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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.