused by that sector of the population not doing their fair share of military service. However, Friedman and other Netanyahu critics have other ideas. Not surprisingly, they want Netanyahu to use his power not to pursue his own ideas but to implement an unrealistic peace scheme of their devising.

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In today’s New York Times, op-ed columnist Thomas Friedman tries to come to grips with reality when he acknowledges that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vanquished all of his domestic foes and has built a government with an overwhelming majority and the support of the country’s electorate. Friedman can’t help but be snide about what is to him a disheartening turn of events. He notes that “there are Arab dictators who didn’t have majorities that big after rigged elections.” But at least he has the sense to admit “Bibi is prime minister for a reason. He was elected because many Israelis lost faith in the peace process and see chaos all around them.”

The prime minister’s priority will be to keep the country unified in the face of the nuclear threat from Iran. And rather than spend too much time chasing after the fantasy that the Palestinians will agree to make peace, most Israelis hope he will use his huge majority to enact electoral reform, an idea that has the potential to diminish the influence of the ultra-Orthodox and thereby resolve the problem caused by that sector of the population not doing their fair share of military service. However, Friedman and other Netanyahu critics have other ideas. Not surprisingly, they want Netanyahu to use his power not to pursue his own ideas but to implement an unrealistic peace scheme of their devising.

The bait that Friedman wishes to use to catch Netanyahu is the prospect that he will become a historic figure. Friedman backs the idea promoted by Ami Ayalon in a recent Times op-ed that Netanyahu will join Theodor Herzl and David Ben-Gurion as the most significant figures in modern Jewish history. I’m sure Netanyahu wouldn’t mind the comparison, but he’s too smart to be flattered into doing something foolish.

Ayalon’s scheme is a reconfigured version of Ariel Sharon’s unilateralism experiment in which he thought he could bypass a hopelessly stalled peace process by simply withdrawing from territories that Israel didn’t want to keep and thereby ridding the country of the burden of governing the Palestinians against their will. It sounded like a good idea at the time in part because Sharon’s toughness gave him some credibility when he warned that if the land given up were used to attack Israel, he would undo the measure.

But after Israel withdrew every single settlement, soldier and Jew from Gaza, the Palestinians turned the place into one big missile launching pad that pounded southern Israel for years. With Sharon incapacitated by a stroke and replaced by the ineffectual Ehud Olmert, Israel waited years before responding to the attacks. But the problem was not just that the Israelis waited too long before hitting back. It was that, contrary to Sharon’s formulation, not only did the Palestinians not keep the quiet; the international community gave Israel little or no credit for the withdrawal.

Far from the move undermining criticisms of Israel, like the Oslo Accords more than a decade earlier, the withdrawal only seemed to legitimize attacks on the Israelis as the possessors of “stolen property.” Nor did the pullout create more support for Israel’s right to self-defense even after territory they gave up was used for attacks.

That’s why Ayalon’s plan, endorsed by Friedman, to duplicate the Gaza withdrawal in the West Bank has no support among Israelis. Granted, Ayalon says after stating it will not keep any land on the wrong side of the security fence and starting to remove settlers, Israel should keep its army in the West Bank until a peace deal with the Palestinians is signed. Friedman claims this “would radically change Israel’s image in the world” and “dramatically increase Palestinian incentives to negotiate.” But it would do nothing of the kind.

So long as Israeli troops are in the West Bank, the international chorus of critics will continue to assail the “occupation” and declare that Jews have no right to live in the heart of their ancestral homeland. And rather than serve as an incentive for the Palestinians, unilateral withdrawals will merely confirm their opinion that if they wait long enough the Israelis will either lose heart and surrender, or the West will hand them their victory on a silver platter without any effort.

The vast majority of Israelis would gladly trade most of the West Bank for a real peace, but the Netanyahu majority is the product of a widespread realization that until there is a sea change in the political culture of the Palestinians, there isn’t going to be peace. Until that sea change happens, Israelis are prepared to hunker down and wait while continuing to build their own economy and hopefully resolve some other tricky domestic problems. Friedman may deprecate that as merely “doing nothing,” but Netanyahu was elected to avoid the mistakes of his predecessors, not to duplicate them.

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Primaries Make Obama Look Like a Loser

It didn’t take long for liberals to start spinning President Obama’s poor showing in two more Democratic presidential primaries last night. As was the case in West Virginia, more than 40 percent of Democrats in Arkansas and Kentucky voted against the president. While the president was spared the humiliation of being nearly bested by a jailed felon (his opponent in West Virginia), an unknown lawyer did as well as the jailbird in Arkansas, while the ever popular “uncommitted” got more than 42 percent in Kentucky. It should be admitted that these are protest votes in contests where the electorate is presented with a done deal. Moreover, President Obama didn’t win any of these states in 2008 and won’t win them this year, so Democrats are entitled to deprecate the results as not having an impact on the outcome. But the willingness of so many members of his party to turn out to vote against him must still be considered a danger sign for the incumbent.

For those seeking rationalizations for Obama’s troubles, Alec MacGillis in the New Republic points out Obama actually did worse than John Kerry did in some counties in these states in 2004. And though they are far less sanguine about the meaning of these numbers than MacGillis, Chris Cillizza and Aaron Blake of the Washington Post raise the possibility that white racism is the reason for Obama’s problems. They speculate that some white southerners retain some vestigial loyalty to the Democrats as the party of their ancestors but would still never vote for a black. But as Cillizza and Blake point out, the unrest in Democratic ranks has implications far beyond these three states.

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It didn’t take long for liberals to start spinning President Obama’s poor showing in two more Democratic presidential primaries last night. As was the case in West Virginia, more than 40 percent of Democrats in Arkansas and Kentucky voted against the president. While the president was spared the humiliation of being nearly bested by a jailed felon (his opponent in West Virginia), an unknown lawyer did as well as the jailbird in Arkansas, while the ever popular “uncommitted” got more than 42 percent in Kentucky. It should be admitted that these are protest votes in contests where the electorate is presented with a done deal. Moreover, President Obama didn’t win any of these states in 2008 and won’t win them this year, so Democrats are entitled to deprecate the results as not having an impact on the outcome. But the willingness of so many members of his party to turn out to vote against him must still be considered a danger sign for the incumbent.

For those seeking rationalizations for Obama’s troubles, Alec MacGillis in the New Republic points out Obama actually did worse than John Kerry did in some counties in these states in 2004. And though they are far less sanguine about the meaning of these numbers than MacGillis, Chris Cillizza and Aaron Blake of the Washington Post raise the possibility that white racism is the reason for Obama’s problems. They speculate that some white southerners retain some vestigial loyalty to the Democrats as the party of their ancestors but would still never vote for a black. But as Cillizza and Blake point out, the unrest in Democratic ranks has implications far beyond these three states.

The president’s 2008 victory in North Carolina and Virginia was fueled by huge minority turnouts but wouldn’t have been possible without his retaining a significant portion of white working class Democrats. The same formula worked to his advantage in Ohio and Indiana. But the abnormally high percentage of protest voters in Democratic primaries illustrates the high levels of disaffection in the party. Even the 20 percent of North Carolina Democrats who chose not to back Obama in that primary could make the difference this time, especially when you consider the slim margin of victory for the president in that state in 2008.

MacGillis is right that the president’s stance on coal has had a disproportionate impact on West Virginia and Kentucky, and his troubles also reflect long-term voter trends in these states. Yet as even he notes, “Obama is a vulnerable incumbent” who is “running in hard times.” But rather than these points being a reason to discount the primary results, it is stating no more than the obvious to observe that is why he is vulnerable.

The president’s primary problems illustrate the cracks around the edges of the “hope” and “change” surge of 2008. With the Obama campaign determined to keep up a barrage of nasty and personal attacks on Mitt Romney and focusing on rousing the liberal base rather than appealing to independents, there isn’t much doubt that his advisers have looked at the math and realized they are not going to be counting on winning any states in the south this time around. That doesn’t guarantee his defeat, but it is a crystal clear indication that the president is going to have a very difficult time getting re-elected.

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Obama Ignoring CENTCOM on Iran

When history judges President Obama for the schizophrenic debacle that America’s AfPak strategy has become – and it will – his inability to integrate the advice of military leaders will figure prominently:

The president ordered his advisers to start making plans for a U.S. exit. “This time there would be no announced national security meetings, no debates with the generals. Even Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Secretary Hillary Rodham Clinton were left out until the final six weeks.”… the planning process would be left to those who agreed with the president. Dissenters were not invited. It’s hardly the picture of a harmonious policy process or a “tough-guy” leader in sync with the military that the White House was eager to sell….

Max’s post from earlier this week outlines how Obama put his “own political calculations front and center in making national security policy,” from ignoring his generals on the Afghan surge to shutting them out totally from withdrawal planning. The president, having pushed Afghanistan as “the good war” during the election to deflect from his Iraq defeatism, had to at least make a token gesture at trying to stabilize the country. That political necessity clashed with his genuine desire to withdraw, and the combination resulted in the worst possible policy: more American troops in harm’s way, but not enough to win.

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When history judges President Obama for the schizophrenic debacle that America’s AfPak strategy has become – and it will – his inability to integrate the advice of military leaders will figure prominently:

The president ordered his advisers to start making plans for a U.S. exit. “This time there would be no announced national security meetings, no debates with the generals. Even Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Secretary Hillary Rodham Clinton were left out until the final six weeks.”… the planning process would be left to those who agreed with the president. Dissenters were not invited. It’s hardly the picture of a harmonious policy process or a “tough-guy” leader in sync with the military that the White House was eager to sell….

Max’s post from earlier this week outlines how Obama put his “own political calculations front and center in making national security policy,” from ignoring his generals on the Afghan surge to shutting them out totally from withdrawal planning. The president, having pushed Afghanistan as “the good war” during the election to deflect from his Iraq defeatism, had to at least make a token gesture at trying to stabilize the country. That political necessity clashed with his genuine desire to withdraw, and the combination resulted in the worst possible policy: more American troops in harm’s way, but not enough to win.

The same fundamental clash, where the president’s electoral considerations are in tension with his underlying instincts and the result is an incoherent policy, are playing out on Iran. Again, one is tempted to suspect symptomatically, the advice and judgments of military commanders in the field are getting ignored.

Monday the Daily Beast’s Eli Lake exposed strong disagreements between Gen. James Mattis, head of U.S. Central Command, and various figures in the administration. Last January Mattis wanted to respond to Iranian naval provocations by moving a third aircraft-carrier group to the Persian Gulf. He was rebuffed. The incident seems to be a microcosm of broader differences between Mattis and the Obama White House on Iran:

The carrier-group rebuff in January was one of several for the commander responsible for East Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia. Working for the Obama administration, Mattis has often found himself the odd man out—particularly when it comes to Iran… Those who have worked with Mattis say his views when it comes to Iran are more in line with those of America’s allies in the Persian Gulf and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu than with his own government’s…

The official U.S. national-intelligence estimate on Iran concludes that the country suspended its nuclear weapons work in 2003, but sources close to the general say he believes that Iran has restarted its weapons work and has urged his analysts to disregard the official estimate. While Mattis has largely voiced his dissent about recent U.S. Iran assessments in private, on occasion his displeasure has spilled into the public record.

That bit about developing nuclear weapons undermines the administration’s coordinated media campaign and leakfest on Iran, which is designed to preemptively scapegoat Israel for overreacting and getting Americans killed. It appears to be one of many places where the generals in the field disagree with the president. Given the ineptitude with which this White House has handled Iraq and Afghanistan, the dynamic is far from encouraging.

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